Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Are You a Judaic Studies Educator?

On a recent #Jedchat discussion educators were discussing whether grades hinder a students love of Judaism. Some educators questioned the purpose for grades altogether while others felt there still needed to be a win-win where grades were truly earned but didn't hinder a student's ultimate growth for love of Judaism. While I do believe in summative assessment grades of students demonstrating their mastery of skills or content learned, I was firm (and perhaps a tad too firm on #Jedchat!) in my view that we need to teach all students with an inspirational long term Jewish lens. You can educate students on skills and/or content on a particular Judaic subject but ultimately the goal is to instill a life-long love of Judaism. I went so far as to say perhaps on their report cards students should be graded on "Life-long love of Judaism."

As I was engaging in our #Jedchat discussion I started reflecting on a number of conversations I have had over the years from acquaintances to very close friends on their Judaic studies experiences (both positive and negative) as well as my own experiences as a student in Jewish schools. Those with positive experiences felt they connected well their teachers and were inspired to either further their Judaic learning or to play an active role in the Jewish community. A healthy chunk of those who had negative experiences expressed their disappointment on never having been shown the spirit or love of Judaism. Instead they felt their Judaic classes were simply taught either as any other academic subject or as Judaic material taught because "that's the way it's been done"without allowing a forum for students to question their learning or engage in deeper discussions. As someone who attended two different Jewish high schools and had polar opposite experiences I could appreciate both sides of the coin; The school I attended the last half of high school had a very positive impact on me because its' educators inspired me 'Jewishly' first and taught me second. The high school I attended in my early high school years simply taught me.

Whether you are fresh in your Judaic education field or you have been in the field for decades, I implore you- prior to creating your phenomenal lesson plans and units,  developing ways to differentiate your instruction, and before you work on assessments- first ask yourself these questions- "why am I in Jewish education? Why did I choose to devote my time, resources and energy to educating? Am I here to connect students to Judaic knowledge or skills? Or am I here to educate and connect through the knowledge and skills to inspire students to be lifelong Judaic learners and contributors to the Jewish community and Jewish world?" I ascribe to the latter view.

So what do you think? Why did you choose to be a Judaic Studies Educator?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Educators Educating Educators

I have read many articles (and tweets) on how professional development (will use the abbreviation "PD" moving forward) needs to be reformed so educators feel their time is being valued and come away with some truly new-found applicable knowledge. Suggestions have ranged from letting educators go to weekend conferences that are fun and educational to having educators educate their fellow peers on a subject they are passionate/knowledgeable about. I have heard of and experienced the former and have partook of the latter- but not necessarily as an officially built in component of a school's PD.

I recently had the opportunity to direct a PD session for educators on class management web tools. The difference between this time and other groups to whom I speak is I was sharing with educators I work with on a daily basis as a built in school PD session. Although I thought the PD session went well the big question was whether any of it was heard and would be put into practice. How pleasantly surprised was I when I received an e-mail the next school day from an educator attendee. Her e-mail started with: "Set it up last night and am using it for my third class already..." and ended with "Thank you soooo much!!!!!"

This is an example of how peer to peer PD works. One educator gained new knowledge from another educator and decided to put that knowledge to practice. And kudos to the school for making it happen. Don't get me wrong- I am not saying that schools should never bring in anyone from the outside or never send their educators to conferences. I am not saying that peer to peer is the be all end all; there are times when it won't work be it the presenter, the topic, or etc. What I am saying is when professional educators hear from and share with each other, they are inclined to listen to one another and seriously consider acting upon that knowledge. Why?  Because (in my opinion) the underlying message the peer presenter communicates is "I care about you and we both care about our students- let's help our students learn the best way they can."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 2

After a month of paperless classes, learning was going strong. Here are 5 of my most meaningful observations:

1- Students with organizational issues were excelling using their 'digital backpacks' and were championing their time management. (Ironically those same students weren't necessarily excelling in their other subjects.) Two students who I spoke with mentioned they enjoyed learning with a computer and they felt good about themselves because they were staying organized with their digital backpacks. They also liked how assignments were laid out for the entire trimester on Edmodo so they were able to slowly chip away one assignment at a time and feel good about working towards a goal of finishing all the material. I never thought that digital learning could be equated with self esteem building!

2- There was genuine collaboration in the classroom. My classroom is entirely student-centered. One of my mantras this year is to collaborate on many levels. For example, before a student can ask me a question they first have to ask their peers. At first students did not like this and didn't always feel comfortable asking their peers for assistance. A month in and students are up and about the computer lab asking each other questions, learning from another, sharing with each other. Students that may have been ignored or were quiet in the past were now able to engage in discussions in a mature and meaningful way.

