Monday, December 31, 2007

Text and Context: New Presentations

The new integration programs for the following months have been scheduled, so I'm now in the process of preparing the next Chumash and Nach presentations. The Chumash presentaiton begins this week and will pick up where I left off, with B'nai Yisrael having left Mitzrayim. The next presentation will focus on the transition from slavery to freedom, focusing on the differences between ancient law codes and ours and the significant innovations that the Torah makes. The connection with the last presentation will be that since we were slaves, we are well aware of the suffering of the underpriviliged and the problems that ensue from favoring an upper class. The Torah's extraordinary concern for the sanctity of human life and its groundbreaking democratic spirit are born from the awareness of the suffering of the miserable.

The Nach presentation will not be until March, because it will be about Purim. Last year, I developed a program called Parties, Palaces and Princesses: The Art of the Purim Story, which focused on the Achaemenid Dynasty and the Persian Empire. I gave the presentation to my son's fifth grade class in Yavneh, and they enjoyed it. I'll be expanding and deepening the program for the upperclassmen at Frisch. Incidentally, I gave the exact same presentation for Chumash to the eleventh and twelfth graders at Frisch as I did to the fifth grade this year at Yavneh (who are also learning Shmot). I just made the concepts simpler and didn't go into as much detail. The elementary school kids really understood what was going on and had many interesting observations and insights.

If anyone is interested in my presentations, email me at

Text and Context:

This past month I've been busy finishing up the second presentation in the Chumash integration program, which has to do with how the plagues undermine not only physical and economic life in Egypt, but also spiritual and emotional life as well. I've also been finishing the first presentation in the Nach integration lesson, The Reign of King Solomon. The Nach presentation is tied to the students' learning of Qoheleth and gives the archaeological discoveries from David's and Solomon's times as well as a slight background on Wisdom Literature.

The Chumash presentation went particularly well. Many times I had to return to finish the presentation, because students had so many questions about magic and paganism in ancient Egypt and the differences in the way we practice our religion.

Students also found the Nach presentation interesting. Some students had been to Tel Dan and/or Megiddo and were pleased to see that someone else could confirm that these are, in fact, places of interest and significance in the Jewish world. Students -- some more than others -- were also interested in the archaelogical process and the findings that we have made in Israel.

The Smartboard technology definitely enhances the presentations. I go from room to room, giving the presentations to the eleventh and twelfth graders, and in the rooms without Smartboards, I have to advance the slides on a computer (so old school). The Smartboard allows me to easily open a hyperlink and therefore see images that are hard to capture in Powerpoint -- such as maps -- in greater detail, focus and size. Obviously I can also write on the Smartboard and highlight important details of an image.

This month I was also able to be one of the teachers at Frisch to launch the school's teacher webpages. The webpages cannot be accessed by anyone outside the Frisch network, but my class webpages are now available to my students, and my integration programs are available to other teachers. Several teachers have asked to use my presentations in the lower grades, and now I can simply send them my link, giving them access to my Powerpoints.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Smartboard Sample Files - Beraishit

As I started going through the files I've created since September--cleaning them up, adding teacher's notes, etc.--I was struck by the dramatic differences between the earliest set of Smartboard files and the most recent ones I've been working on.

The first sets are mostly text based, static files, where I'm just starting to get comfortable with the technology. As my comfort level grows it's reflected in more experimentation, different techniques--some of which worked, some which didn't!--and more flash/graphic content.

I've begun uploading files for others to use, adapt, and of course comment on. It will also serve to chart the "evolution of a Smartboard user"!

For convenience, all the files are available in a single compressed file, though you can also download individually, as described below:

The first two files on Beraishit (1:1) explore the word "Beraishit" from the perspective of Rashi, Ramban and the Midrash: beginning of.notebook bishvil raishis.notebook

They're primarily text-based, with the screen shade used as appropriate to hide/reveal text during the course of the lesson. A timeline (empty in the file) was filled in during class by the students. That was the most interactive part of this lesson.

The next file on Beraishit (1:4) explores the light of the first day of Creation. This one has a lot of graphics, but it's still mostly static content: the great light.notebook

I doubled up a few key phrases that could be moved around for emphasis, and of course underlines, arrows, etc. were added during the teaching phase. I used this as a student-driven lesson, too--students were divided into groups, were assigned a page in the file, and taught it to the class. That worked very well.

The next one on Beraishit (1:6) explores the creation of the Rakiah from Malbim's perspective: glass submarine.notebook

This file has a lot more interactivity, including a flash activity that came with the Smartboard Essential for Educator's gallery.

There's also a lot of text, and sometime after this I decided to focus on some creative ways to display text on screen--since, let's face it, we're not going to get away from text in a text-based Chumash class. This next file includes some new ways to show/reveal text: plants and seeds.notebook

This lesson went really well--it has a flash activity, graphics and movable text, and some hidden/revealed text on a screen which is basically text based.

I find students get anxious when too much text is shown at once, but always using the same method to show/reveal text loses its excitement pretty fast. Alternating methods keeps it interesting. An arrow that says "Pull Me" or a box that says "Move Me" actually gets students more involved--students volunteer to pull it and move it. I'm not sure why it's so exciting to pull it, but it seems to work!

I'm working on more files to upload, but that's what I have so far. Please feel free to examine, adapt, and let me know what you think. I'm on the lookout for new and original ideas, so if you have suggestions on doing something differently, please share it!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Update from Montreal

Herzliah’s technology team has built our online Pedagogical Centre.
This website is operated by teachers, students and graduates of United Talmud Torahs—Herzliah High Schools of Montreal.

Our team aims to develop learning and teaching tools for teachers and students, and is dedicated to the development of innovative methods in Jewish education.

Our Pedagogical Centre will promote the application of new technology in the classroom. We particularly strive to enhance the teaching of Judaic Studies through the creative use of SmartBoard technology and the implementation of multimedia tools in the classroom, in order to make the teaching of Ivrit b'Ivrit more effective.

In the coming weeks, our technology team will continue to build and post material on our Pedagogical Centre. Judaic Studies teachers will find ready-to-use and easy to adapt SmartBoard modules in Tanakh, Jewish History, Mosreshet (Heritage) and Hebrew language. Contemporary Israel issues will also be covered, with an emphasis on available audio-visual materials.

Our Pedagogical Centre temporary url is:

We encourage Judaic Studies teachers and pedagogues to join us in this didactic project. Submissions of classroom lessons, for posting on this website, are welcome. It will be great to share effective teaching techniques with colleagues worldwide.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Smartboard Forum

For those of you using a Smartboard, if you haven't discovered it yet, Smart Technologies recently started a forum for educators to share their ideas on using the Smartboard.

The best part is that Smart employees are also participating, and can answer questions, consider items for the next version, share tips and offer tech support. I've found it very useful!

Check out

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Webquests and Israel

It's been a while since I have posted (sorry - I was going to do it around Thanksgiving :( but I got super busy) so now I have a lot to share. I finished a webquest with my 8th grade that took about three months to do in all - some was done in school, and some at home. This webquest helped to prepare my 8th graders for their trip to Israel in March. They had to research the different cities and places that we will be visiting, in a very, "outside the box" kind of way. Have a look at the webquest at: . You can view pictures of the 3 dimensional maps at:

Aside from the completion of that project, we also completed another webquest about Jews in the diaspora. The students researched Jewish communities, foods and dress in different countries around the world. They also learned about responsa, and sent their own modern day responsa out to various Rabbis in the community. Some got responses, and some didn't. The kids charted the differences in the responses, and the time it took to get them. They also noted that some Rabbis never sent responses. They compared the similarites and differences in communication between the Middle Ages and modern times. To see this webquest, click on the following link: .

We have just completed units on Islam and Jewish and Christian relationships in the Middle Ages. We covered the Crusades and learned about blood libels. We also discussed the various expulsions, and Anti - Semitism. We've been comparing episodes of Anti - Semitism throughout the ages, which has led us up to the Holocaust, and the subsequent Aliyot. Have a look at our 8th grade blog to see what the kids are thinking and the issues we are dealing with. Incredible!

Before Chanukah, my 5th grade classes worked on their Chanukah wiki. They managed to complete a good part of it, and it will be continued and expanded upon in future years. Have a look:

I have been filming my 8th grade lessons, and projects that they are doing throughout the year. At the end of the Israel trip, I will be compiling and creating a movie of the 8th Grade year and Israel experience with student help. They will find the music, edit the pictures, create the commercials, etc. I'm very much looking forward to this new adventure!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Marketing the podcasts

We just uploaded the first podcast for use by our 7th graders. This time I'm trying a more proactive approach and emailing the teacher and suggesting that she email the grade to let them know of its availability online. This is even more important since I suspect many of the students will be doing their tanach homework over break. We'll see what happens.

