Friday, June 20, 2014

Scan B'vakasha! - QR Codes in Jewish (and General) Studies Class

QR (short for “quick response”) Codes are those black and white squiggly squares that have been popping up in recent years on the pages of magazines, edges of brochures, sides of packaging and anywhere else marketers might choose to give consumers access to more product information.  They are similar to supermarket barcodes, but they hold more data, and can be easily scanned without the beam of light with a scanner on your mobile device.  As educators have sought to harness technology to enhance classroom learning, many resources for utilizing QR codes in educational contexts have been disseminated (e.g. see Edutopia or  After attending the ISTE conference last summer (thanks to a grant from AviChai), I learned about some of these techniques firsthand.  As I set about thinking of how QR codes could enhance my classroom, I learned that the 5th grade General Studies teacher was also working to utilize QR codes at school.  We shared some ideas and resources, and by the end of the year, QR codes were taking over the walls …! 

Following are some of the ways we have made use of QR technology at KBA this past year:

·         Fun, games, and anchor activities
o   To kick off the first day of middle school, we created a QR code scavenger hunt.  It helped acclimate students to their new iPads, gave them practice using their scanners, and included clues that were both fun and silly as well as subject-oriented.  Scanning each code took users to a website that I made (for free!) using Weebly.  For more info on how to create such a site for scavenger hunt, check out

o   I used badges on Edmodo this year to “gamify” the learning experience a bit for my 6th graders (I learned that term at ISTE!).  For example, if they completed a Rashi assignment, they might find a “Rashi Decoder” badge the next day on their Edmodo account.  Earn 5 badges, and you move up a level…  To add to the engagement, I would place a QR code at the bottom of a worksheet, which would link to a website with the necessary information for students to complete their badge.  A bit time consuming to prepare, but worth it for the fun factor.
o   QR codes are perfect tools for giving students engaging “anchor activities” if they finish their work early during class.  This photo shows different online learning activities the 5th graders would access with via QR codes on the wall. 

·         Student Presentations: Empowering students to become the teachers for a wider audience
o   After students in sixth grade learned about Mishnah and Torah Sheba’al Peh, they recorded skits introducing the history and content of those texts.  Next, we made QR codes linking to their videos, and posted the codes in the Beit Midrash where the Talmud volumes sit.  Anyone—student, faculty, parent, guest—who now enters the Beit Midrash can scan the codes to learn more about the books they see.  When they scan, the students’ skits pop up onto their device!

o   Fifth graders read a variety of books and then created iMovie reports about their favorite stories and authors.  These video reports were put online and are now accessible by simply scanning the codes on the book poster in the corridor. 

o   To introduce a school-wide Author’s Night program, parents scanned QR codes when they entered the building to see unique “trailers” created by the budding authors in each grade, building excitement for students and parents alike. 

·        Integrating Content
o   In our Humash class, we studied a chapter in B’midbar wherein Moshe becomes depressed as a result carrying the whole nation upon his shoulders.  His despair is so great that he asks God to take his life rather than continue the status quo.  One of the “big ideas” of our unit was that “carrying a burden in isolation can lead to desperation,” a theme that we connected to instances in our own community.  Our classroom learning led to researching a youth hotline in New Jersey for teens who need to someone to turn to.  As part of the final project, students created fliers with advice for people who were feeling depressed, and together we created our own QR codes for the fliers that link to the real youth hotline.  If anyone walking our halls is in need a place to turn, they can privately scan the QR codes for more information. (See pics above and below)  Using the QR codes helped integrate the biblical text with the students’ lives in a powerful way. 

·        So how do you make a QR code?
o   There are many user-friendly QR generators online you can use, such as Kaywa.  Copy and paste the URL for the site you want to link to into the generator on Kaywa.  It does the rest for you in seconds.  You can then print the code, or save it, or paste it, and you can resize it and color it, as well.  IPads also use QR Reader apps, which can both read and make codes.  If you have an Android, try QR Droid for your phone. 

Happy scanning!  

Micah Liben is Rabbi in Residence at Kellman Brown Academy. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Training Bar Mitzvah Kids with New Technology

Bar and Bat Mitzvah Preparation in the 21st Century

By Rabbi Jason Miller

In the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” we see young Danny practicing his haftorah for his bar mitzvah by listening to the cantor’s rendition of it on his record player. That scene was undoubtedly sentimental for Jewish men of a certain age who prepared for their bar mitzvah by keying up the phonograph in their parents’ living room.

Ben Stiller Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah preparation has come a long way since the days of the record album. In the 1980s and early 1990s cantors and bar/bat mitzvah tutors recorded their voices onto audio cassette tapes so their twelve-year-old students could walk around the house listening to the chanting on a Sony Walkman. In fact, I remember many nights falling asleep with my black foamy headphones on while I listened to the late Cantor Larry Vieder of Adat Shalom Synagogue repeating the Torah trope (cantilation notes) and the long haftorah for my bar mitzvah. The mid-1990s saw the transition from the audio tapes to music CDs when bar mitzvah tutors began hooking up microphones to the computer and recording the bar mitzvah portion onto blank CD-Roms.

In recent years we’ve seen bar and bat mitzvah students receiving the audio version of the haftorah and blessings they need to learn via email, a concept that anyone over the age of thirty would find amazing.

The way Jewish teens prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah has changed dramatically thanks to technological innovation. Not only has the audio format changed over the years, but so too has the way in which these young men and women are being tutored.

I was recently at a retreat for Jewish leaders where I met Todd Shotz. Todd launched Hebrew Helpers several years ago as a way to provide in-home, one-on-one personalized bar and bat mitzvah instruction. In addition to coordinating private bar/bat mitzvah services for families that do not belong to a congregation, Todd’s company arranges for tutors to work with children to prepare for their b’nai mitzvah. While many of his students are matched with local tutors in the Los Angeles area he has also found that he can help Jewish teens around the country through Skype and other video conferencing applications.

Shotz isn’t the only one taking advantage of this new technology to help students prepare for their bar or bat mitzvahs. Even local tutors who frequently meet with their students in person are using Skype, Apple’s Facetime or Google’s hangouts to conduct reviews with their students before the big day. Today’s teens have such busy schedules that it’s not always feasible for them to meet with a tutor at the synagogue so late night sessions over the internet are more conducive.

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Rabbi Jason Miller served in several capacities for the Ramah Camping Movement and was the year-round rabbi of Tamarack Camps in Michigan. He is an entrepreneurial rabbi and technologist, who serves as president of Access Computer Technology in Detroit, Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at@RabbiJason.