Tag Archives: Chumash

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.


Throw Out That Translation Packet

“What does the word mean?”

“I don’t know?” replies your child.

“Weren’t you in class?”

You are frustrated. For homework, your son was supposed to review and summarize three pessukim and he doesn’t know them. You are having a hard time figuring out if he was even anywhere near the classroom when the Rebbi taught the Chumash. You start looking through the house. Perhaps you still have the teitch packet that the Rebbi sent home on the first day of the year. It takes twenty minutes to find the crumpled up packet under your son’s bed. Can there be a better homework solution?

I wish to propose a different solution, but first let me digress. Last summer was the Siyum Hashas in Metlife Arena. It was a life altering experience for many people there…including me. By learning just (I don’t know if you can say “just” when referring to a Daf of Gemara) one Daf per day, a person could finish the entire Shas in seven and a half years. I will admit. It was inspiring to see how many people finished. I decided that there was no way I would ever finish if I didn’t start. So I started. I still don’t know if I will be able to keep it up for seven and a half years, but at least I started. It feels good to know that I have opened up a Gemara every day since August 2.

Often I learn the Daf by listening to an online shiur. There are literally dozens of online Daf Yomi shiurim. There are even websites that keep track of the shiurim[i] that can be found online. I can enjoy a shiur from a Rav who lives in New York, Chicago or even Israel. If the Daf is not your thing, there are websites with thousands of free shiurim on any Torah topic you could desire.

Why not make let the Rebbeim and Moros in our schools record the Chumash that they teach. They can post it and let the talmidim/talmidos use it when necessary. It only takes a minute to record a possuk with the teitch. Most phones have a recording option. The teacher can even record the possuk in class itself for later listening. By the end of the school year, they could have a database of every single possuk that the class learned.

I am not going to bore you, my dear reader, with technical details of exactly how to create such a podcast. I just want to talk in generalities the few ways that seem to work for me. The simplest way I have accomplished this has been to record a voice memo on my phone. Then I simply send out a class email to the parents with my recording as an attachment. It is not posted anywhere. It is just an email. All I need is my phone and email. (I do have a list of all the parents so I can send to everybody with one click.)

The next level is to record the audio and post it online. I do less of this. When I have a little bit more time, and I will stress, a little more time. It really doesn’t need to take that much time. I will video myself reading the possuk. If you have permission to video your students, take a video them reading it. They enjoy it more. Then, I post it onto YouTube as an unlisted video. I don’t want just anybody to be able to search and find it. Afterwards, I use the link to post it to my webpage. It is there for the parents to see whenever they want it.

If you record the students, then you can only use it that year. When you record yourself, you can use it year after year. Create a database of pessukim for yourself. Let it be accessible to those who need it. The parents don’t know exactly how you translated the possuk. The parents don’t know exactly the tune you used. The parents don’t know exactly what happens in class. Video it. Let them have a glimpse into your classroom. Let them join you in the education of their children.