3- There was deeper learning taking place. How often do we observe educators lecturing with 25% of the class sleeping, 25% spaced out, 25% doodling and 25% passively listening? I found students were actively engaged, and using their brains- all with little to none frontal lecturing. (Again I will say I have had a few students mention they miss daily lectures but when I called them on the carpet they said it was because they didn't have to learn as deep.) Students were blogging about their learning and there were conversations taking place over the material learned for weeks at a time. No I mean that literally. In my Bible/Chumash classes for each trimester students are responsible to submit 5 blog posts and 5 blog comment posts over the material they learned. ( Students use the blog rubrics pre-loaded into their digital rubric folder on Edmodo to guide and grade them)  Students submit the blogposts to the entire class so everyone reads them and responds. One of the first blogposts submitted to the class was a discussion involving miracles in ancient times verses nowadays. The actual class was 45 minutes. The blog discussions continued over the next 16 days. Deeper learning.

4- Too much digital learning ='s not enough face to face teacher-student relationship building/bonding. A few parents really wanted their children to develop strong bonds (kesher in Hebrew) with their Judaic teachers and felt too much time in front of the computer didn't lend to this goal. Being that my mantra is be a role model first and an educator second I understood what the parents concern but also felt the pull of completing curricular goals. In fact the whole reason for going paperless was to create an environment truly conducive to excellence in education! At the end of the day connecting and inspiring students was very important however I also was not ready to go back to primarily frontal lecturing where only mid-high level students were engaged (Actually I think most were parents of mid-high level learners who requested more bonding time with the students.) I began thinking about how to carve out more live group discussion time that wasn't bogged down with too much frontal teaching and more or less maintained the pace of the curriculum.

5- The technology I was using really fleshed out the different learner levels in my classes and forced me to think through what my goals should be for all learner levels. Because everything was on the computer everything was documented. This held my students to a much higher level of accountability but all the more so for myself! I primarily found myself struggling with what the goals should be for students who were at the lower end of totem pole. Realistically an educator can't assume that all students will finish the material with the same level of understanding. The ultimate goal was to make students life long learners be it collaboratively or independently. How could I further adjust my lessons to truly differentiate instruction?

I had other observations as well but these were the big ones that stuck out. Next up was to analyze student assessments as by this time there had already been a few. Would digital learning assist or hinder student assessment performance?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reflections of a Paperless Class- Part 1

After recently finishing a most fabulous program on Ed. Tech. through Yeshiva University-IUSP and the generosity of the Jim Joseph Foundation I was ready to roll up my sleeves and showcase some of my new found abilities; I wanted to teach a paperless digital class. To a lot of people the idea of a paperless digital class is not realistic. Not all students have laptops or mobile learning devices, and not all students have internet access at home. That being said, with forethought, planning and true 21st century/web 2.0 curriculum, paperless digital classes can be a reality.

I spent a healthy chunk of my summer producing pod casts and vod casts recordings of myself reading, translating and explaining texts students were going to study for the year. Using Edmodo, an online educational platform where students could access files, submit work and have group discussions, I uploaded all the materials (texts, worksheets, rubrics, videos, links, etc.) students would need for the year. I created individual lessons (I refer to them as levels, using gaming terminology) and pre-loaded all the course work. I knew for this to even work I would need to schedule time in the computer lab for my classes to take place. Thankfully I was able to block off time in the mornings where virtually no other classes were using the lab.

As day one of school approached it was hard to anticipate what students would say when I would explain to them how class was going to work moving forward. When I introduced the paperless concept to my students for the first time most students seemed bewildered yet happy at once. They liked the fact they would be wired in but how would they do their classwork or homework or projects? This was new terrain for all of us.

I spent the first 3 days of school orienting my students on how to use Edmodo, where to access materials, folders, files, how to submit work, and how to engage in group discussions, etc. Students (and parents) had to sign a contract including a statement on  their observance of digital citizenship. After the 3 day orientation most students felt comfortable learning in a new way, were ready to roll up their sleeves and plug in.

After the first full week of digital learning my first observation was students were engaged in learning virtually the entire class time.Students expressed their feeling so much more organized with their files in a digital backpack. Other students felt more motivated to work and had a better handle on their time management  knowing they had to submit work to meet their digital due dates/deadlines.

From a teacher point of view there were no behavioral issues because students were too busy working on their lessons/levels. I found my time was completely freed up to assist individual students as they worked at their own paces. Because the learning was digital I felt it was much easier able to offer real elements of differentiated instruction be it through assessment choices, group verses individual learning choices and etc.

I polled my students after their first 2 weeks of learning and the results were clear: All students bar one said they were learning well and enjoying the wired style of learning. I was happy with the results but needed to provide a solution to helping that one student who seemed a little overwhelmed. Was it the technology, the subject, the teacher etc? I also needed to give it more time to see how students would perform in formative and summative assessments. Were they having fun or were they learning deeper-or both?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Future of Learning- Today

After watching a video like this one, the first thing that comes to my mind is not the technological aspects (though you have to admit it is very cool to have a grade school student develop an app!) but the plethora of learning choices afforded to students these days. Thomas should skype or have a google hangout with classes to articulate his affinity for programming and app making and encourage students who have a similar passion. Perhaps allowing students to pursue their unique dreams is the ultimate differentiated instruction.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano on Successful Leadership Values

This video really resonated within me. After watching ask yourself- 'is this how I lead?' Particularly the last 28 seconds.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Understanding By Design

I recently finished some work on understanding by design co-authored by Jay McTighe. This short clip really puts into perspective how educators should gear their curriculum. After watching, ask yourself 'Do my students learn this way?'

