Monday, March 31, 2008

Text and Context

I've been exploring Herzliya's website, and I found articles on eugenics and cloning that are really going to come in handy for a twelfth grade English elective class that I team-teach. Currently the class is comprised of three parts -- literature, art and film -- and I teach the art component. Each of us teachers teaches three classes about a topic, and the students move from component to component. The three topics for the year were Freedom Fighter or Terrorist: Who Decides?; Defining Humanness: Eugenics and the Post-Human; and Living in Harmony: Tolerance of Others and Contentment with the Self. After each unit, we had a rabbi address the students on a Jewish or halakhic perspective on the topic. Dr. Fima's articles in his halakha section are so relevant for the course, I'm definitely going to be downloading them.

I'm also lobbying for the class to be Frisch's first fully integrated one; I want the rabbi who does the Jewish segment to have his own full unit. The students loved his topics. For the first, he did Israel advocacy: how to recognize propaganda and how to defend Israel with facts and clarity. For the second he created a PowerPoint about the halakha of IVF and PGD. For the third unit, I'm covering the Jewish component, and I'm using the modern Orthodox manifesto, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' To Heal a Fractured World, as the basis for discussion about living a meaningful, responsible life in a feel-good, secular culture.

Thank you, Dr. Fima, for the articles. They're perfect for the course. I'm looking forward to exploring more of your amazing website. Tomorrow I'm showing it to the director of educational technology at Frisch.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Conference Ideas-Students Respond

I'd also like to share how much I enjoyed the conference on Monday. I almost feel as if I need to read through the entire blog again, now that I really know what everyone is doing!

When I got back on Tuesday I shared with my students some of the ideas each of you had. There were a number of suggestions that I thought could be implemented in various forms in our school, and I was curious to see what students thought of them.

Here's how they reacted to some of them:

1. The personal siddur idea really interested them. They thought it would be a great way to make tefillah meaningful to individual students, and we know how challenging that is! A number of students thought having the presentations playing during tefillah itself could be distracting, but all agreed that it was a worthwhile project in terms of getting kids to think about tefillah and find a personal way to relate to it.

Best of all, this is a project that can be fairly easily implemented. I'm going to bring it up at our next limudei kodesh meeting and see if I can get some support for it.

2. They were absolutely fascinated by the thought of creating videos. I shared with them both the high school project of documenting the Israeli soldiers' experiences, and the eighth grade trip video project, just to give them some idea of the various ways video could be used.

My thought is that this could be a project that could partly help the lack of limudei kodesh resources problem: have students create videos for limudei kodesh concepts.

It's a big project, and to make it work it would need involvement from all curriculum areas: the English teacher, for helping students write scripts, the computer teacher for software training, and almost certainly volunteers in the community. It would take a lot of organizing but if it's done right, the students would benefit immensely, and the results would be a real resource to build on.

3. The administration would love to get a better system in place for report cards/parental communication/web site, etc. We do have a fairly robust network in place so the infrastructure is there, but there aren't enough computers for teachers' use (without taking over the students' computer lab) and the tools for better communication haven't been put in place. This is an area that's just begging for development, and I'd love to get more follow up on that project.

One subject that didn't get much discussion at our conference (due to lack of time) is the blog/wiki area. This is something I'd like to explore. It would be interesting to hear how various schools are using these tools--both for teacher/student communication and for teacher/teacher communication. I do wonder if an old-fashioned news group/forum is perhaps the better way to go--I'd love to hear your thoughts on blog vs. wiki vs. groups. What do you use each one for, and why?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Text and Context

I really enjoyed the conference this past Monday, and I was inspired by everyone's creativity to improve my integration program. One of the things that's bothered me about it is that I do all the work and then go into the classroom for a one-time lecture. We all know that kids learn best when they do the work on their own (and free their teachers to grade papers); many of your great presentations reminded me of that.