The 8th graders weren't too impressed with having their Hebrew text available as a podcast, and the 6th graders were pretty excited. We'll see where the 7th grade falls.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Setting up a Hebrew Language Lab

The Ivrit classes have continued to work on conversation and writing as we await (and await and await) our wayward laptop cart. (Supposedly it is in transit at last.)
Morah Shoshie Javits and Morah Dina Shmuel began demonstrating Rosetta Stone Hebrew using the projector in the computer lab with third, fourth and fifth grade classes. Students responded orally to the questions on the screen. This will be reviewed three times to prepare the children for Rosetta Stone’s test format on which they will mark the right answer to themselves.
The teachers are assessing reading comprehension, which will help them determine individual levels when the laptops are introduced in January, since Rosetta Stone combines reading and speaking. The morot have also familiarized themselves with the student management system of Rosetta Stone which is completely individualized. They will be setting each student’s level of proficiency, and determine which exercises s/he is to do based on that level. Each student’s progress is then tracked by the software, with the teachers setting the achievement criteria for moving on to the next level. The fourth graders are our “test” group, although other grades will be using the software.

Headphones with built in mics have been received, and mice for the laptops are on the way. We found in working with the computer lab’s mobile cart of laptops that using the touchpad slowed all but the older students down and increased the likelihood of errors.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Studio 613 Vancouver Hebrew Academy

Well, this week sure has been fun for those of us working on Studio 613.

While Rabbi Estrin (Grade 5 Rebbe), works with his students on fine-tuning the script and sorting out some of the casting issues before we begin to shoot, I have been becoming more familiar with the use of the Mac format and all that it can do. BOY, can it do a lot. I find that this is taking so much time, just because there is so much to learn! These machines are amazing! I wish we had more for use in our school (Steve Jobs, I hope you are reading this)

I am far more familiar with PC (which I also think are great, I hope that you are reading this too, Bill Gates), so the Mac presents a pretty steep learning curve. However, I have been finding lots of success and I am sure that we will have a great time putting our media projects together in the coming months.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sources for Visual Material

Since I've got this fabulous technology available, I've been spicing up my lessons with visual material on a regular basis. I'd like to do this at least twice a week--it could be a short, 3-minute video, but the change in pace really perks the class up. And of course I find a way to tie it into my lesson.

Recently, for example, we were learning about the fifth day of creation, and I showed a two-minute video of a Patriot missile launch and interception, then contrasted this with a scorpion's ability to sense its prey and put itself into position to intercept it.

Another time we were discussing the development of matter into solid, liquids and gases, and I was able to use some flash material from Smartboard's Essential for Educators library to give it a little zing.

So now I'm searching for more material, and I find myself at a loss more often than not. I realize a large part of finding stuff is knowing what to look for, and it does take some original thinking on my part, but it would still be useful to have sources aside from YouTube and the Essential for Educator's gallery.

Are any of you using videos (or other visual material) in your lessons, and where do you find it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Using the TabletPC to teach text based materials

A picture is worth a thousand words. Rather than describe the process I have been utilizing for preparing and delivering lessons and materials for a TabletPC, I will show you instead. Here is a PowerPoint outlining my process.

Note: The PowerPoint slideshow is hosted on a free online resource that allows you to store, retrieve and display PowerPoint presentations online.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Studio 613 Vancouver Hebrew Academy

Hi Folks!

Sorry that we are so late to the party. Apparently, our postings have made it to the wrong blog. Well, I’m sure this information was very helpful to those who saw it on “My Bubby’s Top 100 Cholent Recipes” Blog.

Anyway…here are our previous postings, just to catch you up on where we have been. We will be adding more information soon.

Script writing

Six scripts have now been completed in written form. Rabbi Estrin's grade five class are making a decision as to which of the scripts will be taped first, but some costumes have already been chosen. Meanwhile, Morah Acoca, one of our Judaic teachers, is currently visiting our sister school in Israel. She has taken a video camera with her and will bring back footage from the school that we hope to incorporate in our movies. Technical expertise is ready to assist with editing when footage has been filmed for the first movie. We must admit that this is all a steep learning curve for us as several of us are new to iMacs and editing software.


Setting up the Studio

The last few weeks have been very busy as we have located our studio in a new space in the school. The equipment is purchased and the cameras are ready to roll! The grade five class was selected as a pilot group to write a script and produce the first Hebrew language video. The first steps included selecting a topic, planning a script, storyboarding and shooting each of the scenes required to make the video. We have almost reached the point of starting to take rough videos of each of the scenes. A normal part of our school is to produce short plays depicting various events in the Torah, so writing a script, developing characters, finding a wardrobe, making a set and practicing the play is a normal part of the school year. The students in grade five are going to be working in small groups to take video footage as the whole class together presents a logistical problem. 

There is no doubt, however, that we are all on a steep learning curve with respect to producing a quality video. We would like to make this a learning tool for other Jewish day schools, so there is a desire on the part of participants to produce something that is interesting for children to watch and hopefully learn something new.


SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2007
Getting Started

We are very excited about the work we hope to accomplish over the next few months. Our aim is to develop scripts with a grade 5 class, then create videos in Hebrew language that can be shared in a variety of ways. Our first steps are to find a small space for our studio. (We plan to call this the world headquarters of Studio 613 but really it is going to be a small part of a portable attached to the school). We are lucky to have a rabbi on staff who was trained as a script writer so straight after the summer break, we hope to have the "Studio" functioning, a portable placed on site, and a class working with Rabbi Estrin on the development of scripts.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, December, 2007

Hello from the Contra Costa Jewish Day School in the San Francisco Bay Area. After only 5 months I am happy to report that we have been largely successful in all of our stated goals. Our progress so far includes:

1) We have a working, active file server that our middle school teachers use to distribute homework, collect assignments, and post resources for the students to use. The students actively use their network home folder as back-up and storage for their computer files and notes.

2) Using our already extant account with our school's website host, we have created school email accounts for all of our faculty (eg. mr. or so that teachers don't have to use their private email accounts for school business.

3) Again, using our already existing account with the school's website host, we have created a password protected, faculty-only online calendar that we post all of our school trips, major events, absences, school tours, etc. It has already vastly cut down on the amount of faculty meeting chatter about calendaring and events. Although it took a while with the clunky website tools to get everyone signed on, all of the faculty know exactly where to go to check our calendar as well as post and edit new events as they are planned, reducing the needs to send excessive email to try and calendar future events.

Current and on-going challenges.

1) Due to my own lack of technical familiarity as a server administrator, I have yet to figure out some of the technical details about hosting our own internal web site for teachers to post assignments, newsletters, etc. Therefore, we are continuing to use a pbwiki website we created last year for this purpose.

2) We have learned the limits of using Apple's Airport wifi base stations that regularly seem to go off line and have to be rebooted and reset every other month or so causing havoc with internet connectivity and especially with printing, since all of our printers are wirelessly available to students and faculty alike.

3) Online report cards. We have experienced some technical difficulties getting FileMaker Server 9 to work correctly, and--as I will mention below--we have had difficulties with our outside technical consultants in creating and fine-tuning our FileMaker Pro 7 report card databases. So unfortunately, this year we are still using our old "tried and true" method of emailing each other report card files rather than making them available on a password protected web site.

4) Technical consultants. Oy vey! Our original tech. consultant who we thought was so great literally flaked out and disappeared on us. After making several appointments to show up and troubleshoot things beyond our technical skills, she repeatedly failed to show up and finally stopped responding to phone calls and emails. Unfortunately, it was this same person who sub-contracted our FileMaker report card database to yet another tech. consultant who has done a lot of us, but still has not demonstrated the kind of technical skills that we need. This is why we are so behind in this area.

5) And finally, we are most vexed by the human interface with technology. Our principal who is still a significant supporter and stake-holder, is growing more concerned about our potential "time sink hole" of technology as it absorbs more of my time from my duties as the Rabbi-in-Residence of the school. In addition, the introduction of new technology and the slowly growing technical infrastructure of our school has led us to discover some grey areas in our decision making processes and overlaps in the areas of responsibility of our small technical work group of three teachers. We are still actively working on these issues.

