Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, May 29, 2008

Contra Costa Jewish Day School Presentation at the AVI CHAI Educational Technology Conference on March 24, 2008 in New York City

The Contra Costa Jewish Day School is a young school, about seven years old. In terms of the technology of the students, in sixth grade the parents of all of the middle school students (currently around 20 students) buy a Mac laptop but the school maintains them. Over the years, there have been many uncoordinated efforts to use different applications or the Internet according to what the teachers have been familiar with and their level of technical savvy. Our grant request from the AVI CHAI Foundation was all about coordinating these efforts.

Who are we? The Contra Costa Jewish Day School is located in Lafayette, California which is in the Berkley/Oakland/San Francisco area. We rent our facilities from Temple Isaiah, one of the largest Reform Temples in the area. The school has been raising money ever since it was founded as the initiative of a PEJE (Partners for Excellence in Jewish Education) project. We have raised $7 million and broke ground this Spring for a new campus that will open for students in 2009.

Who am I? My title is the Rabbi-in-Residence and I am a Judaic studies teacher, the parent education teacher, the coordinator of all the student-led Tefillah (prayer) services and the school’s new server administrator, thanks to AVI CHAI.

We did have a number of technological initiatives before we got the AVI CHAI grant. For example, all the students in Middle School have Mac laptops; we use e-mail extensively between faculty and students; we have a wiki-based website which is a public website the teachers use to post homework; we already have a wireless network set up in the school with wirelessly accessible networked printers; teachers use PowerPoint presentations; we have digital projectors; and we use the PBS Heritage “Civilization and the Jews,” the DVD-ROM presentation. We have also always had the school’s official Website, www.CCJDS.org.
These are the official goals of what we were trying to do: establish a school server-based network; get cameras and microphones to increase multimedia presentations for students; successfully set up a group calendar for the faculty to use instead of taking faculty meeting time; set up a school-wide e-mail system because unfortunately we were using private e-mail for communication; and create an online report card database.

Here’s how we went about achieving our goals: First we upgraded our wireless network. We had some very slow, older Apple Extreme Wireless Access Points that were constantly crashing because they weren’t meant for more than 10 connections at a time. We got the latest iteration of that and that has greatly stabilized our wifi environment. Since I wrote the grant I became the designated server designer, creator and administrator.

The core of this project was creating a school network. I created and designed an entire network from the ground up for the students and faculty, learned how to use all these different Apple Server tools and learned to use the Apple Remote Desktop, a screen-sharing and control application. Middle School students now have a network home folder they use for storing their notes and putting visual media online. I also created and set up the online group calendar and the e-mail system with our school’s Website with GoDaddy.com. We also purchased a number of digital cameras and microphones. We’re already creating podcasts and video now.

The biggest thing, which we have not completed, is creating our own database for the report cards, which has been quite challenging. We worked with a private contractor to write the database and have finally finished that and have a working Beta version of it online but we completed it too late in the school year to actually start using it. That will have to wait for next year.

In the future we’re interested in looking at the SMART Board for the new school. Since we’ll have a new facility we have a lot of exciting opportunities. We want to fine tune what we have here. We’re trying to take advantage of all the systems, hardware and applications that have so recently integrated into our school environment. Thank you, AVI CHAI Foundation!

(As a footnote: I had created and showed a PowerPoint presentation for the conference. Unfortunately, due to a major technical malfunction, this data was lost and unrecoverable—such is the delicate nature of the technology we work with and advocate! I’m sorry I could not share the graphics that I prepared.)

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