The circumstances of my program prevent me from working with the Tanakh classes on a regular basis on an integration program that they create. However, I do meet with my Art History class every day and I expect them to function on a very high, independent level because the class is an AP. The administration and I had decided against doing a Shir Hashirim presentation, but I thought to myself this week that I should get my Art History class to make one, using a theme that was transferable to art.

Today I assigned the project. The students are responsible for two artworks that they have to prepare as PowerPoint slides, including notes. The artworks will take the Nach classes through art that is inspired by lush, spring landscapes and fauna. We'll start with the ancient Near East and the ancient world and then progress through the Middle Ages -- images of Mary in the garden -- to the Rococo era and the Hudson River School. The Nach classes will particularly benefit from the art of the ancient world, because that's closest to Shir Hashirim, obviously. My art history students will benefit from a review of the ancient world plus the preparation of artworks we haven't studied yet and need to for the exam.

The kids are very excited about the project, especially by the idea of presenting the lecture themselves. I thank all of you for being my inspiration!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

SSSMS Podcasting Video

I'm so sorry that personal and professional obligations prevented me from being with all of you this past Monday. I've posted a video about our experiences with podcasting.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Text and Context

Over the past month, I've been busy presenting a Purim/Megillat Esther PowerPoint that focuses on the Achaemenid Dynasty and Persepolis. I've also included a plan of the Susa palace complex since that is where our story takes place. Since this year, the Nach department is teaching the five megillot, it was a no-brainer that the teachers would be covering Esther before and around Purim.

I gave this integration lecture last year around Purim time to my son's fifth grade class in Yavneh elementary school and it went very well. The Achaemenid Dynasty is really as the megillah describes it, so the lecture really wrote itself. There is actually so much more to add to the presentation; perhaps I'll make another one in the future.

For the high school students, I did deepen the lecture and add to it, and they too responded positively. Megillat Esther is just a great story, Purim is such a fun holiday, and the art seems to go hand in hand with all the festivities!

Looking forward to meeting you all tomorrow!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Turn any Surface into an Interactive Whiteboard System

I don't know how practical this is in real life, but this amazing video and technique is worth checking out. I especially like the way you can turn your own computer screen into a touchscreen. And it's really inexpensive--the software is free.

I'm still holding on to my Smartboard, though!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Studio 613 Vancouver Hebrew Academy

Firstly, I would like to thank those of you who responded with some ideas to solve our “sound problems”; it continues to be a challenge, as the camera has no input for a microphone. I know, it ‘sounds’ crazy-pun intended.

I am trying to find a microphone that might connect through another port.

Meanwhile…the actual program continues to go well. Both filming and editing are now occurring on a weekly basis. We hope to have two short features by year’s end.

This has been a fun and exciting experience for the students as nothing of this nature has been introduced in our school before.
More later…

Tiyul 2008

This will be the second year of the Tiyulblog for our 8th grade class. In preparation for this year's trip the students are being prepared in several different ways. First of all, they are developing their video camera skills and are learning to import and edit the movie and export it to the web. Students are already somewhat familiar with video cameras, but would receive training specific to the microphones, tapes, and batteries that they would use. In addition, as a spin-off from the original project, the teacher/chaperones are learning to create podcasts using Garageband, to offer a second type of communication from the trip.

In response to feedback from last year's blog, we are having students prepare to be the experts on different sites that we will visit, which will encourage more information being communicated in their daily posts.

A challenge we are facing is how to have 45 students involved in the project this year - as opposed to the small class of just 15 students that we had last year.

Also, we have learned that shorter posts are better than longer ones. So we are trying to determine how to balance our desire to provide good information while not going too long for the typical viewer's attention span!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, March, 2008

Now that the AVI CHAI conference for all of us grantees has been set up and I have my tickets to NYC, I have begun spending time putting together what I hope will be a professional PowerPoint presentation of our school and our projects--all under 3 minutes! I tried adding audio and turning into a movie but it didn't work out as well as I wanted so I'm planning on just giving a brief narration as I show the slides.