Friday, October 28, 2011

Want a P.L.N.? Try #JEDCHAT

PLN (Personal Learning Network) can be tremendously empowering for those who integrate it into their lives.

In past years education stakeholders would have loved to have been able to throw out ideas or ask people for help when needed. Unfortunately if during those fleeting moments they weren't by a computer then they would have needed to contact colleagues afterwards and most probably these 'pebbles' would have been lost amidst the piles of 'big rocks' (to use Stephen Covey's language) needing to be tackled. To develop and maintain an active global PLN would have required an enormous amount of time, energy and resources.

With today's technology people can grow their PLN sans the time or resource constraints. Literally with the touch a button on their phones, at any time, anywhere, people connect with others in their fields of expertise/interest to exchange info, collaborate or just shmooze. If an idea suddenly emerges and a person wants to refine it or seek guidance, all it takes is the push of a button, some thumb movements and voila- that person has instantly connected with his or her PLN to help analyze and think through his/her idea.

Ironically it was being a part of each others PLN's that led to the coordinating of a Google Hangout between three educators in three different regions of the United States which helped flesh out an idea that would hopefully benefit Jewish educators and Jewish education moving forward. (Thank you Akevy Greenblatt and Dov Emerson!) We are hoping that #JEDCHAT, a global twitter chat open to all Jewish education stakeholders, of all denominations, will afford the opportunity for PLN's to be developed and expanded with the ever-crucial goal of affording students rich and authentic learning experiences in their respective Jewish learning environments.

When you have a moment, take a look at Dov Emerson's as well as Caren Levine's blog posts which help explain the nuts and bolts of #JEDCHAT. If you are brand new to Twitter or want a refresher take a look at PEJE's You Can Speak the Language of Twitter. (Thank you AVI CHAI Foundation and many others for re-tweeting these posts.)             

And I'll see you 'on the grid' Wednesdays at 9pm EST on #JEDCHAT!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great Trigger Clips

Here is an example where we can take a modern day commercial and use it as a trigger clip to teach Jewish values such as unity and friendship as well as showing the relevance of Judaism. How do you integrate modern technology and media into your school to make education meaningful and relevant?

Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera

This video demonstrates a 3D camera ball in action. I think this technology has some tremendous educational impacts. Can you think of some?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Song for the New Year

Here is a great video I used to help students think about the New Year and the proper perspectives to have. Check out this video:

Monday, August 29, 2011


Jing is a great way to take a picture or capture a video and either download to your hardrive or upload to the cloud. I use it for the later. Every upload has its own URL which you can easily paste into your assignment or blog or- anything! You can purchase the Pro edition or stick with the free version which should work for most educators. Once you install jing you will see a yellow 'orb' on the top corner of your screen. Mouse over it and you have the option of taking a picture, recording a video, or going to your 'cloud' data bank of screenshots and videos. One of the classes I teach includes videos I created using Jing. I uploaded the classes to my learning platform (I use Edmodo ) as URL. All the students have to do is click on the URL and the video comes straight to their screen. I highly recommend this tool!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Badges and Game Based Learning

After hearing a fabulous presentation on GBL (Game based Learning) and rewards badges from Mr. Hyle Daley at the recent Edmodocon 2011 I began to take a second look at badges. I have heard arguments for and against GBL and Badges. Those against say it doesn't really promote student learning and creates unhealthy competition. Those in favor say having students earn badges to further their learning is no different than companies like Starbucks who offer Starbucks rewards to encourage customers to keep buying fraps and lattes. Until recently I was on the former side of the fence but now I am on the other side- not because I necessarily agree with the way companies help nudge customers to buy their products. No, my philosophy is quite simple- I believe there is nothing wrong with a student feeling good for something he/she has earned. If that is through the medium of a badge or sticker than so be it. Reward systems in schools have been in place for decades. Just because they are 'Rewards 2.0' doesn't make them bad. You can see some of the badges I created for my Edmodo classes here.

Besides think of the powerful culture you could create through badges. I recently created a 'Champion of No-Bullying' badge, awarded to students who promote anti-bullying in their school.  We always talk about no-bullying campaigns but imagine if a student starts receiving badges for his/her actions and really begins to internalize their actions and words and feel good about what they are doing through the badges they earn- now that is powerful stuff! Now I understand you can make the case there is a fundamental difference between badges earned for learning and badges earned for good behavior- to which I would respond let's agree to disagree.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unleashing the Potential of Technology in Education

 Here is a report that was just issued which researched and presented  findings on the future of education technology integration using a closed-loop instructional system. Assuming this framework of ed. tech. integration is effective do you think a closed loop instructional system can realistically be implemented within the next 10 years for the majority of U.S. educational institutions? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Digging Diigo

Diigo may be an oldie yet a goodie, however Diigo has been continually rediscovering its purpose and has developed into an excellent evolving tool. And now Diigo it is taking a serious look at how it can be paired with education.

