Monday, December 28, 2009

Ready to see the fruits of our labor

After mastering Jing, learning to send an email of a captured video, knowing to send an electronic "Invitation for a Meeting," I am ready for an experimental lesson in January. The equipment we had ordered has arrived and we are setting up multiple computers connected to a single SmartBoard. A faster internet connection has just been installed in our school, specifically for this project. My students are also looking forward to start this new endeavor. After several months of preparation I am eager to see all the planning come into fruition.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

iPods for Hebrew

So far we have two teachers using the iPods for language testing in the NETA program. Both teachers are still working out the logistics of accessing the sound files on the iPods. The students' enthusiasm for the iPods has not lessened; now it's a matter of bringing it to more of the teachers in the school. The biggest issue is time management; the teachers have to learn how to use the iPods quickly, and with so many other programs they have to deliver it's hard to "impose" another task on them. However, experience has shown me that these things take time. It can be too much to expect everyone to use a new piece of technology right away; the teachers need consistent reminders that the iPods are in the school and they can enhance language learning at all grade levels.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Letting the VoiceThread Be Heard

Now heading into the core of the school year, we are working to spread the usage of VoiceThreads throughout the Middle School here at the Moriah School. In my personal classes, we have used it in both my 7th and 8th grade Gemara classes - and they have been met with great success and excitement. I have posted images of the daf of Gemara, and directed my students to color-code each individual step of the Gemara by underlining the phrases, and then to read and translate. My students really enjoyed this challenge, and were overjoyed when it all came together in a completed unit.
Currently, I am working with several other Gemara/Dinim rebbeim to create similar projects in their classes, with interest peaking among a few Tanach teachers, as well. Our headsets and webcams are being distributed to our teachers, and many students have their VoiceThread accounts.
For those interested in this wonderful technological concept that has broad capabilities and integration possibilities, feel free to watch my VoiceThread of the Election Day workshop - and comment on it. The following is a link to it:
Enjoy Threading!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Teachers Teaching Teachers

This month, South Area Solomon Schechter hosted a professional development seminar for teachers. The focus of the seminar was 21st Century skills: Technology in Schechter Day School. When the idea was introduced, I immediately asked to be part of the planning community. I also asked if I could share the SmartBoard lessons I have been developing for my grades 3, 4 6, 7 & 8 special needs Hebrew classes.

The interest in the topic was high and I was thrilled to have teachers from around the New England Area as well as from New York and New Jersey come in search of ways to use the SmartBoard more effectively to reach all levels of Hebrew students.

More and more I am realizing that many Hebrew teachers are a little overwhelmed by the issue of using Hebrew in the SmartBoard notebook software. I have spent the year learning new tricks at getting around the problem of Hebrew text exploding into gibberish every time many of the interactive flash lesson are used. What was so exciting about teachers coming together at the Technology Seminar was the wealth of information we all have to share with each other. I learned so much from the participants, and I knew that they were just as pleased to be able to say "show me how you did that."

One of the chief problems of the SmartBoard is actually that many teachers are not willing to try something out of their comfort zone. I wanted to show them that it was a lot simpler than they expected it to be. Creating lessons on the SmartBoard keeps my creative juices flowing. One idea leads to another and the possiblies are endless. The problem is that there is just not enough time in the day for teachers to develop their skills and become more comfortable with the technology

--Sarah Shay-Davidson
--Hebrew Special Education Teacher

Friday, December 11, 2009

MP3 recorders save instruction time

In asking Avi-Chai for MP3 recorders players we hoped to use class time more efficiently: students will spend less time on writing, recording their answers instead, and the time saved will be used for instruction.
As the first four month of the year are ending I checked to see how I’m doing, comparing the material I’ve covered so far this year to last year. The results are encouraging: 3rd and 4th grade are 3 weeks ahead in their respective curriculum compared to last year. 5th grade is only a week ahead, but this is because for the first two months they received intensive instruction in trope and had only half of the regular Hebrew instruction time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jewish History Power Points with Video is Complete

My Jewish History Power Point project is now complete. The site URL address is There are 20 Power Point presentations
- 18 of them have video clips that the user can link to.
Topics are listed below.

