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.