In conclusion, we believe that despite these challenges outlined above, we have been extraordinarily successful! Students and faculty are indeed using the file server and adding more content all of the time. Students and faculty alike are also slowly mastering the necessary technical skills to access these new resources and use them effectively. And the online school calendar for faculty only has been very successful at reducing time-wasting calendaring sessions at our faculty meeting--aside from minor "version control" issues which is actually a human factor error and not technical. If anything, the use and integration of this technology has only helped us to identify the underlying administrative and structural challenges that were there all along, but which have been spotlighted by the use of the new technology. Overall, I give us a B+/A- on the success of our grant so far!

tiyul blog

The student videoblog that was created during our 8th grade trip last spring is now undergoing review so we can improve it for the coming trip which will take place right after Pesach, 08. Preparing each day's blog took considerable time and could only be done at the end of the day, resulting in kids and teachers being up very late editing, adding music and other final touches. Another challenge was that the student content of the blog was at times quite shallow. We are going to post links to sample days of the blog so you can see what it looked like and see what we mean. In spite of these challenges, everyone involved agreed that this was the very best way to communicate with our home community and we look forward to developing an even better, more informational and dynamic videoblog in the coming year.

There were several different goals that we intended to meet with the creation of the blog. The first goal was to communicate to the 8th grade students' families on a daily basis. Much more than a phone message on the Tiyul hotline which was done in previous years, actually seeing and hearing their children on site reassured and satisfied family members. Then too, the entire school community was able to track the group's travel and experiences. Classes in early childhood, lower and middle school all checked out the blog on a daily basis while the 8th grade was in Israel. The blog was also converted into a dvd which each 8th grader received at the end of the year along with the class journal that was created. The eighth graders who participated in the Tiyul and in the blog were very motivated to create the blog and to use the new technology to communicate with family and friends. They felt it was the ultimate cool thing to do!

Finally, links to the blog are now on our school's website in the Jewish Life and Learning section, demonstrating how technology is used in the universe of Jewish and Israel studies at our Day School. Families who are considering sending their children to the school have mentioned their excitement at seeing this type of technology in use not only in general studies but also in Jewish studies.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Podcasting challenges

We have a couple of issues that we need to deal with to improve our podcasting:

1. 8th graders didn't exactly looooove the podcasts. The response was, shall we say... lukewarm. The 6th grade, on the other hand, thought it was cool. We haven't broken it out yet for the 7th grade. Do we try to beef it up for the 8th grade, or so we just focus on the younger kids?

2. It takes longer than we originally thought to actually record the files. Do we start to have the more fluent 8th graders help?

Comments? Ideas? Brainstorms?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Adding Comments to Smartboard Notebook Files

I'd like to start putting together teacher's editions of my Smartboard files. Essentially, that means adding explanatory notes to each slide to explain 1. What I'm trying to teach and 2. How to manipulate the slide (or what student input is expected) to teach it.

Powerpoint comes with a note capability for each slide in a slideshow, but I don't see anything like it in Notebook. I've seen other teachers' files and they basically write text on the first few slides to explain what they're doing. I can do that, of course--and I will, for a basic overview of the lesson--but I was wondering if there was a way to attach notes to a specific slide.

The only way I can think of is to extend the page, put the notes down there, and not have them show on the upper half of the screen. That's bit klutzy to work with, though.

Anyone have any ideas?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting to Video

On November 21st, I began meeting with a second group of ten students for Wednesday morning minyan. This group, different from the initial October group, already has some familiarity with Keynote, and some group members are going to work with the paragraphs before the Shema, and they are going to bring it to life with sound effects, making noise at the Hebrew word, “ra’ash” (“noise”), offering images of the four corners of the earth, love, and other concepts in those paragraphs. We will be scanning in pages from Siddur Sim Shalom, and pasting excerpts into Keynote slides.

One of the chief advantages of Keynote over Power Point, is the ability to use the Apple software to overlay student-created Garage-Band sound effects and i-Video creations, transforming a Keynote presentation into a video presentation.

This project challenges my students and me to make the most of a very brief time-frame. By the time we have completed our morning services, half of the allotted time is gone; I am thrilled with the progress students are able to make within the fifteen minutes that they have each week.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Text and Context

I'm now beginning my second round of Chumash Integration presentations, and because the students have had one lesson already and the first two lessons are closely linked, I feel like they are understanding the point of the whole program. I keep looking for ways to make the PowerPoint discussions exciting and interesting. How many times can one change a font color before the students start to yawn? I have found hyperlinking images keeps students alert. They're still so fascinated by the Smartboard technology that they are eager to see it in action.

Because I'm not in the classroom on a daily basis, I can't have the students make the presentations with me or produce ones on their own, but perhaps in future years, Frisch would consider having the students be part of the process. In the meantime, I continue to present the lectures using PowerPoint and, ideally, a Smartboard, but if the room doesn't have one, I use a laptop and projector (So old school to have to advance slides from a laptop. How quickly we get spoiled!). I have to rotate the rooms, as I go from one Chumash classroom to another.

In December, I'm meeting with Frisch's technology guru to set me up with a webpage, so I can provide a link to all my presentations. I continue to work on new ones. Coming up . . . Slavery in the ancient world for Chumash and Esther and the Achaemenid Dynasty for Nach. I also have a Chanukah presentation to show the ninth grade, who learn about Greek culture in December.

First products

On Wednesday, November 14th, I completed an eight-week session of meetings with about ten students, nearly all of whom were boys, and who worked with partners in the creation of a 2-3 slide contribution to the Keynote siddur. One group created slides for the blessing in the amidah about healing; another group created slides for the blessings about peace; and two groups offered different perspectives on the blessing about knowledge. I suspect it came in response to the academic pressures mounting as we neared the end of the trimester!

My partner and I in this project joins me in our excitement as we see the students feeling a connection to the siddur as they transform it into a series of texts and images, and we also are excited about their skill development, now that they are inserting Hebrew texts into their Keynote (and sometimes Power Point) presentations. Once they see the siddur projected on to the SMARTBoard, they become excited about how their work fits in with the work of others.

I am beginning with a new group of ten students, some of whom are concentrating their attention on the amidah, and some of whom are concentrating their attention on the blessings around the Shema.

Below you can see part of a project done by two of my students.

Hebrew language lab- buying equipment

When we first calculated costs for setting up this mobile language lab, we estimated that 12 laptops with headphones would cost us about $625 each. Then our class sizes increased, laptop prices decreased, plus we have a tech support guru who comes to us with support from ORT, who will squeeze loss-leader prices out of vendors until THEY scream.
We were able to get 14 laptops, with Avi Chai’s OK, for $450 each. Net savings, $1200 although we still need headsets with microphones, estimated at $300 total cost.
We had priced a variety of Hebrew software from Davka and TES at $2280. However, in talking with Ivrit teachers at a number of schools, we came to the conclusion that Rosetta Stone would be better. We got a price quote from Rosetta Stone: 14 site licenses of their network edition at $195 each came to $2730. We gulped and our guru looked for a better alternative. Ready for a bargain price? We were able to purchase 20 Rosetta Stone CDs from a secondary vendor online for $29.75 each, totaling $595, of which $416.50 comes from the grant. (We purchased extras knowing that as the program expands, this price might not be available again, and to allow students other than those in the experimental program to benefit.) Net savings, $1863.50.
Since we had not included a lockable laptop cart in our original estimate for the grant (PTA had said that they would help us if needed,) we asked AviChai if the grant money could be applied toward this. One Anthro cart, with power supply, locks and wheels is on its way. (Finally!!!) Our tech support guru came through again, getting shipping on this item reduced to $10, for a total cost of $1105.
Our original grant was for $9780. So far we have spent $6300 on laptops, $416.50 on software, and $1105 on the cart. Net expended $7821.50.
Still to be purchased are headsets with microphones- we’re watching for holiday sales.
Morah Shoshie is now evaluating Triple Play Plus Hebrew and some other software to determine what will supplement Rosetta Stone best, or if there are other instructional formats that would be more beneficial. In the meantime she and Morah Dina Shmuel continue to find websites and web-based games in Ivrit that will develop the children’s receptive vocabulary and be used in turn for expressive vocabulary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Closing the Shades

Originally I had been disappointed to find that the Smartboard Notebook software did not have any Powerpoint-style special effects--especially when it came to making text appear and disappear. There are many times when I don't want all the text visible at once. Perhaps I'd like students to work through a problem, then display the solution on screen. Or I want to make a presentation out of it--show one thing, then another--when having it all visible at once would minimize the discovery of new facts and ideas.

So, I've been trying out different ways that Notebook can conceal and reveal information.
The three options I came up with are the screen shade; using text boxes (and pictures) to hide other sections; and the spotlight.

I first tried the text boxes. I thought it would be a perfect solution--cover one text box with another, then move aside to reveal the text behind it at the correct time.

I do use that method on occasion, but I found it to be cumbersome to set up. Text boxes by default are transparent and I always end up fumbling through the menus to find the right combination for hiding the boxes I need and revealing the text I want shown. It also doesn't always line up right.

