Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Modest Proposal

After a fun filled, information packed week I returned home today to real life. The keynote address send off asked us to think of two goals to take home from ISTE and to tweet it. As humble as it may sound, one of my two goals is to have my school rethink the cell phone policy for students. Smart phones are almost ubiquitous and what a tool they can be; to a web-browser right in class! My second goal is to work on technology PD for my department. As Will Richardson and Ron Mancabelli said in "Yeah, But..." figure out where the resistance is coming from and try to address the rational and the emotional needs.
Of course, I don't really want to stop at two goals because I really have so many: skill and drill vocabulary quizzes - turn them into an on-line out-of-class task! Use Wikis and Googledocs to work collaboratively in ways that I haven't thought of before. This is in addition to the clips I already watch with my students, the projects that they do on the computer, and the resources that they have at their fingertips with WiFi in the building.

Top Ten Free Educational Technology Applications I Learned (More) About at #ISTE11

By Tzvi Pittinsky

The following posting is cross-posted on

Top Ten lists are always a fun but challenging exercise. It is fun to collect and share new ideas, Web 2.0 applications, resources etc. That is what I use Twitter for all the time. (As an aside, I have started using Twitter for all my social bookmarking instead of sites like Delicious. With a web app called all my tweets with links are fully archived and searchable.) The challenge of Top Ten lists is limiting yourself to ten resources. For this posting, I will limit my list to new resources I learned about at the ISTE 2011 Conference or innovative applications of resources that I already use. Here it goes in descending order.

10. Avatar Creator: This is a cute web app for creating avatars that looks exactly like the Miis from the Nintendo Wii. I learned about this from Tammy Worcester in her excellent presentation on Tammy's Top Twenty Favorite Web Tools. I have already used this to change my Twitter profile pic. I showed it to my kids and they loved it too.

  • Applications for education: You might want to have students create avatars for various characters in the book their reading or in a story from Tanach. My daughter pointed out that you can't change the avatar's clothes or background so you might want to have the students save their avatar as a JPG with a transparent background and then put it into a PowerPoint or Google Presentation slide complete with a setting from the story.

9. U.R.L. Shorteners: and Anyone who uses Twitter knows about U.R.L. or website shorteners designed to shorten longer website so you can fit them into the 140 character limit of twitter. However, these two are different. They allow you to shorten a number of websites into one website address.

  •, which I also learned about from Tammy Worcester, lets you navigate with an arrow on the top of the page between each site. 
  •,  which I learned about from fellow Avi Chai ISTE participant and technogenius Adam Simon, gives you all the URLs in a list. Please note that Bitly requires you to login to create a bundle of shortened links. 
  • For this posting, I have shortened all of the links on this Top Ten in and in Bitly Bundles: After using both apps, I would say that is more user friendly for the student accessing the links due to the top navigation bar while Bitly Bundles is more reliable in creating links. My Bitly bundle worked the first time while I had to play with a number of times to get all of the links to work.
  • Applications for education: Both these tools are perfect for online research assignments or WebQuests. All you need to give the students is one easy link and they can access all your sites. This is also a necessity when creating QR codes which I discuss below. QR codes require a short website address in order to simplify the code and scan more reliably. Either of these sites would be great to shorten links before converting them into the QR code for scanning.

8. QR Code Generator: This is a simple QR code generator. You paste the website address (which you have already shortened using the tools above) or a phone number, text, or SMS message. This site then coverts it into a QR code graphic that can be scanned with a number of free apps available for various smartphones. For a basic tutorial of QR codes, you can look at this QR Code Implementation Guide from Vicki Davis.

  • Applications for Education: Adam Simon told me about a wonderful project that he made using QR Codes with his Jewish History students. Students in grades 9-12 populating a giant timeline from the Jewish Year 0 through 5771 based on the time period they were learning. Instead of posting physical artifacts on the timeline which would have been way too cluttered and impossible to manage, they posted QR Codes. These codes could link to rich muli-media content the students created online. Whenever students scanned each QR code with their smartphone, they learned more about each time period. This is an awesome idea and proved to me that QR codes in education are not just a new shtick but can truly be used to do innovative things that cannot be easily accomplished any other way. I am looking forward to thinking up and hearing about more examples of utilizing QR codes in Jewish education. 

7. Sketching: This is an app to make sketches online. What sets this app apart, besides the fact that it's free and very easy to use, is that you can embed it on any wiki or blog and play back these sketch back to watch how it was drawn. Here is an example created by my 10 year old daughter right after I showed her the app upon returning from the conference.

  • Applications for Education: For an art class, this tool is invaluable. The teacher or her students can draw with a mouse or with their fingers on a Smart Board or on individual iPads. They can then demonstrate to others how they created the sketch so everyone can study the technique used. This would also be great for projects in Tanach where students are asked to create a sketch illustrating a specific story, event, or verse.

6. Real-time Student Response: This real-time student response system is very similar to Poll Everywhere which I was already familiar with and have utilized to great effect with my classes. (For more information, see my blog posting on Poll Everywhere in Techrav.) What sets Wiffiti apart is that the student responses, which are generated using text messaging on their cell phone, are displayed as notes on a wall with a background of your choosing. You can see an example here from the workshop that I went on
7 Free Mobile Participation Tools for Classrooms given by Michael Dreyfus.

  • Applications for Education: This would be great as a student response tool especially when you do not want student responses threaded based on time of response as they are in Poll Everywhere. Every response is always on the page and you merely need to navigate to it to zoom in on it. This would be great for brainstorming ideas or answering open ended questions in real-time.

5. Online Graphing Calculator: What sets this apart besides the fact that it's web based so students don't have to worry about forgetting their TI calculators is the beauty of the graphs that are created. Links to these graphs can also be easily shared and embedded. Here is an example of the graph of a circle with a radius of 4.

  • Applications for Education: This can be used for teacher or student created graphs to share in an online course management system, wiki, or Google site.

4. Google Trips: and I am sure that many of you have already used Google Maps and Google Earth both for personal and educational use. These two websites contain ideas for creating educational trips using these tools. One can use My Places in Google Maps to easily add placemarkers which can also be embedded with rich multi-media including text, pictures, Youtube videos, and links. Dr. Alice Christie who created the Google Treks recommends using Google Maps over Google Earth since it is much less taxing on network resources, totally browser based, and can be launched in Google Earth anyways.

