Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No Teacher Left Behind -- eLearning PD for Lauder Staffs in Eastern Europe

Seventy years ago the prevailing wisdom held that Jewish communal life was dead in Eastern and Central Europe. The Jewish communities of the region had been decimated and most of the survivors chose to emigrate and leave their memories behind.

However, the Jewish communities didn't entirely disappear. As the years progressed, some   Jews emerged from their quiet lives while others joined the population. Over the last 25 years the Lauder Foundation has been at the forefront of assisting the members of these Jewish communities, particularly in the realm of education.

Since 1988 the Lauder Foundation has established thirteen Jewish schools throughout Southern, Eastern and Central Europe -- in Germany, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia and Austria. These schools include some partnerships with ORT and Chabad while others remain independent. Lauder schools involve both elementary and high school education and aim to help students connect, learn and develop their Jewish identities.

eLearning is beginning to play an increasingly important role in the Lauder schools. The Lauder Foundation recently turned to JETS Israel for an online course that will provide Lauder teachers with tools and techniques to include online learning in their curriculum.

The teachers from the Lauder schools in Germany  see the program as providing them with important tools that will allow them to enhance their classes with elearning. One teacher described the confidence that she gained from the course. "I learned a lot about distance learning technology and received so much guidance that I'm ready to launch the program in my own classes. The course provided me with enough tools to understand the logic and pedagogy of this teaching method."

During the course the students explored how to use an online blackboard -- elluminate -- and reviewed a wide range of online tools including using google docs in the classroom, scribblars, linoboards, vocaroos, vokis, social posterboards and Learning Management Systems such as Wikis and Haikus. Participants expressed their feelings, describing how the course provided them with concrete ideas that enable them to teach multiple age groups at once and ensure that each student receives the information and assignments at his or her own grade level.

Participants presented a sample online class to other course participants as part of the process of learning how to manipulate the online blackboard and introduce elearning tools into their curriculum. In summarizing his experiences, a Berlin-based Lauder teacher wrote "Online teaching can empower the student and make him responsible for his own learning. The tools that I learned will allow me to facilitate this type of education in my own classroom."

The staff of Lauder's Russian schools will begin their own No Teacher Left Behind course in basic online learning concepts in the coming weeks. As one of the participants from the Warsaw Lauder School noted after her course, "You don't have to be in the classroom to teach students. There is a wide variety of tools which make on-line classes effective and help me to get to know my kids better and the vokis enhance lessons in Hebrew's a fun and creative way to teach."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Evaluating the Evaluation -- Students Speak

What's the ultimate proof that your class was a success?

If you believe that the end-of-unit test offers the best way to evaluate the success of your lessons, you may be right. But there's another way.

JETS is presently running a history class for 9th - 12th graders in which all material is presented online via the Haiku Learning Management System.  At the end of Unit 1 students were given the opportunity to select their chosen method of evaluation which included:
·         creating a skit about the topic
·         devising a game for the class to play based on the subject
·         collect images that depict the subject matter into a PowerPoint Presentation

The students worked hard -- harder, they noted, than they would have worked had they simply memorized material for a test.

Evaluations were presented to the entire class and students were expected to comment on each other's presentations. The evaluations that the students presented skits and PowerPoint presentations. 

The students were expected to demonstrate mastery of the subject but, as they themselves noted later, these projects helped them assimilate the subject matter much more thoroughly than they would have through a traditional test.

The students were asked to comment on their evaluations.

These evaluation comments present one of the strongest testaments to the power of the online lesson. If the goal of a lesson is to memorize the subject, a traditional lesson plan and evaluation will accomplish that. If, however, the goal of a lesson is to instill a love of learning in the students, to present them with vibrant, dynamic and meaningful subject material and challenge them to demonstrate their understanding of the topic, it's important to move on to more interactive and demanding rubrics.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

A More Effective Googling Classroom

How many of us have created a lesson plan that centers around our students' Internet search capabilities? Our students are so tech savvy, we tell ourselves, we can send them off to search the Internet for information that will enhance their skills in finding and analyzing information, create a more dynamic lesson plan and engage them in the process of asynchronous learning.

What we often forget is that the search itself is a skill.

