22 August 2011

Reflexions on becoming a 21st century supplemental Jewish school

"We can no longer stand at the end of something we visualized in detail and plan

backwards from that future. Instead we must stand at the beginning, clear in our mind, with a willingness to be involved in discovery... it asks that we participate rather than plan"

Margaret Wheatley and Kellner -Rogers.

In an recent article by Terry Kaye called: The Great Divide: Technology at Home and in the Supplementary School from Behrman House, she shares the results of a recent survey made by an independent market research firm. This survey centralized on the needs of Jewish Families: "Nearly 90% of Jewish families have high-speed Internet access at home, 99% of their children have access to at least a shared computer, and 77% of families use the Internet as an educational resource “very often.” Yet well under half of the children enrolled in Jewish supplementary schools have access to technology tools there". Those of us working in Jewish education, know that all the findings in this survey are absolutely true. Please read the rest of this interesting article at: EdJewTopia.

How to shorten the bridge between the use of technology at home and at Hebrew and Sunday school? Any answer involves a big change in the school's culture. It also requires an increase funding allocation for new resources and training. But mainly, it requires the desire to change, a will to re-learn and lastly, lots and lots of patience.

I wanted to share with you some highlights on how our Religious and Sunday School had given its first steps towards a new experiential style of learning and teaching.

For some of you, my post may not relevant information since you probably are far away up on your own journey but for those of you who are still struggling in giving your first steps, I hope you find this post of some help.

I've been the Technology and Jewish Education Resources Coordinator at
The Bernard  Alice Selevan Religious School (at The Jacksonville Jewish Center) and for the past three years I have been working hard in introducing teachers and students to 21st century technology and new Jewish education resources. The process has not been easy since we had to face and overcome  multiple challenges.
However, thinking of the easiest way to start transitioning into more technology friendly ways, my school principal, Lois Tompkins and I got together and designed a very simple plan of action:

1) Pre-planning

Teachers will contact me in any preferred format (in person, by phone, by e-mail etc) and shared with me their goals and objectives for their class at least one week in advance. Then we exchanged information on suitable web and computer resources that could enhance their lesson plan. Teaching time assigned for that lesson was the key factor in selecting and matching the right resources.

2) Reality hits hard!

When you work at a Religious or Sunday school, you know how limited teaching time we have. Dedicating specific time for teachers and students to utilize suitable technology as part of their regular time schedule was definitely very challenging.  The fact that we did not have computer savvy teachers and non existing time left for teacher training gave us not choice but to centralize our use of technology resources to the computer lab. But, as we found out, the computer lab had its own limitations, such as out of date equipment and software. I often used my personal laptop (connected to a smart board) to allow showing students different multimedia resources.

 3) Computer Lab scheduling
visits to the computer lab was required in order to take advantage of every precious minute. Lois will schedule each class visits on our yearly calendar. Each class was 45min. long and it will be divided as follows:  10 min. subject introduction/teaching (by the teacher or myself), 10 minutes of multimedia follow up support (videos, Power Point and interactive virtual tours just to mention a few) and then 25 min. of  computer student work (such as Hebrew practice, games, digital art, research time etc). Some times we would dedicate the full class time to watch a special web event or watch movie excerpts. There was very few time dedicated to teaching new technology to students so most of the projects  that required learning  new software or technology had to be done on a very brief way and students continue working at home.

4) Resources
Throughout the years we became acquainted with a great amount and high quality Jewish education resources. This has become one of my favorite part of doing this job. I am always on the look for new and high quality Jewish educational programs, websites and tools. I had selected many of the resources that had worked out for our specific needs. They will soon be posted and available on a website. Some of our favorite resources had been: virtual tours to Jewish and art museums websites, virtual tours to Israel archaeological parks. One of the students favorite had been the virtual Western Wall tunnels.
One of my favorite resources website is Berhman House.  Students were also able to attend virtual life events directly from Israel, such as the Israel's independence day ceremony.

4) Art and Technology

I am a big advocate of technology and art integration in Jewish education. This is why during the last 3 years I had worked with teachers in finding different and easy ways of integrate both in their lesson plans. Again, our limited time and resources, did not allow students and teachers to get independently involved in popular but time consuming activities such as pod-casting, story boarding and movie production.
5) Think big but do small
How? By making micro-projects. These are basically projects done with in 2 to 3 class periods (depending on the student's attendance to school.

This projects do required an excellent coordination and collaboration between the teacher, students and computer lab. The first stage of the project includes:

 a) A subject be taught and completed in the classroom

 b) Student's assignment or research completed and proofread by their teacher.

 c) Students working on a familiar web or multimedia format in order to maximize production time.

Ideally, each grade teacher should be involved on the post-production stages and assume the follow through the final stage of posting and sharing the student's work.
It always works best to find a format that students are already familiar with. We use both software and on line programs for student's work creation. One of the most popular digital media creator software are Pixie and Media blender from Tech4learning.

Vuvox is an easy beautiful on line sideshow program and students love it.

I am featuring one of last year's creations called "The Story of Esther" put together by a team of middle school girl students.
This work was done when learning about Purim. Students needed to create an imaginary interview with some of the Purim story characters.

4) Featuring students work

 I am glad to say that we've opened our school's Facebook page and the positive respond by parents had been overwhelming! Sharing student's works through e-mail and monthly school's newsletters is already part of the past. We are now posting the wonderful creation made by our students right at our Facebook page.

5) Facebook and teachers Oy Vei!

Talking about Facebook and teachers, this has been one of our school's most challenging milestones yet. It has been a slow process, but Lois is really doing a great job in helping everyone to get on board. It is a big step for many teachers just to even have an e-mail account nevertheless to interact on a virtual world. We need to assure teachers that Facebook or any other social platform are just tools. These tools will represent nothing with out the teacher's knowledge and teaching experience.

What lays ahead

The 2011 school year is about to start, and with it, lots of new and exciting things are happening.
It took us almost three years to introduce teachers and students to wonderful new ways of teaching and learning.
We now have a blog, and soon our teachers will be blogging about their classroom happenings! This summer, our school principal starting blogging and using Twitter (and by the way she is great at it).
We are hopeful that one day, teachers could have their own "school laptops" and other technology tools to facilitate our own technology grow as Jewish educators living and teaching in the 21st century. We also wish that we could network with other Religious and Sunday schools to learn from each other and collaborate in mutual projects.
We still have a long way to go but we are definitely moving on the right direction.


Lois said...

Well done, Nomy! Thank you for identifying and clarifying exactly what we are trying to do.

Kim said...

It's great that you have access to these tech4learning tools and computer lab to benefit the students. I am glad it's being used for more and more students.