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?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tweeting in Public

In our most recent article on the Scientific American guest blog, we discuss educators using Twitter for professional development purposes and how important it is to be involved in this conversation. 

However, is understandable that many schools may be a little wary of their teachers blogging and posting on Twitter. After all, even more than something like Facebook, these things are completely public. In theory, parents, students, and the whole world can see what is being written. 

That being said, when you are an educator, it is implicit that you are going to need to follow some rules when interacting in a public forum--whether it be personally on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., or professionally on any of those sites.

1. Never ever say anything negative about a particular student, parent, teacher, administrator, etc. (duh, but you know, sometimes these things need to be said. :)

2. Don't use names, work, or photos of students or parents without permission

3. Make sure that your tone is professional--always remember that anyone may be reading this

4. Never say anything you wouldn't want your boss or a parent to read

5. Despite personal feelings, try to keep your tone neutral on political or other hot-button issues

6. Personal stays personal (Obviously on Facebook you can be personal if you've set your privacy settings so only friends have access, but even then, always keep in mind rule 4.)

7. Remember you are a role model-- The transcript of this Slate podcast discusses a teacher tweeting "inappropriately," but also raises the question about what teachers' roles are in social media...interesting read/listen.

Really if you just remember rule #4 you're probably fine. :)

Don't let the public nature of social media keep you from sharing what works in your school or classroom with other educators! The world of teaching and learning is only getting more open and transparent--it's important to stay current.

Tweet to Learn

This is an article on Scientific American about professional development opportunities on Twitter--the benefits of a conference, but from your couch in your pjs. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our Post on Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable --Technology Discussion

We were lucky to be asked to participate in Education Week Teacher's and Center for Teaching Quality's Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable discussion on what works in technology. The more discussion on this topic the better as it is clearly an important one to most schools and teachers. We would love to hear your comments on the Edweek blog!

We talk about how teachers need time to play in order to become more comfortable with new technology. Read our post here

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Maternity Leave

I am going back to school after being on maternity leave since the birth of my second son in October. I worked up until the day before I have birth (on the way to the hospital I had two bags: my hospital bag and my work bag--waiting to hear if I really was in labor.)

There has been nothing more rewarding than being home with my son, but I have missed my other kids, too. One had a birthday yesterday that I was happy I could remember even though I wasn't "in the loop." Some of these kids I've had since third grade--it's been hard to miss some of their milestones in class--I missed the 2Pac lesson! Constitution essays!--but I know that they were taken care of as well as or better than I could have done myself.  This is a thank you to (first and foremost) Shara, Debra, the administration of my school, and everyone else who picked up the slack when I was gone. I am excited to come back, to see my "other kids," hear about what they've been doing, and to apply some of the awesome ideas I've picked up on Twitter while I've been on leave.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Parent Communication

Parent communication is a huge key to the success of the student and the teacher. Most parents have differing levels of expectations for this.  Some want to know every single thing that happens in the classroom, some want to know if their child needs extra support, and some feel already overwhelmed with the number of daily emails they get and want minimal communication--just the "important stuff." As a teacher, it's important to make sure that your means of communication meets each parent where they are. Though this may seem like an overwhelming feat, here is an explanation of how the two of us communicate with parents.

Building positive rapport with parents is something that you must focus on in the first month of school.  Once parents know that you have a personal investment in the life of their child, they will much more supportive of your action plans, should their child need more help later on in the year.  Parent teacher cooperation is one of the easiest ways to improve student outcomes. Our middle school director encourages us to make positive connections as often, or more often, than calls dealing with problems; we find this to be invaluable. These positive connections help build that rapport, and can be as small as "I saw your son show kindness to a friend," or "your daughter clearly spent a lot of time on this assignment." In the first two days of school, the student's advisory teacher calls each parent, touching base about student needs and making sure that the parents know their child has an advocate--even though school has just started.

It can be hard for parents to hear negative things about his or her child, but it can be a lot easier for parents to process feedback if they know it is coming from a teacher who has their child's best interests at heart. We make a point of contacting parents once we see a student start to academically falter; we notify parents after the first month of school if their child is earning a B- or below. This way, if there are any interventions that can help the student, they can be acted upon while there is still time to raise their grade. Additionally, after grading a test or large assignment, we notify the parents of students who earned a C or below, who showed significant progress, and who did exceptionally well. These e-mails are usually only two to three sentences long, and though they do require a small time investment, they could prevent small problems from becoming big ones.

Much of teaching, especially in the younger grades, is attending to the social and emotional needs of students. We teach middle school, and only see the students for short increments of time. Often, we will notice that a student seems out-or-sorts, or had a falling out with a peer, but will not have time to address it before the bell rings and the student moves onto their next class. In this case (and depending on the family), a quick e-mail home can be invaluable. Though it is nice to have a paper trail to help you remember the communications you have had with a particular family, some issues require a phone call or face-to-face interactions--also, sometimes an issue is complicated, and will take less time to explain over the phone. We usually default to e-mail, but it is not always sufficient.

Some parents want access to due dates, assignment details, their child's grades, course materials, etc. For parents who want this level of access, it is not practical to communicate this information to them individually. Rather, make this information available to them online. We do this through a learning management system called Haiku purchased by our school, but there are many free Internet tools to make a class website or blog; teachers can also periodically send home score reports.

This may seem like a huge undertaking, but creating a good relationship with the parents through relationships goes a long way toward improving student success.