  • Applications for Education: This would be great for student projects in Tanach, history, science, or English, where students created maps with placemarkers describing the various significant places appearing in the unit studied. Both websites referenced above contain many examples of this.

3. Notetaking: This site allows you to save notes anywhere complete with text, files, pictures, and even snapshots of websites. These notes can be accessed on your PC or Mac, smartphone, or on the web and whenever you change a note in one place it immediately syncs to all your other devices. As Tammy Worcester says, you can use Dropbox to organize your files and Evernote to organize your life.

  • Applications for Education: To help our teachers and students get organized and never miss an idea again. Students can use this for notetaking in school with or without wireless connectivity, putting notes in folders based on subject, and notes will automatically sync everywhere the next time they are connected to the Internet.

2. Global Communications: I know that this is a tool that most of us, including myself, already know about and use extensively. What I saw in a presentation by Alan November was how to use this as a global learning tool. A school in Boston, Massachusetts partnered with a school in England for an eighth grade engineering class. They had four different Skype sessions going on simultaneously as different teams learned together in real-time how to solve problems like creating more efficient wind turbines. The students in England were more advanced in their scientific knowledge so they tutored the students from the United States. Students from Boston commented that they learned more from their peers across the ocean than they would have ever learned from their teachers since they were kids and spoke the same language.

  • Applications for Education: This presentation was a real eye opener for me on the potential for global communications. We already have partnerships in my school with a number of Israeli high schools but I would like to expand and deepen these relationships into more real-time collaboration and create partnerships with other Jewish day schools throughout the Diaspora.

1. Screen and Videosharing: If you do not already use Jing, you must give it a try. It is a free PC or Mac app to take a screenshot with visual explanations. An example appears below. What I did not know before Tammy Worcester's presentation is that you can also record videocasts of everything you are doing on your screen with audio explanations. I cannot wait to start using this with my teachers.

  • Applications for Education: This is a great way to show your students "exactly what you are seeing" on the page to give step by step instructions or to create step-by-step video instructions as well. Students can also create instructions for their peers on how to certain tasks since the best way to truly learn something is to go through the steps in order to teach it to someone else.
This ends my Top Ten List from the ISTE Conference 2011. I welcome you to add some of your favorite free educational applications by commenting to this posting! 

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Avi Chai foundation for sponsoring my trip to ISTE. It was an eye opening experience. The chance to share this experience with my peers in Jewish Educational Technology through the Avi Chai cohort greatly deepened and enriched my learning and thinking. Hopefully we can get together in the future for similar experiences.

ISTE Day 4 Wrap Up

The ISTE Conference is winding to a close and all of us are delirious from exhaustion, but I can honestly say this was some of the most valuable time I have spent in a while. Today I only attended one session, which was very educational and engaging, and spent the rest of my time interacting with fellow cohorts, vendors, presenters, and other conference goers. The time spent interacting was tremendous and I hope I can capture some of the magic in this post.

The Session - Show Me the Money: Learn the Tips and Tricks to Grant Funding

I got to this session early, expecting it be packed - being the only session offered on how to actually secure funding for EdTech, but there was plenty of room. Boy, did they miss out! This session, sponsored by MIMIO and presented by Magen McGahee, was, like the other MIMIO sponsored session I attended, was polished, well articulated and very informative. The content was relevant, helpful and resonated, not to mention that it was presented with confidence, expertise and poise. Magen not only presented participants with a number of resources for where to find grants for EdTech (she will be posting them online and I will add them to this post, so check back), she explained some of the complex details regarding government funding and also gave very practical grant-writing pointers and skills. Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is difference between what we want and what we need. Don't write a grant asking for what you want (like an interactive whiteboard) but for what you need (like improved student achievement).
  • Always develop a plan first. Make sure the first step of your plan is identifying the need and make sure that everything goes back to that need.
  • A good grant is Clear, Concise and Unique.
  • Being unique is key, especially in the first 1-2 paragraph. 9/10 grants aren't read all the way through because grant readers aren't interested.
  • How can you be unique? Don't just talk about the short-term small picture impact, but rather show how this money will affect the community and the future of those involved.
  • The first sentence should be your goal, stated clearly and eloquently. Make sure that the rest of the grant supports this first sentence.
  • Always have only one person prepare the final copy, to avoid Frankenstein-style grants.

The most important message that was expressed in the session, however, was a the very end: don't apply for grants that don't fit! Grant writing takes time, maximize your time by find the right grants & writing them well.

I must say, MIMIO has certainly impressed me, the model they adopted to sell their products of showing educators how the products work in a real teaching environment, while teaching valuable information (and teaching it well!), as opposed to just displaying the technology while talking about the very same technology at an expo booth.

The Everything Else

I met and interacted with a lot of interesting people in the second half of my day, here are the highlights:

  • Terry Shay of North Tama County Community School showed me a technique called "Transmedia Storytelling", in which students tell different perspectives of a story using different mediums. So, for example, telling the story of a bank robbery, one group would make a video from the perspective of the security guard at the bank, a second group would make comic book from the perspective of the robbers, a third group would compose a song from the perspective of the teller, and a fourth group would create an audio story from the perspective of the police. Very cool!
  • Intel has amazing FREE professional development tools for teachers, which are available at The tools are really easy to use, intuitive and contain a tremendous amount of information. They also have an online community for teachers:
  • Cranium Core is a very cool social game-show which teaches literacy. I spoke to the creator about developing something similar for Jewish Education. Check it out here:
  • Comic Life by Plasq is a seriously awesome comic book creator and I definitely want to use it in my classroom instead of the current option. It is cross platform (even iPad), supports exporting to PDF and even to Facebook, allows for drag-and-drop content adding and has a range of art tools. It looks like a great product, even if I don't win a free copy and an iPad...
  • Thinkmap, makers of the Visual Thesaurus, have a whole host of awesome data visualization tools that can link in with a number of databases and even databases you/your school subscribe to (like encyclopedias, etc.).
  • Desmos is the maker of the amazingly cool online graphing calculator that I posted on Facebook recently. I met the Founder and CEO, who is a super-nice guy and invited me and my students to come check out his new office in San Fransisco this summer!
  • The last booth I visited (and I only did so because on my way out of the expo hall they threw a free t-shirt at me) was Spoon. Boy am I glad they threw that free shirt at me! Spoon is one of the cooler things that I saw while at the conference, it is basically like Dropbox but for applications. You install all your applications and licenses on their server and then you can run them from any computer in the world, without having to install! This is valuable for large schools because it helps them avoid having to install software on 100s of machines and updating those machines as new versions come out. It is also valuable because you can purchase fewer licenses for expensive software and only load them up on the machines being used, so if you have a 1:1 program and want to have students using Photoshop, you only need to buy 20 licenses for those who are in the class at the time, rather than a license for every machine. Also it is awesome for personal user (like myself) who want to be able to cut the cord and live in the cloud...

