Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gemara Skill Synchronization

The project objective is to synchronize the in-class delivery of several domains of content, each representing several skillsets critical to the learning of Gemara. The proposed approach is to use the standard Gemara page layout as the backdrop for delivering and teaching the divergent skill and information sets. i.e. vocabulary, language skills, procedural logic and hierarchical thinking skills. The first task was to investigate which technologies would allow us to accomplish this. Initially, using a Smartboard seemed to be the logical approach, but as I did further research, I found that there is a healthy running dialog among educators pitting Smartboards against Tablet PC’s. After reviewing the literature and reviews and speaking with several educators who use the prospective systems I then tried out a Smartboard and a Tablet PC to get an initial hands-on-feel for each setup. I then started weighing the Pro’s and Cons of each type of system. My initial findings are as follows.

Smartboard Pros:

Easy of use The Smartboard functions like a big single button touchpad mouse. Anything you can do with a mouse you can do with a Smartboard (there is a button to allow your next mouse click to count as a right click). The software that is made by SmartTech to interface with the Smartboard is both intuitive and robust in its features. The SmartTools interface reasonably well with MS Office applications that are “InkAware” (Office 2003 and Office 2007)

Durability:The Smartboard unit is durable and can be used by students. If equipped with a wheeled stand it can be shared by several classrooms. Most models must be used in conjunction with a computer and a digital projector (either LCD or DLP).

Smartboard Cons:

Re-orienting: If either the Smartboard or the Projector are not mounted (to either the ceiling or wall) the slightest movement will send the Smartboard out of alignment requiring it to be reoriented. Re-orienting is a simple 10 second procedure but is quite disruptive to a lesson in progress.

Shadow: Using a Smartboard requires the teacher to intersect between the projector and the screen, this can be quite distracting to the students and make it difficult for the teacher to use the Smartboard in their own shadow. (2-3 teachers I spoke with use wands or sticks to mitigate this). Rear projection Smartboards are available but cost 3-4 times more than the simple projector/Smartboard setup.

Limited Software support: While Microsoft apps are “ink-aware” and have limited compatibility with the SmartTech software, many software titles are not. The most notable standouts at this time are Inspiration (although SmartTech does sell its own Inspiration type software) and virtually all Hebrew work processors i.e. Davka and Dagesh (with the exception of Hebrew enabled MS Word) Note: Inspiration 8.0 is compatible with ACTIV board, another manufacturer of interactive whiteboards.

Tablet PC Pros:

Software integration: Since the Tablet PC setup involves virtually no specialized software, anything you can do on the screen of your laptop or desktop can be shown in real time to the class through the projector. Currently the biggest proponent of Tablet PCs is the Microsoft corporation. With thee introduction of Windows XP Tablet PC edition in 2005, Microsoft has made supporting and promoting Tablet PCs a corporate priority. With the introduction of Windows Vista and Office 2007, they have improved Tablet PC integration and handwriting recognition dramatically. While inputting text using Dagesh and Davka is still more convenient with a keyboard and mouse as opposed to the tablet and stylus inputs, editing and display functions work well with the Tablet PC input system.

Ease of use: While there is a slight learning curve to using the stylus as a mouse and the handwriting recognition can be quirky (especially if you handwriting is as bad as mine), there is virtually no software learning curve in switching to a Tablet PC if you are staying with applications you are familiar with.

It is worth noting that the “killer app” for the Tablet PC is one that most people are least familiar with, namely OneNote versions 2003 and 2007. OneNote is a very powerful information gathering and sorting tool that allows many types of data (print audio, video, digital files etc) to be organized, searched, annotated and manipulated. OneNote comes free with virtually all Tablet PCs on the market today.

Fewer distractions: Since the projector will display what is on the screen, there is no need for the teacher to intersect between the projector and the screen to manipulate or add data. Similarly, since the screen is simply the wall or dry erase board in the classroom there is no need to reorient the screen if the projector is moved.

Tablet PC Cons:

Durablity: A tablet PC will likely see a lot of movement and bumping around since it will be used in a classroom setting. The high cost component in a Smartboard setup is the Smartboard itself which is quite durable and can be used with any desktop or laptop with a USB port. In a tablet PC setup the high cost item is the Tablet PC itself which is as vulnerable to damage as any other laptop.

Limited Student Input: The Tablet PC is not as child user friendly as the Smartboard and does not immediately lend itself to students inputting answers as they could do easily with a Smartboard.

