Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Friday, July 31, 2009

Creating Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Much has been written about the effectiveness of PowerPoint in the classroom.

In a recent discussion from the NY Times Blog, Freakonomics: A Different Kind of Cheating the argument is made that professors who use PowerPoint to conduct their lectures are cheating students by encouraging them to be passive and bored during class. This is based on an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a movement by one dean in a liberal arts university to "Teach Naked": When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom and an essay in the Armed Forces Journal: Dumb-dumb Bullets. A recent study on this subject published in the peer reviewed British Educational Research Journal is Boredom in the lecture theatre: an investigation into the contributors, moderators and outcomes of boredom amongst university students. The granddaddy of this anti-PowerPoint movement is a piece by Edward Tufte in 2003 entitled PowerPoint is Evil.

So what do I think of all of this? I think that PowerPoint is a tool like all technologies. It is a tool that can be used correctly to organize, enhance, and clarify ideas in the lesson and generate student discussion or activities about these ideas. Or it can be used to just regurgitate the classroom content so neither the student nor the teacher really needs to be there as long as they read the slides.

This problem predates PowerPoint as it is the challenge that exists with all teacher-driven frontal lectures. It reminds me of the classic scene from the '80s movie "Real Genius" where the student walks into a lecture hall full of tape recorders which are "listening" to the teacher's tape recorder located on his desk. If PowerPoint has merely replaced the tape recorder as another method to stuff information into a student's brain then it is evil. If it is tool to enhance student learning then it is not.

Below is a presentation that I have composed on creating effective PowerPoint presentations that hopefully is helpful not "evil". Note that my presentation is short, contains a minimum of bullet points, and includes pictures, humor, quotes, and a video clip rather than my teaching notes. I consider this to be an effective PowerPoint presentation. Do you?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences

About 2 minutes and 30 seconds into this excellent segment, Howard Gardner introduces ways to use interactive technologies to help support Multiple Intelligences Theory. 12 years later, are we using technologies to assist us in reaching every child and every type of intelligence?

Sources for Amos

One of the books we are teaching this year in Nakh is Amos who was one of the Trei Asar (the 12 Minor Prophets). Here are some resources that I have collected.
  • Rabbi Hayim Tawil on Amos and Wisdom Literature Part I, Part II, and Part III. These audio classes focus on the lexicography or the detailed meaning of the language of Amos. He used much comparisions with Akkadian and other Near Eastern Languages. I found it helped introduce me to the writing style and words of Amos. His commentary on the Oracles to the Nations in chapters 1 and 2 is particularly strong.
  • Rabbi Allen Schwartz on Amos Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. Rabbi Schwartz's classic rabbinic style coupled with his modern day applications make his classes a pleasure to listen to.
  • Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream quotes from Amos 5:24 as well as Isaiah 40:4 and is a great example of how the modern Civil Rights Movement utilized Amos' message of social justice.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blogging Directly from Igoogle

I am writing this post directly from my Igoogle Homepage using the Blogger gadget that I described in my previous posting ( Wow!

What's in your IGoogle?

When you open up your web browser what do you see? Your browser automatically opens to a page known as your HomePage or Web Portal. For some of you, this might just be the default page that came loaded on your computer. Ever wonder why your Internet always opens to or That's the answer. It is the boring default.

Others of you may have advanced to setting up your own default page, maybe for search, or for email, or for news. This might make you a bit more advanced but you are still seeing content created by others and limited by a specific company or News Media Service.

With you can create your own personalized homepage that includes all of the content that is interesting to you. You can get this content can come from Google gadgets or RSS feeds. For example, your Igoogle homepage can include headlines and articles from your favorite newspapers, the comic strips that make you laugh, your Gmail and Google Docs accounts, the weather in your hometown, your Google Bookmarks, even feeds from your favorite blogs. To set up an Igoogle account just follow these instructions from Google. Here are some more detailed instructions from EduBlogger: setting up Igoogle for your personal learning.

Besides specialized content, some other great advantages of Igoogle are it's ease of use and portability. By ease of use I mean that once you set up your Igoogle page (or have someone else set it up for you) and make it your new default homepage, all you have to do to read your content is open up your web browser. You should have everything you need directly on your homepage without having to navigate to any other website. For example, I set up an Igoogle homepage for my grandparents who are well into their 80s Bli Ayin Hara with their Gmail, newspapers, the weather, and stock portfolio and that is basically the only webpage they go to.

