Sunday, October 20, 2013

“Hafoch Bah v’Hafoch Bah” – Flipping the Judaic Studies Classroom

“Hafoch Bah v’Hafoch Bah” – Flipping the Judaic Studies Classroom 
Reflections on my flipped class journey and lessons from ISTE

Over the past few years, “flipped classroom” videos of the Khan Academy variety have become increasingly popular and widespread among educators, particularly with the proliferation of (free) whiteboard apps.  Teacher-generated video lessons can be valuable tools for differentiating instruction and enabling students to work at their own pace. They shift the focus away from lecture-style presentations onto teacher-guided work or activities, wherein students apply the lessons learned from the video.  They may serve as anchor activities for students who have moved ahead in class.  And of course, videos enable busy students to pause, rewind and re-watch their teachers whenever and however often they want.  The flipped class methodology—which generally entails units built around short videos which students watch at home, followed by “homework” done in the classroom where the teacher is available to clarify and guide the learning—has been shown to make assignments more effective, and to increase student engagement as well as achievement. 

In the Jewish educational context, I had certainly seen (and created) YouTube videos of the how-to variety (“how to have an aliyah”) or the talking head variety (“weekly d’var Torah”), some of which were quite engaging and some which were as dull as any classroom lecture.  But I had never encountered instructional videos that were integrated in a systematic way into a class setting.  Wondering if flipped videos could be applied to a day school Jewish Studies classroom, and excited and intrigued with the possibilities, last year I set about experimenting with flipped videos for my middle school Tanach and Mishnah classes.

My initial thinking has been to create video content on relatively broad topics which are not overly curriculum-specific.  That way, they could be utilized by our Judaics faculty across grades, years and curricula, since they could potentially be applicable to a variety of content matter and re-watched in various contexts.  Additionally, they could serve as online resources to other students or educators beyond our walls.  So, for example, I made several videos about broad concepts in Rabbinic/Torah Commentary, such as “Kal Va-Chomer” and “Gematria.” Since we use iPads in our middle school, I initially have worked with Educreations, which the students can easily pull up through the app on their iPads or watch through a link on our website.  Educreations (or the comparable ShowMe app) is also useful for students to create their own instructional videos as class-work, an enrichment activity or a summative assessment. 

Screenshot from "Kal Vachomer" Video made with Educreations app

At the end of last year, I asked for student feedback regarding the videos, and they gave positive reports regarding their level of engagement, desire to watch more videos, and using the videos at their own leisure.  Based on their surveys and their work in general, I felt it was a successful “beta-test” year.  However, I knew there was room for improvement in many areas, including editing capability and interactive questions.   

Screenshot from Educreations video on "Gematria"

Thanks in part to a grant from AVI CHAI, I was fortunate to attend the ISTE ’13 conference, where I was able to explore in greater depth some best practices for integrating technology, including creating flipped classrooms.  There is certainly much to be said about the teacher practices and pedagogy which must accompany flipped videos, to ensure real learning.  But sticking to tools and resources, here is just a small sampling of new info and insights I came away with from ISTE:

·        Web Content Concerns.  There is always anxiety, with good reason, regarding what students will come across when watching online content.  Quietube is a great way to share videos online without the distractions and “crud” that accompany many Youtube videos.  You may choose another video platform like Vimeo, or distribute video files by uploading to an internal class platform like Edmodo, instead of via the internet. 

·        Flubaroo.  This is a mechanism for managing online assignments with a Google Form, for students fill in after watching.  With this tool, teachers can include quick formative assessments with the video to check for understanding.  This increases the interactive element, and gives teachers a sense of where students’ understanding is and how to tailor instruction for group-work in class.  A follow-up also can be created to engage parents.
·        Aaron Sams’ Video Rules. The flipped class guru, whose book I got at ISTE, preaches several rules for flipped videos.  Some—like animating your voice and adding humor—can be done regardless of what software or video tools you use.  Others—like adding zooming, callouts and annotations—are much more difficult with the free products (you get what you pay for).  Over the year I was fortunate to receive a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation in Cherry Hill for Camtasia screen capture software.  Camtasia is the industry standard – superlative editing tools, but not as simple or user-friendly (or free).   

·        Captions and Subtitles.  A teacher may choose to use a script to read off of to narrate the video.  If a script is used, then it can be synced with the video once uploaded to Youtube.  (Instead of Educreations, which uses its own site, try Screencast-O-Matic or Aww – A Web Whiteboard, for this.)  Save your script as a plain text (txt) file. Then, in the Edit menu on your Youtube video, choose Captions and upload your file; your words will now appear on screen, enhancing the level of engagement and interaction.

·        Whose videos?  The consensus is that making your own videos is the best course of action when possible, because it creates a more personal connection with your students.  Ultimately, good teaching is based upon relationships, and flipping the classroom can help foster this.  But teachers should also make use of the myriad videos that are already out there, and not feel it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel for every topic.  Sites like Blendspace (Edcanvas) list video content by subject, and can be shared to Edmodo for students to watch and discuss.  My hope is to see more Jewish Studies videos out there in the near future to share and collaborate with!

The Mishnah teaches, “hafoch bah v’hafoch bah d’kula vah – turn it [Torah] around and around to find everything inside.”  Likewise I hope that flipping the classroom around will be one more tool to help students reach deeper levels of knowledge, insight and understanding. 

Micah Liben is the Rabbi in Residence at Kellman Brown Academy.