A friend recently pointed out that, before assigning projects to our students that require a search, educators should step back a bit and help the students develop the skills that will help them organize their searches and think through the search process in a critical and systematic way. Internet searching much be built on a shared vocabulary that enables students to make optimum use of this vital tool.

These days, when I give my students an assignment that involves a search, I teach them the following "tricks of the trade."

Quotation Marks: Putting quotation marks around a search phrase allows you to search for an exact word or set of words -- a name, a quote, song lyrics, etc.  If your search involves broader parameters ("how to make raisins" or "timeline of hieroglyphic writings," leave the quotation marks off.

Dashes: Dashes exclude information. If the search is for something specific but an unrelated subject continues to intrude, putting that unwanted subject in the search box with a dash in front of it will exclude  any results that include that word/phrase from the search. (When searching for "Kennedy Presidency" you can exclude the Bay of Pigs incident with a dash before "Bay of Pigs").

Site: adding a URL address in the "site" field will search for a specific word or phrase only on that specific site.

Country Codes: You can use an Internet country code to look up a news story. Students who want to look up a story that comes from Israel can add "IL" to their search and find stories reported in Israeli media. 

.Gov or .org: if you want to look for authoritative sites, type in ".gov" for government sites or "org" for organizational sites.  

Advanced Search: If your students aren't going to remember all of the shortcuts for the simple google search box, direct them to the Advanced Google Search where they'll see all of these options spelled out in a more organized way.

There's nothing wrong with assigning your students to search for their information -- it's a great way to encourage students to develop their research skills and take responsibility for their own learning. By helping them along you'll create more efficient learners who can then put these skills to use in other situations -- an important goal of any educational activity. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


As the word spreads about the JETS eCom -- the eLearning Community of Jewish Educators new teachers are joining to learn and share. eCom began as a group of 20 educators who gathered together, online, one evening in September to discuss their needs and interests of attaining their goal of using elearning to enhance their classrooms, engage their students and create an ever more effective Jewish learning environment.


The educators focused on two main concerns.

1.      How can the group serve as a clearinghouse for learning about available online tools and opportunities especially in light of the fact that technology is always changing?

2.      How can each educator share his/her experiences and knowledge with his/her peers in an effective manner?


From this group the eCom community was born. eCom is a self-directed community in which teachers brainstorm, exchange ideas, trade experiences and share their knowledge as it relates to digital learning and online instruction. The group shares a Haiku Learning Management System in which teachers share and discuss ideas, present projects and explore new avenues in the field of online learning.


Some of the recent information that's been shared has included reviews of new online educational games such as quizlet , bitstrip, goanimate, equiz shows, puzzlemaker, Scratch story creation, word searches and more.  Participants explore these programs on their own and report back to the Haiku to share their experiences and their students' reactions to the new and varied elearning options.


The eCom community is an ongoing community -- new participants join weekly and can access all of the previous information via the Haiku LMS while they explore the process of elearning and the ever-changing role that elearning plays in our classrooms.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wordles, Scribblars, Social Posters and Friendships Across the Sea

JETS Shutafut (Partnership) programs have grown this year to embrace twenty-four schools, including ten schools  in the TALI network.

School twinning offers classes in grades 4-12 the opportunity to "twin" with an Israeli classroom. Via a shared Learning Management System (LMS)  the students learn about a wide range of subjects pertaining to Jewish culture and to Israel.

Each participating school chooses its own Shutafut curriculum.  At the close of the previous year the students vote on the subject that they wish to study. These subjects may include (but are not limited to)Jewish immigration to Israel, modern Hebrew, Jewish peoplehood, Israel as the Start-Up Nation, etc.

This year the Shutafut schools are learning about heroes, Israel engagement, identity and leadership skills, Jewish identity and other engaging topics. Gesher Chai (Partnership 2000) schools include partnerships between Vancouver and Alai Giva, a northern border kibbutz community, Edmonton and Emek HaHula, 5 different schools in Birmingham Alabama and Rosh HaAyin and Calgary and the kibbutz school at Kfar Blum. 