At some point, while walking the expo hall, I stopped off at the Google booth again for a tutorial on Android App Inventor. After having attended a session the day before on AgentSheets, I was intrigued by the idea of using Android apps as a way of teaching in the classroom and it seems that the App Inventor makes this a snap. I am definitely excited to try this out and explore the powerful features of this bad it isn't entirely web-based!

The last, and probably most valuable part of the day (and each day of ISTE) was my conversations with fellow AVI CHAI cohorts. We talked about all sorts of things, like why interactive whiteboard are so popular, and a docucam is different from a webcam (I have no idea), and of particular interest, educational standards in Jewish Education...something which is sorely needed and I hope to help contribute to in the coming years.

All in all, the ISTE conference was an amazing opportunity, I learned a lot from the sessions, the exhibitors, my colleagues and everything else that went on there, but I have to say, I think the most valuable part of the conference is what is yet to come. The relationships that I built there and the tools that I learned about have yet to blossom into their full form, and I am very excited for the future! (not to mention the fact that next year's conference is in San Diego)

To keep updated with what the future holds and for more EdTech resources, you should follow @theadamsimon on Twitter.

This post was cross-posted on Adam Simon's Blog and YU 2.0

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ISTE reflections

My time at the ISTE conference has been inspiring and overwhelming. I have been involved with technology for a long time and yet I feel behind the times in many respects. Most notably with regards to using online programs that are free rather than purchasing software. However, this reliance has its own issues; just yesterday I was trying to use google docs to take notes on the sessions, but the internet was so slow I went back to good old Word. While I understand and accept the value of collaboration that you can have with google docs, relying on the internet can sometimes be tricky. The point is that nothing is 100% reliable, especially when it comes to technology. That is just a given.
The people in the Avi Chai cohort are the most valuable resource I have encountered. They all have so much knowledge and experience I am in awe of what they bring to the table. I have been madly writing down each of Adam's suggestions when it comes to online programs, but I don't think I will ever be comfortable using twitter :) I will be sad when the conference is over and we say "good-bye" but I know we can still be "virtually" together.

ISTE Day 3 Wrap Up

Today was as amazing as, and yet very different from, yesterday. I only attended two actual sessions today and spent a significant amount of my time checking out the Exhibit Hall and the Showcase Tables. So let's start with the sessions, both of which were incredible:

Session 1 - Beyond Words: Using Infographics to Help Kids Grapple with Complexity

This Bring Your Own Laptop Session, led by Jane Krauss and Diana Laufenberg, was awesome and helped clarify lots of great design principles for communicating data visually, the presenters also gave very specific advice on how to implement, not just infographics, but infographic creation in the classroom. The session started off with a really cool exercise: we were all shown the following infographic and asked to identify what it was spite of the fact that it is not in English and over 150 years old.

Minard Map - Probably the First Ever Infographic

If you couldn't figure it out, it is a map of Napolean's Russian Conquest of 1812 and his "diminishing returns". The key lesson this graphic shows us is that juxtaposing data and showing correlation visually is key to properly expressing data. By taking two data-sets, the location of the troop and the number of men, and juxtaposing them, the artist was able to illustrate the data in a way that encouraged us to learn and made it easy to visualize. These two data-sets could just as easily have been two columns in a spreadsheet, one containing long/lat coordinates and the other containing population data, by making that juxtaposition visual, the artist allows us to better understand the data at a glance.

Another valuable point about infographic creation, before I get to practical application in the classroom, is intuitiveness. If you can avoid a key, or anything which only serves the function of explaining your design or data, do so. Your design should speak for itself and shouldn't need any outside help, not to mention the fact that often times extraneous elements or "chart junk" are not just neutral but make things more difficult understand and detract from your design .

Now onto the practical classroom applications! Although infographics serve as a great teaching tool on their own, by illustrating complex data-sets in an easy to understand and intuitive format, that is only a small part of their value in the classroom. By helping students to create their own infographics educators can encourage better research and comprehension and pique their curiosity.

Immigrants to the US by Decade

As mentioned above, the key to a quality infographic is juxtaposition of data, so if you give students half of the data you can pique their curiosity and encourage them to do research and create a graphic to explain the data. For example, the chart on the left represents a data-set of immigrants to the US by decade. What happened in the 1930s that caused that anomaly? What data could you juxtapose with this data to give context and explain the data better?

Finally, one of the greatest lessons I took from this session: Don't use infographics at the end of your lesson to crown your teaching, use them at the beginning to engage students and pique their interest so they pay attention to what you have to say. If you lecture for two hours about WWII and then show them a graphic showing the correlation between the war, the economy and immigration, they will likely be asleep before you get there. However, if you show them the graphic to the left and get them asking questions, they will be listening for the answers and suddenly the correlation between WWII, the economy and immigration is fascinating (Side note: that is why the Haggada begins with the 4 questions, the best educational model is one in which all teaching is just an answer to a student's question).

Here are some additional resources from this session:

Session 2 - Teach Your Students Game Design in One Week

This session, by Alexander Repenning, was awesome, not because of the content (although the content was mind-blowing, I'll get there soon), but because of the ideas it got me thinking about and the potential cross-discipline lessons I now have in mind to create.