[It still is a useful technique. I just used it together with a picture that had a black background. White text was visible at first; when I shrank the picture, the black text that had been hidden behind it showed up, and the white text disappeared. An easy solution that looked a lot more complicated than it really was.]

Next is the spotlight, which looked like such an elegant solution the first time I saw it. But it's not that easy to manipulate on screen, and it affects the entire screen--not just the slide I'm showing. Going to the next slide doesn't remove it.

Finally, there's the screen shade. It didn't seem all that exciting at first--especially when you're looking for a Powerpoint-effect substitute. But it turns out that it's the solution I use all the time.
I use it to reveal sections of text, or pictures, or one line at a time, depending on what we're working on.

Last week I displayed a screen with a lot of text--I didn't have the shade down, since I was planning on going over all of it at once. My students took one look and asked, "Can you please put on the screen shade?" Apparently viewing all that text at once led to information overload!

I put up the shade, lowered it by each section of text that we read and discussed, and eventually it was all out in the open--but now students were comfortable with the text.

So right now the screen shade is my default approach. But if anyone has a better solution, please share it--I'd love to try it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hebrew language lab beginning computer use

Setting up a Hebrew Language Lab- Torah Day School of Atlanta
Hebrew language lab beginning computer use
Mrs. Javits (Morah Shoshie) and Mrs. Shmuel began working with the students on the computers in the computer lab while we await the delivery of the cart for the laptops. (It was supposed to arrive during Sukkot; we waited…and turned out they lost the order. Grrrr.) Since the children are already familiar with the lab computers, it makes for an easier transition once the mobile lab is complete…more on that next time
They had 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes working in the lab, although our test group is the 4th grade class for this project. First step was to teach the vocabulary of computer use, since all directions are given in Ivrit, with a lot of pantomime on Morah Shoshie’s part.
The vocabulary list includes words such as mouse, to click, to research, password and so on. The students initially used Microsoft Word (Hebrew enabled), again because of familiarity, to write letters to their parents about what they are learning in Ivrit.
Once they were comfortable with the computer terminology, they went online to do research b’Ivrit. Third graders searched for information about lion families and monkey families. Fourth graders wrote to their parents asking about the sources of their given names, e.g. for whom they were named and why. The origin of last names was the topic for fifth graders.
We switched this year from Dagesh to DavkaWriter as our Hebrew word processor, but the students have not had time yet to learn to use it as readily as they do Word. They will begin learning DavkaWriter during their weekly computer classes. Fortunately, the two programs are similar enough that they should pick it up quickly. We do not use stickers on our keyboards, having heard too many sad tales of phantom rearrangers. We have the keymaps on copy clips by each computer and the children memorize the keyboard fairly quickly.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Herzliah High School’s technology team is currently working on the preliminary stages of the online pedagogical center. The idea is to create a crossroads for pedagogical exchange between schools, where everyone is invited to share and copy didactic material.

Technically speaking, we are actually debating which platform will best meet the needs of our future users, be it teachers, educators, students or parents. While our pedagogical center will obviously be open to everybody to freely download our posted materials, we have been advised that some sort of filtering mechanism is necessary when it comes to uploading educational materials by educators and teachers who wish to contribute or share their class lessons. Thus, the question we are attempting to answer is which platform will permit us to be open, on the one hand, but controlled and secure, on the other?

One suggestion is to look at platforms, such as Web CT or First Class. However, we’ve found out that contributors must be pre-registered with the system in order to receive authorization to upload educational material, an obvious obstacle to free exchange. In addition, the high cost of such platforms is a deterrent to small community schools like ours.

While we continue to search for an answer, it seems that the pedagogical center website will be built with two simultaneous, but separate compartments, one for downloading and one exclusively for uploading materials. There will be no need for a user-name and password. However, different ideas may be raised as a result of further investigation and advice solicited hereby.

Please inform me of any suggestions you may have regarding this issue. I am also interested in teachers’ responses to this project, particularly if you’d be willing to share your materials and upload them onto the site. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Podcasting can be addicting

So I've taken the podcast skills I developed in working on the Hebrew podcasts and applied them to working with our 6th grade LA classes as the students create their own book talks. Next we've got a Hebrew special that will be creating their own wiki and podcasts to share with kids in Israel. Suddenly I have a lab full of mics (both stand and boom), and we're "shushing" every visitor that pops into the lab.

I've asked for the tech guys to build me a sound booth. They think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Text and Context: Nach Presentations

I've begun giving my Nach presentations that integrate the text with historical context. This year, Frisch is teaching the Megillot, so I've prepared the first presentation on Qohelet. The presentation focuses on the archaeology of the Solomonic period, starting from the Tel Dan stele, looking through various aspects of the Temple as well as finds from Tel Rechov and Megiddo. The presentation ends with a small look at Wisdom Literature from Egypt and Babylonia. I only give the presentations to the upperclassmen, but one of the teachers has asked me to email the presentation to her for her lowerclassmen, whom she thinks will appreciate it as well, particularly since the ninth graders have just learned in history about the Phoenicians and Hebrews. True integration!

Another one of the Nach teachers also was intrigued when I mentioned connections between Yonah and Pinocchio, so I prepared a presentation for her class comparing the two.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Touchscreen Habit

My computer is not a tablet, just an ordinary notebook without a touchscreen. The Smartboard, of course, is the ultimate touchscreen.

I never had trouble differentiating between the two until last week when I was demonstrating some of my notebook files to a friend. I got into teaching mode as I was explaining a certain comment and displaying the appropriate screen. Then I wanted to go to the next screen, so I tapped that little arrow at the top of the computer screen.

Nothing happened.

I must have hit that arrow 4 or 5 times before it occurred to me that I was working on my computer ... at home ... without the Smartboard. Of course it wasn't going to work. I had to use the mouse. And it felt so cumbersome to use the mouse, get that arrow up to the top and click the button!

Two minutes later, I was banging at the screen again before I caught myself. This time it took just two tries. At least I'm getting better at this ...

I work on my computer without the Smartboard all the time, creating my notebook files, and I never find myself reaching for the screen. But I always teach with the Smartboard. Interesting how our habits form based on context--and that it didn't take long to get that habituated to the Smartboard!

Touchscreens really are great. My hand felt so natural going for that button--and so cramped when I had to use the mouse instead. Of course, you pay a premium for it, but it's fun when you can have it!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The TabletPC: Functionality as a primary content delivery tool

The initial objective in working with the tablet PC was to test its strengths as a tool to assist primary content delivery for text based subject matter. The initial approach was for the instructor to use a projected text identical to the text used by the student. This text could be marked, highlighted, annotated and manipulated in real time due to the TabletPC’s pen function. In a typical lesson during which we would be introducing a new section of text to study, the scanned text is projected on the wall after having been inserted into MS OneNote2007. As each word or phrase is read, commas can be inserted, text can be circled, translations can be penned in the margins or over the text itself. What I generally do is as I read the text the first time I insert commas and translate new words. After finishing a phrase or sentence, I color-code the text by highlighting questions in yellow, answers in blue, proofs in pink, and statements in green. The student can either follow along in their own text, making the same insertions, or follow along with the projected image.

As mentioned in previous posts, one advantage of using the TabletPC is the fact that the student’s view of the screen never has to be blocked or obstructed (unlike most Smartboard setups) since the user never has to be interposed between the screen and the projector. This does come at the price of student interactivity since tablet is neither as intuitive nor as user friendly as a Smartboard. i.e. whild the Smartboard lends itself to a student coming to the fore of the classroom to enter text, answer a problem etc., while the tablet does not yet seem to lend itself to that. Where the Tablet setup shines is in it’s versatility as a presentation tool.

The software platform I am using on the TabletPC is Microsoft OneNote 2007. One Note is touted as the TabletPC “killer app”. One note certainly lends itself to being used by students as a note-taking and research tool. OneNote has a very broad array of data manipulation, searching, and recording capabilities and I have been told that am I am only scratching the surface of potential in the classroom. One really neat element its sharing function which should allow my students to download the very same screens and notes that were developed and projected during class.

I have been experimenting with color coded flowchart overlays, (i.e. flowcharts that follow the logic and reasoning of the text in the same color-coding scheme as the text). But have found the flowchart tools native to OneNote2007 to be very inefficient and difficult to work with in real time. As an alternative I am currently playing with OpenOffice Draw. Open Office Draw (which is free open source software part of the MS Office compatible OpenOffice Suite ) which has a robust set of flowcharting tools (Similar to MS Visio although it does not seem to be as easy to use). I hope to be able to write a set of macros or templates that would allow for greater automation of flowchart creation (ideally) to the point where a flowchart could be created on screen as quickly as it could be created on a whiteboard. More on that later…..

