Sunday, July 7, 2013

ISTE 2013…AviChai Style!!

             This was my second time at an ISTE (International society for technology in education, now say it five times very fast, GO!) conference and as usual it was an earth-shattering, overwhelming, and exhausting event. From the opening keynote about Gamification (Yes, we are now turning every classroom into one giant Kinect thingamajig) to the closing remarks by Adam Below, everything had a significant impact on my life as an educational technology coach. But, as opposed to last year where I went on my own, this year I was fortunate to be part of a remarkable group of individuals spanning the United States, brought together by none other the spectacular AVICHAI Organization.
             I originally thought that the sole benefit of this cohort was free room and food (seriously!); I figured I’d do my thing at the conference, come to the hotel, eat some “airport food,” (No Kosher meat eateries anywhere!!!) and be on my merry way. I had no idea that this would be an experience I probably will never forget!
              Every evening, after an exhausting day of workshops, sessions, and vendors marketing ploys (Yes, the chachkas are great, but seriously…), we were treated with a big smile by Jennifer Newfeld, who so graciously arranged all of our meals, and was one of our liaisons for Avichai throughout the trip (You were awesome Jennifer!). At each table you could hear each person’s excitement, sharing ideas, schmoozing with one another and trading business cards (yes, we’re at a tech conference and we are still using these.)Then the magic really began (cue Indiana Jones theme song); the famous Dr. Jones…Eliezer Jones closed the night by facilitating a great group talk reflecting about the (e)vents of that particular day.
              Thanks to Mrs. Rachel Abrahams, a wonderful program which allowed me to connect with people from LA (My hometown BABY!) to New York and everything in between was done beautifully. From the first time we met in the unforgettable River room (San Antonio has this scary obsession with the word “River”), down to the last Minyan on Wednesday morning (yes you read that right, we had a Minyan, with a real Sefer Torah, every single day of the conference, Shachris, Minha and Mariv, first time ever!), I was able to build great relationships and excellent networks of like-minded Jewish educators whose sole purpose is to enhance the way we do Education in all Jewish Day Schools.

Thank you!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


As I write these words, the excitement I felt hours ago is still here!


Those three letters basically sum up what took place today at Yavneh Academy. The first, ever, JedcampNJNY (second Jedcamp ever!) began at 9am and what an event it was! (You just didn’t want it to end!)

From the get go, educators from all over began to pour in and the connections began.

I couldn’t keep up.

Everywhere you turned another new face was ready to connect (Wow!). The feeling of belonging and higher purpose permeated the air (Wow!). Everyone was there for one reason…How can we become better at doing what we do best…Educate! (And all on a Sunday and at 9 am…BIG WOW!)

I was able to make so many connections with so many wonderful people. You didn’t even have to try. It literally went from, “Hi my name is…” to “let’s find time to schmooze sometime next week!” It was also great being able to finally meet (in person) my digital friends (there even more delightful then I could have ever imagined!).

Oh and the sessions, WOW!  You just wanted to attend every single one. So many great topics, it was like choosing between T-bone or Sirloin steak, it just wasn’t fair!

And the coolest thing about it was that I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In fact, I would venture to say that practically everyone left that building with a sense of accomplishment and energy to continue. One hundred percent satisfaction; how many conferences do you know where everyone left happy ?!? POW WOW DOUBLE WOW!!!

That’s it for now! I needed to get it out before I forget. I definitely will follow up soon. 

But one last thing…

Now is the time to keep the energy going. As the event unfolded, people in other cities across the nation (world!?), announced plans for more Jedcamps. JedcampMD is tentatively set for July 7th, and JedcampLA (my home town baby!!) is getting the ball rolling. Soon we’ll start seeing our own Jedcamp wiki space with events lined up across the world. Don’t let the energy die down, let’s get to it!

Oh and one more thing….


Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Formative assessment, meet technology!"

                      I love assessments. They’re a great way of figuring out how well your students are receiving, reacting and engaging with the learning that is going on in the classroom. Unfortunately most of us are used to utilizing only one type of assessment i.e. summative (tests, final exams, regents, SAT’s, etc.). It’s the “other” assessment which I enjoy as an educator: formative assessment.

                According to the book, Transformative assessment (Popham, W. J. 2008), "Formative assessment is a planned process in which assessment-elicited evidence of students' status is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics" (p. 6). In other words, as opposed to summative, which is a summary of what the kids “seem” to know at the end of unit, lesson, year etc.,  formative is done throughout the year, at various times, to assess how effective you, as the teacher, are teaching, and how well the students are learning and adjust accordingly. Here is a great chart which outlines the differences between summative and formative assessment.