This session was a fairly nerdy one about how to use a graphical object oriented programming tool called AgentSheets to create your own version of Frogger in under an hour. It was one of the coolest and simplest things I have ever participated in and has shifted the way I think. Computers function through if/then statements and that is the basis of programming, tell the computer that if X happens it should do Y and you have written your first program. The first step to creating a program is to identify what it is going to do, for our purposes (creating a Frogger game) it was as follows:

You are a frog. Your task is simple: hop across a busy highway, dodging cars and trucks, until you get the to the edge of a river, where you must keep yourself from drowningby crossing safely to your grotto at the top of the screen by leaping across the backs of turtles and logs. But watch out for snakes and alligators! (Sega, 1980).

The first thing you have to do is identify the objects in this description (I have highlighted them in blue) and then the relationships (verbs) between these objects (I have highlighted them in green). This analytic skill, on its own, is a valuable tool for our students to develop. Not just for computer programming, but in all areas of learning, particularly Gemura learning and logic. After you have identified the objects and their relationships, creating if/then statements to reflect these relationships is easy, but also leads to divergent thinking. For example: if a frog gets hit by a car, then it dies, but how do we express this statement for the computer? If FROG OBJECT sees CAR OBJECT on left, then FROG OBJECT dies? If CAR OBJECT sees FROG OBJECT on right, then FROG OBJECT dies? Both answers are technically correct, but the fact that students can discuss and use logic to determine which one should be used is a tremendous skill to develop, again especially for Gemura learning.

After coming out of this session, I am will to put money on the idea that if we teach our students graphical object oriented programming at a young age, it will improve their Gemura and reasoning skills tremendously.

Here are some additional resources from the session:

The Exhibits

I spent about 4 straight hours in the Exhibition Hall and only made it through about a quarter of what's there. Granted, I did spend almost an hour at the Google booth talking to every Google employee there, and here is the run-down:

  • Google Docs - Met a developer from the Google Docs team, who wanted to see how I am using Google Docs in the classroom. I showed him some of the things I have done (collaborative Chumash study, hyperlinked Jewish Philosophy text, etc.) and we talked about Hebrew support in Google Docs (which is amazing) and he let me in on a little secret about one of the Google Docs products being relaunched in a few months
  • Chrome OS - This was obviously exciting for me, with my shiny new Chromebook and my time spent hacking around with the open-source code...We spoke about the potential of bringing a 1:1 Chromebook program to my school and he told me about a really cool feature that Citrix is developing to allow in-browser remote desktop from within Chrome OS, that is a game-changer.
  • I also spoke to Google Apps guys, Google Earth and Maps guys (and discussed some lesson plans for Tanach using Google Earth and Maps), and a few Google Certified Teachers about some of their implementations in their classrooms.
  • I hope to go back tomorrow to meet with one of the lead developers on Google's App Inventor and get an inside look into using it create Android apps in the classroom.
  • I got a free Google beachball and sunglasses! How did they know I'm from San Diego?

After Google, I wandered around the exhibits for a while, talking with different vendors about solutions for NCSY, JSU and SCY High until I overheard what definitely sounded like an Israeli was. I met Ami Dror, founder of a company with a really nifty idea for 3D implementations in the classroom. His technology allows students and teachers to easily create and share 3D content in the classroom, without the need for expensive equipment. His software works with existing tech and integrates with PowerPoint, all you need are his glasses and software plugins to make it work! I hope to meet up with him in Israel to get a better feel for the technology and perhaps bring some of the tech back to SCY High. He also has an online database of 3D presentations for the classroom, which teachers can upload/download lessons to/from and share content. He was very intrigued (having grown updaati) by the idea of Tanach, Gemara and other Jewish content being made 3D.

After that, I wandered around, entered lots of raffles, considered getting into the interactive whiteboard business and met a few more cool vendors, here are some highlights:

  • Edistorm - a Canadian start-up that allows teachers and students to create collaborative work environments using virtual post-it notes, it also generate wicked reports about student interaction, visit for a free account and 50% off sign up before September 15th.
  • DYKNOW - Classroom management software for 1:1 school environment, very robust features, such as allowing teachers/admin to monitor all student monitors wirelessly or take control of the computer to regain focus, even restrict what windows can be opened...probably expensive.
  • ToonBoom - Very cool animation technologies for the classroom, they even have a free iOS application and different level of software from anyone from K-Graduate School.
  • SparkFun - An awesome online electronic component shop for DIY projects. They have curricula for many of their projects, ranging from simple circuits to robotics...this is great for PBL and not just electronics classes.

At some point during my travels, I also ran into an old friend from Yeshiva, Harris Zvi Goodman, who is now a VP for an awesome company that makes virtual laboratories which I hope to bring home to SCY High. Check them out

Dinner and the End of the Night

Once again, AVI CHAI provided us with a fantastic dinner and a very well facilitated discussion amongst the cohorts. We discussed lots of things, but those which stood out to the me the most were our conversations on interactive whiteboards and getting around roadblocks to integration of EdTech in our schools and communities. Some great points were exchanged. I am of the opinion that interactive whiteboards will soon be a thing of the past, being replaced by personal learning devices (1:1 computers, tablets, etc.) and networked collaborative working spaces (Google Docs, SynchTube, etc.). In this type of environment all students can participate and the class can truly collaborate and learn as a group, it also allows more control over classroom mangement (contrary to what some might think) in that teachers can see what all the students are doing in one glance. I am also of the opinion that the best mode of attack to get past roadblocks is not a direct attack, but a flank. Don't argue with people's objections to EdTech, just show them the value of it and show them that it is the best solution to their teaching problems and their objections will melt away.

It was a great day and I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow!

For more updates on my time at ISTE, you should follow @theadamsimon on Twitter.