By portability I mean that all you have to do to get your Igoogle homepage on any computer in the world is go to and sign in. This is especially useful for me when I am on someone else's computer and want to show them my bookmarks. Since my bookmarks are saved in Google Bookmarks on my Igoogle homepage and not in a specific browser on my computer I can access these bookmarks anywhere just by logging into Igoogle.

So what's in my IGoogle? Unfortunately, I cannot send a link to view my entire Igoogle homepage as it only exists using my Google login. However, I can share with you the web addresses for the various tabs that I have added. After your sign in to setup your Igoogle page, just copy and paste any (or all) of these links into your broswer and there should be an "Add to Igoogle" button. Press this button to add them to your homepage. Here are my tabs with a brief description of each:
  1. Blogger This gadget allows me to post to my blog directly from my homepage.
  2. TechBlog by Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle.
  3. Edublogger by Sue Waters.
  4. 2centsworth by David Warlick.
  5. TeachersLoveSmartBoards by James Hollis.
  6. ActiveHistory by Russel Tarr.
  7. PearlsBeforeSwine my favorite comic strip by Stephan Pastis.
  8. FreeTechnologyForTeachers by Richard Byrne.
  9. FriendFeed FreeTechnologyForTeachers more from Richard Byrne.
  10. SportsScores
  11. The Wall Street Journal
  12. Jerusalem Post Headlines
  13. Gmail
  14. Google Docs
  15. Google Bookmarks
  16. Driving Directions
  17. Weather

Twitter for teachers

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to avoid disasters by recovering mistakenly deleted files

Tonight, I was schmoozing with friends on Facebook when an old friend who also happens to be my cousin-in-law (my wife's first cousin) posted an SOS. It seems that she went on a wonderful trip with her family today taking 53 photos and then, by mistake, she deleted all of them from her camera. Ouch!!!

Luckily the same thing happened to me last summer when I deleted some important files from a project I was working on from my USB Flash Drive. After panicking for a half hour, I started to think straight, and remembered that when you delete something on a computer or external memory drive, the computer does not actually erase the file. Rather it marks it as deleted and then overwrites it with new files once you add more data to your drive. What this means is as long as you do nothing and save nothing new to your computer or, in the case of the camera, do not take any more pictures, the deleted files will still be lurking on your computer somewhere. If you are a mystery buff you knew this already as a standard plot line in cop shows is the computer geek who manages to retrieve deleted files from a computer to get the bad guys. But the thing is you don't have to work for the CIA or be a computer geek to do this anymore. You just need to get the right program and it does not need to even cost you anything. So here it is...

Try Pandora Recovery. No this is not the online radio station. Rather this is a free program that I used to become the "best old friend and cousin-in-law ever". It recovered all 53 of her pictures and all of my lost project files last year. I highly recommend you install it on your computer ASAP as an insurance policy to save you from future disaster.

Video for the 3 Weeks and Tisha Ba'av

I found this video from for the 3 weeks and Tisha Ba'av:

Lookjed Posting on the Limits of the Orthodox Classroom

Below is my recent Lookjed posting on the Limits of the Orthodox Classroom. You Can read the entire discussion thread here: The limits of the Orthodox classroom

Dear Shalom and List:

I very much enjoyed reading Yael Unterman’s article as well as the various responses to it. I am also reading her excellent biography of Nechama Leibowitz and had the privilege to learn with Nechama during the last year of her life. I believe that Yael accurately portrayed Nechama (and every teacher’s) dilemma of balancing the contradictory roles of facilitator of student learning and exploration with that of the pedagogue who has definite learning targets which she wishes to impart.

I respond to Yael’s article based on my personal experiences as a student of Modern Orthodox Yeshiva day schools and institutions of advanced learning, a teacher in high schools of similar hashkafa, and now as a parent of school age children in these same types of schools. I feel indebted particularly to Michelle Bergman’s posting which similarly highlighted her experiences as both a teacher and parent.