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jewish HIstory Power Point Update

I just completed a PPT on the Jews, Greeks and Hellenism and am currently working on 2 PPts;
1) Return to Zion and 2) Chanukkah and the Maccabean Revolt. Its difficult to pull video material off existing DVD's (both from a technical and legal standpoint) so I've been attaching YOUTUBE
pieces that I find are relevant and appropriate. I plan to show the last PPt to my classes before our next exam and think it might be a good idea to give the students a version without the text and have them fill it in as we review. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Herzliah High School’s technology team has prepared for download a sample of students’ PowerPoint presentations, based on their research projects in Tanakh class, Ivrit b’Ivrit, where they studied I and II Kings. While teaching the books of Kings, I have repeatedly noticed that students tend to perceive the period of kingship as personified only by the first three kings: Saul, David and Solomon. They are much less aware of the period following the division of the kingdom and, consequently, know little about the numerous kings who ruled over Judea and Israel. These PowerPoint presentations aim to introduce the students to these rulers and can fully or partially be incorporated into teachers’ lessons.

In order to download these files, please click on the following links, which will take you to Herzliah’s Jewish Studies, with the option to select the presentations relevant to your topics of interest:

Kings מלכים Link for download

Ahaz אחז

Ahaziah אחזיה

Amaziah אמציה

Baasha בעשא

5Jehoash יהואש


Monday, October 29, 2007

Hebrew Language Lab-Level Assessments

Setting up a Hebrew Language Lab- Torah Day School of Atlanta
Hebrew language lab assessment process
We chose our two 4th grade classes (16 boys and 14 girls) as our experimental group because there are few students with significant language processing difficulties in these classes, and their computer skills are up to the challenge of using and caring for laptops. An additional Ivrit teacher, Mrs. Dena Shmuel, has joined the faculty to team-teach with Mrs. Javits.
Students were assigned to groups based of four-part written and oral assessment:
Written evaluation-
Vocabulary and usage, ex. fitting words from a list into sentences;
Writing a paragraph in their own words about what they would like to do on their birthday;
Reading a short story and answering questions about it;
Grade given for reading/writing level.
Oral evaluation-
Teachers began by asking children to tell something about themselves to help them relax and establish rapport.
Students were given a written assignment in English, e.g. “If you were interviewing for a babysitting job, what questions would you ask?” or “What books and information would you look for if you were researching living things in the library?” or “A new girl is coming to class; what will you ask her or do with her?” They had to respond in Hebrew.
Grade given for oral skill level
Students were graded on oral ability and written ability separately. When totaled, if the combined score was above 60%, the student joined the advanced conversational language group regardless of which score was higher. Scores between 50-60% were starred; the student has the option to switch group if necessary.

Classes in September were dedicated to readjustment to Hebrew hearing, reading, speaking after the summer. All directions are given in Ivrit. Vocabulary study began with the Yomim Tovim and has moved on to computer terminology so directions will be clear when the students begin using the laptops. October’s topic is ‘all about me and my family.’ Computer-assisted instruction will initially utilize basic-level websites. Mrs. Shmuel will work with the beginner level group for the first half of the year, then she and Mrs. Javits will switch

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Text and Context: Integrating History with Tanakh

Now that the chagim are over and the teachers have had a few weeks to get started with their curricula, The Frisch School has been able to start the Integration Program. We began it this year this past week, beginning October 22, which turned out to be a highly appropriate date. The first presentation was on the awesomeness of the Egyptian empire and the presentation ends with a look at the temple of Ramses II, one of the pharoahs who might be the pharaoh of the Shmot story. His temple is at Abu Simbel and the last presentation slide takes a look at the interior of the temple, which is lit by the sun on two days of the year, Feb. 22 and Oct. 22. The students enjoyed the presentation, which took them from the pyramids to Tut's grave goods and focused on Ramses II -- his mummified remains, some building projects and the temple at Abu Simbel. Ending with the Oct. 22 fact was a winner, even for students who had the presentation later in the week. Most students were so enamored of the artwork, they wanted to take a trip back to Mitzrayim. Perhaps that wasn't the goal of the presentation, but nevertheless the students gained an appreciation not only for what God and B'nai Yisrael were fighting when God took on Egypt, but also for how art can help us better understand and -- obviously -- visualize history. Even students who are fine audio learners benefit from the visual stimuli of artworks.

This week, the Nach presentations will begin, and the first one will be on the Solomonic era, as the Nach courses will begin covering Qoheleth. The presentation focuses on archaeological finds from David's and Solomon's eras and mentions the existence of Wisdom Literature in the ancient world. While the Integration Program ran in Chumash last year at Frisch, this is the first time the Nach classes are going to have it.

So far, I've found the Integration Units helpful in establishing facts for other classes as well. I teach English and Art History, so I was able to tell my art history students to pay attention during the Integration Unit on Egypt for information that I then didn't have to repeat in class. I also teach a 12th grade English elective on hot topics in contemporary life. The class is a round robin, with one English teacher showing a film on a topic, another doing literature on it and my presenting art relating to the idea. The first topic was Freedom Fighter or Terrorist: Who Decides?, and my art presentation focused on the art of propaganda. I deliberately did not focus on Egypt, as I could then mention it when I gave the seniors the Egyptian empire presentation. In this way, the integration units have become even more solidly linked with secular studies classes, and students get to see how all types of learning become relevant to their world.

I'm still waiting for Frisch to be completely hooked up to all technologies and then I'll be creating a website that will allow others to view the integration presentations.

On a side note: I've noticed how many people on AVICHAI are enjoying the SmartBoard. I also have one in my classroom that has just been made available to me, and it has changed my teaching life. It's an amazing tool to teach with, and it excites the students. I hope the students stay as interested as they are now!

Friday, October 26, 2007

We continue to create and upload podcasts

We've added the Book of Yitro to our podcasts and I'm planning to go into the sixth grade classrooms next week to show the students how to access and use them.

So far, I've learned a tremendous amount about creating podcasts, posting them to the web (which involves creating a feed and .xml file - things I hadn't done before). My colleague who is doing the reading has gotten incredibly charged up about the podcast process and is planning to podcast with a group of seventh graders starting in November.

We've also learned about some of the pitfalls about podcasting in general, and about reading in a foreign language specifically.

Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Getting in line to get on-line

Now that the fall holidays are behind us, the student component of my on-line siddur project is taking off. A "techno-minyan" has been meeting for the past three weeks on Wednesdays; students are working in pairs to create a Power Point or Keynote version of the amidah that reflects different moods. They are very enthusiastic, and they enjoy bringing images to reflect the mood they have chosen to depict. At the end of eight weeks, I will put their work together with mine, and then I will get another group of students who will have eight weeks to pick up where they leave off. If anybody is doing similar work, I would be happy to compare notes and to share the student work so far.

One of the most exciting elements of the project is the instant feedback that students get from seeing their work both on their own computer and on the big screen - the SMARTBoard in class and the computer projector in the school auditorium. This morning several students from my eighth grade rabbinics class shared a Power Point dramatization of Maimonides' hilkhot shabbat, using Elmo and Big Bird as spokespeople and it was a huge hit with the entire middle school when it was projected on a big screen at the end of tefillot as part of our services. Students enjoy this kind of text study and the presentations offer moments for community-building.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

training sessions, and finding war veterans

As the holidays left their final blossom of fresh challah and matzo – ball soup, we started our real journey.

Our 4 student producers lead an active campaign to search for Israeli war veterans in their community. They contacted eight and scheduled interviews for the month of November and December. They were excited to find veterans from Israel's War of Independence (1948), the Sinai Campaign (1956) and the Six Days War (1967). Grandparents, teachers, neighbors and a restaurant owner immerged as an endless source of information.

The student interviewers had a three hours session with the school's social – worker. The group discussed interviewing techniques, how to decode body language, how to approach sensitive issues such as death, fear and lose, and self awareness to body movements, tone of voice etc. The students felt so enriched by the experience that they asked for a follow-up session, to be held on February 2008.

The filming and lighting crews had a detailed training on filming techniques and how to operate the expensive equipment. The filming specialist spent 10 hours working with the students. He will be present at the first three interviews to lend a hand if necessary.

The first interview will take place on November 9th. The first interviewee is Rabbi Baruch Lazevnik, a veteran of the first Intifada.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Can You Repeat That?"

