muse: n. a source of inspiration

Getting ready for Germany…are we there yet?

Once again I’m traveling with Centropa for their annual Centropa Summer Academy. This year I’m excited that it’s Germany: Mannheim, Frankfurt and Berlin. I really can’t believe that I’m doing this again – it’s a phenomenal opportunity and a wonderful, educational and stimulating way to spend ten days, but simply exhausting! I’m glad I have three weeks after I return before school begins to recuperate. Oy – only three weeks?

Are we there yet?

Of course I’m worried about how I’m going to entertain myself while I’m on the plane. I’ve already been to British Airways’ website to scope out the in-flight entertainment (excited to watch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen!), and I sprang for the iTunes Essential George Gershwin collection, but I want to put some movies on my iPad too. I mean, what if my video player thingie doesn’t work? Or what if I’m bored at night (yeah…right) and need to have something other than German TV to watch in the room?

Unfortunately, season two of Downton Abbey only got me through my last three trips (thank you, Downton Abbey – that was six blissful flights!), and there wasn’t another TV season I wanted to download. I do have some DVDs, though, that I want to watch but I’m not bringing my laptop – just the iPad (it’s so much lighter and easier to get through security!), which, of course, does not have a DVD player.

Now…I know you’re not supposed to do this. I would NEVER suggest my students do this…But if you already own the movies you want to bring on DVD, and let’s say you wanted to watch them on your iPad…you could rip the movies using Handbrake. Be sure to choose the iPad preset. Then you end up with a .m4v file that you could throw in iTunes and transfer when you sync. Easy peasy.

The only problem is that those movies can be pretty heavy – reaching 2 gb. That’s a lot of real estate on an iPad, so…

You might want to bring them along on an SD card. If you have the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, you can do that. You just have to set them up in a way that your iPad will recognize them and know to import them as media. This post on CNET will be very helpful if you’re thinking about doing that.

Finally – I decided to spring (amazing how these trips cost SOOOOO much!) for a really good set of earphones. I wanted good, I wanted noise canceling, and I wanted small. I also didn’t want to spend more than $50. This is not as easy as it sounds. I researched a lot of companies, and finally settled on Thinksound. What got me were the reviews on Amazon. Now, many of those reviews mentioned having cable separation problems, so the big question is why did I pay $50 for earphones that could break? It’s simple – every single one of the reviews also stated that as soon as they contacted the company, they were immediately contacted by the company (in many cases, the president) to arrange for a replacement. I also really loved that they’re made from wood, and that the product has a low footprint packaging-wise. I appreciated not having to dig out the scissors and deal with those nasty plastic clamshell packages which fill up my recycling bin. They came in a lovely little brown box, with their own little cloth bag for storage. I was using them in about two seconds after receiving the package and they rocked. Pun intended.

Oh – and I also bought a new suitcase. But that wasn’t interesting.

I hope to post lots from Germany – stay tuned.


July 3, 2012 Posted by | Centropa, Lifelong learning, Technology | , , | Leave a comment

Interesting Questing

Interesting questing logoA new interest for me is developing digital quests. These might be digital versions of old-fashioned scavenger hunts, or more complex activities like city-wide activities using GPS navigation devices. When I was in Vienna this past summer with Centropa, we went on part of a geocaching tour that was created by middle school kids. What a great activity, both for the people who are participating and the kids who prepared it.

What’s super exciting for me is that I’m going to getting support from the great staff at the iCenter as part of my iChallenge incubator grant. There are three projects which I’m working on:

  1. A pretty straightforward digital scavenger hunt to be held in the synagogue building.
  2. A digital quest for Purim.
  3. My preconfirmation (8th and 9th graders) “Finding the Jew in You” quest. My students and I will be creating a digital quest for Chicago-area teenagers to use. The quest will include going to various Jewish sites in the Chicago area, performing tasks and collecting student reflections

I’ve started to compile resources on my wiki. Here are a few of my favorites:


SCVNGR is an app which is widely used commercially. It has a clean interface and it doesn’t seem terribly complicated to create challenges. Free accounts are limited to five challenges, but the developers graciously granted me an increase to 25 just for the asking. The editor is online, and the user needs to download an app to play.

ARIS is a platform developed at the University of Wisconsin. The site is impressive and extensive, with user docs and samples. Players can interact with virtual guides and collect artifacts (which can then be annotated using voice or a smartphone camera).  The learning curve on this product looks steeper than SCVNGR, but there’s great documentation. Like SCVNGR, the user needs to download a free app in order to play.

QR (quick response) codes are not software per se, but rather digital tools. You create a QR code to encode some kind of data, such as displaying text or directing someone to a website or to create an email. There’s been a lot of discussion on how to use them in education, including digital scavenger hunts, links to podcasts and students portfolios and more. Users with smartphones, laptops or computers with webcams can use QR code scanners to read the code.For a video on how you can use QR codes in school, check this out.

Need some inspiration?

Getting a grip on the tech side is one thing, but there’s nothing like a little show and tell to get you going. Here are a few videos that might help:

Aris demo


And for a real dose of inspiration, check out Global Kids. Their New York City Haunts game will blow you away!

If you’d like to share what you’re doing, or what you’d like to do – please let me know!