The Tali partnership program follows the curriculum of Tali's book "Chaverim M'Ever L'Yam" (Friends Across the Sea) and the lessons are developed in conjunction with the Tali foundation team. The Tali partnership program involve 5th and 6th grade classes in Israel Tali schools and their American counterparts. Schools in this program include the Frankel school of Rananna paired with Baltimore's Beth Tefilla, the Frankel school of French Hill, Jerusalem paired with the Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit, the Ma'voyim school of Beersheva paired with Hochberg Prep of Miami Beach, the Arazim school of Yokneam paired with the Solomon Schechter school of Queens and the Martin J. Gottleib School of Jacksonville FL with the Nitzamin school of Hadera.

All of the programs bring the twinned classrooms together via their individual LMS. Assignments are posted on the virtual blackboards in Hebrew and in English and the students complete the projects using engaging interactive online tools including Voocoo voice recordings, linoboard stickies, Google docs, Wordles, Quizlets, Mind-Mapping, Scibblars, Earthtools, Social Posters and more.

 Some of the schools have organized school trips that allow the students to meet and strengthen the connections -- this year video conferencing meetings are also planned in many schools so that the kids can meet in "real time."

 Today eLearning opportunities provide more tools than ever to enable Israeli and diaspora communities to strengthen ties and build bridges.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Perk Up your eLearning Projects

I'm always looking for new etools for my online classes so recent buzz about using QR codes for online learning perked my interest.

QR -- Quick Response -- is a barlike code that you can scan with your QR-enabled smartphone or tablet to reach a specific website. The phone's camera reads the code and then opens the appropriate website, mobile number, SMS, bookmark or email address.

There are numerous applications for a QR code in the digital classroom.

1.      Teach the kids to create their own QR codes (there are numerous apps for all of the different smartphones and tablets that enable you to quickly create a QR code). Once the code is created, the student can take a photo of it and then apply it to any of his projects.
2.      Reduce books and print-outs by sending the students to websites with relevant material via a QR code.
3.      Involve the kids in a project or chessed project and encourage them to create activities and missions for the other students/teachers/families  by posting QR codes around the school, in school newsletters, etc. Take the project outside the school and post the QR codes around the neighborhood.
4.      Create a QR scavenger hunt that revolves around a specific unit or subject that you're learning. Each QR code can lead the students to the next hidden code. You can expand this type of project by posting codes the classroom which take the kids to various written, audio or visual materials. As the kids move through the unit, each activity will contain a new QR code that takes them to the next stage.
5.      Heighten the excitement over a prize or a reward by having a QR code lead to the goodie. Even better, let the QR code present a hint that the student must unravel to earn the reward.
6.      Create a rubric in which students check their work by scanning a QR code that  allows them to evaluate their answers after a test or assignment. This facilitates student reflection and provides new opportunities for the students to reinforce the material.
7.      Attach QR codes to physical objects that represent a topic that the students are learning. Each QR code will take the students to the information that allows them to explore the subject.
8.      Assign students research projects in which their findings will be linked by the QR codes that they create. These codes can then be posted for the other students to examine.
9.      Build a lesson with QR codes that take the students from step to step.

10.   Use a QR code to crowdsource the students' ideas and thoughts. The students can quickly scan the QR code to vote or otherwise add their voice to the discussion.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Moving the Mountain

I've been thinking about the webcast that I saw yesterday (recorded from the live webcast last week)in which Jewish educators met to discuss the findings of the PEW report Portrait of Jewish Americans.

In essence, what the speakers were saying was "the numbers don't look great but let's concentrate on the people who are still part of the Jewish community and build on that."

That's an important point. Jewish educators work hard to pass on Judaism to the next generation and it's discouraging to hear the statistics. But if teachers are prepared to focus on the majority of Jews who continue to feel that Judaism is an important part of their lives, and who do want to grow Jewishly, they can succeed.

I would have liked to have added another question to the webcast. How do we, as Jewish educators, meet the needs of individuals and families who don't come to the Jewish institutions? How can we bring the institutions to them?

As the study indicated, not all of the unaffiliated families want to connect to the Jewish community, but many do. Reasons for disinterest in affiliation vary. Some individuals intermarried and subsequently didn't feel comfortable within the Jewish community. Others moved to rural areas in which they were unable to find a community environment.  There are numerous other reasons for families' lack of affiliation but the study did indicate that, even among Jews for whom Judaism did not play a significant role in their lives, many identify as Jews and want to maintain a connection with their Jewish heritage. It may not be 100% but we're still talking about thousands of families and we have to think about how to facilitate their continued engagement, on any level.