Jewish History Curriculum
First Temple Period
Jewish Return to the Land of Israel
Greeks and Hellenisism
Chanukah and the Maccabees
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Herod the Great
The Rise of Christianity
The Great Revolt
Mishna, Talmud & the Oral Law
The Bar Kochba Revolt
The Rise of Islam
The Golden Age of Spain
Christian Spain: Inquisition & Expulsion
The Jews in Medieval Christian Europe
Eastern European Jewry
The Hasidic Movement
The Jews in America
The Rise of Modern Israel
Miracle of the Jewish people

I invite all educators to go to the site and welcome all comments and feedback.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

sampling of smart ideas lessons

I want to share some of my smart ideas lessons. Smart ideas is mapping software for the smart board. I've been using this program to help my students visualize the sefer we are currently learning. I create a template before class and then together with my students we complete the page. In class we are able to move the objects, draw arrows and manipulate the text boxes in many ways.

Some of the ways smart ideas has been useful in my class.
1) Great way to break up a verses. The students can visualize the divisions and can be part of the learning process.
2) I use it for "chazarah" to review ideas. If we learned several commentators I make a page where the students write a line for each approach that we learned.
3) Demonstrating textual difficulties. Students visualize the important questions we will deal with, for example a 'misplaced' verse or bunch of verses.
4) Allowing students to see the bigger picture.

Follow the link to see my pages. Note: these pages can't capture what I do with smart ideas in the classroom because these pages are either my templates or the finished class work. The greatness of smart ideas is that you can do whatever you want in the class and create in front of the students with the students help.

Frisch Integration

My newest integration presentation is available at The presentation is called Judaism and Greek culture and is about a synagogue that used pagan elements in its zodiac mosaic floor design. I first talk about the beauty of Greek architecture, and the Greeks' obsession with harmony, balance and symmetry. The discussion will hopefully be deepened by the fact that our students learn geometry in the ninth grade. The idea is to show how Greek culture contributed so much to the world, not only in the area of aesthetics and math, but also in other fields as well. The discussion of the shul, however, is to show that we have to draw the line (get it? geometry?) between Judaism and the secular world, as our Hellenized forebears sometimes failed to do altogether or failed to do properly. I want the students to see that we are in danger of becoming too "Hellenized."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Jewish History Power Point Project Update

I completed the project, a series of Power points on Jewish History with video clips. The only challenge I had was to make them available to the educators. The main problem was that the clips were very large and would need alot of room on any site where I would store them.

I decided to create another version of all the Power points with links to the clips instead of embedding them in the Power point. That works so I am posting 16 of the Power points: the website is a Google site and the URL is

Please visit the site and take a run through the Powerpoints. I have some minor adjustments to do on the others and I will add them during the week.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Frustrations come and go

Since Thanksgiving I’ve been giving many thanks to the computer specialist at The Shlenker School for helping me straighten most of the problems we had with the function of the MP3 recorders/players. We are using these for two main functions:
1. The students record themselves instead of writing things down: answers to assessment questions, making sentences with new vocabulary words, telling short stories… I then retrieve the recordings by listening to the MP3 on a media playing software on my computer, check answers or type their recorded work for them if appropriate.
2. The teacher record items ahead of time: instructions for assignments, comprehension questions, prayers or the story we work on for auditory learners to use as a study supplement… the students listen with headphones and do the activities.
However, until now only the recording function of the MP3 worked as intended. Replaying recording on the MP3 produced inconsistent results, and was too unreliable for use in class. Ms. Williams investigated and reset the system, and now it is possible to play back a recording and listen to it on an MP3 as well as on a computer. During the time Ms. Williams had the MP3 devices in her posession the students felt keenly the temporary loss and kept asking when they can use them again, which showed me how much the technology became part of the class routine.
But with one technological frustration solved, another surfaces… I’m using my tablet pc to help record authentic assessment of language in the class: I carry it around during class and grade students’ sentences using a simple chart. The tablet is relatively lightweight and portable, but when it is taken off its base to be carried around it is separated from my favorite rodent: the computer mouse. Instead it comes with a stylus, which I find a very poor replacement. Here’s an example how this can hinder the assessment process:
Today 3rd grade were ready to start using the new Chanukah vocabulary words in conversation. Charged with Chanukah spirit they sat in groups around two tables, vocabulary cards on the word-chart on the board to prompt them. My laptop was set ahead of time with the grading chart displayed on the screen, and then disaster struck: by mistake the stylus (of course it wasn’t me!) clicked on the X at the top right of the page and the worksheet closed. Now I had to reopen it quickly. I started clicking the stylus all over the screen, but things didn’t go right. In the background I could hear wonderful Hebrew flowing and Chanukah themed sentences in the air, and I was missing it all! I ended up taking the tablet back to its base and using the mouse to reopen the worksheet. I was back in time for a few more minutes, but it demonstrated to me how an advanced technology can become ineffective because of one small detail. I wonder if anyone else has experience using a tablet pc or similar laptop with a stylus and can give me tips how to improve my control over it.
We are getting ready for some Chanukah "writing" projects in which the MP3 will take a starring role. Perhaps I'll write about it next time.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mild frustrations

