Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Day at the Museum (without leaving your classroom)

Much can be gained from a field trip to a great museum in art, history, science or Jewish culture. However, regular museum trips are often not feasible in a classroom setting due to geographical and time constraints. With the help of the Internet and a classroom projector or laptop cart these museums can be brought to school through their excellent websites. For an article on the advantages of taking a virtual museum field trip with your class from Education World Magazine click here: One suggestion that has worked for me is to create a webquest or scavenger hunt based on one or more of the museum websites in which students answer a series of short answer and/or essay type questions based on their exploration of the virtual musuem.

Here is a list of some of my favorite online museums: Vashem has dozens of online exhibitions, a Shoah victim's database, and a secton for educators. The Jewish Museum offers interactive online exhibitions of its acclaimed permanent exhbition and many of its current and past exhibitions. Hatefusoth: Museum of the Jewish Diaspora offers
Virtual Exhibitions on The Gaon of Vilna, Jews of Mexico, Jews of Romania, Jews in Arab Lands, and In the Land of Hagar (Jews of Hungary). Also notable are the database of family names and Jewish genealogy links. The City of David is an internationally award winning website offers spectacular panoramic views of Jerusalem from biblical times until today. Yeshiva University Museum offers online exhibition of some of its best collections. Here are 2 notable ones:

  1. The exhibition on the printing of the Talmud includes fantastic photos of manuscripts and editions of the Talmud from the 6th century until modern times as well as interesting video footage of the world of the Yeshiva some as old as the early 1900s.
  2. Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice features photos and information about the famous Dreyfus Affair. National Constitution Center in Philadelphia features an Interactive Constitution in which each section of the Constitution is explained with commentary and with search tools by keyword, topic, and Supreme Court Cases. It also offers a vast amount of curriculum resources. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia, one of the world's premier art museums offers on its website a Virtual Visit in which you can see many of the art masterpieces as well as panaoramic views of the various rooms in the museum.
The Louvre in France offers on its website virtual tours and a Kaleidoscope of visual themes arranged by topic. Topics include daily life, mythology, and religious and profane. The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers collection highlights and a searchable database of over 30,000 works of art. The American Museum of Natural History offers most of its best exhibits online. These exhibits are visually stunning, have many virtual tours and contain teacher's guides as well.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a wealth of online exhibits and archives of past exhibitions. The Liberty Science Center has an Exhibits Live feature that lets you interactively explore many exhibits.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adobe Blurs Line Between PC and Web

I found the following article which I believe describes the future of computing, the beginning of the web-based operating system where you can access your full documents and programs anywhere in the world by logging on from any computer over the web.

Published: February 25, 2008
A software developer has created a new system that will power potentially tens of thousands of applications that merge the Internet and the PC.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Comics Online

One of my favorite activities on Sunday mornings is to read the comics with my children. I often find comics that are not only humorous but connect to what I am teaching. A funny and insightful comic can often become a great hook for a lesson and can be copied into a PowerPoint or Smart Board presentation as a part of your lesson. One example appears above.

Where can we find good comics in a digital format so that it can be copied and pasted as a part of a lesson? The thing to realize is that all of the syndicated comic strips have a website usually from the syndicator. This website often archives the comics for 30 days. If you find a good comic that you would like to incorporate in class go to their website, right click on the comic, and select "Save Picture As", name the comic and save it in a folder on your computer. You will then be able to instert the comic into any lessons or worksheets where it might be helpful.

Here are 3 websites of syndicators of popular comics: The Home of Comics on the web:

King Features Syndicate- Comics:

Go Comics and Editorial Cartoons:

Here is a fun website that features comics that the author just does not understand:

Comics I Don't Understand:

For those of you who are fans of the Far Side, since it is no longer in syndication there is no online resource that features Far Side comics. However, the website below offers a service to locate old Far Side cartoons. You just send an email to the link on the side describing the Far Side that you want and he will send you back the exact name of the comic and its location (including page number) in the various Far Side collections. You can then purchase the Far Side book or borrow it from the library. I have used this service and found it to be incredibly helpful.
Search Engine for Gary Larson Far Side Cartoons:

