Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

המספד בירושלים The Eulogy in Jerusalem by Rav Avraham Hakohen Kook

A number of years ago, I created the PowerPoint presentation below to illustrate the seminal essay by Rav Avraham Hakohen Kook, המספד בירושלים The Eulogy in Jerusalem. I always teach this piece after we learn about the death of Achab in Kings I Chapter 22. It deals with the issues of the theological justification of the Kingdom of Israel and the religious significance of secular Zionism. Since I first learned it in my first year in Yeshivat Shaalvim, it profoundly changed the way I looked at the modern State of Israel. Here is a summary in English: The Eulogy in Jerusalem by Rav Avraham Hakohen Kook.

A few technical notes about how was able to post this PowerPoint presentation as a fully functional Flash presentation on my blog. Although a magician never reveals his tricks an educational technologist does. I used a free program called Ispring to convert the PowerPoint to Flash. Ispring allows me to automatically upload my presentation to an account I created on Slideboom which allows me to share up to 100 presentations for free and embed them on any blog or wiki.
What do you think?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Teaching Tanach with Interactive Media- Presentation at Jewish Day School Conference

Below please find my presentation for the Jewish Day School Conference given on January 18, 2010 on the Topic of Teaching Tanach with Interactive Media. It is based on previous presentations that I have given for Yeshiva University's Institute for University-School Partnership.

You can view the presentation here:

Here is a Smart Notebook file with examples of using technology in teaching Tanach: Examples of Teaching Tanach with Interactive Media.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Using Wordle to Discover the Big Idea

Wordle  is a tool for creating word clouds for any piece of text. It is a great way to analyze important documents or literary works for important words and ideas. It also supports Hebrew so it can be a great tool for finding the main characters, overarching ideas, and מילות המנחה leitworts which reveal the overall theme in a chapter of Tanach.

Below are a few Wordles that I created for History, English Literature, and Tanach (Bible). Click on each image to see it in full screen.

Here is an example of a Wordle cloud that I created for the Declaration of Independence:
Wordle: The Declaration of Independence

Here is another Wordle that I made of Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem The Raven:
Wordle: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Finally, below is a Tanach Wordle that I created for מלכים ב פרק ט, Kings II Chapter 9. You can clearly see that the main characters are Jehu, Achab, Jehoram, Jezebel, and the place Jezreel. A repeating word or leitwort would be השלום, "Do you come in peace?" or "Is it well?". Try this out with other chapters from Tanach or with a piece of literature and see what you get.

Wordle: Melachim 2 Chapter 9

Friday, January 01, 2010

Regarding a Conversation about Boredom in Education

I just posted the following to Lookjed, the Educational Bulletin Board. Enjoy!

Dear Shalom and List:
I have read with a great deal of interest the conversation about boredom in the classroom. Research and my own personal experience in education confirms that boredom is a major contributing factor in poor academic achievement and student truancy.

I think back to the famous teaching scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off of Ben Stein teaching about "voodoo economics" to a class of high school students. You can watch it here: What makes this scene so precious is the looks on the various students' faces as they each find different, creative ways to tune out the teacher and the class.

The point to realize though as others have made in this conversation is that the opposite of boring is not fun or entertaining. Rather, it is exciting, engaging, and interesting. If our goal is merely to entertain our students, they will not learn any more, and for that matter we could do a much better job entertaining our students by showing movies all day or letting them stay home from school entirely, What we want to do is excite our students by engaging them in the educational process.

I gave a Webinar earlier this year for Yeshiva University’s Institute for School-University Partnership on the rationale for using educational technology in which I dealt with this topic of boredom in the classroom. You can watch a recording of my presentation and read its supporting materials here:

Here is a summary of my observations. I like to talk about the 3 Cs in education to address the issue of boredom.

The first is Communication and Collaboration. We need to give our students opportunities to communicate with the teacher and their fellow students and collaborate with each other. As the Rav mentioned in many of his seminal talks and essays, Jewish education is primarily a dialogue. This dialogue is with teacher and student, between students, and with all of the previous generations of our Sages throughout the generations. We should seek to encourage this dialogue both in our class through active discussions and the use of the Shakla Vetarya method of questions and answers that is so common in the Talmud and rabbinic sources. Nechama Leibowitz was a master at promoting this dialogue through her use of open ended questions, her encouragement of debate, and her posing questions in which every student were required to write an answer. I like to use technology to enhance this by hosting asynchronous discussion forums in which every student has the chance to reflect and then compose responses on blogs or wikis and through the use of micro-blogging tools like Twitter to encourage 100% student participation in real-time during class.

The second approach to attacking boredom is through Constructivist and Cooperative learning. This is the natural outgrowth of the first approach. Students need to be given activities in class in which they working with each other to construct their own meaning of the text. This can be done through chavruta learning with the teacher scaffolding the material so it is on a level to challenge the students without being overly daunting. Some tools that can be used to help with this are open-ended software programs like Gemara Berura that assist students in learning through a sugya with a chavruta and project based activities like Webquests where students use online resources to create a finished product.

Finally, I also seek to create Compelling Course Content to address boredom. These are the bells and whistles that one can use to make learning “fun”. As I described before, this cannot be a primary focus, not all learning is fun. But it can be used to great effect as a part of a well constructed lesson. I like to use technology to support this through showing audio and video clips (never more than a few minutes in length), through art, and through interactive resources that are especially effective when used with a Smart Board. It is important to consider even when creating exciting and entertaining course content that it be open-ended in order to encourage questioning and higher order thinking. I find that activities where the answer magically appears after a few moments have little educational value because they only encourage rote memorization while stifling thinking.

Hopefully, my comments have helped to continue this engaging and very important conversation so that we can continue to discover ways to excite and engage our students in class.