Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed: Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.
The world depends on three things: on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds. - Pirkei Avot 1:2
V'shinantam is divided into three sections. Torah contains thoughts and ideas for us as teachers to help support and elevate us in our holy work. Avodah will be teaching ideas and suggestions to use in our classrooms. G'milut Chasadim contains information about a specific mitzvah and suggests opportunities to involve our students and us in the work of helping others, in and out of the classroom.
Each teacher has varying comfort with different subject matter as well as different teaching tools. A challenge for many teachers is how to integrate technology into the classroom.
Today the term "technology" often means computers and the Internet. Ten years ago, "technology" may have meant a bulky video camera or a VHS or BetaMax videotape recorder. In looking at the use of technology in the classroom, an educational technologist uses the broadest definition of technology. Technology is any instrument or tool that can be used to assist a person in teaching a lesson. Technology can be anything from a pencil and a piece of paper to the electronic superhighway.
How do you decide which technologies to use in the classroom?
According to theories of educational technology, before a technology's use can be justified it must meet certain criteria. The technology must be:
Accessible to the teacher
Beneficial and enhancing to the lesson
Demonstrating something that cannot be done in a less complex way
Easy to use
Rachel enters her classroom pushing a cart full of computer equipment on loan from a congregant. She is anxious. She had decided to teach the holiday of Chanukah using electronic presentation software. Her son helped her prepare the presentation. It has animated graphics and sounds and uses all the most advanced features of the software. She smiles at her class and turns on the machine and...nothing. Nothing happens at all. She had skipped one major step -- she never learned how to use the equipment. Rachel stops, takes a deep breath and teaches the story of the Hasmonean victory using role-playing techniques.
In this story, Rachel may have been using equipment that was easy for some to use, but not equipment that was easy for her to use. The mistake of many teachers trying to integrate technology into their teaching for the first time is to think too big and too advanced for their own comfort and knowledge level. This technology does not fit the criteria because certain aspects of it were not accessible to the teacher, and as we saw when Rachel used storytelling and role-playing techniques, another less-complex tool achieved the same results.
Joseph, a teacher in a Jewish school, had a college professor who was an expert in Middle Eastern Archeology. The professor is currently on a dig in Israel at a Biblical site. The place where the professor is researching fits into the lesson that Joseph's students are studying. Joseph contacts his professor and is able to arrange for the professor to broadcast live to Joseph's class via Webcam. Joseph and his professor even arrange for students to participate in a live chat via an instant messaging service. The students will be able to interview the professor from the site of the dig.
Here, students are exposed to places, information, and experts that they would not encounter in the classroom if the Webcam and instant messaging technologies were not used. Since these experiences will help to establish the physical context and immediacy of the lesson Joseph is teaching, there is a definite purpose to the technology being used. In this case, the technology Joseph chose fits the criteria for an appropriate use of technology in the classroom.
Try using the criteria above to determine appropriate places and times to integrate technology into your classroom, as well as identify areas in which you would like to learn and become familiar with new technological tools.
Using the Internet in a Jewish Supplementary School Classroom The Internet can be used for interpersonal exchange, information gathering, and problem solving. Below are some ideas you may want to incorporate in your classrooms.
Communication - Collect the email addresses of your students and their parents. Regular letters home may be sent through email with reminders of upcoming activities and homework assignments. Make sure that when communicating with younger students about homework, projects or positive feedback via email, you copy a parent. You may find it beneficial to share information with parents via the Internet such as notices of programs and opportunities to volunteer in the classroom. Just a word of caution -- don't make contact with parents about behavior or other problems via e-mail; use the phone or a face-to-face meeting.
Question-and-Answer Activities - In this very simple activity a class or student sends an email (or completes a form if an organization is sponsoring a site that asks a question). There are several "Ask the Rabbi" sites online, including on the URJ Web Site.