I was thinking about the situation this evening while sitting in on an online Hebrew school class. The JconnecT 2013-2014 season has launched and the classes alternate between Hip Hop Hebraics and Contemporary Jewish Issues. The students, aged 11 -14, participate in JconnecT as a complementary Jewish experience that allows them to explore Jewish history, values, culture and traditions in an open atmosphere of dynamic Jewish learning.

Today's class was an engaging look at Jewish Ethics. The instructor posted a list of ABCs and asked the students to write words next to each letter that related to elements of ethics.

The class then discussed the meaning of ethics and how it applies to modern-day life. The instruction moved over to a linoboard where several different assignments awaited the students. Each assignment included a question about a real-life or fictionalized issue of ethics in which the students were asked to decide how to act, with references to Jewish texts and scholarly writings which relate to Jewish ethics.

The students were given time to review the issues and add their comments and thoughts, after which the class concentrated on a few of the dilemmas, such as the question of if and when it's OK to cheat. The instructor presented the students with various scenarios and asked them "when is it OK to cheat? Are there any times that you can cheat?"  Once again, the students were forced to review their stand and decide what was ethical, both according to Jewish standards and their own standards of behavior.

At the end of the lesson the instructor polled the students, asking them which subjects -- military ethics, cheating, gossip, respecting elders, etc -- they wanted to delve into more deeply in future classes.

For the entire 45-minute class the students were involved in the subject matter. The online tools that the instructor used ensured that students didn't have to "wait their turn" to express an opinion or ask a question -- the action never stopped as students reviewed the material and posted their comments as they maintained a high level of interactive engagement throughout the lesson.

If Moshe and Miriam can't come to the mountain, online learning offers a partial answer to the question of how the Jewish community can bring the mountain to Moshe and Miriam. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

PEW Study Opens Prospects for Jewish Educational Professionals

A recent panel discussion, moderated by the Jewish Education Project, highlighted what the results of the 2013 PEW study "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" mean for Jewish educators.

Jonathan Woocher of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Cyd Weissman, Director of Innovation Congregational Learning at the Jewish Education Project and Michelle Lynn-Sachs, researcher and consultant in Jewish education at the Union for Reform Judaism/Hebrew Union College gathered online to present their assessment of the PEW study results to numerous Jewish educators from all Jewish streams throughout North America.

Jonathan Woocher began the discussion by summarizing his assessment of the survey results as "don't panic." He noted that, although the data hasn't been fully analyzed, it's just as important to look at what hasn't been said as what has been said. He believes that the survey shows that the Jewish community is showing resilience to a changing world, including a positive disposition to Judaism among many unaffiliated Jews. While Jews of "no religion" and intermarried Jews show a lower percentage of feelings of belonging to the Jewish religion, the majority of those Jews still express a connection and it's the responsibility of Jewish educators to take advantage of that and build on it.

Mr. Woocher said that we have to accept that there are some Jews who are not interested in Jewish expression or involvement but the majority want to be enaged. Educators must find the strategies to engage those who do want to connect.

Cyd Weissman discussed the importance of reaching out to the community for discussions and ideas about how to "make meaning of the text" of the study -- how to make Judaism more meaningful and real in the lives of community members.

In particular, Ms. Weissman pointed to the fact that there are 1.8 children in America who are living with one Jewish parent. Although the study showed that only ½ of these children are being raised exclusively as Jews, the majority of them have a Jewish "mentor" in their lives -- a parent, grandparent or other individual -- who can weave the relationship that will influence the children's Jewish identity.

Michelle Lynn-Sachs reiterated Ms. Weissman's comments about engaging community members. Educators can crowdsource to collect thoughts and ideas about how to make Judaism more meaningful and accessible for the community. She emphasized the importance of each community concentrating on its own individual needs.

Ms. Lynn-Sachs reiterated some of Mr. Woocher's suggestions about how to base long-term educational planning on the positive aspects of the survey. The survey shows that, although some Jews are unaffiliated, most identify positively with their Judaism. She asked educators to consider how to engage these people on their own terms. How can educators identify what it is that makes people proud to be part of the Jewish people and build on those elements?  