Formative assessment helps us become better at what we do as educators!
               It’s in this area that technology really shines. There are various web tools that can help us gather information in order to adjust our instruction methods and reach all of our students.

                I recently viewed a workshop from the ISTE conference in 2011 which discussed the value and key points of formative assessment with technology. Based on the book, Transformative assessment, they summed up the key points in the process of formative assessment as follows:

        I.            Planned process
  1. Not a test but a process completed by teachers, learners or both
  2. Teacher has a goal of what they want to learn from the assessment results
  3. Formal and/or informal assessment

      II.            Assessment-Elicited Evidence
  1. Adjustments are based on evidence (data) of current level of mastery
  2. Assessment procedure (comment marking, exit cards, game, graphic organizer, simulation, peer/self assessment, quiz/test, project, portfolio, etc.) is designed to produce the evidence

    III.            Teachers adjust instruction
  1. Evidence is used to make adjustments to ongoing instruction
  2. Learners adjust learning tactics (21st Century Skill)
  3. Evidence is used to change methods they are applying while trying to learn

    IV.            Implementation Options
  1. To make an immediate instructional adjustment
  2. To make a near-future instructional adjustment
  3. To make a last-chance instructional adjustment
  4. To make a learning tactic adjustment
  5. To promote a classroom climate shift

They go on to mention a few types of webtools that I thought were extremely useful.

One mentioned was Rubistar. Rubrics are great at helping us understand what are individual student’s strengths and weakness are in a particular subject. But creating a rubric for every lesson or subject might not be that practical. Rubistar is a great way to search for thousands of templates as well as rubrics already created by teachers around the world (why reinvent the wheel?).

Another tool was Todaysmeet. Todaysmeet is a web-based back channeling tool which is simple to create and easy to use. Although it might not be practical in all classrooms (your students will need to have access to some type of mobile device (iPads, cellphones, etc.) during class), it’s a great way to deliver direct instruction and allow the students to send in questions or comments without the teacher stopping or the student being embarrassed to ask what they might perceive to be a “dumb” question. Back channeling can be a real-time snapshot of a learners understanding, and offers the teacher an immediate opportunity to adjust instruction, respond, and clarify.

One of my all-time favorites is Google forms.  I use forms as a way to quickly and efficiently gather data from my students to find out how well they understood the information taught that day. I will constantly find concepts that are misunderstood or ideas that students didn’t grasp during class, and I immediately plan accordingly for the following day in order to ensure student success. Survey monkey or Poll everywhere can also achieve these goals.

A method that comes to mind but was not mentioned was Socrative. Socrative is an iOS app which I frequently use as an exit poll for my students during the last 5-10 minutes of class. Instead of throwing out a few questions and receiving a couple of comments from the students who already know, I can now properly access everyone all at once with immediate results. I usually share it with the class by mirroring my iPad onto the projector and we collaboratively figure out the solutions.  (Again, access to an iOS device is necessary.)

What types of tools or techniques do you use for formative assessment?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How to...Wiki

I have recently begun to explore Wikis. Wikis are an easy to use web-tool which can be a great way for collaboration among students in the classroom.

What is a wiki? A wiki is a webpage (or pages) where people can collaborate and use to write, edit, and add different elements to the wiki. Think of it as one big work-space that everyone has access to and are allowed to input their ideas as well as edit or erase someone else’s.

Click here for "Wikis in plain English"

Although there are many options, the most common wiki sites for educators are:


Wikis can be used in a variety of ways. As educators, we traditionally work on our own when it comes to curriculum, class resources, etc. Although emails are an option, they can get a bit messy and hinder genuine collaboration. A wiki would allow for more efficient teamwork; it provides educators with a way to post and share information as well as to build on one another’s work. It also allows a way to keep the conversation going even after the project has ended. This idea can easily be applied to students.

Teachers have had great success with using wikis in the classroom. Supervising and fostering teamwork and collaboration becomes easy with a wiki by allowing students to easily work on their ideas with one another (from anywhere) and share them with the teacher. A big advantage of a wiki is the fact that the teacher can always go back and see what changes were made and by whom (previous versions of the wiki are automatically saved).

Here is a great resource with over 50 different ways one can use a wiki in the classroom. Teachers are using wikis all over the world; the opportunities are truly endless. How do you use Wikis in your classroom?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Virtual Environments for Education

I love technology and I believe it has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on education. But I also believe that just because something is technology, doesn't mean we must find a way to stick into the classroom.

