Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Text and Context

This past month was a slow one in school, as we had Shiriyah for a week and then vacation. During Shiriyah, students pretend to go to class and teachers pretend to teach, but really the students are busy transforming the hallways in school into works of art, practicing songs and solos, making videos and creating Broadway-like Stomp presentations. It's actually a very exciting time in school, but not much traditional curriculum is covered. Teachers were instructed to be creative in lesson planning (usually about 1/3 to 1/2 of the class, if that much, shows up for class). I was pleased that some teachers told me that they made use of the Integration lessons I'd prepared and posted on the school website. The technology is in place for teachers to be able to share files and programs. Today, as well, after a Chumash Integration lesson, the teacher told me she would be downloading the presentation to give to her freshmen class (I only present to the 11th and 12th grades.). I'm happy that the system seems to be working out for everyone and that the technology makes sharing ideas so easy.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Entering Hebrew Text in Keynote

Putting Hebrew text into Keynote has been done using images. In anticipation of what prayers the students would use, the major shaharit prayers were scanned. The images of those prayers were placed on the school server where the kids could all access them. These images can then be cropped to the part of the prayer they are illustrating. This has proven to be an efficient way of inserting Hebrew.
However, using Keynote, it is possible to write Hebrew directly into the text box, or copy and paste it from Mellel.
The scanned prayers look like the siddur and the students don't have to spend time choosing fonts and type face size.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Podcasting on the radar...

It occurs to me that a welcome by-product of our doing the Hebrew podcasting has been a subtle change in culture in the school. Last year, I was the only crazy person talking about podcasting or audio anything. Now, with Mar Hallali preparing podcasts and talking about it to the students, it's popped up in so many other places.

I just had a student run into the lab looking for a microphone. It turns out that they're doing something on the computer in the classroom and, well, they need to record something using a mic. This isn't a "planned" activity or one that the teacher prepared using my help - it's probably something that the kids came up with while working on something. Suddenly it's become matter-of-course to add audio to a project.

Besides our Hebrew podcasts, we've had LA students prepare book talk podcasts; 7th graders create podcasts to share with Israeli students with whom we have a protected, moderated social network; and social studies students record narration to accompany their WWII newsreels.

It's interesting how an addition of one thing can spread to so many other areas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Studio 613 Vancouver Hebrew Academy

Well, after a (very) well-deserved break we are all back to work!

Filming has begun!!!! Rabbi Estrin is working with the grade 5 class and they are all having a great time. One challenge that we are working through is that our camera’s microphone may not pick up voices from across the room. Ironically, the lens is so good that it surpasses the range of the mic. But, we shall persevere and solve this as well. One of the primary goals of this project was to use an innovative approach to bring new life and excitement to the curriculum. In this regard we are certainly seeing results. Some of the students do not even realize that they are learning! Imagine how surprised they will be when they find out.

Meanwhile…back at the Wayne Mansion, I have been tooling around with the Mac applications that we will be using for the film-editing component. It is amazing how even the base level programs that are preloaded on the machine can produce such a nice result. iMovie, does a great job of putting clips together with some nice transition effects. It can also be used to create slideshows much more quickly that PowerPoint or other similar programs. My favorite find to date is iDVD. This program takes movies and/or slideshows and creates professional looking DVD menus for them. It then burns the DVD directly. The result is a VERY quick and very easy GREAT looking product. I used it last week to put together a slide show of pictures of a teachers recent visit to our sister school in Israel. In 45 minutes I had 30 pictures running in a loop with Im Eshkacheich Yerushlayim playing in the background, all with a snazzy looking menu.
Well, back to work. More later…

Friday, January 18, 2008

Student learning curve

Students in the technology minyan are hard at work on Wednesday mornings, putting together their Keynote presentations of blessings for the electronic on-line prayerbook. I am finding that it is a challenge for the students to master the combination of media: Keynote software, word processing in both Hebrew and English, and, for some students, the integration of music or video. They are excited and motivated to keep working on it, but it requires intensive faculty supervision, and I am fortunate to be joined on Wednesdays by our technology director (my fellow grant recipient for this project, Paula Rothman). For others interested in this kind of project, I recommend getting prepared not only with the hardware and software, but also with the staff time.

We have about three more weeks with the current group, and when the are done, I will post an example or two of their work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, December, 2008

More from the Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, California. So far, so good! Here is a quick update: our teachers and students continue to use our server for storing and sharing resources. We continue to use a pbwiki site for posting homework assignments for students and communicating with families. We have upgraded our weekly school newsletter using an outside newsletter website service which has streamlined our regular communication with parents. All faculty continue to actively use our on-line faculty calendar for planning purposes and the new school email addresses have been very successful. We are continuing to fine-tune the development of our on-line report card database, working with an outside consultant database developer and hope to have this up and running either by our third trimester or Fall of next year.

In terms of challenges, we have discovered that the consumer, entry level Apple Airport Extreme base stations have not been able to handle the daily traffic and bandwidth that our combined 20-30 students and faculty place on them. We have three of these wireless access points scattered strategically around the school, but they they literally crash once a week and need to be restarted, and sometimes reset. Needless to say, when this happens, no one can get on-line and no one can print via the network printers! This causes a lot of headaches. So we decided to upgrade our wireless network and I have been devoting weeks, now, to researching suitable alternatives. Essentially, we need an entry-level enterprise solution for schools and businesses that will handle the traffic and still be compatible in our largely all-Mac environment, and most importantly, configurable by Mac computers. I have been talking to tech support people at various companies, and local consultants, and it is quite a confusing maze. And despite the fact that companies obviously find it cheaper to outsource much of their technical and sales support to India, it still makes communication difficult and increases the frustration of doing business with them. I suppose these companies simply write this off as part of their business plan, like grocery stores assume a certain percent of spoilage no matter how efficient they are! Still working on this.

