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?