This post was cross-posted on Adam Simon's Blog and YU 2.0

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I have a confession to make: I'm a newbie. This realization has taken me by surprise. After all, I know how to program, I've built webpages, designed websites and have used technology in my class in a variety of ways over the years. But over then last few days at ISTE I have been wondering if I really knew anything at all. I just went to a session by Steve Dembo and he confirmed it; tweeting and owning a computer does not make one a computer guru.
The truth is, I am comfortable with technology but ISTE is really showing me how large the chasm is between be comfortable with a computer and really incorporating technology into the classroom. The world is changing with rapidity and the way in which we interact with the world around us is transforming. Making sense of this revolution is so important and modeling this for the next generation is a huge responsibility; being mindful of those colleagues who are hesitant to embrace this change is also foremost in my mind.
So where to start? Well my confession above is one type of beginning. I believe that true knowledge is knowing enough to admit how much there is to learn. Another important step is to remember that technology is a tool not - at least for the most part- the goal. The next step is to rethink curriculum and maerials and media to reinvigorate learning and teaching for the next generation.
My next step is to figure out how to make even more of my curriculum student centered with all these new tools that I now know about. My first idea idea is to have my students tweet a 'ticket to enter' for class on the material from the session before. (even though I have been assured that students don't think that twitter is cool.) My burning question right now: can anyone create hashtags or is there an official procedure?

Reflections on Games for Change

After a week of reflection post-conference, a number of elements have emerged to guide my thinking on Games for Jewish Learning. These are issues that are not exclusive to Jewish learning, but go some way towards informing the wider field of Transformational Gaming. My top three take-home points are as follows.

1. Transmedia

This was a subject that was raised by a number of the speakers as something that will become increasingly important across genres, including in the field of social issue gaming. The idea of telling stories across multiple channels and formats in which the audience takes an active role in narrative consumption has been experimented on a number of occasions. A series of games were highlighted during the festival that used Transmedia elements, including EVOKE, The Curfew and America 2049. These games urge and reward the player for taking an active role in seeking out the story. There are obvious possibilities for using these types of elements in Jewish Education by developing a production across media channels and encouraging the user to immerse themselves in the content. (I shall write a future blog post on a Transmedia project that I am working on in Kenya.)

2. Game Design as Education

A number of companies at the festival showcased simple tools for use in schools that allow students to design and build their own basic games. Game design as a vocation is certainly not for everyone, however the process of trying to embed an educational objective into a game can be extremely effective at informing the designer on the issue. Thus, introducing game design into the classroom could be an effective method for engaging learners in Jewish Education curriculum objectives.

3. Community Games

In order to seed greater integration among desperate individuals within a community in Macon, Georgia, the Knight Foundation funded the roll-out of Macon Money. This real-world game encouraged players to seek out the holder of a matching bond made up of special symbols. Once a match is found the pair can redeem the bond for a voucher redeemable at participating local shops. The game gave residents a reason to meet people outside of their immediate circle and potentially forged long-lasting relationships. There are possibilities for replicating this type of real world game to bring desperate Jewish communities together, or as a means to build collaborative teams among students at different schools.

Any questions or follow up: @philg1

ISTE Day 1/2 Wrap Up

Today was my second day, but my first full/real day at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA and I am so thankful/happy to have this opportunity. First of all, a very huge thank you to the AVI CHAI Foundation and NCSY for making it possible for me to be here; next, a big thank you to Causil for organizing everything, ensuring we are well fed and that everything runs smoothly for our group.

Now on to the wrap up...

First Night

After watching a live-stream of the keynote speaker and throwing away a bunch of free junk from my ISTE registration bag, I headed out to grab dinner with my fellow AVI CHAI group members. It was great to meet and collaborate with everyone. After dinner I met up with Matt Barr of Bible Raps to discuss some collaboration ideas and future projects. What he does is cool, alive and engages teens in text-study, I loved it and hope to collaborate with him and his team soon.

First Session

The first session of the day which I attended was at 8:30am which means that I had to wake up fairly early in the morning (around 6:30am) to daven, grab a bowl of cereal (thanks to my lovely wife) and walk over the convention center. Having only gotten about an hour of sleep the night before, this was a fairly big deal, but I felt it was justified because this session was right up my alley and I hoped to gain a lot of valuable information from it. To be blunt, I was less than happy to have woken up early for this session. That isn't to say I didn't learn anything new, because I did, it was just more basic and introductory then I expected, especially for someone who has already integrated QR Codes into the classroom and was looking for new and different ways to do so...But, as I said before, I did learn a few things from this session:

The presenter broke down the "Allure of QR Codes" into 4 points:

  1. Cannot be misinterpreted
  2. Compact
  3. Easy to use
  4. Inherently Encrypted

The big "aha moment" for me was number 4, I never thought about using the QR Codes' inherent encryption as an educational tool. One suggestion is to use this for differentiated instruction, students with different needs or at different levels can be given different reading assignments or quizes without anyone knowing that their work is not the same because the naked eye can't interpret a QR Code. Another idea, which I brainstormed with Peter Eckstein after the session, is using QR Codes for peirush in a siddur or other text, keeping the content hidden until it is needed prevents the additional content from distracting from the main text.

Here is a link to the slides for a full overview of how to create and use QR Codes:

Second Session

The next session I attended was on "Teaching in the Interactive Classroom" sponsored by MIMIO, a company which makes EdTech hardware, and, in spite of the underlying pitch for their hardware, was actually very enjoyable. I found the presenter, Stevan Vigneaux, to be a very knowledgeable, thoughtful and engaging speaker, probably because he is a professional salesman (perhaps educators should take some tips from the sales world...), and his points well illustrated. One story which was particularly striking and inspiring was about an Army Colonel who was in charge of training new recruits on how to change tank treads. He was purchasing millions of dollars of video production software from the presenter, when asked why he needed the equipment he explained that he understood "that either I teach them the way they learn or they won't learn", the way they learned (having grown up on MTV) was through professional quality music videos, and that is just what he made to teach them how to change tank treads. The key is, although how to change a tank tread hasn't changed, the way to teach it has to or no one will learn the information. That really resonated with me. I also raised the question of why we need specialized EdTech hardware and software instead of leveraging existing real-world tools, such as iPads, Twitter and Facebook. I didn't really get a satisfactory answer, but I look forward to hearing anyone who has one (please comment on this post).