As a student, although I loved school for most of my childhood, I was rarely excited about my formal Jewish education until I spent 2 years learning at Yeshivat Shaalvim after high school. Here I had the privilege of learn with teachers who opened my eyes to the facilitator model of learning and made me an (almost) equal partner in the quest for knowledge. My Rebbe in Gemara for 2 years spent weeks constructing piece by piece a vast schematic of the sugya (our topic of learning). He was a pedagogue par excellence. However, at the same time, he was unafraid to reject days or weeks of work due to an intractable problem introduced by a questioning student. I found this approach, although a bit confusing at times, to be exhilarating. I do not remember much of the content that we learned together but the derech halimud, his approach to breaking down a Gemara and tackling various Rishonim, is the way I intuitively learn today.

I also was involved in my first serious study of Tanach in a Parsha Chug given by my madrich. I remember well the classes he gave on Yosef where he presented the approaches of Rav Yoel Bin Nun and Rav Medan to the famous question of “Why Yosef didn’t write home when he was in Egypt?”. It was not just these approaches that excited me but the idea that when learning Tanach one could think about the motivations of the characters in the narrative and study them with the help of the various commentaries to try to unlock the peshat. After many years where Chumash was studied as an afterthought without serious exploration or higher order thinking, I found this to be revolutionary.

As a teacher, I have tried to share my excitement for learning with my students by involving them in the process. I have struggled with how to carve out time for this while remaining the pedagogue who needs to teach a curriculum. At times, I have sided too far with the facilitator model, allowing discussions to go on for too long, while at others I have cut off these same discussions too quickly citing the need to cover ground.

I have used technology as a method to give students a voice in all topics, even when time constraints did not always allow them to be fully explored in class. In the past, I did this with email and currently I have graduated up to online student discussion forums using Wikis. One incident, a number of years ago, was particularly rewarding. I had an email discussion group focused on the Parshat Hashavuah and one student poignantly voiced her strong misgivings about the lack of truthfulness in the actions of Yaakov Avinu known popularly as the man of Emet. I shared her email with this Lookjed List eliciting a vast stream of learned responses on the topic of the sins of the Avot. You can read the archive of the Lookjed discussion here: []. As the online discussion winded down, I forwarded the many responses to my high school student who was amazed not just at the various answers to her question but at the fact that so many learned Jewish educators were struggling with the same question that she was.

Now that my own children are in the middle elementary grades, I have some perspectives on this topic as a parent. What is particularly frustrating to me is when (some) teachers dismiss my children’s comments or questions as being out of bounds. We welcome our children learning from teachers of various hashkafot but when teachers express that there is only one correct answer this can be detrimental to my children’s’ overall spiritual health.

I remember one conversation my daughter had with her teacher about the story of Rivka and Eliezer. My daughter expressed her opinion that it was unlikely that Rivka was only 3 years old at this time and said that she thought that it was more likely Rivka was around 14. This was based on her intuition that the events in the Chumash describe a girl of marriageable age and also one strong enough to water many camels. Her teacher dismissed this saying that it was impossible that Rivka was older than 3. When my daughter came home, we learned together the Tosfot in Yevamot (which is also cited in Daas Zekenim Baalei Tosfot in the classic Mekraot Gedolot) who says based on an alternate Medrash that Rivka was 12 years old not 3 when she met Eliezer. When my daughter brought a copy of this Tosfot to class, her teacher refused to acknowledge it. My frustration was that in this teacher’s desire to be the “frum” pedagogue and give only the conventional peshat she was turning off my daughter to Torah learning. The message my daughter was getting was that in learning Torah one should leave one’s brain at home because arguing with Rashi or a medrash (even when upon discovery there was another medrash that did exactly this) was not allowed.

Thank you for this enlightening discussion. I hope that Nechama’s model of the teacher as facilitator of student learning as well as pedagogue continues to gain in popularity so my children can benefit from it in the future.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky
Director of Educational Technology
The Frisch School

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

**Work in Progress** Notes for my Educational Technology Lit Review

Below is my notes for educational technology dissertation literature review which is still very much a work in progress. I welcome your constructive feedback as I continue this process. My hope is by publishing my sources and lit review on this blog this will take what is often a very lonely experience of writing a dissertation proposal and make it more bearable by sharing my ideas online. I truly welcome your constructive feedback.