Here a short video on how Diigo works:

Now imagine every student using their own Diigo accounts to share and collaborate on projects, work with students around the world, and have access to their Diigo accounts through an iPad, smart phone not to mention a regular old computer! Check it out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

5 Ways to Listen Better

This video by Julian Treasure on how to listen properly reminds us we must maintain a healthy balance of technology integration in our lives and not tip too far to one side of the tech scale. How can we teach listening skills in our schools so students can truly connect with each other to collaborate, inspire, and build an incredible society?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Where Good Ideas Come From

I was working on a presentation on teamwork and creativity when I saw this video and had to share it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Google Moderator

Google Moderator is a great way to have students engaged in the the learning process in the classroom and hold them to a higher level of accountability. Someone on my personal learning network posted a link to the above how-to video video which I am sharing with you. Enlarging the video will help.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Voki Take 2

As a post script to my earlier blog post, I appreciated how @officialvoki, the official Twitter handle of Voki, tweeted my blog and Twitter handle (@RabbiWex). Stephen Covey refers to this as a "win-win" situation!


Voki is wonderful! Voki's website tells you they are a "free service that allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile and in email messages." A voki is your own avatar which is more or less a graphic representation in 2d or 3d of you, your alter ego or a character you enjoy. You create the avatar anyway you like it and you can even record your own message (like the message you heard from my Voki when you entered my blog).

Voki can be very beneficial in education for students and educators. Students can use Voki to articulate information they learned in a fun way. For example let's say you want students to reflect on an essay or demonstrate their knowledge of subject materials. Students can create their own Voki and type in or record information they learned, which their Voki will repeat when clicked on. This is especially helpful for students who don't feel as comfortable speaking up in the classroom. Voki gives them a portal to express themselves. Students who like art and are creative will also enjoy Voki.

Educators can have Voki help convey information to their students in a fun way. The educator can record a brief class assignment or homework assignment and load his/her Voki onto the class wiki. Students then go to the wiki and watch the Voki explain the class or homework assignment. Voki's website also has a forum and a lesson plan database for educators. Add this to your digital tool box and the next time your class is reflecting on a blog- think about using Voki as one of the reflection vehicles.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Lion Roars- Apple's Operating System Makes Sense

Although it has only been a little over 24 hours since I downloaded and began using the new Mac OSX Lion operating system, I can already tell a difference my computer use- even though it has been and will be a learning experience. There are 4 or 5 features which people will appreciate very much right from the outset.

It took a few minutes to get used to the new finger swipes, pinches, gestures and etc. but they are helpful and you are even more productive using them. (ironically the only thing that didn't speak to me was the first thing you see on the screen- a picture showing how your screen will now move the same way your two fingers scroll up and down. I actually found it too confusing from how I was used to scrolling so I went into system preferences and changed the scrolling feature back to the previous setting.)

I really like how you can create multiple desktops and swipe (with the three fingers to the right or left) back and forth to toggle or switch desktops. Now I can have a desktop for work, a desktop for play, a desktop for school, etc. Think about it. It just makes sense. You stay so much more organized this way.

With Launchpad you can view all of your apps at once on the screen and you can have multiple pages depending on how many apps you have. Someone tweeted this morning they never realized they had 7 pages or close to 300 apps until they viewed them all in Launchpad!

I also like mission control, a feature which lets you visualize every single application running on your laptop at once. Your computer will run faster when you know what you need open and what you can close. There are literally hundreds of other features and one could elaborate for hours on why this operating system is fabulous but you can follow the above embedded links to see/read for yourself. I know that change is difficult, especially if you have been using the same technology the same way for years- that being said, if you like being productive and using a platform that is intuitive than Apple's new operating system just makes sense.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Animoto is really easy to use and is fun. As it says on their website "Create your own Animoto video now! Animoto is fast, free and shockingly easy. Pick a video style, add photos, choose a song. Post it. Send it. Share it." - This is all very true. And their App for the iPhone is simple and user friendly. 

After being out with family the other day I wanted to create a quick video slideshow of the fun we had. In under 2 minutes (literally!) a 30 second video clip with music had been created, uploaded and e-mailed all from the palm of my hand (and an iPhone 4). It looked great too if I might add.

You can take pictures saved on your phone, arrange it in the order you like, add music to go along with your pictures and voila- you've 'animotode!' Check out these sample videos from the Animoto website. Today's technology is truly incredible.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wordle Works Well


Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg, an IBM researcher, who co-authored a paper attributing Wordle's mass popularity to "a cultural system in which viewers are also producers and remixers, and where visualization serves as much as an authoring tool as a method of analysis." In other words people want to roll up their sleeves, dig in and feel a sense of accomplishment. The paper issued 3 sentences on educational uses: "I am a teacher. Wordles help me introduce topics to pupils by allowing them to see what a new topic is about. In academic writing, I use Wordles to check for excessive use of any word or phrase."
I decided to create a wordle of my blog (shown above) and was surprised to see which words were more prominent than others. I started to reflect why certain words would stand out over others and it gave me insight into how I think, process, reflect and write on topics that appeal to me and what I think is important in education. 
Being an educator, I started thinking how Wordles can be applied to the texts I use in the classroom. So I started experimenting with different texts. Below is my first Wordle based on the first chapter of the Book of Beraisheet/Genesis.
Wordle: Beraisheet Chapter1

For those of you who read Hebrew it is interesting to see which words pop out of the screen. (Note that depending on which color schemes one picks will affect which words pop and which don't.) 