Third Session

The third session I attended was not at all what I expected, but incredible none-the-less. I was expecting a session on "Creating a Digital Culture", ie. how to create a digital culture in the school, the community and beyond...what I got was "Creating Digital Culture" ie. creating culture (art, music, etc.) in the digital space...serves me right for not reading the description, but in the end, this was one of my favorite sessions of the day. The presenter was Roger Wagner, a San Diego local, and creator of an amazing software called HyperStudio. HyperStudio allows you and your students to create amazing rich-media content mashups easily by dragging content into the editor and manipulating it in tons of different ways. The key is that HyperStudio makes it easy to create projects because as the creator puts it, "Project creation should be simple, if they spend the whole time getting content into the project, when are they learning?" It has a host of really cool features and it seems the creator is actively involved in further development (like integration with Arduino boards to add robotics to projects and HTML 5 export to allow cross device use), not to mention that I got a free copy for attending the presentation. All in all, I was really impressed with the presentation and the software. One thought to leave this session with: 1 laptop is equal to 5000 pencils, we had better make sure that what we use technology for in the classroom is more valuable than 5000 pencils. I thought that concept was very cool and put things into perspective.

Fourth Session

Google to the Max: The Power Users Guide with Howie DiBlasi was my next session and although I learned a few new things from this session, it was definitely not a "Power Users Guide". Did you know that the Google logo and simple homepage was originally a function of the fact that Google founders didn't know how to code HTML? Neither did I! But that isn't all I learned in this session...First cool thing was Google Science Fair, which I had no idea about and am excited to push my school to get involved in, second was a list of Google alternatives, not something I am ordinarily fond of [the author typed quickly on his Google Chromebook], but some of them actually offered some features which Google has yet to offer:

  • - Pull search results from encyclopedia data, like Wikipedia and Encarta (it still exists!)
  • - Presents search results in deep-linked wordclouds
  • - Presents search results in hierarchical clusters

Finally, the presenter presented a Google Lab which I didn't know about, Google City Tours, which creates tours of a given area and timeline for tourists. And yes, it does work in Jerusalem...

Bloggers' Cafe and Impromptu Brainstorm/Workshop

After 4 straight sessions, I needed a little break and headed over to the Bloggers' Cafe to recharge (electronically and emotionally) and connect with some of my fellow Jewish Educators (electronically and emotionally). I had an amazing impromptu session where I showed off some of the tech I use in the classroom and brainstormed some cool ideas with colleagues. Some of the resources we shared are below:

  • - A QR Code generator
    • Use links to create QR Codes, this generates less 'noisy' codes and allows you to track scans
    • QR Codes have a 30% error correction built in, this means you can remove up to 30% of the code and it still scans, this makes for great custom codes and projects (use an image/vector editor)
    • Use QR Codes as a "poor man's augmented reality" by embedding rich media into worksheets, bulletin boards and by allowing students to create projects to share their creations. More on my QR Code timeline project in a separate post.
  • - An amazing database with alternatives to popular software, a great way to find a free open source version of a commercial software or find a version supported by your platform (Mac, PC, etc.)
  • - Online PDF publisher/viewer used to create beautiful online books or magazines, see an example here:
  • - a list of some Image Map editors
  • - W3Schools tag page, learn to create Image Maps with HTML coding

This was a particularly enjoyable hour in that I had the opportunity to meet fellow Educators (not just Jewish ones) and interact, brainstorm and share.

Fifth and Final Session

The last presentation was probably the most enjoyable, Nancye Blair was engaging, entertaining and passionate. Her presentation on Engaging Education was enlightening and tremendously thought provoking, in spite of the fact that I came in only half-way through and it was geared to Elementary Education. She presented a number of tools, all of which can be found at her website:, many of which I have used, but was shown new ways in which to use them, and many of which I have never used before but am now planning on integrating into my lesson plans for the coming year. This was truly one of the most inspiring and passion driven presentations I have seen, to leave you with one remark from Nancye that struck me, "By creating live audiences for our kids we show them that what they are creating MATTERS!"

Birds of Feather Jewish Educators and Dinner

At the end of the day I had another tremendous opportunity to interact, network and share with my colleagues. First was the Birds of a Feather Workshop for Jewish Educators, facilitated by Phil Liff-Grieff, Associate Director of Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles , which was a phenomenal opportunity to share with and meet others in the field as well as supporters of our work. Some highlights included:

After the Birds of a Feather session, the AVI CHAI group headed over to our catered Kosher dinner where we exchanged ideas and shared our best (and worst) moments from the day. Here are some of my highlights:

  • An educator must have 2 goals: 1. Make students passionate about learning 2. Teach them how to learn...that is all. Every project you do should be accomplishing one or both of those goals.
  • Flip Thinking
    • Can an interactive Tanach or Gemara class ever be flipped? Don't flip what doesn't need to be flipped. Flipping is used to make sure that content which requires collaboration is done in a collaborative space and content which doesn't require collaboration doesn't eat up that valuable time.
  • - Moderate Facebook Pages to allow teachers and schools to use them more safely
  • - A rubric creator for PBL lessons

After the dinner and sharing was done, I got some one-on-one face-time with Dave Weinberg of Causil and FOJNP, which was tremendously enjoyable and enlightening. I hope it leads to future collaborations and conversations.

Today was a great day at the ISTE Conference and I am looking forward to another amazing day-and-a-half!

For more updates on my time at ISTE, you should follow @theadamsimon on Twitter.

This post was cross posted on Adam Simon's Blog and YU 2.0

Monday, June 27, 2011

First day at ISTE

Great conference so far - so inspiring and exciting! We started the day with Will Richardson. I have heard him speak many times, occasionally follow his blog, and have read his book. He is so passionate about allowing students to network and to use communication to learn. He made a good case for encouraging students to learn from strangers, rather than fear them. He talked about students exiting school as "well-googled", with "reputation management" skills, and ready to learn anytime, anywhere, with anyone. (Presentation is here: )

I have been struggling with this issue at my school. This year I lost the battle against a group of teachers who were vehemently opposed to these ideas and, as a result, our school blocked all social networking sites at school. Although we have made classroom management easier for some teachers in our one-to-one environment (because students can no longer access Facebook in class), we have not taught our students anything about living in the digital world where they will have to work, play, and learn.

Two teachers are here with me at ISTE and they were very captivated by Will's message. I am slowly building support. How have others dealt with this issue?