For online educators, these insights present a challenge that, in some ways, elearning programs may be best-poised to meet.

Individuals who are knowledgeable and engaged with a Jewish community are likely to already be involved in Jewish learning. For people who have a tenuous relationship with their Judaism, however, finding a Jewish learning program for their kids that is accessible, unintimidating and welcoming can be a challenge.

Online learning enables Jewish youngsters to join together with other students who come from similar circumstances.  Classes meets in a friendly environment that encourages Jewish exploration. Jewish distance learning provides the warmth of a Jewish classroom together with hospitable atmosphere in which the students can interact with their Jewish learning on their own terms.

The 21st century presents many tests to the Jewish community and 21st century technology may help the community meet these challenges.   

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Using eLearning to Cut Costs in a Small Jewish Day School -- a Model

Both day schools and afternoon schools have come to the conclusion that including distance learning in their curriculum can enhance lessons, result in increased learning, offer differential learning opportunities to different types of learners and free the classroom teacher to allow her to engage and assist individual students as needed.

Throughout the country public and private schools are including elearning  paradigms in their learning strategies. In-school online learning generally involves blended learning in which the material is presented online in a variety of interactive forms and the classroom teacher supports the learning by providing individualized instruction and feedback. Entire school districts are purchasing tablets for their entire student bodies and training the teachers to work with the students as the students manage their own learning and progress at their own levels.

For small Jewish day schools and complementary congregational schools, elearning has an additional benefit. Through creative uses of distance learning options schools can combine classes, reduce supplemental staffing and cut their costs.

One example involves a recent JETS class that was conducted at the Kadima high school in St. Louis Missouri. Kadima is a new school and the classes are still small. The school includes both boys and girls but the classes are separate.

This fall JETS facilitated an online history class for Kadima's 10th grade students. The boys' class and the girls' class each studied in their own classrooms but were connected simultaneously to the teacher, Ms. Smadar Goldstein, who met with the students via a video-conferencing system that enabled her to see both classrooms as she taught.

Ms. Goldstein used the Haiku Learning Management System to present the material, give assignments, provide feedback and conduct evaluations. The school benefitted financially by being able to run two history classes for the price of one.

As elearning becomes more integrated into Jewish day schools and afternoon enrichment programs, JETS sees that these types of projects will become more and more prevalent.

Online Learning and Evaluation Options

The traditional strategy for evaluating student learning is "the test." Students regurgitate the information that they learned by answering questions, either multiple choice questions or in text form. This provides an easy way for teachers to determine whether the students have acquired the necessary information, for administrators to evaluate classroom performance and for communities and governments to monitor the standing of their schools.

Proponents of traditional testing note that these tests are a fair and objective measure of student achievement but increasingly educators are expressing the worry that the pressure of performing well on tests causes teachers to structure their curriculum according to the test, rather than creating a curriculum that helps students gain real-world knowledge that will help them succeed in life.

Conducting a traditional test online is probably one of the easiest aspects of distance learning. Digital tools quickly record students' answers and "score" the test within minutes. But what about the elearning educator who wants to create a rubric that is actually a part of the learning process?

If the goal of education is to help students learn material, develop the skills to analyze the material and learn how to further use it in a constructive manner, traditional testing seems to defeat that purpose. How many times have we heard our students say "I didn't remember anything after I took the test."? Where's the education here?

The old-fashioned book report, which was probably one of the most engaging types of traditional learner-evaluation rubrics, has been expanded in online learning programs to include interactive opportunities for students to summarize units while adding to their understanding of the subject matter and reinforcing the content of the lesson.

Book reports involve describing a book in the form of a summary, usually as a written report. The student provides enough of an overview of the book so that the teacher can see that the student actually read the book.

Distance learning allows students to use a wide range of online tools to create that same summery, but with the added opportunity to expand on the subject and actually use the evaluation to create an additional learning experience. Using dynamic etools the student can use his own language and understanding of the subject material to demonstrate how a unit progressed and the conclusions that the student took from the information that he acquired.

In a recent JETS history lesson the 10th grade students of the Kadima school of St. Louis created intriguing summaries of the intensive material that they studied that related to the dilemmas that faced the Jewish community of Jerusalem of the 1st century C.E.