Monday, August 5, 2013

Jewish Education and Technology Conference, 2013

As always, I come into this conference with a balance of trepidation and excitement. Trepidation because, no matter how much I always WANT to improve as an educator, it is always so challenging to put all of the pieces together, to open myself up to radical change, to see the vast applications of technologies and how they apply to me and to my students. I worry that I will not remember everything--I worry that I won't choose the correct tools to focus on for next year--I need to let all of these worries go to enter an open space where I know that the pieces I need will fall into place and all of the tools and ideas will show themselves to me. 

I am excited, because we as educators are at a moment of educational revolution. I feel the energy of innovation in this room; together we can create something new--and at the very least--a new network from which to learn -- a place where we can share and collaborate in this unique place of Judaism and technology.

Let's use all of these tools--I want to imagine what education can look like with this JET13 cohort. 


MiddleWeb: The Future of History

We have teamed up with our friend and collaborator Aaron Brock on "The Future of History" a new blog at MiddleWeb.
Please check it out!

Aaron's most recent post about project learning without technology is really impressive.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Article on Sciam Guest Blog: Research in the Digital Age

Our article in Scientific American addresses the problem of students dealing with the massive amounts of information found on the Internet. As history teachers, we've had to incorporate even more source analysis into our curriculum.
Research in the Digital Age: It's More Than Finding Information.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A New Era of Classroom Transparency

Our new post about the necessity of classroom transparency in this age of technology is up today on Education Week Teacher. Check it out!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rote Learning or Authentic Assessment?

Each year, the sixth grade students at our school lead a Shabbat morning service. They read from the Torah, lead the prayers and blessings, and share their ideas about the concepts behind the service. All this is the result of a great deal of preparation in class; students learn trope so that they can read from the Torah, reflect and write about the meaning of prayers and their connections to them, and learn the words and melodies to familiar and unfamiliar prayers.

We have struggled with this in the past--devoting so much time in class for what on some level looks like rote learning (when, at our cores, we are very invested in the constructivist/critical thinking learning models)--but there is no doubt that the result is always beautiful and transcendent.

We were trained in the Understanding by Design method--a model of teaching and learning that posits assessments must be authentic i.e. like a real-world situation in order for them to have meaning, retention, and transference for the students.

That being said, isn't this Shabbat service the most authentic of assessments?  Despite the fact that it looks like memorization, students are learning the skills to participate in any Jewish Shabbat service that they attend.  This skill they will use in the next year --which will bring them many many Bnai Mitzvah services and celebrations-- but even more so, this is a skill they can use the rest of their lives.

It raises the constant tension in Jewish education about keva (routine) vs. kavannah (spirituality). Sometimes there is a benefit in just learning the motions-- because once you learn the motions, then you can start thinking on a higher level and bring yourself to a deeper spiritual place. It is hard to reach a place of meaning during a worship service if you are stumbling through the words, or feel unsure of yourself. Now that our students have honed their skills at participating in a Shabbat service, they are in a place where they will be better setup to find that spiritual place as they mature.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Week of Conferences: Part 1

So this past week, Shara and I have been to a few conferences. When I say Shara and I, I really mean that Shara went to the biggie conference (NAJDS) and I went to a smaller scale one (Common Sense Media's "Gender & Digital Life" conference).

So, this will be a two-part post.

The Common Sense Media Conference
We've been fans of the San Francisco based Common Sense Media for awhile now.  We use their Test Before You Trust worksheet with the students when we talk about bias and researching information on the Internet (more on this later) and have found it to be very useful in the classroom.

That's why I was excited to attend this workshop.

While the backbone of it was a kind of explanation and validation of mainstream sociological and psychological theories (gender as a social construct, etc.,), it did raise a few questions for me: Are gender stereotypes online exacerbated by the Internet or are they a reflection of the students' reality?
What are some ways that we can make students aware of gender disparity and shift their behavior? Are some of the ways that our students self-objectify on social media harmful for their developing psyche? How can we engage parents in a meaningful conversation about how students can use social media in a responsible way?

And most importantly: How do I apply my new knowledge to my classroom/school?
Common Sense Media has a curriculum for this, but I wonder if it is possible to integrate some of their ideas into what we are doing already.

My Big Question:
The big idea that I kept thinking about when I left the conference was not necessarily about gender and social media, but social media itself.

When I went to the conference I had just come from teaching a class where the students make pretend Facebook pages (using Edmodo) for four founders of the United States: Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams. Students then collaborated in teams trying to figure out what to post from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson/Alexander Hamilton/James Madison/John Adams about important issues at that time (the Great Compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise, the National Bank, the Federalist Papers, etc.).
And then they commented on each other's posts:

My question: we kind of encourage the students to argue with each other--respectfully--on these topics (as the characters, of course) in order to help them to clarify their person's perspective. This activity could end up mirroring the negative aspects of social media. In the picture, Thomas Jefferson is calling Hamilton "pig filth." While this may reflect the tone of the discourse of the time, it is certainly not representative of how we want students to talk to each other in real life or on social media. After, we stopped for a moment and talked about the line between argument and attack.

Is it ethical to do this activity? Even though the students are more engaged than they usually are when discussing content?

I was thinking that maybe we could use a student analysis of this process to bring up some of the issues that social media brings up in terms of relationships and how the students speak to each other. This could be a jumping-off point for discussing digital citizenship. 

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?