Category Archives: Ed Tech

Insanely Great?

Torah Studies with the iPad is “insanely great” because…

Can you complete the sentence? I keep thinking about this and still do not know the answer. Sure, there are advantages to having an all-around tool that can be used to take pictures, record, and take notes, but those will enhance any classroom. I wanted to know if there is anything that specifically makes the Chumash or Gemara easier for the students to learn

Recently, I bumped into a colleague from another school and inquired how the school year was going. Last year, his school piloted a 1:1 iPad program that has been touted as a highly successful model to follow. My friend has a reputation as being one of the teachers who embraced this technology and is an innovator in classroom integration. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity to ask him just how the iPads improved the learning in his Torah Studies Elementary school classroom.

He said that he uses the iPad’s every day in class. His classroom is a paperless classroom. All worksheets are done on the iPad.

“Is that better?”, I asked.

He hemmed and hawed. “Well I guess they can’t lose their papers, but otherwise it is nothing special.” He went on to explain that a lot of what he does is shtick that keeps the interest of the students, but there was nothing that made the Chumash learning better.

We continued our discussion and he expressed his frustration that though there may be certain advantages to having iPads in a classroom, there is nothing that he does on the iPad that is “insanely great” for Torah Studies, in particular. Of course, we could go back and forth and discuss the ways of creating presentations to show knowledge of the materials learned or having the students create a stop motion video to display their knowledge of the perek. But what do you use to actually help them learn the Chumash better?

Perhaps one might argue that any technology by definition does not advance the learning. Chumash and Gemara are age old materials that are not meant to be learned with new technologies. They are supposed to be learned only with a sefer and being taught the materials orally by a Rebbi or Morah. This is how they are meant to be learned. Anything else is not pure Torah and only detracts form the lesson.

According to this argument, Torah Studies teachers should not use whiteboards because that is not pure, undiluted Torah Study. They should not use index cards. It is not pure undiluted Torah study. They should not use lights. That is not pure undiluted Torah study. The only proper way to study Torah is by candlelight in a dark room.

That is obviously not the case. Torah Studies teachers are quick to innovate. They are excited about new methods and and ideas…but only when they advance the lesson. Chumash and Gemara are multifaceted materials that require an understanding at many levels to gain true mastery over the materials. Those teaching Torah Studies are constantly looking for ways to help the students understand the materials at a deeper level. Just how do you break apart a word in Chumash? Can you decipher the possuk independently? Why does the Torah use that specific word? Can you figure out what was bothering Rashi on the possuk? Those are examples of some of the skills that the students need to successfully learn Chumash on their own. Is there a way to use an iPad to give over these skills? I am still looking.

In my classroom, I use an interactive whiteboard. I enjoy being able to manipulate the words on the board and show the students how to properly conjugate the words of the pessukim. (Of course, it is possible that the iPad will soon replace IWBs because of their prevalence of apps such as Notability.) Lately, I have also been using an Elmo document camera. I love being able to put my Chumash or worksheets under the camera and zoom in. I can write on the paper or on the board. I can mark up my Chumash and show the students how I am understanding the materials. These are examples of two tech tools that will enhance the student’s understanding of the Chumash or Gemara. Both are practical advances that make the learning better. I fail to understand how using Storyrobe or Puppet Pals will make the students understand better. These are great tools for assessing understanding after the students have already learned the materials.

People often get excited about the next great idea. It is easy to fall into the trap of being caught in the moment and losing sight of the bigger picture. Each time we introduce a new piece of technology, we need to ask ourselves if this is getting us closer to our teaching goals. First, we need to define our objectives. What do we want the students to walk away with? In Torah Studies the goal is often that they should be able to learn on their own, unaided. If so, we need to think carefully before we introduce a new app into the class. Is this on the road map to helping them achieve that goal? Too often we try to fit the Torah learning into the new technology. We lose sight of our objective and drift off course. It is great that the students can tweet the story of Avraham bring Yitzchok to the Akeida.

@Yitzchok There is a reason we didn’t bring a sheep #readytobeakorban

@Avraham tie me down so I don’t flinch #nervous

DM @Avraham @Avraham Don’t touch the boy #justatest

But does that advance their understanding of the Chumash? Does it bring them the skills and knowledge necessary to open up a Chumash on their own? I would argue that it only shows that they understand the story line. Sure, you can ask them a deeper question that they need to think about and have them discuss it on a VoiceThread. Perhaps that works for High School. You can put everyone online and have a collaborative discussion. In Elementary school where the goal is skill building, it is hard to make the argument that the iPad is “insanely great”. It is definitely a nice tool to have in the class, but it is not the amazing tool that it can be in the Secular Studies classroom.