One example of this is the concept of a virtual environment platform such as Second life. Second life is a program in which students create for themselves an avatar in which they build, interact and explore with other avatars.  Although the idea sounds nice, I think it distracts the student from learning how to build real life social skills and adapt to our surroundings

My fellow classmate, Yitzchak Jaffe, in his blog post "Virtually Ridiculous," expressed it beautifully when he wrote: " Not only do I think such an experience can become addictive, but I think it fosters a false sense of confidence in who you are not. In a virtual environment, if you want to be a pro-wrestler spy who is rich and suave, go ahead. But are you learning to be the best YOU that you can be? One of our jobs as educators is to help students learn how to maximize their potential. But it still has to be THEIR potential. And anything less will ultimately be very unfulfilling.But I also do think there are advantages of creating virtual environments to help us better understand and experience a situation that is not possible to explore in the real world.

For example, creating a virtual city during the second temple. I don't mean just building a model but also exploring how the city's inhabitants would look and interact. I am not an expert but I've heard wonderful things with Minecraft and how schools are using it for purposes similar to what I have mentioned.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How to...Websites

“ I've found a new hobby… creating websites!”


“Yea, it’s great. I can’t get enough of it!”

“But all that coding and those complicated command lines how do you have time?”

“Nah, it’s easy, just a click here and a drag there…”

“But I thought it takes hours to make a nice website. Maybe you’re referring to those boring Wikis everyone is in to. You can’t “click here and drag there” the kind of stuff the Rabbi from room 304 is doing. He has an amazing website for his class, but it must have taken him days to make it…”

“A couple of years ago, you would have been right, but ever since Web 2.0, things have been getting a lot easier around here…”

This is the typical back and forth that’s been going on between me and my colleagues at Magen David Yeshivah. I have literally become a website creating addict, creating and working on them every chance I get.

The truth of the matter is, that creating websites was something that the only the experts and C++ nerds had the opportunity to play around with. But with Web 2.0 paving the way and allowing everyone a chance to get in on the action, it is now one of the easiest Webtools I know. My students love the websites I've created, and I feel I am able to share so many more resources in an easy and visually appealing way.

There are tons of sites out there that allow you to custom build your very own website. Virtually all of them have some type of free account which provides the essentials an average educator will need (with Wordpress, you need a host!). So lets get started"

First, the usual suspects::

All of them have their advantages and drawbacks. I personally advise Weebly due to its easy and user friendly interface. It has just enough to keep you busy and happy at the same time. Here are a few examples of sites created using Weebly. All of them did not take more than an hour to make!

Google sites is also an excellent choice but not as simple as Weebly. The big advantage with Google sites its easy integration of Google apps (i.e. Goggle Docs, Google Forms etc).

For those with a “techie” side, Wordpress is the way to go; Many more options than the last two, but a little html know-how is in order.

There are numerous reasons to create a website for your classroom. I find that that the reason that tops my list is "resources." Unfortunately, most students are not yet as inclined to search the myriad resources that can be found on the internet as I’d like them too. Being able to post links to the resources I want is great.

I also love using it as a digital bulletin board. Giving students the ability to check the website for homework postings and test dates is a lot easier than sending out emails or giving them sheets to take home. Additionally, I make sure to post any documents they might have received in class on the website as a downloadable document, just in case someone ”lost” the homework or was “out sick” that day. Once you have your website set up, updating it is easy.

If you're interested in starting your own website, I would first advise looking around at other teacher’s class websites and then think about what type of items you might want on it too. Once you have it planned out in your head, just jump into it. I Promise you won’t be disappointed.

Any suggestions or questions, feel free to comment below.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Social Networks and Me

One of the fastest growing "thing to do" in the world today is joining a Social network. Every corner you turn, a social media website is mentioned. 

Sometimes its about "liking" a frozen yogurt store you visit (Facebook). Or snapping a picture to show your friends (Instagram) Other times its just to "follow" your favorite movie star (Twitter). But everyone agrees that the trend is here to stay.

So the question is twofold: Can I use it to my benefit (i.e. as an educator) and how?

I've already touched on the questions on my post about Twitter where I mentioned the great benefits it has both for the classroom as well as for professional development. And I believe the answer is a resounding "YES!"

Think about it. As human beings we are social creatures. We want to hear and listen from others. Time and time again research has shown that students learn better in collaborative settings. But this is not always feasible within the classroom walls. Social networks eliminate that barrier and allow us to connect with each other in an easy and efficient way.

It is always great to see, when I have a questions about a topic that I need help in, that I can just send out a tweet and watch the answers pour in. There are so many amazing CoP's (communities of practice) that enables one to connect and share ideas and problems with educators from all types of backgrounds.

Some of my favorite include:

And for students, its no different. They love immediate feedback which is what they get on any of these websites. I have tinkered with a Facebook-type called Edmodo. It seems to have all the benefits a social network offers (i.e. comments page, immediate feedback etc.) and not the drawbacks (i.e. personal information in public forum).