E-mail and E-pals (sometimes called "keypals") - Email can enhance teacher-student communication as well as student-student communication. IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a real-time chat method (like AOL Instant Messenger). Students in different locations (or even in the same classroom) can share information electronically or work on a common goal. There are numerous online sites in existence to which teachers can add their students. Or, congregations might cooperate to create their own system.
Impersonations - In these projects students and respondents (these may be students or professionals) pretend that they are somebody else. They answer questions and ask them in character. The experience resembles role-playing activities.
Electronic Appearances - Students meet special guests/famous experts online, either using real-time discussion (like IRC) or audio/video conferencing. Or, students may send email to a special guest who responds within a given timeframe.
Telementoring - This technique is similar to the one above, but is structured as a long-term relationship instead of a one-time visit. In this case an expert in a field may mentor a class studying their specific topic, sharing resources, projects, and other information.
Global Classrooms - Here two or more classes studying the same material get together to continue discussing a classroom topic. This may be in real-time as just a general discussion, but more often it is an ongoing project where the classes learn the same material, meet virtually, and work together towards a common goal, like creating an online diagram of the Second Temple or discussing what life may have been like in the Yishuv.
Virtual Jewish Field Trips - sometimes called "tele-field trips." Students can visit museums, such as the Anne Frank House in Holland, the Jerusalem Temple tunnel tour in Israel, or Reform synagogues, like Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, the first American Reform synagogue. Students can even create their own online field trip for others to take. Following a real field trip, students may also post their reflections and what they learned online for others to read.
Information Searches - Usually structured as a short-term, competitive activity, students receive clues to solve a problem. They must use both online or offline resources to answer questions. The student to answer the most questions correctly wins.
Webquests - This term refers to focused Internet projects, where students use guided questions to search the Web for information and create a final project. Learn more and see examples at www.webquest.sdsu.edu/webquest.html.
For more information about some of the above activities as well as how to meet challenges of integrating technology, click on the Auerbach CAJE of Greater Philadelphia Web site. This article, Using the Internet in the Jewish Supplementary Religious School, provides specific sites and ideas, as well as a selected bibliography for Jewish teachers wanting to know more about using the Internet.
Present and review the situation in Eretz Israel in the period of the Maccabees, with special emphasis on the confrontation between Hellenism and Judaism, and on the war of the many against the few. Analyze the problem of assimilation and its implications in the contemporary Jewish context.
For ethics and values clarification exercises, visit the PBS Web site. Begin the discussion with this trigger film and lead into a discussion guided by Jewish values.
This Web site from the National Middle School Association helps parents become Web-savvy, a helpful tool for keeping parents up to speed as you integrate more technology into your classroom.
Let us learn in order to teach; Let us learn in order to do. -Gates of Prayer
Below find resources for your own learning and lesson preparation.
On the Internet
Click on the URJ Web site for resources for Jewish Education. The resources page for Youth and for Learning have a wealth of links to online resources which have been used by your colleagues in the field of Jewish education.
Take a course online at www.e-learning.urj.org. Courses include: Teaching and Learning: An Online Course for New Teachers; Mentoring Jewish Educators: An Interactive Online Class in Eight Sessions; Reform Judaism for Teachers; Rashi of CHAI and a course for Madrichim (teacher assistants).
Southern Indiana Education Center has a presentation on integrating technology into the classroom by teachers who've had success in their secular kindergarten classroom.
See this Web site for CD Rom and Jewish software reviews, free Jewish wallpapers and graphics, and tools to create your own Hebrew calendar.
This V'Shinantam written by Irene Bolton. Special thanks to Renee Rittner for collaborating on this issue and sharing her knowledge and talent with us all. Renee recommends a book titled Virtual Architecture: Designing and Directing Curriculum-Based Telecomputing by Judi Harris (International Society for Technology in Education, OK: 1998). Find out more about ISTE by visiting their Web site. The Web site, Virtual Architecture, is designed to support the use of the book.