Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from ISTE and the Supreme Court Ruling: Why it's more important to get it right than to get it first.

I try to stay away from politics in this blog. Unless something in the news directly impacts on technology in Jewish education (like the Asifa), I shy away from commenting. It's not my role to pontificate about that latest current events and I don't think people care much about where I stand on political issues. However, I think there is a tremendous lesson about the role of technology in education to be culled from the news reporting surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision on the national health care plan.

Both CNN and FoxNews got it wrong. In their initial reporting after the decision was delivered at 10AM yesterday, they both headlined that the Supreme court had struck down the law. CNN ran the wrong headline for 6 long minutes before correcting itself and declaring that the court had actually upheld the law. How could they both be so wrong?

In a report on NPR addressing this question, Brian Stelter of the New York Times made a point that was both obvious and profound. They didn't read. In their rush to get the news first, both networks read the first few paragraphs of the ruling in which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts wrote that the health care legislation could not be upheld using the Commerce Clause and ran with the headline that the Supreme Court had struck down the health care law. They failed to read the next few paragraphs in which Justice Roberts declared the law to be constitutional since its fines could be considered a tax and not a penalty.

The politics of this ruling is not something for me to comment on. However, the lesson for the role of attentive reading in our technological age is profound. How many of us are so quick to blog and tweet that we fail to read attentively and listen carefully?

This point was the source of a great deal of debate at an Avi Chai sponsored dinner at this week's ISTE technology conference. One educator posed the question that with so much tweeting going throughout the lectures, how many of us fail to listen carefully enough to understand what is really being said. I countered that with a back channel of dozens or hundreds tweeting about what was being said at the workshop, the effect deepened the conversation and made each lesson more interactive. However, I can see both sides of this debate. Yes, live tweeting a lesson or news event can make a discussion more interactive but is this at the expense of more active listening and reflection?

Many researchers have made similar points. In the book iDisorder, Larry Rosen discusses the similarity between technology users and various psychological disorders. For example, the behavior of many people during a lecture with many windows open on their laptop while they simultaneously take notes, tweet, and instant message closely mimics the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. In the Shallows which I have blogged about in the past, Nicholas Carr argues that technology is discouraging attentive, careful reading since we read much more superficially online, jumping from hyperlinked page to page.

I believe that this desire to get things fast whether in the news or on Twitter mitigates against comprehension of complex text requiring higher-order thinking whether it be supreme court rulings or Talmudic debates. This should give us pause when embracing technology in education. While tweeting and other real-time technology tools can add interaction to a class, is this at the expense of depth and thoughtfulness? Other technology tools which can encourage reflection like blogging and asynchronous online discussion should be considered to encourage this type of thinking. Or perhaps sometimes we should just turn off the technology and practice deep reading and attentive listening. Time to pause and reflect are vitally important for our students (and for us). It's more important to get it right than to get it first.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Evernote can be a game changer in the classroom

One of the most amazing things about attending a conference like ISTE is the power of serendipity. Some of the best sessions are the ones you don't plan for, they just happen. This morning, thanks to a tip by @AvitalAharon at last night's @AVICHAIFDN dinner, I went to special session on Evernote. Even though, I already personally use Evernote, what you can do with students blew my mind. This is definitely the go-to app for any iPad deployment. Below are some of my notes from the session.

The driving force behind Evernote is that it will help you remember everything. A basic goal of education is to increase knowledge over time. This can be illustrated by a simple upward graph where as we advance in our educational years, our knowledge increases. However, in our experience with students, usually there are jagged edges in this graph; gaps where knowledge is lost over time like the end of the school year or summer break when not only do students forget but they often lose their notes so do not have the ability to reconstruct what they learned. I have experienced this in my own life many times, where notebooks, even those that I save, wind up filed away in storage without easy access and even notes taken n computer can sometimes be lost when a computer crashes or is upgraded to a new model. With Evernote all of these notes are synchronized across over all devices so they are saved FOREVER.

