Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Problems and solutions - MP3 recorders/ players

Technology solves problems but also creates its own problems… After realizing that one of the ports on the USB transfer is not working we negotiated replacing it with the vendor. This was finally achieved a couple of weeks ago. The success involved a lot of extra work for me because the whole system was replaced and I had to again number the mp3 recorder/players and their boxes, place padding on tiny headphones and perform some other fun, stimulating tasks, but now we have a full set of working 15 mp3 recorder/players and a “mother” from which I can copy to the others any material needed. Problem solved!
I identified a more serious problem in the fact that less and less students were using the mp3 devices to record answers to assessments. As the use of recording rather than writing is designed to save classroom time which could be better used for instruction I was concerned about it. I thought it might be that some students still do not feel comfortable using the not-so-user-friendly mp3, and so I decided to devote another twenty minutes of class time for a refresher course. It seems that my hunch was correct as this made a big change in the number of users and the question “can we use the mp3s?” is heard again in class. I have to admit that the designers of the mp3 could have done a better job. This small devise does have many functions which can be worked with three moving parts, but for children, even our tech-savvy generation, it is hard to work with. The chief complaint of the students is that it turns itself off frequently and unexpectedly, usually without preserving any unsaved recording in progress.
However, I’m trying to get the most out of it. Before I assess students’ comprehension of a story I record myself reading the story and copy it onto the mp3s. I do that to benefit students who are not strong readers and who sometimes do not get to properly demonstrate their understanding because their inaccurate reading leads them to misunderstand the substance of the story. However, when they listen to an accurately read narrative they are able to show their understanding. Because the assessment is of story comprehension and not reading level this is a fair evaluation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Online Hebrew homework program

I thought it might have been a before-break phenomenon, but the teachers staffing the online hours report nearly no students calling in. We tried last week, after the break, to stagger hours, so that one of the teachers is on-line-available later, as an initial response. Last week had no hits before the change, and I have not yet seen the results since we shifted.

One of the things we discussed is identifying a teacher specifically within the department to give assignments that require the interface or support - to brainstorm some work that will be better explored through this kind of interface, to get the students rolling.

On the technology side, the chat moves fluidly, and the teachers are picking up the technology (by practicing with their kids in distant cities or rooms of the house during non-homework hours).

iPods for Hebrew

Our grade six class participates in a Shabbaton every year. The entire grade six class spends Shabbat at the school, and the Judaic teachers plan a different theme each year for the grade. This year the theme is Music for the Soul. The teachers asked me if they could use the iPods to record the students' singing various songs to celebrate Shabbat. This is the students' own description of their Shabbaton:

Dear Students and Staff,
On behalf of the Grade Six class of Shabbaton 2010, we would like to present a Siddur and accompanying C.D. to everyone who enjoys Shabbat music from their souls. In this Siddur, there are prayers and the translations to the prayers. We wrote stories that connect to the themes of the prayers. Included are: Shabbat quotes and art work. We decided to create this Siddur and C.D because we think that the new and jazzy tunes will enhance your Kabbalat Shabbat.
We are excited to share this new music with you. We feel more connected to Hashem because we are singing prayers with joy and intention (כוונה). We hope that this new music to traditional prayers will get passed down from generation to generation.

The grade six teachers and I used the iPod to record the students singing, when we realized that the sound quality was much better than recording directly to a computer. After recording, I used Audacity to create single tracks of each of the songs on the Mac. The CD has been burned and will be burned for each student, as well as the teachers in the elementary school.

This is the best part of acquiring new hardware; finding a new use for a teacher who has a need for the technology. The iPod made the recording easy and portable and the sound quality was excellent. I would like to ask other members of this blog if they have suggestions regarding posting the songs somewhere on the web.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Second integration presentation at Frisch

As Frisch nears its winter vacation, I wanted to quickly get in another integration presentation. The school has not had any special programs for the eleventh grade lately, so the Judaic Studies principal and I decided to focus our attention on that grade. This year, the Chumash teachers are teaching Devarim, so for the first Chumash integration unit, I'll be presenting to the eleventh grade Chumash classes a lesson on the Shema, its centrality to Judaism during pagan times and during Christian ones. The slide show is available on