(July 22, 2013 / JNS)
Carts stacked high with iPads and a smart board in every room—this has become an increasingly common sight in Jewish day schools, as more and more jump on the technology bandwagon.
New day schools incorporating blended learning have emerged as a cost-efficient alternative to the older establishment schools, and traditional institutions have been forced to upgrade to the newest tools and devices in order to stay competitive and continue to give their students an edge in 21st century. Jewish educators and organizations have begun developing and sharing programs for iPads and smart boards that address the particular needs of Judaic education, such as apps that easily display Hebrew fonts.
Not to be ignored, however, are the dozens of innovative programs developed each year that cater to the general needs of all kinds of schools. JNS.org compiled this list of the some of the most exciting products revolutionizing digital education today:
ThingLink is designed for use by anyone, but has become especially favored by educators. The platform allows teachers to build a whole set of interactive multimedia experiences into a single image. Imagine a digital map of the state of Israel that is fully “clickable.” Click on Jerusalem and up pops an image of the Western Wall. Click on Tel Aviv and hear a sound clip of the declaration of Israel’s independence. Click on West Bank and read an article about the Green Line. ThingLink offers teachers a simple interface for creating a fully integrated and engaging lesson according to their own specifications, and also allows for easy sharing.
Classroom management is one of the toughest parts of being a good educator, and the growing use of individual computers in classrooms presents new challenges in keeping students focused and attentive. ClassDojo presents an innovative of utilizing wired devices for delivering moment-to-moment communication with students about their behavior. Teachers can give points to students for good work (Well done Daniel! +1 for participation”), or deduct a few if need be, and students are notified immediately on their own displays. The program also keeps track of all activity, which can be analyzed and shared with parents.
Everyone forgets to write down assignments once in a while, right? With Remind101, students and parents can subscribe to receive mass text messages from teachers reminding them about what’s due this week. The program is cleverly designed so that the texts only go one way—students can’t respond to texts, only receive them (which means no chance of inundating teachers with snarky comments and requests for extensions). It also protects the privacy of both the sender and the receiver by blocking the numbers from display.
Edmodo is an impressive tool for many reasons, but the neatest thing about it is how much it looks and feels like Facebook. The program takes an innovative social media approach to teacher-student communication. Teachers can post messages to the whole class that come up on what looks like a “timeline,” or put assignments into a calendar that generates little pop-up notifications for students. Written work can be turned in through Edmodo, and teachers can view, grade, and give feedback on the assignments all within the program. One of the coolest features is a live polling tool, which allows students to see in real time how the group is answering a particular multiple choice question like “Who is the most important figure in medieval Jewish history?”
Kidblog is a great way for students to get the experience of writing for an online audience in a safe and easy-to-use format. Teachers have full control over what content and comments are viewable, and only the class has access to posts. The creators of Kidblog got rid of a lot of the bells and whistles that make other blogging programs hard to decipher, so that it is perfectly suited to kids of all ages. Students can be encouraged to think critically about their peers’ writing, while learning the ins and outs and the etiquette of digital citizenship.
Binyamin Kagedan has an MA in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.