We ended the day at the Birds-of-a-Feather session for Jewish Educators. I was blown away by the huge turnout compared to prior years (this is my 11th ISTE conference). I think the message is that Jewish educators are embracing technology full force. It was interesting to see the scope of interests. Technology integration is clearly on the agenda for all of us.

I am looking forward to the rest of the conference and to networking with new colleagues from other schools.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The 20 Percent Difference: What Schools Can Learn From Google

By Tzvi Pittinsky

The following posting is cross-posted on

Today was my first day at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. I decided to come up early before the late afternoon Keynote by Dr. John Medina and signed up for a full day workshop on Google Apps for Administrators. I was blown away. So much to digest...

The Google Wonder Wheel for visual search; Google timeline to search for articles by year and month; Google News archives going back hundreds of years; Using Google Forms as a method of gaining instant audience feedback; Using Google Moderator to pose questions which the audience rates by importance; Creating Word Clouds in Google spreadsheets; Setting up Google sites; Becoming a Gmail Ninja... The list goes on and on. I highly recommend you search the following twitter hashtag from the workshop to further explore these and many more topics covered: #gwaiste11.

How is Google able to consistently create so many innovative tools? The answer lies in the Google credo of 20% time. Google gives its employees 20% of their time to work on their own pet projects independent of their regular responsibilities. This time for innovation, reflection, and creativity allows technicians to follow their passion wherever it may lead. It might become the next great Google product or it might lead to nowhere. Google doesn't mind. Google has embedded into the weekly schedule time for Limud Lishmo, learning for learning's sake.

This got me thinking... Schools are the ultimate knowledge industry. Our teachers are expert technicians trained to gain the most from our products, our students, in terms of skills and information gained. Do we give our teachers 20% time to work on projects of their choosing? Do our teachers give their students 20% time for their own learning? I am not saying that we should not focus on curriculum, benchmarks, and standards. These should be the main aspiration of the 80% of the time spent on structured pursuits. However, at the same time, do we give our teachers and students the opportunity to discover new things and the breathing room to develop and refine these ideas?

Dr. John Medina formulated this challenge at the end of his Keynote address this afternoon. He was responding to the question, "Where does teaching to the test fit into his theory of mind?" His response, "The human brain is not interested in learning but in survival. By teaching to the test, learning becomes about survival and not about fascination with knowledge." We must strive to bring back our student's fascination with knowledge.

I believe that we can accomplish this by taking the lesson from Google and giving them 20% time. This does not necessarily mean that teachers and students can do anything, but, within the loose framework of the curriculum, of the Navi studied or the Mesechta learned, we can allow our teachers and students the choice of how they will learn at least 20% of the time. We will all be pleasantly surprised by the great things they will accomplish with this.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Comment on Bird Hurling, by S. Lefton

I'd add the previous post that:

1) the comment "just make a Jewish Angry Birds" is akin to "just make a Jewish Google" - Angry Birds is a blockbuster for many reasons.   The Angry Birds mechanic is incredibly catchy and fun, the sound design is inspired and evocative, the art and characterization are so good that there are now Angry Birds plushy toys in the airport.  There is excellent use of scaffolded learning as the puzzle complexity increases, and there are regular releases of new puzzles.  It's important for the Jewish world to realize what it takes to make a good game - collaborative teams of highly trained professionals working very hard for many long hours, days, weeks, months.  Skill sets include game and puzzle design, software engineering, sound design, graphic design, plenty of playtesting, usability testing, music composition, animation, and more. 

That said, if the Jewish community helps support game designers to work in our small market, we can build some very cool, modest yet engaging games that teach.  Part of moving the Jewish world into the effective use of interactive digital media is increasing literacy - those interested in supporting and advocating for Games for Learning (digital and non-digital) should consider developing some basic game literacy by 1) playing some games (digital and board/paper) and 2) experimenting for a few hours with making a paper prototype, playtesting, and iterating a little game or puzzle for a friend or family member. You will learn an incredible amount about the process very quickly, the kinds of skills and critical thinking, problem solving, and design work it takes.  You will have a much better understanding of the whole burgeoning discussion of Games and be able to be a much better advocate for the cause.  

2) Angry Birds and its mechanic teach players how to get really good at flinging birds.  In contrast, Games for Learning need to match mechanic to the desired learning.  My task when I am designing Jewish Games for Learning or teaching Game Design for Jewish Learning is to build core game mechanics that teach Jewish skills and literacy.  It's something I delight in working on and I believe, a key way that we will train thoughtful and culturally literate Jewish minds in the digital century to come.

Rabbi Owen Gottlieb
PhD Candidate in Education and Jewish Studies

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Allow me to hurl some birds at you

People have been telling me, as G-dcast's director, that we really ought to hurry up and put a game out. I keep replying, "Um, none of us are game designers." To which people respond, "How hard can it be? What if it was just, you know, a Jewish Angry Birds?"

Now, that may be a good idea. I love Angry Birds. The mechanic - hurling squawking birds at smug pigs in their log homes - is fun, if in a frustratingly keep-you-up-all-night way.

But I always try to look at fun ideas and ask the tough question, "So what?"

Yep, we could definitely hire some coders to make Jewish Angry Birds but then we'd have, what, a game where you hurl kosher birds at pigs? And they yell Oy!

I'm not feeling it.

G-dcast is dedicated to raising basic Jewish literacy, so we'd be better served designing a game where the fundamentals of the Bible are taught, or the orders of the Mishnah, or the names of the 12 tribes, or all the words to Aishet Chayil (which really do go by too fast!)

So I attended the Games for Change conference, thanks to generous support from AVI CHAI, to think about these ideas. What could I learn from the game designers, coders, and evaluators who are currently putting out educational, or social impact games?

From the production and creative side, thanks to the smarties at Filament Games, I learned that successful educational games shouldn't necessarily be crazy fun kitsch that appeals to millions, but rather, should more modestly adhere to standards, be web-based (so as not to require installation/technical support in school labs) and be playable in about 20 minutes.

From the assessment side, I also learned that games are more effective when they include a social component (collaborative or competitive), give a lot of feedback on players' progress, and contain tons of content that is updated regularly. I also heard some deflating results from researchers who find that while students using educational games experience delight, increased engagement and other "positive affect," there is not necessarily a huge amount of proven enhanced learning outcomes when compared to other methods of electronic tutoring.