On the one hand, there is excellent excitement and buzz among teachers and students about the Hebrew online homework help program. On the other hand, the technology side has had some speed bumps.

I set up gmail accounts as base accounts from which to open Skype and ooVoo accounts, but when we got the machines and I went back to them, gmail had disabled the accounts because they looked like they had been bot-generated, I guess (they had similar names: bialikhebrewone, -two, -three), and the same alternate email. Gmail was cooperative in restoring them, but it took a couple of weeks.

Most recently, we've got some problems with the voice/sound delivery, which should be easy to fix - if I could trouble-shoot the source. I had a session today with a student where the student could project video only in ooVoo, but I couldn't hear her; we ended up going to Skype, she could see me and we could hear each other. This was best for me hearing her describe her work, and while frustrating for me, also demonstrated that voice-alone calls can work fine.

Teacher concerns so far: ooVoo has a large advertising banner in each window, which you cannot control or hide without purchasing a membership. They were concerned about the kids' viewing ads of questionable content etc. On the other hand, ooVoo has a slicker interface with side-by-side video windows.
On the up side - since the accounts automatically log calls and chats, I can track use centrally (I have access to all of the accounts - I opened one for each participating teacher, which was overkill) and they don't have to do additional logging.

In the meantime, there's still novelty on all sides and excitement about it, and we're ironing out kinks as we move forward.

Family Histories at King David Taking Shape

The new cameras and scanner arrived in October and have already been put to use as our grade 11 "electronic family histories" begin to take shape. Students have received expert instruction from our media arts teacher, Wendy Oberlander on lighting and sound techniques in order to produce professional looking results. Students have been gathering family artifacts and photos; using the scanner to create digital records of these valuable family heirlooms. Students have been actively engaged in this project as they have discovered family stories that have never before been recorded in any format but will now be part of a personal and community legacy as these stories are recorded and made available for future generations to see and hear.

Student comments:

"The project has really helped my relationship with my grandparents. I got to find out many new things about my grandfather that I never knew, and would have never known if I did not have this opportunity. This is one of the more fun and more educational experiences that I have had at school, and is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life." -- Max James

"I feel this project is a great oppertunity for me to learn about my familes past and to realize what my ancesters went through so I can be where I am today. It lets me appreciate what I have so much more." -- Raffi Freedman

There remains the difficult task of turning the raw materials into interesting visual and audio stories but with the right tools at their disposal, thanks to the help of Avi Chai, our students are up to the challenge.

DaTefilah want's to share whats new.

Shalom Everyone.
December is a very exciting time in our Solomon Schechter school of Westchester. Our first graders are getting their first Siddur very soon! To prepare my students to be active members of this exciting project, we started to read the tefillot slides I created, decoding the sounds using a color coding system. The students had great success and read the sounds very well!

One thing that I learned when introducing the second page, where students practice reading whole words that are color coded, many students had challenges in blending the sound. This meant that I needed to modify this page to allow for additional decoding and blending practice. So I changed the format to allow students to sound out by syllables and then blend. This change really help many students to achieve our goals! Students were excited to be able to sound out the words of familiar tefillot and inturn really felt like Hebrew readers!.

We are going to record the students singing the Tefillot after our siddur assembly later in December. It is great to share with my students this wonderful experience, and they can't wait to do our recording! 1st grade budding recording artists!