September 14, 2011 Posted by | iCenter, Interesting Questing, QR Codes, Technology | , , , , , , , , | 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

Finishing up in Sarajevo

10 days
4 countries
5 beds
120+ educators

I’m going into the final stretch of my trip with Centropa to eastern Europe. We’ve been to Krakow, Vienna, Zagreb and now Sarajevo. We’ve seen museums, cemeteries, buildings with bullet holes, and Shoah memorials. We’ve spent a night on a train from Poland to Vienna, including a stop outside Auschwitz. We’ve shlepped luggage, almost passed out from the heat in Zagreb, broken bread with the Jews of Sarajevo, and walked through Vienna with my Austrian roommate, Uli. We’ve had conversations about how our schools are different, and, yet, the same. We’ve come up with collaborative projects involving QR codes, Jewish camp, food and social justice. We’ve combed the vast online Centropa resources and shared how we might use the films, bios and photos in our own teaching.

All of this has been wonderful and I know my students will benefit from my participation in this groundbreaking project. By no means has this been luxury, leisurely travel. I’ve been incredibly tired, hotter than I could imagine, with feet so swollen that I’m not sure they’ll ever return to their normal size. But it’s been an incredible experience.

But the most important has been what I’ve heard from the other people on this trip. How they love their students and how committed they are to their students’ success and growth. This has been the most profound piece of this trip for me. I will always be grateful for this opportunity and will never forget the conversations I’ve had.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | Technology | | Leave a comment

Putting it together

Hard to believe that it was a week ago that I returned home from ISTE. Here I am, getting ready to leave Krakow in a few hours and head to Vienna. For the last few days, I’ve been somewhat immersed in pre-war life and how to use Centropa’s vast resources (historical information delivered using 21st century technologies) to help my students. Before that I was spending time learning about technology and how to deliver instruction using it – and where it’s taking us.

Today I really started putting some of this together. I’m thinking that it wasn’t just an accident of timing that put me in Philadelphia last week with the AVI CHAI folks at a 20,000 attendee tech conference and then sent me to Eastern Europe with some 60-120 teachers from all over the works to delve into the resources of the Centropa organization.

For instance…last week, Adam Simon spoke with us about using QR codes to direct his students to relevant online materials when creating timelines. This week, I spoke with Lauren at Centropa about that idea, and she took it to a different level – linking Centropa material to maps via QR code. Imagine your students being able to access multimedia material while looking at maps.

I’m sure there are other places where I’ll experience this interesting intersection of ideas!

L’hitraot…more from Vienna…

July 6, 2011 Posted by | Technology | , | Leave a comment

Seriously? It’s only been two days?

I can’t believe I’m already packed to check out of the hotel tomorrow morning as we prepare to take the night train to Vienna tomorrow night. Today we spent a great deal of time at the hotel discussing how actual teachers use the Centropa website, and learning with incredible scholars, one of whom was Dr. Michael Berenbaum, who designed the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. After lunch we headed out for a fascinating tour of Jewish Krakow, and did so by reading significant passages from a Centropa interview. It’s one thing to stand in the square where Jews were rounded up for deportation, and quite another to do so while reading the words of one who was there.

It was a fabulous technique and one that I’d like to use when traveling with students.

After the tour we spent some time at the Krakow JCC and then headed out to do another walking tour of Krakow. We were supposed to do this tour yesterday but missed it because we were getting the fascinating tour of the highway from Katowice to Krakow because our plane couldn’t lane in Krakow because a construction crane was blocking the runway. Yes, that brought the entire airport to a standstill. Sorry. I digress.

Anyway, dinner was on our own. I dined with my new friends Margaret from Seattle (with whom I traveled from JFK, so we feel like we’ve known each other for years already), my roommate Uli from Austria, and Ursula from Berlin. Of course I ate pierogies – what else would you eat in Poland?


Bohaterow Getta Square

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Lifelong learning, Storytelling | | Leave a comment

120 International Teachers in One Place!

It feels like I left Chicago about a hundred years ago…

Here I am in Poland, with (right now) around 65 teachers from all over the world. My roommate, Uli, is from Austria; I had breakfast with a German teacher and his friend from Israel who brings him his fix of Israeli Turkish coffee… We’ll be joined later on in the week by teachers from Vienna when we interview there. Amazing!

We’re learning how to use the Centropa website with its riches of life stories, photos and films. Whether you’re teaching history, language arts, or digital storytelling, there is something that you will find useful for your classroom. And don’t forget the recipes!

Last week I was at the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. One of the things that everyone was talking about was QR codes. One of the things I’m thinking about is to create QR codes linking to films on the Centropa website and making interactive timelines. Hmmmm. Got to figure out how to work that into next year’s curriculum!

Later today – a walking tour of Jewish Krakow!

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Lifelong learning, Storytelling, Technology | | Leave a comment

What do teachers do during the summer?

Spertus cohort meets during the summer!It’s not all lying on the beach and lunch with friends. This week, my Spertus cohort colleagues and I are sitting in class from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. For the first three days we’re learning about technology in education with Dr. Ginger Malin, and then it’s the Aesthetics of Jewish Civilization with Dr. Judah Cohen.

Then…later on in June I’ll be attending the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I’m incredibly grateful to the AVI CHAI foundation for supporting me in this.

And then… it’s off to Krakow, Vienna and Sarajevo with Centropa.

Wow – what amazing opportunities this summer!

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Lifelong learning | , , , | Leave a comment


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