Pen Loss: One of the teachers I spoke to pointed out that one convenience of a Smartboard setup is that the pens are just pieces of plastic shaped to look like pens but a stick, fingertip, or capped pen would all do the same thing as far is input in concerned. Whereas a Tablet PC generally requires a specialized electronic peen which can cost $40 to $50 to replace

A Global Issue: Cost

Cost is a critical factor in determining which system is most viable, but how each system will be used makes a simple price comparison irrelevant. i.e. A wall mounted Smartboard with a ceiling mounted projector avoid some of the Smartboard’s inherent problems, but such a setup precludes sharing the resources. A Tablet PC with a cart mounted projector is shareable thus maximizing the resource. A laptop tends to b considered more of a “personal” resource rather than a shared resource. As a result most of the teachers I spoke to don’t like the idea of sharing a laptop especially since it complicates lesson preparation. This would also be a factor in determining overall comparative costs.

Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh - SmartBoard

I got to play with my first SmartBoard today and it was just incredible. I had my 12th grade class sit in (this is their last week of school; graduation is in a week) and they kept jumping up to use it. It draws the students into the learning, even though all they were doing was writing words and drawing arrows--somehow it's not as exciting on the blackboard!

The excellent presenter who demonstrated the software figured out pretty quickly what I was looking for and showed me the features I needed to make my approach work. Now we need to decide between a portable unit with a separate projector or the installed unit that has the projector right above it. I'm leaning toward the latter, since you don't have to worry about your shadow blocking things and there's no wires to trip over on the floor. Any thoughts on this?

I'm also very intrigued by the Airliner wireless slate which allows me to draw and control the Smartboard from anywhere in the classroom. That really suits my teaching style--I'm a walk around type of teacher, and I was a bit concerned about having to be right there at the front all the time. Has anyone used this and can you tell me if it works well for you?

Yisrael Yom Yom

The 8th grade tiyul to Israel took place April 18 through May 3. On each day of the trip students and teachers filmed various activities and posted an imovie to a blogsite which was then viewed by the school community, parents, friends, board members - in short, everyone associated with our day school as well as other interested people.

In preparation for the trip, students had a chance to work with the technology staff at school to learn how to create imovies and how to edit them effectively. In future postings, I will describe the training that took place for our Yisrael Yom Yom project for the students and the accompanying teachers.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Deborah's Leadership in War

Deborah’s leadership in war is the first Smartboard module, soon to be delivered and posted on Herzliah High School’s online Pedagogical Center.

Although it is a student oriented module, by its variety of activities and exercises, it will come also with instructions for teachers.

Originally, this module was planned for grade ten students, but could easily be adapted to younger students, and gives enough leeway to teachers to modify and use only the parts that seem applicable to their class.

Next time, I will give a detailed account of the content of this Smartboard module related to teaching Tanakh Ivrit b’Ivrit.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sager Solomon Schechter Middle School

We will be creating podcasts for students to use in support of difficult Hebrew reading assignments. This year I've been focused on acquiring the technical skills for podcasting. Since we're a "Mac shop," we have been using GarageBand to record audio files. We have a chesed club that has a sharing wiki with a community in Russia and several of our sixth graders have already created podcasts - I have found that the process is very straightforward and the students took very little time to get comfortable with it.

We purchased Logitech mics that stand on a desk (about $20/each) to add to our tools for recording. We already owned a few Sennheiser boomsets (headphones combined with mics), but I wanted to use the stand mics to make it easier for several students to record at the same time. In addition, we used FundingFactory money to purchase mp3 recorders. These may work the best for having a teacher record the Hebrew for our podcast, since they're very easy to use and don't require a computer to record. I bought four of them from iriver on closeout - they're very small and probably will only record an hour or so at a time, but that will be fine for our purposes. This will give us three different types of tools to use, in addition to trying out the onboard Mac mics.

We putting together our schedules for next year and then we'll know which of our Hebrew teachers will be the coordinator for the project. As the technology coordinator for the school I'll be responsible for putting the files online and supporting the students in downloading the material, but we will have a classroom teacher who will be recording the text. My principal and I met to discuss what kind of issues will have to be addressed with the teacher, in terms of clarity of the audio files, etc. Our thought is that we will have the teacher work with one of our resource teachers to make sure that the audio file will be helpful for our students.