Students will have a lifetime career in education and usually we only focus on one fixed point with the student, the grade they are in. The student with Evernote can always use whatever they love and have access to everything. Evernote can be the bridge to tie a lot of technologies together during the lifetime of the student. In a BYOD program students can use Evernote with whatever they have, phones, laptops, iPod Touch. They start to see technology as a tool, not a toy to create, collect, and collaborate.

In one app you can create, collect, and collaborate. You don't need you to train teachers and students on multiple apps to accomplish these 3 goals. Evernote is a box to put everything in. It's a digital binder and more. You can keep everything you've learned throughout the year. At the end of school, students used to throw their binders away. With Evernote this binder is saved forever.

Anything can become a note in Evernote, a text note, to-do list, snapshot note, and voice note. It's as simple as possible for you to get stuff into Evernote. Every few minutes, notes are synchronized. The Mac version is the most full featured version of Evernote. In a school setting, you are not restricted to just typing notes. You can use voice note. This can be great for students if they lose their train of thought and can't keep up with the teacher. Instead of desperately trying to transcribe what the teacher is saying without understanding, they can turn on the record button and just focus on listening to the teacher, knowing they can listen again and write the notes later.

You can drag and drop PDFs into Evernote. Use an app called Clearly to remove all ads from the website first and then drag to Evernote. You can organize stuff in a Notebook and then you can out all of your Notebooks inside a stack for further filing. You can now collaborate by sharing individual notes or a whole notebook with others. Everything in Evernote is private by default. You have to decide to share.

There are also apps to automatize things in Evernote like to send starred Gmail messages to Evernote or starred Google Reader posts. You can also use the note links in Evernote to create a table of contents in a new note. Since each note has its own unique link, you merely create a new note with a list of hyperlinks to each of the other notes and you have a Table of Contents.

Evernote Hello! is an app to remember everyone you meet. You can email into Evernote by forwarding to your personal Evernote email address in settings. You can choose tags by putting # then tag at end of subject line. You get a note in your Evernote with the title and Notebook based on the email.

Evernote has image recognition so it will recognize handwriting and text from notes for a keyword search. Can snap photo into every whiteboard into Evernote and automatically put into Notebook shared with students. When you do a keyword search then it will look up everything including pictures notes which it recognizes as containing these words.

Evernote partners with a number of apps. These include:
Peek (for fash cards)

Evernote is great tool for portfolios. For example, can photograph science projects together with papers on it so it can be in the student portfolio. Can set up scanner which will go directly into the Evernote accounts of students using the Evernote email in settings.

In her blog post, Our Second Graders are Piloting Evernote at Van Meter Shannon Miller describes how her students used Evernote in second grade. Her kids made a "My Community" project where kids took pictures around the school with their iPads and put it into their Evernote account. They took all the pictures and made it into a flippable ebook using Flipmaps. Here is a video by a 2nd Grader explaining Evernote.

The Nerdy Teacher is a high school English teacher who had a class so students with iPads. He wanted to use free apps and needed something for kids to take notes and share ideas. In No Tablets, No Problem Thanks to Evernote he describes how he used Evernote to solve this. He points out that kids catch onto Evernote quickly. They explore it and then they run with it. Evernote allows high school kids to keep all their information. Many of them are so disorganized and with Evernote kids can organize and tag so easily. Tagging notes comes naturally to them since they tag pictures on Facebook all the time. They can then search a notebook. A kid who wants a teacher to slow down but is embarrassed can hit the mic button and start recording the lecture. Kids can use Evernote on their phone too in case they don't have an iPad or laptop. Kids can study their notes from anywhere with phone or no wifi on a bus on the way to a sports game or during downtime at a practice or after school activity. They are not tied down by textbooks or notebooks. Everything kids need is there in Evernote. You can edit a comment on a note or record commentary or corrections in an assignment using Evernote. You can also so much paper using Evernote. Teachers can even use a shared Evernote document to record audio feedback and commentary on a student's written work. This can be a very valuable educational tool.