So far, everything else about our multi-variegated project is running smoothly. Our tech team finally agreed on a final draft of a flow chart for our online FileMaker database for our report cards and sent it off to our outside consultant who is working on it. Although we had hoped to have this up and running by the beginning of the year, this did not happen and so we are at least planning on rolling this out for next Fall. It is the only aspect of our project that completely did not adhere to our time table.

We have pretty much exhausted the funding but so far that is fine because we have achieved all of our major goals. My role as Server Admin has not proved to be taxing at this point, now that everything is finally running smoothly. Aside from the minor printing or Internet connectivity glitch, everything is going very well so far!

Monday, March 03, 2008

First fruits! An electronic siddur

This month, a group of eighth graders in Rabbinics 8-3 have made great progress on their electronic siddur projects. While some are getting the hang of working with Keynote and with Power Point, some are more proficient. In the past, I have done a project like this, but the grant from AVI CHAI has made it possible for our Director of Technology to spend time in the rabbinics classroom, guiding students in the proper use of the software. Several students are working in Keynote (Apple's presentation software), and if any Blog readers would like to see how an electronic siddur looks in Keynote, please let me know by sending me an e-mail. In the meantime, I am attaching the draft siddur created by Josh B. Josh needs another couple of sessions to work on transitions, citations and some content, but he is 85% towards completion.

Each siddur is required to include excerpts from three psalms (to echo Pesuqei d'Zimra); the blessings before and after the Shema along with the Shema itself; and three blessings from the Amidah. They also need to write a foreword or afterword in which they explain their approach to prayer and in which they explain the spirit of their siddur. In the foreword or afterword, they must include three quotations from Maimonides Hilkhot Tefillah 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3 and/or the passages from Mishnah Berachot that we studied in class.

Here is Josh's PowerPoint Siddur

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hebrew Texts on Notebook SmartBoard and Flash Macromedia

Several years have passed since 2 Israelis (a Jew and an Arab) launched an online petition (“Flash, The Right To”) to make software developers aware of the lack of support for Semitic languages and of the difficulties it raises, when it comes to the usage of Hebrew or Arabic with software such as Flash Macromedia and Notebook SmartBoard.
Although the petition got some attention, the message was not fully assimilated. We continue to face the same technical hitches, including seeing gibberish when transferring Hebrew texts from one application to another.

Like most Hebraic users of Notebook SmartBoard and Flash Macromedia with the SmartBoard, I have tried different techniques. For instance, I attempted to type Hebrew words backwards or to copy and paste texts as pictures, to figure out with which method I feel most at ease. Nevertheless, these techniques remain artisanal in nature and most appropriate for light assignments.

For the heavier work of transferring Hebrew texts, such as Biblical verses or even chapters, working with Rich Text Format is most effective. There is no need to remove the nekudot (vowels), which will be transferred correctly. For best results, it is advisable to adjust the font points and the line width prior to the transfer. A complete RTF Bible can be downloaded from our Pedagogical Center (see link below), in addition to other tools. + (Click on “Limudei Kodesh & Hebrew”. Download:, or

As a user of a variety of Hebrew sources for SmartBoard and Macromedia, several converters that reconfigure the pasted gibberish Hebrew into proper Hebrew text, are available too. They are worth trying to see which one works best for each user and purpose.
Hafuch Al Hafuch (To download the converter, click: )

The Bilbulon (by EcoSoft Team is appropriate for paragraphs containing both Hebrew and English) (to download, click:

R4F - "Right" for Flash (A shareware converter. To download, click: )

For an application that flips gibberish Hebrew texts, copied from the Internet, check out HebFlip at: (or download at: )

To deal with gibberish Hebrew online, check out HEBTML converter at:

To fix gibberish Hebrew in emails, go to Hebrew Encoding Translator at:

In case one wishes to transfer Hebrew texts from PowerPoint, Notebook SmartBoard directly imports PowerPoint presentations and displays the Hebrew fonts correctly, without requiring a converter.
(After opening Notebook, click on “Open”, find the appropriate PowerPoint file and click OK.)

The market potential of Semitic Languages users is growing. The day software developers put forward full support for their products seems not faraway.