And finally, the most exciting news to report is that we are finally ready to move on to the next phase of our grant proposal! We are now researching which still and video cameras and microphones to purchase so that we can finally start to create more student generated digital projects, podcasts, and web pages online. All very exciting! That's it for now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

We finished the first set of interviews

In the beginning of November the journey began and we held our first interview. The students were both nervous and excited as they prepared for the interview. The filming area looked as if it was invaded by Larry King's crew; Microphones were tested, lights were measured, interviewers went over their lines, directors were shouting instructions, and cameramen discussed shooting angles. Suddenly everybody was quiet, lights went on, the film was rolling and as if in a time – machine we were carried 20 years into the past. After the first couple of interviews the students felt like professionals; laughter and jokes replaced the nervous faces and everyone knew exactly what to do.

The first set of interviews was finished by the end of December. 7 Israeli war veterans were interviewed; a Rabbi who fought in the first Intifada, an engineer who repaired tanks and a medic who fought in the Kippur war, a member of a tank unit who entered Lebanon in 1983, a father and son who shared experiences from the first and second Lebanon wars, and an eighty year old veteran who was a member of the Hagana underground and fought in the War of Independence.

Though the filming procedures became a routine, the stories did not. The veterans swept us all with stories of sacrifices, of close friends who died in battle, of bloody nights of combats, of moral dilemmas, of brotherhood and of the love for the State of Israel. They shared their memorabilia; photos, an old bible, a dog tag, and long used uniforms. They touched our soul and many tears were shed as we were faced with the reality of death and victory marked with blood.

Interviews will resume in March as we take a short break to edit the first set of interviews. A 5 minute trailer will be available on the week of January 21st.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Smartboard Files part 2 - Lesson Activity Toolkit

I started using the lesson activity toolkit in Smart Notebook a few weeks ago--I originally had trouble installing it in Vista, but I finally worked that out. It has some really useful tools, backgrounds, and activities that are worth taking the time to explore. I wasn't really sure what to do with them at first, but I watched a couple of videos that Smart Tech has been kind enough to upload (check out the videos on YouTube from SMARTTechVideos or just do a search on Lesson Activity Toolkit) and they gave me some really good ideas.

The hard part, as always, is taking what you see and finding some way to adapt it for teaching limudei kodesh. It isn't always intuitive!

The latest file I uploaded at
http://www.hillelpgh.org/langer/42 siach hasadeh.notebook
has a number of goodies that come from the toolkit. Aside from the pretty backgrounds and boxes, which add a nice professional polish to the notebook pages, I also used a flash activity that comes with the package.

I wasn't sure how to fit it in at first, but I hit on the idea of using it as an immediate review of the key points of a Rashi--a good way to solidify concepts before moving on and building on them through the rest of the lesson. The interactivity keeps interest, even for those students who don't really need the review, and it's fast, so there's very little down time.

I'll keep experimenting with the different tools to find new ways to apply them to Chumash and high school--not always an easy combination! In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Podcasting: tech talk 1

I thought I would share some information about the hardware we use to create our podcasts. We use an Apple Macintosh iBook, an external microphone and Apple's GarageBand. Our teacher, Avi, reads the material into GarageBand, which allows him to play back and re-record as necessary. He then brings the iBook to me, and I send the podcast to Apple's iTunes software to convert it to .mp3, which I can then post to the Internet.

Even though iBooks have onboard mics which record, we found that the Sennheiser mics have much better recording quality.

Next time: creating a podcast, posting it on the Internet, and submitting to Apple's iTunes store.

Smartboard Training - Suggestions Please!

We've got an inservice coming up in a month, at the beginning of February, and I've been given an hour to introduce the Smartboard to the rest of the staff and give them some ideas of how they can use it.

The audience will range from elementary through high school, all subjects. So I'd like to give a sampling of various subjects at various levels, then demonstrate some of what's needed to make the Smartboard work.

Most teachers haven't used a Smartboard before, but all are familiar with computers and should get up to speed quickly. I figured I would show the basic operation--how everything on the screen shows up on the Smartboard, how you can manipulate the Smartboard directly in all software--then get into Smart Notebook and show what you can do with it.

Has anyone done anything similar? What would you suggest I focus on?
All ideas are welcome!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I have completed my school version of Parshathon including my new graphics.
I am mostly finished with my Torah Baseball which I expanded to include my projected ideas for next summer so that I should not need to redo the graphics a second time. I included 100 torah trivia questions which a student can answer in order to "catch the ball" and get the opposing player out. These questions are independent of the questions which each teacher will add from his own material. I included Chanuka questions for teachers to use for some good Chanuka fun. I just tested them out with my own classes over Chanuka. The game was a big hit with my students. These include students from grades 9-12.

Here are some problems that I am trying to solve. If anyone has any advice I would be most grateful.
1. Is Visual Basic 6 adequate for installations on Vista without any installation problems or errors? Or should I invest $500 for instalshield in order to install my programs with no difficulty even on Vista.
2. When teachers add their own questions to the games,it would be better if the program worked off of the network instead of using the data on each PC. This would allow the teacher's updates to be available to each computer without doing a separate update for each PC. How can you install the program in a way that you can control that the data should be loaded onto the school network, instead of each PC?
3. Does anyone have any ideas how to best make contact with Principals in a way that they will respond.