I would recommend Evernote as a key app for any 1/1 iPad deployment. It's not about using information anymore, it's about curating information. We are overwhelmed with information, Evernote helps us organize it. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Flipped Classroom in Jewish Studies by Corinne Ossendryver

The following posting describing one of my recent workshops at the World ORT Naomi Prawer International Seminar for Digital Technology in Jewish Education in Johannesburg, South Africa is written by Corinne Ossendryver, a participant. It is cross-posted from the Jewish Interactive Blog with permission.

One of the advantages of Jewish Interactive being based on a school campus is that we can participate in meetings that would otherwise be inaccessible to us! Today was one such meeting. World ORT (#ICTWO12) is holding their Naomi Prawer Kadar International Seminar for Digital Technology in Jewish Education this week on the King David Linksfield campus in Johannesburg, and we have been able to participate in some of the sessions.
I sat in on the lecture about “The Flipped Classroom” by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky (@TechRav), and learned so much about Jewish resources available for use in a flipped classroom. A flipped classroom in one where students are assigned homework of watching a video or other digital medium in order to prepare themselves for class and then the usual homework is done in a classroom situation with facilitated learning and peer collaboration. Rabbi Pittinsky’s Prezi can be found at
In a sense, the flipped classroom humanizes the classroom. Teachers can use the time for facilitated and active learning instead of frontal teaching.
An interesting idea is crowd sourcing. The Online Video Mishna Project invites people to contribute towards the creation of a directory of online video Mishna lessons. This link will take you directly to that directory.  You can add you own lessons to the spreadsheet.
A useful site is, which allows teachers to place homework online, create quizzes, message boards, and many other resources for your students. Students can then complete homework online, and parents can monitor their children’s progress and online activities.
Tools to “flip your classroom”
Some recommended tools to use for creating your own videos to place online as homework for a flipped classroom are screenr and screencast-o-matic. Once you have made your video, you can upload it to YouTube.
Use Google Docs to make sure that your students have watched the video. Create a Google Formwith questions about the video, including multiple choice questions as well as one short essay question. You can then use Flubaroo to automatically grade the Google Form.
Useful Video Collections
Take a look at these collections to find videos that you could assign as homework for your flipped classrooms:
Rabbi Pittinsky emphasized how important it is to share any resources that you create online so that other Jewish Studies teachers can use your material. Jewish Interactive is building up an Educator Network, and so belonging to our network, and letting us know of any resources you are sharing, would contribute to building our worldwide Jewish Educator Network. Please join our network now!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the Content, Stupid!

World ORT Naomi Prawer International Seminar for Digital Technology in Jewish Education,
Johannesburg, South Africa
One of the most important things to realize about educational technology is that the education must always drive the technology and not the technology driving the education. I love bells and whistles as much as the next guy but technology in the classroom cannot be about bells and whistles. The first question that one must always ask is what are our educational goals. Then one can ask how technology can meet some of the goals.

I contemplate this as I am currently in South Africa presenting for World ORT at their Naomi Prawer International Seminar for Digital Technology in Jewish Education. A theme that keeps being repeated is that content must come first and then technology to support it. For example, Google Earth is a really cool tool, especially when it's coupled with a touch screen device like a Smart Board or iPad. However, what makes it so powerful is when one uses it teach content in Tanach or Mishna that CANNOT BE EFFECTIVELY TAUGHT ANY OTHER WAY.

For example, most elementary school teachers skip the second half of the book of Joshua when teaching their class because it's boring. Who wants to learn about the division of the tribes into different geographic locations in Israel for 10 chapters straight. However, when coupled with Google Earth and the book of Joshua layer from Bible Geocoding, these lessons can become interactive and compelling. These chapters were put in Tanach for a reason so shouldn't we teach them? Similarly, Amos' prophecies to the nations only make sense when one studies their locations using Google Earth and realizes the use of geographic chiastic structure. One can only appreciate the tremendous engineering accomplishment of Nehemiah's rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in less than 2 months when one traces his building project using a Google Earth ancient Jerusalem map overlay. Finally, as my friend Rabbi Aaron Ross illustrated in his Flipped Classroom video, one can only understand the limitations to eating Kadshim Kalim in Mishkan Shiloh based on the Mishna in Zevachim when one takes a street view of the topography of Shiloh. In each of these examples, the "Wow Factor" of Google Earth is so compelling because it is coupled with a well thought out curriculum as all good educational technology is. 

