muse: n. a source of inspiration

Why go 1:1?

One of my professional goals is to determine our course of action regarding a 1:1 initiative. We began this year with 3rd and 4th grades after a pilot of sorts last year with increased accessibility in 3rd grade. Each of the students in those grades has access this year to an iPad all day, regardless of class. The iPads stay in school.

This year we’re piloting using iPads in language arts in 5th grade. Week one brought the question of “where’s spellcheck in the Docs app?”

We’re also dealing with the issue of sharing iPads in 5th grade, since there are two carts for four sections. Students have to remember (and their teachers have to remember to tell them) to log out of the Docs app at the end of each session and to make sure they’re the one logged in at the beginning. It no doubt is cumbersome for the teachers, and I’m sure chaos will ensue at some point when that procedure isn’t followed.

So I started thinking about my own digital life.

I am not 1:1. I’m more like 3:1, with laptop, iPad and iPhone as my 3. I instinctively move from device to device, choosing the device based on the task I need to perform. If I need to do heavy word processing I reach for my laptop. If the laptop isn’t available (or, more likely, in the dining room and I don’t want to get up off the couch to retrieve it), the iPad is a suitable stand in, but only as a second choice. On the other hand, there are definitely things for which the iPad is better suited, like quick movie making. Apps like Show Me or Explain Everything are much more useful for video tutorials and much faster to use.

Is 1:1, defined as one specific device per child, realistic? Or does it make more sense to define 1:1 as the ratio of total devices available to the total student body as a 1:1 ratio, without assigning specific device to specific children?


September 2, 2014 Posted by | Mobile devices and apps, Technology, Thinking | , , | Leave a comment

Digital device reading…the need to teach differently

In a fascinating New Yorker article, Maria Konnikova discusses the differences in reading comprehension across different media. Konnikova cites research into various issues such as Internet-enabled devices, scrolling, layout and hyperlinks. Researchers hypothesize that deep reading – the thoughtful, reflective process of really synthesizing what you’re reading – is taking a hit when readers are using a Kindle or iPad.

So, the first response might be to say that, well we’re not going to use eDevices then…we’ll still teach using books, newspapers and magazines. That might work for a while, but we’re obviously doing our students a tremendous disservice if we make that call.

I think this is just fascinating. Of course we need way more research into this, but it’s one more task that faces those of us in ed tech…how to teach our kids to adapt to the changes technology brings.

What do you think?

July 31, 2014 Posted by | Education, Thinking | Leave a comment

There’s no app for that

A friend posted the following photo to Facebook today:



It’s cute. I get it.

But what I don’t get is what I perceive to be a pretty constant need to compare digital life and “real” life.

I totally understand – and agree – that there is no digital substitute for canoeing, making s’mores and hiking. Or getting mosquito bites and shvitzing in the humid summer air (in a good way).

But when are we going to just deal with it and allow that one does not substitute for the other, and that the two can happily coexist?

I remember a time when a friend who is a professional in the camping world told me that there would never, ever, be computers at his summer camp. Fast forward about fifteen years – the camp now has a vibrant media program that does a tremendous amount to add to the life of the summer camp, and to the lives of the kids who go there.

There may not be an “app for that,” but there’s an app to record great photographs of the hiking expeditions, a fun video of the kids making and eating s’mores (and fishing marshmallows out of the fire, and stealing chocolate…) and for getting the email/Facebook/cell phone numbers of all those friends so they can keep in touch during the winter.

And that’s okay.

Let’s stop making it either/or.


April 6, 2013 Posted by | Thinking | Leave a comment

On taking it slow

I have a meeting Monday to talk about what new stuff we want to buy for next year. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. We did a needs (really a wants) survey with the staff earlier this year and we had a lot of teachers ask for interactive white boards or iPad carts. I have one colleague, who, even though she houses an iPad cart, is lobbying heavily for her own that she doesn’t ever have to share. If we bought everything people asked for (not including repairing, replacing or upgrading, including upgrading our OS including servers), it would be pretty close to 200K. That’s a lot of money.

I will admit that I work for a school that really wants to remain cutting edge. In fact, I’ve been known to admit that I’ve never had a reasonable technology request denied.

That’s why I’m recommending that we buy very little of what my colleagues want for next year.


Not much.