Way back when I first got the exciting news about this grant, and I started putting together a timeline, I realized that, practically speaking, it would be impossible to do research, finalize a purchasing decision, and revamp my curriculum in the space of a single summer. Instead, I planned to choose pivotal lessons throughout the year and to focus on developing those classes for the Smartboard. I knew I wouldn't have time for everything, but this way, I thought, I would have Smartboard lessons spread throughout the year.

Guess what? It didn't exactly happen that way. Instead of having selected classes on the Smartboard, I'm using the Smartboard every day. For the daily quiz and review. For every new concept we're learning. For text, and pictures, and music, and even a few videos.

I miss it when I don't use it. I know the students do, because during one class that (I thought) didn't really benefit from the Smartboard, one student raised her hand about halfway through and asked, "Aren't you using the Smartboard today?"

I like it for quite a few reasons, but the one I'm focusing on today is that all-time favorite question that I used to hear far too often in my classroom: "Can you repeat that?"

A lot of students get really focused on their notes. They don't want to miss a thing. Unfortunately, I find when they do that, they get the notes--but they miss the concept. The big picture gets lost in the details. A number of teachers have shared similar experiences with me, and I even know one teacher who refuses to allow notes to be taken during her classes (apparently she has a system, though I have no idea how she makes that work).

I wasn't about to ban note-taking, but I did want to find a way to give students the confidence that the details will be there for them--even if they focus on the concept. Interestingly, I find the Smartboard helps make that happen.

The details are up there, and they won't vanish--if I move to a new screen, we can always move back to the first one for a review. They can put their pens down for a minute, stop concentrating on getting the next word down, and focus instead on the concept that's being illustrated through the details.

From what I can see in the students' work, they really are getting the concepts and the details straight. Not always perfect, of course, but overall I'm impressed by how much they do understand.

And even more good news--while "Can you repeat that?" hasn't completely disappeared from my classroom, it's become a lot less frequent!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, August, 2007

Due to the Jewish holidays, I haven't had a lot of time to keep the blog updated, so I'll try to briefly summarize 6 hectic weeks of the beginning of a new school year and the first-ever introduction of server technology to our Middle School students and faculty.

So far, so good. We have achieved what I believe to be about 80% to 90% of our goals. In terms of the introduction of new technology to aid our faculty, that has been a smashing success. We have successfully created a group, online faculty calendar that has become an essential part of our on-going planning process and has become indispensible. We also created all-new faculty emails associated with our school's domain name and that has helped to separate our personal from the professional emails.

The only sore spot has been creating and maintaining our own internal web page for teachers to show case class projects and student work, post homework and share announcements. We are instead relying on a public wiki site that we used last year. I suppose I still have to develop some more expertise with web publishing before we can tackle this. As it is, it has been a tremendous challenge (but fun) to become a network administrator and learn how to manage our email and group calendar accounts.

A last sore spot, but which is rapidly being addressed, is the creation of our on-line database to generate report cards for the students. After many difficulties with outside technical consultants, we are finally Beta-testing our system and trying to get it up and running before we have to start filling in our first report cards for the first trimester. So this is keeping us all busy at the moment.

In terms of the students, they love having server-based home folders to store and access their notes and share documents with each other without having to email the documents. I created an network structure which both faculty and students have yet to fully take advantage of, but they are all slowly getting the feel of it, and learning the value of the network. Judaically, it is great to have finally uploaded all of the Hebrew Bible and the Mishnah on the server, so that the students can download and immediately access sources and texts when they want and need.

We have had our fair share of difficulties integrating PC users (mostly the faculty) into a primarily Mac dominated student environment--troubles accessing the wifi network and wireless printing, but we are slowly working out the kinks. So overall, this is indeed a tremendous success!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tablet PC Tech: Fits and Starts

Warning! The following posting will be tedious and boring to all but the most dedicated of geeks who delight in the trials and tribulations of tech support.

The projector worked, the tablet worked, the teaching materials were prepped I was ready to go!

Or so I thought.

When I combined the materials, the tablet and the projector I was in for a surprise. The materials were developed and adapted for the tablet’s native screen resolution. When the tablet was connected to the projector, the tablet automatically switched to a lower resolution. The tablet’s pen interface then had to be recalibrated and that is when things started getting interesting. Whenever I tried to re-calibrate the tablet/pen interface to the lower resolution, the calibration would not proceed past the first tap. (Calibration involves tapping a series of targets on the screen with the stylus so that the screen is aligned with the pen’s input.) After attempting several permutations I decided it was time to call the vaunted Gateway tech support. Fast forward five days, 13 hours on the phone, and three levels of issue escalation to the loftiest and most rarified levels of Gateway tech support (where even the pocket protectors have pocket protectors) and I am told that the matter has been passed on to an even higher level of problem solvers who are so expert at solving problems, they never ever speak directly to regular people. I have been assured that when they solve this issue they will convey the solution to the highest levels of tech support (Moshe?) who will filter it down to the mid level tech support personnel (Zekainim?) who will someday tell the masses (i.e. me). Believing I was at a standstill, and stuck with a brand new tablet PC that would be as useful in the classroom as freeze-dried-iguana-paste, I decided to do some ole’ fashioned fiddling around and discovered a well hidden setting in the ATI graphics control panel that allowed the tablet can be calibrated at the lower resolution if the display is centered as opposed to stretched. This means I have nearly a one inch of black unusable space on either side of the TabletPC’s screen, but I am calibrated and can project!

So now I am good to go!

I will report on what the first week of Tablet PC based instruction was like in my next posting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When the Students Took Over ...

... the Smartboard. It was an experiment that proved to be a real success.

I had it all set up in advance. We were exploring a concept, and I had a number of sources--from Gemara, Midrash, and various commentaries--with the text and illustrations in Smartboard notebook.

I printed out the notebook slides, divided the students into groups, and assigned each group a source. Their task: decipher the source, determine how it applied to the concept we were exploring, and figure out the ramifications for that concept. They were also to decide how they would present it to the class, using the Smartboard.

I circulated through the groups, helping with translation and additional source background as needed. But it was their job to determine how to apply the source to the concept, and what it implied about the concept.

They took turns coming up and teaching their source to the class, using the Smartboard tools in any way they thought would enhance what they were discussing.

The results were really impressive--surpassing what I had expected for a first-time experiment. They all presented thoroughly and articulately, and their conclusions were quite sophisticated. One student actually asked permission to go to the library to look up an idea, and presented a "chiddush" of her own when she discussed her source.

They had a great time, learned several important ideas--and I suspect they'll remember today's lesson for quite some time.

It did take some extra effort on my part, but it was well worth it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First Four Podcasts Posted

Our first four podcasts, the first four chapters from the Book of Jonah, have been posted. They can be heard online or by subscribing through the Apple iTunes store.

Getting the podcasts created was the first step. Now we have to let the 8th graders know how to access the files. We'll do that next week.

Hag sameah to all - best wishes for a happy, healthy, inspirational and productive new year (and on a personal note - my daughter became engaged Saturday night, so we are expecting a particularly happy new year!).

Monday, September 10, 2007

"I've been there stories from the battlefield"

"We are so excited. We can't wait to start the project!" was my students' first comment on the first day of school. They were so enthusiastic that I had to start the first stage of the project earlier then planed. I felt so lucky that I am changing my plans due to students willingness to get to work.
The 22 students were divided into 6 groups: directors, producers, editors, photographers, interviewers, and researchers. Each group received specific instructions as of their responsibilities, and was asked to design a folder where material will be collected and stored throughout the year. The producers started to collect names of potential interviewee (former Israeli fighters).
After the holidays tech training will start and first contact with interviewee will take place.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Power Points with Sound and Video

I was able to create a number of PPT presentations some with sound, some with video and some with links to the web. Here is a brief progress report:
1) The Jews in Medieval Christian Europe - Sound and Video
2) The Jews in America - Sound (so far)
3) Dead Sea Scrolls - Sound, Video, Link to the Web
4) The Golden Age of Spain - Sound (so far)
5) The Bar Kochba Revolt - Sound, Link to Web (so far)
6) Rambam
7) Eastern European Jewry
8) The Rise of Islam - in progress
9) The Miracle of Jewish History
10) The Rise of Modern Israel
The last 5 are strictly PPt's with no sound or video added yet. This whole process is a bit tricky.
I haven't found software yet that can pull off video material. Commercial DVD's usually have some encoded software so you have to contact the company to allow you to use it.
Adding sound and linking to websites is a bit easier, its really a matter of finding the right material, editing it and inserting it into the right spots.
An additional thing to consider: if you add an MP3 file to your presentation, it has to be included in your folder that contains the PPT.
I've been busy as of late because we're back to school so I'll probably get more done over Sukkot.
Shana Tova to all! Ktiva VChatima Tova!