Just to clarify – added 4/21/13

I am not saying that there is no purpose for an iPad in a Torah Studies classroom. You can still use it for all the amazing things that you can use it for in a Secular Studies classroom. I am just saying that right now there do not appear to be many apps or tools that will enhance a Chumash or Gemara lesson and make it easier for the students to understand the content.

In addition, I had small idea for a use that I think does have a purpose. I have been using an Elmo document camera to project the actual page of Chumash on the board. I love that I can write on the board or I can write on my Chumash. Very often I have the students come up and mark up my Chumash. The annoying part of everything is if I write the comments on the board with a marker and the chumash moves slightly – all the answers on the board are suddenly in the wrong place. If I mark up the actual Chumash, then they are always in the same place, but there is no room for mistakes. Last week on of my second graders put quotation marks on the bottom of the words in the same place you would put a period or comma. Also, there is the distraction in class taken when you need to turn the page and line up the new page and make sure that it is perfectly situated on the board.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to take a picture of the page of Chumash with the iPad and project that on the board using one of the many whiteboard apps. Then you can mark it up as you desire. You have the ability to erase and nothing will move. You can put the iPad on anybody’s desk and let them put answers on the page. That seems to be better than what I am doing now.

I welcome your comments and thoughts.

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Blogging: More Than Just Writing

I once had the opportunity to go personally to a talk by Tammy Worcester and chose instead to go to a different session. Tammy is a popular presenter at and the author of over a dozen books on Educational Technology. Her website, Tammy’s Technology Tips for Teachers is a great destination for teachers who are looking for a Web 2.0 trick to spice up their classroom. At the time, I had not heard of her and chose to go to a different session that I imagined would be more worthwhile. A colleague went to Tammy’s session and came back so excited about the different web tools that were demonstrated. I remember being so frustrated at missing something that was so good.

Recently, my assignment for my Ed Tech course was to watch one of the available videos from ISTE 2011. You can imagine my excitement when I saw that one of the videos available was a presentation by Tammy Worcester. Her topic, Go Digital, focused on the myriad of ways that a blog can enhance a classroom. Her presentation was engaging and the topic was fascinating. Here is the link to her presentation: http://www.isteconference.org/ISTE/2011/program/search_results_details.php?sessionid=60706747&selection_id=82647615&rownumber=18&max=54&gopage=15

Tammy showed many nonconventional ways to post to a blog. I didn’t know I could post from an email. You write the post and email it to an address that is known only to you and it posts automatically. Many schools block Blogger and WordPress and suddenly you have a way to post even though the blog is not accessible.

She also spent a lot of time showing how you can embed any web 2.0 tool that had the option to give you HTML code. If you have a YouTube video or Google document, it is very easy to embed them in the blog. Just copy the HTML code and when you post to the blog you click on the tab to add HTML and whatever you created on that website is automatically stored on the blog. For example I am putting in the HTML code of a YouTube video that I created:

For the same price I can embed a Google doc in my blog. The neat thing about embeding a document form Google is that when you edit the document on Google Drive, the newly edited version will appear on you blog. Imagine if you would embed a Google spreadsheet that is linked to a Google form. You can ask a question on the form and email it to the students and then have the results show up on an organized spreadsheet. Here is a sample form I created. Feel free to put in a fake name. After you submit the form, look below and see the spreadsheet that automatically recorded your answer. (You might need to refresh your page.)

Fill out the form.

And here is the spreadsheet.

Imagine that you have the students do this at night for homework.

Tammy stressed that you can put any embeddable page into your blog and then they will automatically update as those websites get updated. You can have a dynamic changing blog that does not rely on you to publish new information.

What would you embed into your blog. Please comment below with your ideas.

The Wiki and the Dodo

Several years ago, a colleague showed me how he uses a Wiki in his class. I remember being impressed with the collaboration between the teacher and the students, as well as the interactions between the students themselves. It was technology at its best. Being used to enhance the learning. The students gained and the teacher gained. It appeared to be a powerful, well thought out use of technology. I even set one up, but never ended up using it live.