In my fifteen years of working with ed tech, I’ve never heard anyone say “I wish we’d bought x a year earlier.”

I’ve never said it. Have you?

I don’t want to buy classroom carts. I don’t want to jump into one-to-one.

Right now we have thirteen carts of devices that are distributed throughout the building, mostly in classrooms, and two labs. That’s plenty for our school judging from the data (which, admittedly, isn’t completely accurate because I don’t think people who house carts are really good at reserving them). I realize sharing can be a pain, but I’m not seeing much of a justification for buying more stuff. Learn how to share, people.

What I want is to plan, share outcomes and reflect. The stuff money can’t buy.

I want to meet regularly with the teachers who have IWBs and figure out how they’re using them and how they want to use them. I REALLY don’t want to buy more without seeing where they’re making a difference NOW.

I want to meet with the teachers who want to use iPads in their classrooms and figure out how they want to use them for authentic learning experiences, not just for the bells and whistles.

Most of all, I want to figure out how we determine if these awesome tools are, well, actually doing anything other than increase student (and, maybe, teacher) engagement. You know…are the kids learning more because they’re swiping, not typing? I want systematic, allocated time for planning and reflection. I’m no fan of all data all the time, but I would like to figure out how we’ll measure success.

I do want to buy every teacher an iPad for his or own use in and out of the classroom. Some of them haven’t even held tablets yet. I want to spend next year exploring them with the staff – using them for our own productivity and sharing, modeling their use at faculty meetings and professional development.

Then, once we’ve taken a full school year to explore how we’re using them, I’ll talk about putting more into our kids’ hands.

We shall see.

March 9, 2013 Posted by | Education, Thinking | , | Leave a comment

Indeed! Making a case for the creative (Jewish) classroom!

I read this with great interest. Hebrew College president Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, in his article at ejewishphilanthropy, states that “We need Jewish educational excellence of a certain type – Jewish education toward creativity.” Saying that “too much Jewish education looks alike,” he proposes that we encourage more student creativity, problem-solving, and focus on student passion and engagement. Lehmann suggests that we fund and encourage disruptions such as digital gaming, technology and TED talks. We need to take into consideration different learning styles and learning modalities.

Great. Now what?

Where do we start?

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Thinking | , | Leave a comment

Test, test, test

So my 6th graders are finishing up their Discovery 2012 projects. We gave them lots of time in February to research the topic of their choice and then they prepare a final project in whatever medium they choose. So the computer lab becomes a little chaotic…with kids making movies, creating Keynote presentations, writing books and creating wikis.

This time I had one young man who created a timeline using Timeliner. I see that there’s a new “multimedia-rich” version, but, alas, that’s not the version we have. I wanted something a little flashier for him, so I had the bright idea for him to recreate it using an online timeline website. So I did the unforgivable: I did a search for online timeline and jumped into having him use to create his timeline. Without testing it first.

What a disaster. For one thing, I’ve had few websites that load as slowly as this one, which often led to him wasting class time waiting to get in. And now that he’s done, and we’re getting ready to share our projects at parent/teacher conferences, I’ve had numerous problems getting in. I keep getting some internal server error. Oy.

A disaster.

Thank goodness I have that old, boring, Timeliner version saved. And hopefully I’m upgrading to the new one for next year.

And no more jumping into using a website with a student without testing, testing, testing.

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Just sayin', Thinking | , | Leave a comment

A tiny rant about passwords

As part of my job I have to sign up for a lot of websites. Websites where you can create slide shows, edit photos, upload stuff, download stuff.

In fact, it’s one of my pet peeves in general – the account thing. I would say that, when I’m vetting a website for student use, having to create an account is not a plus. In fact, in some cases, it’s a deal breaker. If I can find a website that will allow my students to do something and they don’t have to create an account, I’m far more likely to use that one. Thank you Vocaroo.

But sometimes you have to just suck it up and create that account.

Which requires a password.

Now, because I have so many websites for which I have user names and passwords, I use the same one. No, it’s not the same one that I use for the bank or important stuff, but, let’s face it, I’m over fifty and I can only remember so many things. So I use the same password.

I’m reasonably certain that nobody will try hacking my “create a presentation” account or the “great animations from your desktop” account. There’s no financial information. Honestly, in many cases, there’s no real information period.