Wordle: Beraisheet 1st Chapter

Here is a version where I blended both the original Hebrew text and English translation. Such a powerful way to start a conversation with students on what they are going to delve into. Or students could summarize what they learned by creating a wordle with more significant words or topics having a more pronounced look on the page.  Think about the many applications Wordle can have in the classroom!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I give props to my sister for her Google+ invite which I gladly accepted. To be honest it is hard to tell if I feel any different after trying it. It almost feels like Google is trying to launch their own blended version of Facebook.  In fact after reading a number of articles, it seems that is exactly what Google+ is attempting (again). Google+ basically offers the following 9 features, the first 6 of which I've included with quotes taken from the Google+ help page:

1- Circles
Circles helps you organize everyone according to your real-life social connections--say, 'family,' 'work friends,' 'music buddies,' and 'alumni'. Then, you can share relevant content with the right people, and follow content posted by people you find interesting. 

2- Stream
The stream is the place to have meaningful conversations with the people you care about. It centralizes all the content people have shared with you, as well as the people who are trying to share with you, but who aren't yet in your circles. You might see text posts, pictures, videos, links, or location markers. When you share with people either individually or through a circle, your content will appear in their stream.

3- The Google+ Bar
The Google+ bar, which appears at the top of Google products, is your connection to Google+ new window. You canshare what’s on your mindview your Google+ notifications, access your profile, or jump to a variety of other Google products. For instance, to get to Google+, all you have to do is click +[your first name].

4- Hangouts

Hangouts are the best way for you to say, “I’m online and want to hangout!” Hangouts lets you:

  • Chill with friends that are scrolling through the web, just like you!
  • Use live video chat that puts you in the same room together!
  • Coordinate plans, whether it's working on a project or meeting up for coffee.
  • Maybe you’re bored. Start a hangout, invite your circles, see who’s around
5- Sparks
Sparks brings you stories on the things you love from all across the Web, so it's easy to strike up meaningful conversations with your friends.

6- +1's
Use the +1 button to publicly show what you like, agree with, or recommend on the web. 

7- Profiles

8- Chats

9- Photos

So of the 9 main features is there anything really earth shattering here? Video chat is nice to have, but I am sticking with Skype. Is Google+ truly a game changer? I think the jury is still out. Although you may feel differently, Facebook and Twitter still seem to be the game changers. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Edmodo Revisited

I have been spending a fair part of my summer creating my on-line learning platforms courtesy of Edmodo. Creating class folders, uploading materials, links, files, etc. I'll admit I was skeptical at the outset because at first glance Edmodo seemed to be more like a Facebook 'wanna-be' than authentic learning platform. I looked at other possibilities like Blackboard for more realistic choices. However the more I am delving into Edmodo the more I am appreciating how much students will benefit from it. I also like the mobile app Edmodo has rolled out. Although it feels raw and a little bumpy in its infant stages, the app makes it so easy for teachers to post assignments and notes to their students. I'm looking forward to see how the app is updated.
As I student I think I might have been extremely appreciative to have my class materials available to me around the clock. That being said the level of accountability has increased as well. Students won't be able to make excuses because all their coursework will be at their fingertips. The proverbial 'dog ate my homework' line has suddenly vanished!

Google Apps

I like Google documents (g-docs). The fact that I no longer need a flash drive or anything to worry about brings me peace of mind. How many times has this happened to you: You come to school prepared with a great lesson plan saved on your 8 gig (512kb?) flash drive. You stayed up for hours creating this one unit and then when it comes time to present your flash drive isn't working and you have to improvise.
The fact of the matter is that travel/flash/memory sticks will be obsolete in no time. Why you ask? Because with the advent of cloud computing coupled with powerful productivity applications like Wunderlist, DropboxEvernote, and beyond a person will almost always be prepared and ready to launch their lessons wherever a computer or smart phone is located- without removing anything from their pockets or around their necks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ISTE Video Review

Here is a link to the video I recently viewed of an ISTE session on podcasting and mobile media for teaching and learning. The presentation, led by 3 apple distinguished educators, was centered around the question of 'how does a teacher incorporate all these technology tools into meaningful learning?'

One of the first things I loved was right before they even presented any materials one of the speakers mentioned a 'back channel' on this site. The purpose was for attendees to offer feedback and questions in realtime on the web as the presenter was presenting. It may sound like a 'duh' moment to you but it was an 'aha' moment for me. I immediately set up my own back channel for one of my upcoming classes this fall.