I left feeling that perhaps we have the more effective, or at least more efficient solution at G-dcast right now, when we animate Jewish texts in short films. We leave the interactivity to the teachers and parents who implement our curriculum or make up their own discussion triggers after the films.

This is a positive outcome of my conference attendance, by the way. Learning that you might not want to do something is an important takeaway. And I'm not done evaluating the notion of doing a game, but I'm considering doing something far simpler than I might have otherwise done.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Teaching (Jewish) Inquiry with Serious Games

Teaching Scientific Inquiry with a Serious Game (and the Jewish Education Implications - OG)
Start time: 11:20am
Until: 11:30am
Venue: NYU Law School (40 Washington Square South), Greenberg Lounge
C. Forsythe (substitute co-researcher presenter from University of Memphis)

The implications of this talk for Jewish learning is that Games and Game-play are particularly suited through story and genre to teach inquiry and research methods.  The use of a quest with embedded narrative can turn the dry teaching of methodologies into an emotionally compelling adventure.  Here, as Jewish educators, we have the opportunity to teach methods of Jewish scholarly research and inquiry to young people.  How can Jewish learners be best equipped to pursue self-directed learning in the areas of Jewish Studies they are most curious?  By the providing of tools and methodologies for research embedded in compelling narratives.

See my writing on compelling emotional narratives in the current CCAR Journal at:

Rabbi Owen Gottlieb
PhD Candidate in Education and Jewish Studies
Speciality in Digital Media and Games for Learning

Indiana U Researchers: Mindfulness, Positive Psychology, Games for Learning

Examining Reflective Awareness in Gaming Experience
Start time: 10:20am
Until: 10:40am

Presenters: Thomas Fennewald Gabriel Recchia Ellen Jameson

The implications for the Jewish world from this panel include the possiblity of using games and simulations and the techniques they employ to hand down our Jewish prayer "technology" in deeply meaninful ways.  By scaffolding techniques in practicing gratefulness, such as in this game, called Dream Kindlers, users/players practice what in liturgical terms, we call Hodaot - thankfulness/gratefulness.  Note here how well designed games signal techniques we should be considering in Jewish education - whether using technology or not - the act of _practice_ of gratefulness improves psychological impact.  For Games for Change, the learning scientists draw from Positive Psychology.  For Jewish education, we can 1) come to understand the science that is explaining the ways which prayer changes us and those around us - this discursive understanding of prayer practice - a reflective understanding will broaden the reach of the kinds of learners we can engage 2) appreciate the ancient wisdom of our prayer and mindfulness practices and 3) use the kinds of practice inducing techniques that Games and Simulations demonstrate to bring learners into a more personalized, meaningful, and engaging prayer practice.  Yet another way that good science and good games can bring us closer to God.

Rabbi Owen Gottlieb
PhD Candidate, Education and Jewish Studies
Speciality in Digital Media and Games for Learning

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reflections from the first day of Games for Change

I am not completely sold on integrating gaming with Jewish education.

It's not that I'm a Luddite, nor do I think that games are inherently frivolous. As an elementary student I learned an enormous amount about world history from playing Civilization, and just last week I taught a lesson for supplemental religious school teachers in New Jersey on how to use MIT's Scratch to create games and interactive simulations. But despite this, I think that for many educational goals, the same outcomes that many attribute to the integration of games and education can be achieved more efficiently and effectively through other means.

If we're concerned about creating student centered activities that force them to think about systems learning, I'm not convinced that the amount of time and effort that it takes to teach students how to program or design games is any more beneficial than any other project based or inquiry based learning assignment. If we're interested in providing students an alternative way of engaging with content, I'm not convinced that a professionally designed video game is inherently more efficient than other multimedia content, or the next generation of digital textbooks that can incorporate video, audio and other interactive content. If we're interested in providing opportunities for training teachers or principals to deal with classroom situations, I'm not convinced that an interactive video game simulation is any better than watching and reflecting on videos of classroom.

However, there is clearly something about the deeply engrossing experience of video gaming that we need to take under serious consideration as we reconsider our pedagogical practices and refine our methods of teaching. While the first day preconference for Games for Change so far has focused very heavily on the use of edutainment style games or on student creations I'm encouraged by the descriptions of other sessions in the upcoming days that seek to encourage the gamification of learning environments even without integrating the playing or design of games in the classroom.

70 plus years ago, John Dewey noted, "Above all, [teachers] should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worth while.” Even if we end up not harnessing video games in our classrooms, it behooves us as educators to at least explore the potential of these tools and methods for the sake of our students and institutions, and for this reason, I am grateful to the AVI CHAI Foundation for their generosity in facilitating my attendance at the Games for Change conference to think deeply about these issues for the benefit of Jewish Education.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The 8th Annual Games for Change Festival, June 20-22, 20011 NY

What does a Hebrew teacher in the Diaspora have to do with Games for Change Festival? I could easily see in this festival my 27 year old son, a lawyer, currently in the Peace Corps in Moldoa, who teaches all the young people of the village video games and, and plays with his friends back home in the USA almost every night all kinds of online video games till the early hours of the morning....

When I first began teaching Hebrew with chalk on a blackboard, and hand-written worksheets and tests, I never could have imagined that one day I would be typing all my handouts and assignments on the computer in HEBREW and ask the students to do the same. I never dreamed that I would have the computer skills to create online interactive assignments, to conduct an online Hebrew class and assess my students’ progress via games that I create. The whole concept of designing a Hebrew lesson, in the classroom or on line requires one to consider the psychology of games and its affect on the learner. It has become clear to me that Games have become the name of the game. One can say better living through Chemistry, and I say better learning through gaming.

I am so thankful to be one of the recipients of an Avi Chai fellowship to attend the Games for Change festival. I am looking forward to meeting incredibly talented and creative people who will no doubt inspire me to continue to think outside the box and be innovative. I often think about what our favorite and beloved author Dr. Seuss wrote: " Oh, the thinks you can think, if you're willing to try.."

This festival is a platform for a great adventure, where I will be immersed by great thinkers. I know it will inspire me to always continue to dream big thinks!

L'hitraot tomorrow!

Yaffa Malashock