So, Mr. Website-creator…can I just say? Keep your nose out of my passwords. What is the point of making me choose one that’s at least 8 characters, uses a combination of letters and numbers, with a mix of upper case and lower case? Other than to annoy me and possibly convince me that using your service is just not worth my time, and, more importantly, my students’ or colleagues’ time.

Just sayin’

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Technology, Thinking | , | 1 Comment

Technology and the Religious/Complementary/Supplemental School

I had a great conversation with a friend and former colleague yesterday and our discussion came around to Jewish religious schools and technology. Since I’ve taught religious school for the past 100 years or so (okay, maybe it’s been 35-ish), and work with educational technology on a daily basis, integrating technology into the religious school is a topic about which I’m often asked to comment. Pretty much it’s a topic about which I comment frequently, whether I’m asked to or not.

Anyway, my friend tells me that she’s been asked by her synagogue about SMART Boards. Apparently the synagogue is interested in purchasing interactive white boards for their religious school.

My response will surprise you. I’m a certified SMART Notebook trainer, and I work with SMART Boards every day at a day school. I love, love, love having one in my computer lab and have many colleagues who swear that having one has changed the way that they teach.

My response in this particular issue, however, may sound contrary.

I asked “why?”

“What are they going to do with them?”

To be honest, my concern is that purchasing interactive white boards (IWBs) for a religious school could possibly be a waste of money. Big money. Money that you could put in cameras, projectors, iPads, iPods…

I’ve watched my day school colleagues who are using IWBs and are maximizing the interactive aspect (meaning, they aren’t just using them as projectors). It’s hard work. It’s time consuming. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to master. I see great things in science and math classes.

We don’t teach a lot of math and science at religious school.

And I question whether religious school teachers are able to put in the time. Typically, religious school teachers do their prep at home, not school, thereby minimizing their opportunity to prep using the board itself. It takes a lot to become comfortable using the board. Oh sure, there are fun games that you can use on the IWB, but I question if that’s a good enough reason to spring for them.

And there’s the issue of support. Even my teachers who are using IWBs daily have issues. They need frequent support. Religious schools typically lack that level of tech support.

So, religious schools, if you’ve decided you want to “do tech,” don’t buy IWBs.

In fact, I’m not sure that you should buy much. I think you need projectors, which have come down in price. I think you need good wifi access and you need to open it up to your staff and congregants. Encourage them to bring their technology – their smartphones, iPads and iPods. Their own laptops.

Here’s the deal. The religious school teachers who want to use technology probably have the mobile devices to use. Let them lead the way for now. Rather than trying to figure out HOW to integrate technology from the top down, put your energy into supporting the people who already want to.

Don’t impose. Support. Give people the space to use what they know.

And don’t spend the money on technology unless you have someone who will use it frequently and authentically.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Technology, Thinking | , , | Leave a comment

Thinking outside the bubble/circle/box

Eli Pariser, in his outstanding Ted Talk, “Beware Online Filter Bubbles,” talks about how filtering our news is bad for us and for society.

The talk is here.

I think a lot about professional learning networks, Facebook, Twitter, and, I guess now, Google+. I also tend to think a lot about serendipity; those happy accidents where we trip across information that helps us make connections where none existed before.

In order to grow we need to expose ourselves to information that may not automatically seem to fit. It may be from a person who has a different political, religious, or cultural perspective than we do. Maybe it’s from someone in a different professional field. Or from someone who loves to do something that we would never aspire to do; the fisherman, the skydiver, the interactive gamer.

The problem, of course, is that the more we filter the information that we receive – by putting contacts in circles, getting news from our Facebook friends and relying on specific Twitter hashtags, we are automatically limiting the ideas to which we’re exposed. In that way, my new iPad is kind of evil…if I don’t want to hear the news that provides a conservative perspective, for instance, I can certainly avoid those news sources.

A long time ago, when you ended up waiting – like in the doctor’s office – and you forgot your book, you were at the mercy of waiting room magazines. That was before you carried your own information source in your pocket (otherwise known as the Smartphone). I actually remember reading magazines in those waiting rooms that I would never read elsewhere. And sometimes I got new ideas, was introduced to new people, and discovered things I would never have discovered before.

This is the piece that we’re missing these days. The opportunities for discovery.