The presentation itself was good. I think it one sense the presenters validated or helped me gauge where I am on the technology continuum. Most of the software or apps they showed I was familiar with (granted the presentation seemed to have an Apple bent to it) yet there were a few things that I was able to think about and realize how powerful and fun it would be to use in the classroom.

My favorite part was a clip they showed of a 2-year-old baby holding an iPad in his lap, and started navigating his iPad by swiping, scrolling, tapping, pressing, etc. It was really amazing to see how second nature it was the way this 2-year-old was navigating. He was painting a picture, inserting animals on the screen, scrolling to a part of an animated video to watch his favorite scene. The message was obvious as to where education is headed (if not there already) but still incredible to watch that baby do all these things on an iPad. One other takeaway was the ISTE 2011 app I had downloaded to my iPhone. Although I could not attend the convention this year the app was useful in networking with presenters and seeing the who's who of ed. tech.

There were some great lines as well like (and I will paraphrase) "everyone talks about 21st century learning and web 2.0, but we are already 11 years into the 21st century. We need to be thinking about web 3.0, what it will comprise and even be thinking of web 4.0" I really appreciated the visionary aspects of that quote and fully agree with the sentiment. I finished the video with lots of education thoughts and ideas bouncing around in my head and next steps questions. Time to share and discuss what I learned with my P.L.N.!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Second Life or Get a Life?

I was genuinely confused when I lived my Second Life for the first time. What is so intriguing about creating an avatar in a virtual world where a person can be themselves or pretend to be someone else? It actually sounded a little creepy. It was very overwhelmed gazing at the opening map of places/islands/cities/ etc. to venture to. I took a few minutes to read through the controls and the different options. I eventually picked something that aligned with my interests- the International Society for Technology in Education. When I entered the ISTE island the first thing I experienced was a sense of calm and relaxation. I saw a bunch of pine trees, some bridges and the what looked like the ocean in the background. The weather looked sunny and felt like it was in the low to mid 70′s (my guess…). I noticed a few people standing around (literally err virtually should I say?) and I tried to strike up a conversation but they seemed preoccupied and I didn’t want to bother them so I moved on. I realized I had the freedom to roam anywhere in the ISTE island, but I wanted to have a birds-eye view of the layout and venues so the first thing I did was hold down the function key (fn) and press the up arrow and started lifting straight up to get an aerial view of the island. From the air I some what looked like cabanas or huts and flew to them. When I set myself down (function key + down arrow) I saw the booths were for bloggers (‘bloggers hut’) and podcasters (podcasters place). I was impressed with the setup, layout and overall aesthetics of the rooms. Podcasters Place has all types of icons, images and even had a desk with laptop and all the podcasting equipment you need! Bloggers hut had links to blogs you could touch and then go to, a list of people blogging about ISTE, and areas to sit and ‘work.’ It was cool stepping out of huts and being able to go down to the ocean to relax. I felt like I was ‘sharpening the saw‘(as Stephen Covey would say of his 7th Habit of Highly Effective People) gazing at the sky and feeling a deep sense of calm. Afterwards I continued around the island before finally unplugging. When I unplugged I was beginning to understand how this ‘whole virtual world thing’ could be popular both from an educational perspective and a relaxation perspective. I felt relaxed from going to the ocean and yet also felt inspired to blog after reading some of the blogposts at bloggers hut!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Visual Learning Tools

For generation ‘X’ educators teaching students of the net generation, visual learning has a very different connotation. Granted visual learning has been around since the stone age. From caveman using sticks to draw pictures in the sand to good old-fashioned 20th century (21st century?) chalk and blackboard. But visual learning has changed. Wikipedia defines visual literacy in education as “a student’s ability to comprehend, make meaning of, and communicate through visual means, usually in the form of images or multimedia” The last word really help us understand the 21st Century understanding of visual literacy multimedia. Drawings and pictures are definitely one aspect to which sites such as and will testify. However the multimedia aspect really takes learning to the next level.
Multimedia really captures the attention of auditory or visual learners and is second nature to most students who have already embraced it outside the classroom. For formal educators multimedia tools can be incorporated into daily lessons, units and used as formative or summative assessments. When I use multimedia for assessments I try to differentiate the tools students use to align with their abilities. For example some students are artistic and like to draw comic cells or detailed picture scenes. other students like to produce, act and edit film. They have their choice. When engaging students through a multimedia platform educators should prep the students so they understand the goals of viewing the multimedia. My students know the multimedia I use is a means to the end-  The end being the student’s understanding and comprehension of the materials learned through the use of multimedia.
In terms of a specific multimedia for teachers, I can’t stress how effective YouTube is for my classes. After pre-screening and approving of them, YouTube clips are a great way to captivate students and help them really grasp the essential question(s) posed. I recently created a smartboard presentation with the goal of students understanding the importance of border placements among countries. The lesson began with a link I had embedded to a clip discussing border placements in the Middle East (Israel’s borders in particular). I then played YouTube clips showing footage of different cities living on/near borders and how they were affected by borders being redistributed. The videos helped students to wrestle with and grasp the concepts of how border placements affect people, economies, etc. in the 21st Century- Words alone would not have produced the same impact.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Soical Networking in Education

When first hearing of it some people have difficulty appreciating how social networking platforms can be used in more ways than posting you just ‘brushed your teeth with new whitener’ or ‘ going to DSW to get some new uggs’. For business people social networking are powerful marketing and connecting vehicles. In the education world social networking can be summed up in two-words: Think-Tank.