I'm very excited to be part of this esteemed group - I've read through the descriptions of the other projects and can't wait to hear everyone's progress. On a personal note, if anyone will be at CAJE in August at Washington University in St. Louis, let me know - I'd love to share notes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lafayette, website, Elementary, CCJDS, May, 2007

The first thing we did upon learning of our successful grant application was to gather everyone on our staff and faculty with technology and networking background. As a small but growing school, we don't have a separate technology coordinator or even a school computer network--we are going to be the ones creating it!

So we assembled a wish list--essentially, restating and refining the goals we had written about in our grant application--and begin to define in detail what we actually needed to do. Specifically, we need to know about how to establish and maintain an off-site hosted server. We also began to list the software needs that we will have and look into the hardware we are planning on buying.

As of now, we have set up a meeting with an outside technology and network consultant to sit down with us and review everything that we plan on doing and getting some professional advice on how to go about doing all of this. After this meeting, which will take place after Shavuot, we will re-assess what we have to do and then figure out our next plan of action! So stay tuned as we figure out how to put this all together!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mr. Joseph Sonnenblick, North Shore Hebrew Academy - High School, Great Neck, NY

Mr. Sonnenblick plans to create a series of PowerPoint presentaitons for high school Jewish History classes that will include source documents, maps, sound, video-clips, questions and discussion points.

Dr. Yaakova Sacerdoti, The Jean and Samuel Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit, West Bloomfield, MI

Dr. Sacerdoti is focusing on strengthening Hebrew linguistic skills by directing her students in recording "I've Been There – Stories from the Battlefield" - a testimonial archive of Israeli fighters who fought in the Israeli wars from 1948 – 2006. These videos will become a community resource by posting an archive of clips on-line.

Ms. Evi Reznick, Yeshiva Atlanta High School, Atlanta, GA

Ms. Reznick will be enhancing and motivating high school Judaic and Hebraic learning through the use of multimedia, and helping students become proficient in Tefilla by creating PowerPoints to teach content and choreography.

Rabbi Don Pacht, Vancouver Hebrew Academy, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Rabbi Pacht will be adding video, screenplay and editing to Judaic instruction in grades 2-5.

Rabbi Dov Nimchinsky, Robert M. Beren Academy, Houston, TX

Rabbi Nimchinsky will be using smartboard technology with graphics and flowcharting software to teach high school Talmud.

Ms. Carrie Moaty, Katherine & Jacob Greenfield Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA

Ms. Moaty will be creating online webquests and developing supplementary material covering Judaic curriculum to encourage independent self paced learning in a collaborative environment for Grades 1-6.

Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston, Perelman Jewish Day School - Saligman Middle School, Melrose Park, PA

Rabbi Levingston will be exerimenting with on-line tefilla; electronic siddurim; podcasts and other new media expressions of prayer by and for the middle school students.

Ms. Davida Levin, Torah Day School of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA

Ms. Levin will be establishing a mobile language lab with interactive software for differentiated conversational Hebrew instruction in a K-8 school.

Mrs. Elky Langer, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

Mrs. Langer will be integrating smartboard technology into the teaching of Tanach to move high school students beyond textual study to application through concepts.

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, Contra Costa Jewish Day School, Lafayette, CA

Rabbi Kohn will be creating a digital media portal (website) to archive and access student presentations as well as facilitating greater intra-faculty collaboration in a K-8 school.

Rabbi Avraham Ismach, HANC - Hornstein Middle School / Brookdale High School, Uniondale, NY

Rabbi Ismach will be developing high school level Gemara, Mishna, Chumash, Halacha or Navi computer games with templates that can be customized by teachers.

Ms. Deborah Harris, Solomon Schechter Day Schools of Metropolitan Chicago - Sager Solomon Schechter, Northbrook, IL

Ms. Harris will be recording podcasts of homework to help 6th-8th grade students with difficult Hebrew reading assignments.

Ms. Tzivia Garfinkel, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago, IL

Ms. Garfinkel will be filming “Yisroel Yom Yom”: A daily webcast featuring our Eighth Graders on their Tiyul to Israel.

Dr. Joseph Fima, Herzliah High School – Snowdon, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dr. Fima will be creating smartboard modules of instruction to teach Tanakh and Navi, Ivrit b'Ivrit, and adding a pedagogic center to the school's website.

Ms. Ghilly Einhorn, South Area Solomon Schechter Day School, Stoughton, MA

Ms. Einhorn will be creating a multi-media project to offer k-8 students greater exposure to authentic Hebrew language and more opporutnities for productive Hebrew expression through the use of video production, viewing and editing.