How will you increase your potential to discover new ideas? Increase the diversity of the information you receive?

I have a few suggestions:

1. Engage in a professional development opportunity that is a stretch. I just returned from a ten day trip to Eastern Europe and the Balkans with Centropa. There, I met 70 educators from 14 different countries. There were Jews, Christians, and people who didn’t vote for any god. People who spoke different languages than I, people who taught in different environments, and people who educated in museums, not schools. We saw things that made us uncomfortable. And sad. And hopeful.

2. Read things you don’t normally read. Easy to do with mobile devices. Subscribe to business reviews, environmental journals and art magazines. Read blogs that have a different political perspective than you do.

3. When you check out your Twitter feed, click on a few links that don’t look like they’d “fit” for you. Surprise yourself.

4. Find people to follow on Twitter that are outside your comfort zone. You can always unfollow them later.

5. Go to TED and find talks that are about things you don’t know about. Get inspired.

The bubble is bad. It’s bad for you, your students, and the world. Go forth and stretch.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | Community, Thinking | , | Leave a comment

Remembering Debbie

When I was 16 years old, my rabbi announced that he had hired a new youth group advisor for us. He had heard her sing at our regional URJ (then the UAHC) camp, Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute.  To be honest, we had been kind of used to having the synagogue’s assistant rabbi be our TYG advisor, and we weren’t sure we were too happy about this.

Don’t worry, the rabbi said, you’ll like her. She’s a terrific songleader.

What did we need a songleader for? We wondered. We had kids who played guitar and we were pros at singing all the anti-Vietnam music and the typical camp songs (Oh, did he ever return? No, he never returned…)

So, in came this young woman (she was barely 4 years older than we were), guitar in hand. Her enthusiasm was out of control. She was constantly laughing at everything, and would burst into song for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Of course I’m talking about Debbie Friedman. When I tell my students today that she was once my youth group advisor, they’re astonished. As if I sat at the table with royalty.

I guess I did.

It wasn’t just that she made Friday night services something exciting (we remember well the time our cantor stormed out of the sanctuary when we were rehearsing Sing Unto God). It wasn’t just that every kid in the Chicago area suddenly wanted to be in our youth group (duh…). It wasn’t just that we essentially had celebrity in our midst. It was Debbie. Even without the guitar, she was funny, warm, exacerbating (I think we had to have a youth group intervention at one time), and incredibly accessible. She was a youth group advisor who hung with us, went out to eat after youth group meetings, shlepping us in her (I think) Cutlass which was then replaced by some little yellow car that I distinctly remember her calling the yellow turd. We lived and breathed youth group, and there’s no question that she was a huge part of that. Even without the guitar.

Years later, as she went on to other things, she would always beam when we walked into the room, surprising her. I remember when she ran a mid-80’s invention, Elijah’s Cup, a teen café run by the Chicago Jewish Federation, I think. Beginning her performance, she reflected on how weird it was to have former campers in the room. Still later, my then-husband and I surprised her when she was performing in Florida – it was always the same, being greeted like we were long-lost relatives.

Still later, as my children were campers at OSRUI, they would see her and identify themselves, always to be hugged and greeted warmly. This year, my youngest daughter had the pleasure – the blessing – of spending time with Debbie at HUC, where she was on faculty and where my daughter is a student. Again, the greetings were warm, incredibly warm from a woman who had thousands of fans, all of whom thought they knew her.

And the music. I remember buying the Sing Unto God album and just playing it over and over and over. I remember working at OSRUI and going to Friday night services, exhausted from a long week, and singing long into the night, trying to keep up with the energetic Debbie. New lyrics, new harmonies, always some 5-part complicated arrangement. And you wondered where it all came from. She was an incredible talent, and all she wanted to do was share it with us; inspire us and get us to sing.

And she produced. The volume of work is impressive. Can you imagine religious school, camp, services without her music? It is difficult to imagine what the world will be like without her. And it’s the shock of a sudden death that’s hard. Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, John Lennon. The music suddenly stops.

But all that stops is one way of singing it. She has left a rich legacy, literally two generations of Jews who have been changed by her vision of what participatory liturgy can sound like. Jews who say that it was her who brought them back to the synagogue.

We’ll sing in her memory, and she will never be forgotten.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Thinking | | Leave a comment

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