Laptops, Blogs, Websites and Wikis!

I have been so excited by the technology that my school has allowed and encouraged me to implement! I have received laptops in my room - one per desk or child, and they are permanently wired through the ceiling. I have my desks in 4 pods, with colorful poles running up the center with the wiring. The laptops are on their own server in my room, so that at any given time, we can bounce between methods of learning with the technology at the ready! I'll try to post pictures of the set up next time. My blogs have been running beautifully, especially the 8th grade blog - what food for thought! Here are the links to the 5th and 8th grade blogs:
8th Grade: and 5th Grade: The wikis have been pretty neat as well - some of them are more up and running than others. 8th Grade:
6th Grade: and the
5th Grade:
My 5th Grade website is up and running. Don't be surprised if you see a few places where Hebrew or symbols come out funny - I'm still fixing things due to the changes in server: The 6th Grade site for Mishnah is up and running, but continues to be edited, so please have patience: and the 8th Grade History of Israel site is up and running, but is continuously under construction as well: More to come later..... Wishing everyone on this list a Shanah Tovah U'metukah!!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

CDRebbi software : Software which can be customized for each teacher


Parshathon School edition-
1.I added another 100 questions to be able to divide it by parsha.There is now over 1000 questions on Sefer Bereishis.Now a teacher can choose which parsha to play with his class.
2.I received new graphics to upgrade one of the question categories and to make the graphics sharper.Included is a sharp interface for the students to set up their game.

Scavenger Hunt-
1.I received an upgraded graphic interface improved from 2 weeks ago.I have a new graphic screen for students to choose which game they want to play. Many teachers can set up their own games. This is where the student will choose his teacher’s game.
2.My new music is ready to be put in for sound effects and background music.

Torah Baseball-
1.I have received new baseball graphics such as a field,fielders, fans cheering, and a score board.
2.The new sound effects and music have arrived.I have Jewish background music and baseball sound effects. I have a new graphic screen for students to choose which game they want to play. Many teachers can set up their own games. This is where the student will choose his teacher’s game.
3.I upgraded the game to next summers Macabee challenge in order not to have to do the graphics twice.This means I had to put a lot of extra programming work into it. I changed the name to Torah Baseball so you should not think that it is only a game for Chanuka.
4.I created 100 Torah Teaser questions on Torah trivia which you can answer for a fly ball and get the hitter out.
5. I have made 30 questions on Chanuka as a sample game for teachers to see how to make their own game. In addition they can use it for Chanuka if they do not have time to make their own questions.

Parshathon Shemos-
1.We have created the first 200 questions on Sefer Shemos.
2.I have new music for Background music and sound effects.

Torah Race-
I received the first version of the main screen graphics.
I have new music for Background music and sound effects.

, , ,

Text and Context

The Frisch School is still adjusting to the move to its beautiful new building and unfortunately the technology is not in place and will not be so until after the chagim. However, the head of the Tanakh program and I have worked out the schedule for the first two Torah integration presentations and the first Nach presentation. Furthermore, we've come up with the basic outline for the Nach presentations. They are:

Presentation 1: Qoheleth: The Solomonic era and the genre of Wisdom Literature
Presentation 2 and 3: How understanding the Achaemenid Dynasty and the way the Persian Empire worked enhances Esther
Presentation 4: Ruth:Topic to be decided.
Presentation 5: Eichah: Conceptions of the land of Israel in the Torah and Eichah and ancient practices of besieging and conquering a land

I look forward to having all of this available soon.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

SmartBoard - The First Two Days

Two days into the beginning of school and I'm just starting to appreciate the versatility of the SmartBoard.

First, of course, there's the "cool factor." That'll wear off, but for now I've got everyone's attention. They're vying for turns to get up there and write. A great opportunity to get the less involved students more involved.

Next, an unexpected benefit. I'm working with a class that has a wide range of skill levels, and I don't want to compromise my curriculum--but I also don't want anyone left behind. I think the visual cues offered by the SmartBoard should help close that gap. I'm going to keep an eye on this and see where it develops.

My students expressed an interest in recording the classes (audio) and I'm going to try recording the SmartBoard sessions. Then I'll try to combine the video and audio, and come up with a video that they can watch for review. All this takes time, so I don't think I'll do all the classes, but I'd like to try a few just to see how they come out.

Has anyone tried editing the AVI files produced by the SmartBoard recording capability? Can I combine them with Windows Movie Maker? Any suggestions?

My SmartBoard modules are on Chumash Beraishis and Megillas Kohelles. If anyone is interested in seeing them, let me know and I'll email the notebook files to you.

For those of you using Windows Vista, if you've got an Airliner Slate with your SmartBoard, be careful of automatic updates. Microsoft's latest Vista update knocked out the Bluetooth adapter and I ended up having to roll back 3 weeks via System Restore, then install the latest Vista drivers which are not on the CD that comes with the product--they have to be downloaded. This didn't work without the System Restore because apparently MS has their own Bluetooth driver, with a more recent date on it, and my system insisted on using it instead of the downloaded driver. Unfortunately it turns out to be buggy and did not work with the slate. So, don't allow Windows to select the driver itself--cancel out of that and do the install from the download. The Smart website has detailed instructions if you need it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Adventures in Audio Recording

My colleague, Avi Hallali, is the Hebrew teacher who will be recording our Hebrew reading material for the podcast. He has already identified what material he's reading and has met with the Hebrew teachers to make sure he knows what they need for their students.

He started by recording using an mp3 recorder, but quickly realized that a major limitation is that it's very hard to go back and re-record when he realizes that he's made a mistake. In other words, it's pretty much all-in-one. Since he's reading from the book of Jonah, I did suggest that he can read it verse by verse (stopping recording at the end of every verse, thereby creating separate audio files), which would facilitate re-recording just one verse if necessary.

Avi, however, wants to be a little more experimental and has chosen to try recording using an Apple laptop and GarageBand. I showed him how to record into a new podcast, listen to his recording, and re-record when necessary. If this works for him, it will make creating the final project much easier for me in the end. He's actually become very enthusiastic about the process and envisions perhaps rolling out a Hebrew podcast in the future.

We should have the first podcast ready to go in the next few weeks.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Smartboard Modules are available to download

Deborah’s Leadership in War Smartboard module is now available to download from the link below.

Jotham’s Parable Smartboard module is now available to download from the link below.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Smartboard module: The Parable of Jotham

The Parable of Jotham (chapter 9 of the Book of Judges) is an important treatise on the characteristics of leadership and human nature. Therefore, it stands as a core text in any course dealing with leadership in the Bible. As a parable, this text is rich in imagery and multiple layers of meaning. These elements are explored interactively in my new Smartboard module.

After spending much of the summer working on this Avi-Chai project, my second Smartboard module, The Parable of Jotham (משל יותם), is finally available for teachers to download from the link below.

This module, designed for the teaching of Tanakh Ivrit b’Ivrit, is composed of 6 parts. Originally designed for grade ten students, it could easily be adapted to younger students.

Once downloaded, what will you find in The Parable of Jotham (משל יותם) Smartboard module?

In addition to the basic step-by-step teaching of Judges, chapter 9, with verse readings (audio) and Rashi commentaries, this module includes maps and tours of the sites mentioned in the text, such as Mount Gerizim, Mount Ebal and the city of Shekhem. Furthermore, this module features interactive information about the different trees mentioned in The Parable of Jotham, a tour to major Jewish sites of grape, fig and olive-oil production, as well as an introduction to the medicinal properties of these fruits.

Students will master the material and remain active in class through a variety of exercises and activities. For example, students are asked to match the fruits with other Biblical stories in which they are mentioned (ie the spies with the grapes, the Menorah with the olives, etc.). Moreover, this module contains popular legends and songs related to the themes expounded in the text.

This module stresses the moral of Jotham’s Parable and the resistance to the transition from the regime of the judges to that of the monarchy.

This module and others to follow will soon be posted on Herzliah High School’s new online Pedagogical Center, whose creation is made possible thanks to this Avi-Chai grant.

To use the Parable of Jotham (משל יותם) module, please the steps outlined below:

Unzip the file, “” .
Open the module, Jotham_Parable_Shiur_New, with Smartboard Notebook.
Start teaching.

Please note that once uploaded into your hard drive, you must adjust the URL of the HTML objects in this module, according to the files’ placement in your computer.

Feedback, comments and ideas for the improvement of this module are very welcome. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Text and Context: Makot Presentation

I've just completed the second presentation for the Integration of art and history with Tanakh. The presentation begins with a discussion of the role that magic played in Egyptian life and then goes into the first three plagues, showing how they attack specifically not only Egyptian economic life but also the very essence of Egyptian religious belief. One important and fascinating fact I learned while I was researching information was that Heqet, the Egyptian frog fertility goddess, was a kind of patron saint of midwives. That fact really makes the first two makot a direct midah k'neged midah for the pharaonic decrees to kill the Israelite male children.