For educators social networking is like being inside a giant global think-tank. You have educators you can learn from and share with and always leave conversations or reading posts with ideas bouncing around in your mind. The ability to connect with other professional educators (and yes it does take time to sift through the ‘personalities’ one comes across while building a viable, solid personal learning network) in the same or similar field leaves you with a very empowering feeling. Social networking platforms let educators share and exchange a wellspring of knowledge be it through videos or links to other websites or online materials. I will come across a new tool or idea or website someone suggests and if it is something that fits my needs I will save, mail or bookmark it for later. Educators should consider sites such as, and to get started in social networking.

For students social networking plays a major role in their lives outside of school. Incorporating social network platforms such as Edmodo in the classroom can positively affect how students think relate and interact with each other in platform with which they are already accustomed. Platforms like Edmodo have strict privacy and filter settings to help ensure the safety and security for the students and school. When taught properly, students also learn digital citizenship and proper etiquette which will hopefully impact their decision-making on social networks outside the classroom as well. Students enjoy the feeling of connectedness and having their voice heard by their peers through their writing or video posts. With the future of education going digital (Florida Dept. of Education will be mandating its’ public schools go completely digital in the classroom, textbooks and all, by 2015) using social networking platforms in the classroom may seem bold right now but will eventually be the norm for schools.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wordle Works

Wordle: Matisyahu's One Day

I created this picture on Wordle, an amazing site that takes words from poems, stories, lyrics, etc. and creates a word collage (or wordle). Check out the wordle I created using the lyrics from Matisyahu's hit song "One Day" featured in NBC's 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics commercials!
Can you think of one way wordle can be integrated into education? 

Nintendo Can Improve Education?

The other day while researching the cost of IWB's (interactive white boards) I came across this video. I was floored at how Johnny Lee, then a graduate student, and currently employed at google, created his own IWB from scratch in a highly cost effective manner. Advances in technology are truly amazing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Using Technology Properly and Effectively

Although this clip pokes fun (no pun intended) at what people feel comfortable divulging on the Internet (the term TMI- 'too much information' comes to mind!) the reality is different people use social medial/communication vehicles like Facebook and Twitter and etc. for different purposes. 

Twitter, for one, can be a very powerful professional development tool for educators. A few hours ago I read this article entitled '10 ways for teachers to collaborate.' Although these 10 suggestions are subjective as every school operates differently, there was one suggestion which I feel can be used universally by any teacher no matter how busy and I quote:
"9. Establish an online PLN. 
Use social media to connect and collaborate with educators anywhere, any time. Get the most out of Twitter. Ask someone to help you get started on building an online network..." 

Building a personal learning network on Twitter for example takes minimal time to establish, some time to maintain, and has all the time in the world for you to access at your leisure. 

For example, while waiting in line at a supermarket checkout aisle as the person in front of me disputes the price of an item with the cashier, I access the Twitter app on my iPhone, immerse myself in a conversation on best classroom management practices in the classroom with another educator across the country while checking out a link on how a tubric (rubric in a tube shape) can elevate a student's focus on the essential question of a particular unit or lesson. In fact, that is pretty much what happened last week. 

Bottom line- because of my PLN I was able to spend 10 minutes furthering my education- in a checkout line at the grocery store. Think about it. And feel free to ask me to help get you started on building your online network.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Project Based Learning Explained

I saw this video circulating on my personal learning network and wanted to share it with you. How would you integrate project based learning in schools? Is it a vehicle which students can use to learn an ongoing unit or is PBL a paradigm shift to the extent that brand new curriculum must be created?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Twitter?

Although Twitter has been available to the general public since 2006 I just started using it this year.  Twitter is a powerful social and networking tool. In the months since I began tweeting I have used Twitter primarily for educational purposes. I began by reading tweets from other educational professionals both in general and  Jewish educational fields and starting following some of them. The more tweets I read the more I understood how they could be incorporated into educational settings. Whether it was a link to a video I could use as a trigger clip to a lesson plan, to someone’s philosophies or personal mission statements on education, they always left me thinking how I could refine and enhance my skills as an educator.
I created my own education #hashtag list (#edtech, #jed21 and #jewished for example) and started partaking in a few Twitter ‘chats’ on education or education technology.. As you probably know by now you are limited to 140 characters per tweet so one’s words must be straight to the point. Whenever I sat at my computer I would be sure to have my twitter feed open so I read and saw what people were sharing. I liked connecting with educators spanning the country, in real-time, in laser focused conversations.
There is definitely a feeling of being connected to other educators on Twitter which continually provides a support system and reenforce the importance of being an educator. You feel like you are constantly engaged in a professional development arena with people of similar interests who want you to be successful too. That being said, I am still trying to get a handle (pun intended) discerning which people tweet for genuine or self-serving purposes.
Having experienced this feeling of continual learning, I am now at a point where I speak to other educators and persuade them to try Twitter. For some educators microblogging is such a paradigm shift and so out of their comfort zone that they do not want to even begin learning about it. For other educators, the feeling of connectedness and continual support outweighs the fear of the unknown and they take the leap. And although microblogging can be intimidating and leave you feeling overwhelmed at first, over a few months you slowly begin to understand why over two hundred million people are tweeting too. Not too long after that you will start asking why there are only two hundred million people tweeting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Twitter and PLN's