Another great resource is the Dry Bones Blog. This blog authored by Yaakov Kirschen the creator of the famous Dry Bones political cartoons from Israel features all the latest comics with commentary and Golden Oldies.
Enjoy the comics!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Zamzar: Free online file conversion

As teachers, you often spend many hours working from home creating lessons to be printed out or displayed in school. The challenge comes when your home word processor or Office Suite saves files in a different format than your program at school. For example, in school you might have Microsoft Office 2007 which saves files with the new 'X' extension as in docx or pptx while at home you might have an earlier version of Microsoft Office, Office for Mac, or the iwork suite for mac which does not open 'X' files. (For Windows machines, you can download the Office compatability pack but this does not work on Macs.) Or you might have WordPerfect at home or Open Office, the free open source office suite. Files saved in these formats might not open on your Microsoft Office in school. How can you solve this problem?

Of course, the easiest solution to this is to use the "Save As" feature in most programs to save your files as a .doc, .ppt, or xls format (the most common extensions for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) when you create them. This feature is available in Office 2007, Open Office, and most versions of WordPerfect. However, often we forget to do this or we receive files as email attachments in which the sender did not convert the file to a compatible format.

I have found as easy solution to this. It is This free service website will convert files to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel formats and then email it to you. It even converts files to PDFs for opening with Adobe Reader. Zamzar also converts files into most image, music, and video formats. This service has already saved me a number of times and I am sure that many of you will find it to be indispensible.

One note, Zamzar does not convert files created in the old Hebrew word processors, DavkaWriter and Dagesh. For opening DavkaWriter files, you can download the free application, DavkaViewer. This program not only opens all DavkaWriter files (.dwd extension) but lets you export them as rich text files (.rtf extension) a format that works with Microsoft Word. For old Dagesh files (.dgs extension), I don't know of any free program that will open them. You can purchase Dagesh Pro or DavkaWriter 6 Platinum which opens both DavkaWriter and Dagesh files. Both of these programs allow you to export your documents as rich text files to be edited in Microsoft Word.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laptops in the Classroom

Recently the New York Times had a front page feature on laptops in the classroom:
Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops, May 4, 2007
The article states in part:

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.
A response by an eleventh grade student who has been in a school with a one-to-one laptop program since the fifth grade appears below.
Laptops in the Classroom, May 11, 2007
This student points out:

Since fifth grade, my school's one-to-one laptop program has made it easy for me to grab digital copies of public domain works for English class, annotate lab reports and maintain and organize access to the documents I'm working on.

And asks:

Yes, laptops can be used to goof off in class. But is instant messaging a greater threat to education than passing paper notes or staring out the window?

A similar article appeared in the New York Times some 4 years ago.Professors vie with web for class's attention, New York Times, January 2, 2003In this article, my cousin Matthew Pittinsky, the founder of BlackBoard a leader in online course management systems, points out:

Mr. Pittinsky said the greatest power of wireless showed up in the dorm, the library and the commons. "There's less of an obvious use for wiring the classroom," where the benefits have to be balanced against the distraction, he said.

I tend to side with both of the articles and the student's response. As a Director of Educational Technology for a number of years, I have seen the great benefit of laptops in the classroom for certain lessons and certain students. However, they are only successful in tandem with the overall educational plan for that lesson. Indiscriminately giving all students laptops for all classes is both expensive and often educationally unsound. Students with ready Internet access will spend much of their time on fantasy baseball or instant messaging or even just plain old solitaire and the laptops will become a distraction for the class.

I emphasize here that laptops are a great tool when used by teachers who have planned out lessons to utilize them. This includes writing and research activities that utilize the Internet and word processing or science and math applications that actively engage students in the learning process with the help of the computers.

I have witnessed classes with close to 100% of the students engaged thanks to the laptops. However, this can best be accomplished with teachers having ready access to mobile computer labs known as laptop carts that can be wheeled into class for specific lessons rather than by giving students laptops for every lesson.

It goes without saying that students with certain learning differences or students where computers is an area of strength might benefit from using a laptop in every class. This should be determined on a case by case basis.