The Frisch School is currently moving into a new building, so I've been unable to set up a webpage for the integration program. Once I do, however, and begin presenting the program to the students, I'll be posting the presentations on my webpage.

Friday, August 10, 2007

We're in the Apple iTunes store!

Before leaving for the CAJE conference last week I worked on getting our test podcasts into an RSS feed and submitting the podcast to the Apple iTunes store. Since iTunes is a free cross-platform application I'm confident that having our podcast part of its directory will be really helpful for our students.

I have to admit, it was pretty exciting to go to the iTunes store today and do a search for "SSDS" and have our podcast show up (complete with custom artwork that I created last week).

Debbie Harris (
Sager Solomon Schechter Middle School
Northbrook, IL

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, August, 2007

Faculty orientation starts in one week, and due to this technology grant, my summer has been amazingly hectic and filled with school work. It was fun, but I didn't have much of a summer.

All of our hardware and software that we purchased with the grant money showed up and with the aid of our outside technology consultant, we set up the server. Basically, we have an Apple Mac Mini sitting in a locked closet connected to the internet loaded with Apple's Mac OS X Server software. The overall experience of setting up the network is that every little thing that I thought would take around 10 or 15 minutes has taken an average of 2 hours! Plugging in cables, installing software, inputting serial numbers, setting up internet server services--even just establishing remote access to the server took weeks and numerous phone calls to our ISP! And now faculty planning meetings begin next week and I'm in a panic about trying to lay down the network infrastructure for faculty and students using software that I've only ever learned about in a classroom setting and read about in books. I'm operating at the furthest range of my technical know-how and skills but slowly I'm figuring this stuff out.

But the good news is that I love this stuff. It is my personal "black hole" that if I'm not careful, I could easily spend all of my time working and fiddling with. But I have to remember I'm also the Rabbi-in-Residence of the school, principle Judaic Studies teacher--AND the server administrator! Kind of a funny amalgam of professional portfolios, I admit. But I have to be sure to budget time to prepare actual teaching preparation!

I'm slowly getting to the Judaica side of all of this soon, but before I do, I still have to lay down the building blocks of creating and using the server network. That is where we are right now!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

CDRebbi software : Software which can be customized for each teacher


I have updated it for schools.
1.Now a teacher can choose the parsha that his/her students will play.
2.Now a teacher can make a quiz, test, or worksheet in minutes using the over 900 questions from Parshathon.A teacher can make a worksheet in minutes. Questions, sources and question numbers are added with the mere press of a button.
Scavenger Hunt-
I have found an artist who created for me a new graphic interface for the game.I have a musician sending me new music for the game.I am redoing the game to work with the new graphics.
Question Crunch-
I have updated it into Torah Baseball .The speed in which you answer the question enables you to advance more bases.For this I am still awaiting new graphics and music.
Torah Find-
I have updated this to Torah Race. For this one also I am awaiting graphics and music.I am in the midst of getting this program to install on a school network so that all of the students can play against each other.

Rabbi Avraham Ismach

Friday, August 03, 2007

Thanks to the Avi-Chai Technology Experiment grant, my first Smartboard module, “Deborah’s Leadership in War”, is now available for teachers to download from the link below:

It can immediately be used as a standalone lesson or as part of a broader teaching program, such as “The Leadership of the Judges” (מנהיגות השופטים), or “Leaders and Leadership in the Bible” (מנהיגות ומנהיגים במקרא) or even as part of a gender thematic, namely, “The Role and Status of Women in the Bible” (מעמד האישה בחברה המקראית).

This module, designed for the teaching of Tanakh Ivrit b’Ivrit, is composed of six parts. Originally planned for grade ten students, it could easily be adapted to younger students. The module gives teachers enough leeway to modify and use only those parts that seem applicable to their class.

Once downloaded, what will you find in this student-oriented module?

In addition to the basic step-by-step teaching of Deborah’s story and the defeat of Jabbin, King of Canaan (Judges, chapter 4), this module stresses the importance of the geographical factor in Deborah’s military strategy (maps and tours of the sites mentioned in Deborah’s story are included), how the organization, type of army and strategies influenced the outcome of the war, as well as how the Israelites’ victory was translated into political, social, economic and military gains.

The variety of exercises, verse readings (audio) and activities (such as Mount Tabor puzzle, and Yael’s song) included in this module ensure that students remain active for the duration of the class and contribute to their mastering of the material in an agreeable way.

Included in this module is a booklet (“Student_Preparation_Deborah_War_Shiur.doc”) for the purpose of the students’ self-preparation for the class.

This module and others to follow will soon be posted on Herzliah High School’s new online Pedagogical Center, whose creation is made possible thanks to this Avi-Chai grant.

To use “Deborah’s Leadership in War” module, please follow the steps outlined below:

Unzip the file, “” .
Open the module, Deborah_War_Shiur_New, with Smartboard Notebook.
Open the file, “Student_Preparation_Deborah_War_Shiur.doc”, print and distribute to students.

Please note that once uploaded into your hard drive, you must adjust the URL of the HTML objects in this module, according to the files’ placement in your computer.

Feedback, comments and ideas for the improvement of this module are very welcome. Enjoy!

J. Fima

Setting up a Hebrew Language Lab- Torah Day School of Atlanta

Mrs. Javits and I and a few other faculty have discussed means of conducting pre- and post- assessments of conversational levels, both receptive and expressive. Several techniques have been recommended for group and individual assessment:

Tape conversations in Ivrit in varying levels of complexity, play them for the students as a group, then have each one write summaries of them.
Have Mrs. Javits speak several short sentences and have the students transcribe and translate them.
Play short story segments from Israeli videos such as “Rechov Sumsum” for the students to translate.
[These would be scored on a rubric of general understanding and specific facts.]
Have native Ivrit speakers make a statement in English and ask the student how to say it in Ivrit.
Have native Ivrit speakers ask a series of scripted questions in Hebrew with some pre-planned follow-up questions to rate vocabulary and fluency.
Have students talk about a simple topic (e.g. tell about your family, tell about yourself, describe what you are wearing) using a list of topical words to assess how well they can integrate known syntax with prompted vocabulary.
[These would be scored on a rubric including vocabulary use, syntactical accuracy, and complexity and fluency of speech.]
Parent volunteers who are native Ivrit speakers might be willing to conduct individual interviews in order to accomplish the assessments in a timely manner at the beginning of the year and before the end of each trimester.

Our goal for this week is finish ordering the laptops, cart, and software. We also purchased narrow tables to replace the desks in the classroom, since sloping desk tops and laptops are a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately, we have more than enough adjustable height, rolling, swivel-seat chairs that were to have been used in a second computer lab that instead became a regular classroom. These will be great in the Hebrew class. When the children are working with Mrs. Javits as a group, they can turn toward her. When they are working on the laptops, they can swivel around and she can see all the screens facing the center of the room. The tables just arrived and were set up today; Mrs. Javits reaction was "Wow! I can really fit 18 kids in the room now. That's chai!"

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Test Podcast

I've been testing creating a podcast using GarageBand on the Mac and uploading it to the web so it's available for subscription.

My test podcast can be found at

There is a link so listeners can access the mp3 file directly (it's not exciting - remember, it's a test) as well as a link to the .xml file for subscription purposes. If anyone wants to see the code for the .xml file, feel free to email me for it.

I also submitted it to the Apple iTunes store for inclusion in their search engine.

The next steps are:
  1. work with our teacher who is going to be recording the files once school begins
  2. determine what Hebrew reading assignments will be uploaded
  3. "market" the new service to the appropriate students
Only a few weeks until school begins...

Monday, July 30, 2007


Our server should be up some time late this week or next week, and the new websites that I have created should then be able to come to life! In the mean time, I have been setting up blogs for my various classes. One of the blogs I just set up is for my 8th Grade History of Israel class. I team teach this course with the Social Studies teacher, and the blog will be an effective way for our students to discuss major issues and topics that we will be learning about. Kids love to be "published" and to know that their opinions will be heard. Have a look at the beginning of our blog: Blogs are a great way to get our kids thinking deeply, in a way that appeals to them after school hours. They can be moderated, needless to say, in order to make sure that their comments are always appropriate. I have allowed our blog to be viewed by everyone, but limited the posting to our class, and the people our class decides are allowed to post. My 5th Grade will also have a blog about topics we cover in Sh'mot. I will post that shortly...