In my stay in Johannesburg, I have been privileged to see a new Jewish educational technology startup that understands this fundamental idea well, Jewish Interactive. This passionate team is creating web-based and tablet compatible curriculum for elementary grades that is not only visually stunning, rivaling any app the exponentially larger general education market can produce, but is based on sound curriculum. It's the content, stupid! 

For example, their Shabbos interactive unit which is already completed, features activities for students in Grade 3 to compare and contrast the 10 commandments by reading, hearing, and manipulating the text. The activity for kindergarten asks kids to decorate a Shabbos table using interactive art tools that kids love but also requires them to know all of the elements that belong on a Shabbos table and distinguish them from other non-Shabbos items in the room. 

I was able to see the schematics for their next project which will focus on the Chagim. Before they have even started the graphic design, script writing, and advanced programming, they created a spiral curricular map for every piece of information and ideas studied in the elementary grades connected to the Chagim. This map not only includes all of the basic halachot but sophisticated understandings of calendar concepts like the rotation of the moon and how it affects the Jewish calendar, a perfect integration unit for science and Torah. I was floored by the planning and strong curricular focus that was being put into this highly engaging app. The content was truly driving the technology. 

It is my hope that we, both as individual mechanchim and members of a greater community in our schools and beyond, can help to grow this curricular focus for technology integration. The fast changing pace of new technologies have unlocked a great potential for compelling, interactive, and student driven content. However, never let the technology lead the way. It's always first about developing important content and then asking how technology and other tools in a teacher's repertoire can best support this.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

How can we utilize student-driven, project-based learning in Judaic Studies?

This week, I was energized by an event that took place at my school. We hosted an Engineering symposium featuring students from 5 schools including my own presenting their engineering projects throughout the year. This event was the culmination of the SciTech Engineering Elective which was supported and sponsored by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. Here is a description from The Frisch School Blog.

These students worked throughout the year on providing scientific solutions to real-world problems. The passion and enthusiasm they displayed at this conference and in the many times that I popped into their lab throughout the year was exhilarating. The Frisch engineering students, under the able guidance of their teacher Mrs. Rifkie Silverman, would start working even before their teacher arrived and many times would stay in the lab after the bell sounded for the next class. The learning was supplemented by presentations by many parent and alumni volunteers in the areas of robotic surgery and mechanical engineering who provided real-world examples of engineering solutions in various fields. There was a constant buzz of activity, problem solving, and discussion in the lab as students switched between various modalities including computer programs, Lego robot models, electrical circuits and the list goes on. You can watch an exceptional video created by our students about their engineering projects below.

The question that I have is how this project-based real-world model can be utilized in Judaic Studies. My friend Rabbi Aaron Ross has posted often about this on his blog, my colleague at Frisch, Mrs. Tikvah Wiener, has been working on this paradigm shift with her RealSchool curriculum, and I have shared many of my own technology based Judaic projects in this forum as well. In many ways, Judaic Studies is the perfect place for project-based learning since we do not suffer from the malady that plagues many other areas of education today, standardized tests. However, while it is relatively easy to give a project in Tanach or Gemara, to do this consistently, in a way that is both student-directed and addresses the real-world, Halakha Lemaasa as they would say in the Yeshiva, is an issue that I am grappling with. Furthermore, Judaic Studies pedagogy with it's strong focus on the Rebbe/Talmid relationship and the passing of the mesorah to the next generation has often focused on the Sage on the Stage frontal learning model. Of course, the importance of chavruta beit midrash style learning fits right into project-based learning. How do we find the right balance? I welcome the collective wisdom of my readers to grapple with this issue. Please post your responses to this question in the comments section and keep the ideas flowing.