This past week I partook in a weekly educators chat on twitter. The main discussion focused on how to exemplify leadership, and after a few minutes many educators were using the term GTY (greater than yourself) as a component of leadership. A broad variety of examples were given to explain the concept of being GTY, from staying up late at night putting on the finishing touches of a lesson plan to empowering others to be change agents in their schools. It really was a great discussion. The next day I was still chewing on the GTY concept and wanted to discuss it with my colleagues. During one break I visited one of the educators lounges and started recapping my twitter chat from the night before. There were five educators in the room and all five had zero clue what twitter was. I took out my iPhone, pressed the twitter app, and demonstrated how I use twitter as part of my personal learning network. After sharing some of my methods one of the educators (not a 'newbie' mind you!- one with some years of teaching experience) had a look of bewilderment and starting asking me lots of twitter and personal learning network questions. I tried to answer/explain as much as I could in the two minutes I had left and as I was leaving the educator said to me "For a while I have been debating whether to switch to a smartphone but I never had a good enough reason. I think our conversation on personal learning networks gave me enough conviction to take the plunge. Thank you."


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Making a Difference

I saw the above video on The Educator's PLN and thought it could be a great trigger clip for student leadership. How would you use it?

Survey: Educators lack training to teach online safety -

I have been reading literature discussing ways to instill within kids/teens the tools they need to be safe when online. Consider the following findings from a recent survey on teaching online safety in the classroom: "79% of teachers said parents should be primarily responsible for teaching their children about cybersecurity, compared with 60% of administrators and 45% of tech coordinators." "55% of teachers "strongly agree" that online safety should be covered in the curriculum, compared with 82% of administrators and 85% of technology coordinators."
What do we learn from the teacher perspectives? On the surface it seems right that about 8 out of 10 teachers feel it is primarily a parents responsibility to teach online safety- A math or history teacher would wonder "where do I carve out time in the curriculum to teach online safety/digital citizenship?"
Yet at the same time 5.5 out of 10 teachers think that online safety should be covered in the curriculum (perhaps not within their own subject areas...)
So what is the right approach towards teaching online safety? Should curriculum be redesigned in a way that weaves online safety into its fabric? According to the survey findings for every 10 teachers only 2 would embrace this change. Should there be a separate class on online safety/digital citizenship as some public and private schools are currently doing? That approach can create, among other challenges, budgetary and time constraints.
Can their be a happy medium? Does a scenario where administrators factor in enough budgeted professional development time allowing technology coordinators to effectively educate teachers to the point where teachers can easily weave online safety into their curriculum (deep breath) sound plausible?   What do you think? What is realistic to you? Is it a 'cop out' to scrap everything and say the onus should fall primarily on the parents shoulders- or do parents need to step it up in the digital age?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PLN's Revisited

I have discussed PLN's in the past and will continue to bring them up as they are an integral lifeline for educators in the 21st century. If you want to understand the value of a PLN, have started venturing into the world of PLN's or just feel overwhelmed and want to hit the PLN reset button, check out this short clip which may help puts things into perspective.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Should students use their own mobile devices in the classroom? - Related Stories - ASCD SmartBrief

For years researchers, futurists and technology gurus have asked how can schools can integrate technology in the classroom? With each passing month students are buying or being gifted iPads, iPhones, smartphones and other mobile technologies.  With the ever-increasing popularity and affordability of these devices it is no surprise to hear updated questions such as "can mobile devices enhance learning in the classroom." I came across this link on my personal learning network and wanted to share it with you.  What are your thoughts on students using their phones in class for learning? What are the pros and cons? Is this question subjective or objective (does it depend on the student or teacher or could they be effectively integrated in every class all the time? Will this entire discussion be rendered obsolete with in a few years (or months) as technology progresses to a point where everyone in our society is constantly wired in?
Looking at the big picture, I am a big proponent of technology in the classroom. I think incorporating cell phones into a unit, theme, or lesson plan can change how students perceive learning in the classroom. However I also believe that for any technology to be effective in the classroom there must be an effective educator, one who is 'green and growing' and not 'ripe and rotten.' When an educator strives to be a transformative learner then he or she will have a higher success rate incorporating technology in education to ultimately create an environment of authentic student learning.