Monthly Archives: May 2011

On Vodcasts and Gemara – Going Back to Khan

In reading about the various types of ‘casts out there, and reflecting on both what I have learned about Khan Academy over the past year and the limited foray I have made into the world of Podcasts, I keep going back to thinking about how we can replicate Khan’s model in the Talmud class.

Here is what I have come up with so far:

1) Assign the class to go over a section of the Talmud at night, which involves watching a YouTube (Vodcast) video of that section being read and explained, and then answering a few questions on the web site to demonstrate a basic knowledge of the material.

2) Start class the next day with a brief review of the text, and then assign reading exercises to the students in chavruta groups, allowing them to refer back to the vodcast if they get stuck (requires a computer or mobile device).

3) Lecture portion of class focusing on underlying concepts in the section being studied, as well as emphasis on certain textual patterns.

4) Students demonstrate mastery by reading the section in a voicethread, either in class or at home.

Would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!


Attending AIPAC from My House…The Power of the #Hashtag

Right now, over 10,000 delegates are gathered in Washington, DC, for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. This event, hosted by the primary Pro-Israel lobby in the United States, brings together the movers and shakers from the American Jewish community for three days of intense discussions and presentations by major political leaders. On Sunday, President Obama addressed the conference, and tonight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking to the group. While I did not have the privilege of attending, I feel an intimate connection to the conference this year that I have not had in the past. Certainly, the fact that the AIPAC web site has videos, some live streamed, of the keynote addresses, has helped me stay in the loop. But the humble “#” sign has played an infinitely more important role in allowing me to experience the conference from afar.

I should elaborate. It’s not just the “#”  sign, but rather the “Hashtag” for the AIPAC conference:  #AIPAC2011. A Hashtag is a word or phrase, preceded by the pound sign, that is used in Twitter to give identity and flow to tweets. They are useful for people using twitter to chat on particular topics, as well as to provide an easy way to share and find tweets on specific events, like the AIPAC conference. If you go to and search for #AIPAC2011, or better yet, make it a column in your favorite twitter client like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, you can follow a running commentary of the event that gives you variety of perspectives and an intimacy that traditional media cannot match.

Hashtags are powerful tools for educators on twitter as well. Use the Hashtag #EdChat to find a constantly evolving stream of tweets on all sorts of educational topics. #JED21 does the same for tweets relating to Jewish education and technology.

Finally, Hashtags can be used to extend your own reach on Twitter. Normally, your tweets are just seen by your own followers. But if you use an existing Hashtag, your voice can be amplified, as your tweets can be read by others following that particular Hashtag. I have personally made many new connections on twitter using this method.

Dealing With Blog Overload (An Ode to Google Reader)

I would say that my eyes were opened to the incredible world of educators communicating online about a year ago, when I started to follow some edu-rock stars like Eric Sheninger, Steven Anderson, George Couros, and our own Dr. Eliezer Jones on Twitter. These follows quickly led to more people, and even more, turning into a full blown Personal Learning Network (PLN). Many of the tweets included links to blog posts, some the personal blogs of educators, and others group blogs like Connected Principals. I found many informative, insightful, and just plain inspirational blog posts. I would often find myself with 15 or 20 tabs open in my web browser, filled with great blog posts that I wanted to read “when I have a second.”

It was around this time that I started seriously using Google Reader. Google Reader is an RSS reader. As always, the good folks at Common Craft can explain RSS better than I can:

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, and basically, it is a way for getting web content sent to you, rather than you going all over the web to find it. To use Google Reader, you first need a Google account. If you have a Gmail account, congrats! You are good to go. Within Gmail, or any other Google Service, you can click on the Reader tab on the top left, or go to this link: You will see a “Home” screen in the middle of the page. This is where the web content goes. On the left side is the menu where the web sites or blogs you subscribe to will go. To add a new blog, click on the “Add a subscription” button on the top left of the page. Go to the blog you want to subscribe to, and search for some sort of “subscribe” or “RSS” link. You can then paste that link into the window that opens when you press the subscriptions button. You can even simply enter a blog address into the subscription box, and Google does all the messy work for you.

After you get set up, voila! The blog posts come to you! When you open your Google Reader later, you should see new blog posts, organized by site. You can even categorize the blogs and web sites you follow, any way you want. There are other RSS readers around as well, and a simple Google search will turn them up. But as usual, Google does a great job here, in my opinion. I have found that a using tool like Google Reader, plus an online bookmark service like Diigo or Delicious (for a different post), has made my blog browsing much easier and more organized.


P.S. If you are really lazy, just watch this video 😉

Social Media in the Classroom

Some fascinating articles/posts I have come across recently about using social media to help advance the level of discussion in the classroom. An article in the NY Times talks about how teachers create “back channel” discussions using twitter and other platforms that allow students to discuss the topic in class online even while the lecture is taking place. I also came across a blog post titled “Why Social Media Tools Have a Place in the Classroom.”

As someone who is generally a proponent of trying new things, and finding places to insert technology in the classroom, the arguments for this practice resonated with me:

1) It will redirect device addicted students to communicate via text, tweet, etc., on the topic itself.

2) It will encourage those students who struggle with ‘real world’ participation in class to open up and contribute to the discourse in a manner that is less threatening to them.

3) It encourages students to more closely analyze and ‘listen’ (read) their fellow students comments, often resulting in a new found respect for the intelligence and depth of thought of their peers.

However, as noted by the blog post, what was very interesting to read where the comments  posted on the NY Times article. They contained very passionate arguments both for and against the use of social media in the classroom.

The argument against this approach generally centered around the concept that encouraging students to communicate electronically during the class, especially in short twitter or twitter style posts, will prevent students from learning how to deeply engage in a topic, as well as how to communicate, face to face. As one commentator wrote (in a post that was actually the most recommended of the bunch) :

“I’m speechless. How many ways can this be wrong? It needs to be explained to teacher Erin Olson that teachers should be encouraging students to extricate themselves from all the electronic gadgetry and to pay attention. You know, expand their capacity for patience and thoughtful consideration. How can they be twittering their thoughts on something that they’re not paying attention to? And they’re not. Nor are they learning how to interact well with other people, unless this teacher foresees a brave new world where people never actually talk to each other. Children need an alternative to the seduction of technology, not adults pandering to it, and them.”

This approach seems to lament the end of an age where deep and thoughtful discourse ruled the day, similar to what I understand to be the point of  “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”

So what is the answer? Are these two approaches contradictory?

I’ll throw in my take: I think that, once again, this issue underscores the need for putting real time, energy, and thought into the way we integrate technology into the class. I think most people understand this intellectually. But practically, it’s hard to do. It requires trying to anticipate all of the possible different ways the students might use the tech tool (for good and bad). It’s also difficult because since there are so many tools that are easily accessible (not to mention free or very low cost), there is a temptation (I won’t speak for others, I feel a temptation) to sign up for an account and start using it right away, sometimes not taking into account if it is in fact advancing the learning.

I think in the case of social media, I agree with the approach of Kate Weber, a 4th grade teacher in Exira, Iowa, who “uses the technology for short periods almost daily (emphasis mine) with her fourth graders. “You’d think there’s a lot of distraction, but it’s actually the opposite,” she said. “Kids are much quicker at stuff than we are. They can really multitask. They have hypertext minds.””

Using this tool in limited spurts, a teacher can help bring about the positive components of social media cited in the articles, while still leaving time for encouraging more face to face and in depth discussion. Hopefully, if done well, the short discussions on the social media back channels can actually bring about more in depth verbal discussions in the classroom.