If you’ve read my blogs, you know that I am taking an educational technology course. Each week we’ve been working on a different Web 2.0 tool and learning how to use them in an organized manner. This week we revisited Wikis. I started to think of the Wikis that I use regularly. There is Wikipedia. Then there are … um… I think I bought a Bluetooth once and the help page was on a Wiki. So I started to look online for popular Wikis. There are definitely some that do pop up on a Google search. But many of them are old and out of date. I saw Wikis that were not updated in since 2010!! I googled “Best Educational Wikis of 2012 and the list was surprisingly sparse. Of course there were some. When I browsed through them I found that although many were well done, they often reflected the work of an individual rather then celebrating the collaborative nature of a Wiki. A sort of personal website.

The truth is that many of the reasons to create a wiki are outdated. Wikis were touted because of their collaborative nature, their ease of use, and change tracking. There are newer, more effective ways to do that. Google Docs comes immediately to mind. I can create a document that people can edit and add to and track changes through my Google account. What am I gaining by creating a Wiki? The ease of use of a Google Doc is at least as easy, if not easier than the editing tools available on a Wiki. Plus, I can embed my Doc into any website for public viewing. If it is collaboration through discussion that I am hoping to get, there is Facebook and Twitter. I can get instant feedback to whatever I want to know. If my goal is just to get my point out, then a blog or website is the way to go. In class, I would much rather used a closed social network such as Edmodo than to assign them a page in a Wiki. I am hard pressed to come up with a specific situation where I would want to use a Wiki at all.

I am sure you are wondering how I am going to answer Wikipedia and similar sites. I would claim that those were created when Wikis were the best tool. They achieved global recognition and are now firmly planted there as a sort of status quo. I would be surprised if a new wiki popped up and gained popularity to the levels of a Wikipedia.

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think. Am I missing the boat on this one? Is there still a place for wikis or is it going the way of the dodo? Are there other popular tools that will not be around much longer? I would love to hear what you think.

Tech Is Not A Substitute For Teaching

I had the opportunity last week to go to an iPad Boot Camp given by Sam Gliksman. Sam runs the popular iPads in Education Ning (http://ipadeducators.ning.com/) and recently published iPads Apps for Education for Dummies (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118375386/?tag=wwwwileycom-20). He gave a fascinating class about effectively using the plethora of different iPad apps to facilitate the classroom learning. He spent a lot of time showing different ways that the students could create content and show their understanding of the materials.

It was eye opening to see the powerful apps that can be utilized on the iPad. He modeled checking for understanding by having the students create a book and then emailing it to the teacher’s Evernote homework notebook. We learned how to connect our iPads to our computers and use them as a substitute for an IWB . He showed us different strategies in Socrative to encourage active participation. He amazed us when he asked us to input three adjectives to describe a character in a story and used Wordle to make a word cloud out of our answers. The tools that are available are out of this world. If properly used, they can change your classroom. They not only add a visual perspective to the learning, but they also allow the students to manipulate the data and experience the learning hands on.

We sat entranced as we pondered the technological wonders we could incorporate into our classrooms. We now have a device that could motivate our students to want to learn. We would no longer need to discipline and we wouldn’t need to work as hard. The learning would just magically happen…

Then he said it….Technology is not out to replace good teaching. Nothing is magic. A good teacher uses any tool at their disposal to ensure that the students are learning. The iPad is just another tool, albeit a versatile one. Its purpose is not to replace good, solid teaching. It was quite obvious from Sam Gliksman presentation that he viewed the iPad as a tool. It is just a means to the end and not the end itself.The apps were to encourage the students to think. He viewed the iPad as a tool to help us step away from the teacher centered classroom and glide into the role of the teacher as the facilitator. It is proven the retention rate is higher for students who have the opportunity to learn the materials on their own. We are letting the students down if we think it is enough to let them memorize verbatim. They need to be trained to think on their own. They need to acquire the ability to analyze a situation and think through a solution.

The same holds true for any visual learning tool. The web offers thousands of tools that can add flavor to your lessons and pizzazz to your delivery. Many of them can be utilized to help the students understand using real life data and hands on experience. Using them effectively can be invaluable for your students. The key is to use them effectively and not fall prey to the desire to use them because they exist.

It is important to think through each aspect of every lesson you give over to your students. What is the best way to get them to learn. Is it to create an online presentation and collaborate with their fellow classmate or is it to sit down with a pencil and paper and work it out the old fashion way? You need to decide your learning goal and then figure out the best way to get there. If the answer is using paper and pencil, then encourage them to use paper and pencil. If the best way is to post to a wiki, then they post to wiki. Don’t be afraid that you are selling your students short by not using the technology. You are selling your students short by not giving them the best opportunity to learn.