In March of this year, the Jim Joseph Foundation together with the William Davidson Foundation, shared Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Investment Strategy. The report is extremely comprehensive and considers the entire spectrum of Jewish learning as relates to educational technology. It provides recommendations for funders and compiles an overview of the current ed tech landscape, sharing examples and related Jewish examples in each area outlined. It is absolutely worth reading, more accurately worth studying, for anyone interested in how digital technologies are being used in creative, impactful ways to reach, teach, further and engage Jewish learning and living.

The report defines five general categories of educational technology with additional sub-categories under each one. These are:

  • New Models for Learning: Personalized/Adaptive Learning and Big Data and Analytics; Distance Learning and Virtual Classrooms
  • Interactive Instructional Tools: Creative Tools; Game-Based Learning; Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality; Coding & Tech-Related Skills
  • Digital Content and Portals: Curricular Databases and Websites; General Educational Websites and Resources; Subscription Services
  • Relationship and Community-Building Resources: Social Media and Community and Lifestyle Websites; Video Conferencing and Video “Meet-Ups”
  • Support for Organizations and Educators: Support for Technology Infrastructure; Professional Development

I’d like to add my two-cents to the idea of combining interactive instructional tools and digital content. What I am suggesting is not a new idea. Alan November has long spoken and written of the “Digital learning farm” where students contribute in authentic and meaningful ways to the creation of high-quality digital content. What would this look like in Jewish education? I propose that the Jewish version of the digital learning farm empowers our students to see themselves as Jewish ambassadors in service of creating and sharing their knowledge and experience with others.

What is a Jewish Ambassador? from Andrea Hernandez on Vimeo.

Educators will recognize the value in this type of authentic assessment and sharing, so I will focus here on providing inspiring examples.

Games: Martin J. Gottlieb Day School middle school students, led by art teacher/STEAM coordinator, Shana Gutterman in partnership with Jewish Interactive, designed two games with rich Jewish content. Whack-a-Haman is a Purim-themed game and Race to the Red Sea draws on Passover for its content. These games have been downloaded and played all over the world! In addition to deeply researching the holidays in order to design instructional content for the games, students worked together on all aspects of the project including marketing and art design. Students and teacher documented and reflected what they learned on a related blog.

Websites: Students are capable of creating quality, content-rich websites turning classroom learning into resources that can be used by others. One example is this student-created website on Tzar Ba’aley Chaim, the ethical treatment of animals, that explores rodeos, animal parks and pet shops from the perspective of Jewish law.

Blog Posts: There is value to reflecting and sharing IN PUBLIC. How many of us have learned from reading someone else’s personal writing on a blog? Instead of turning work in only to the teacher, publishing on a blog offers insight and instruction to anyone interested. The possibility for comments and interaction allows for questions, connections and further growth for both reader and writer.

Kashrut by Eliana, 6th grade
D’var Torah for Parashah Trumah by Jack, 7th grade
Is Smoking Permissible by Jewish Law? by Sabrina, 8th grade

Video Connections: There are people “out there” in the world who are studying world religions. There are people who have never met a Jew. There are people who have curiosity about Jewish customs and holidays. Our Jewish day school students are the experts! Why not offer to connect students via video conferencing with those who’d like to learn? Educational connections are happening frequently in classrooms around the world via activities such as Mystery Skype and the Global Read Aloud. Whenever I participated in these types of connected activities, other students (and teachers) were curious and interested to ask questions about being Jewish. It makes sense to teach our students that they ARE ambassadors for Judaism and to offer them opportunities to share with interested others.

Here is one of my favorite examples of using video connections to share. This documents a video call between a Muslim school and a Jewish day school. Reading the students reflections is so powerful!

Image Credit: Silvia Tolisano

Sharing Our Best Work
I recognize that the examples I’ve shared are from one school. I acknowledge that many students from many schools are also creating and sharing Jewish learning in quality ways. What I don’t know is where to go to find these examples in one place. How AMAZING and transformative would it be to see a report such as the Smart Money publication that researches and includes work done by students as part of its related Jewish examples? 

Please share your links in the comments section here.
Let’s begin the process of bringing our work together, under one roof (so to speak) for the good of the field. High-quality examples provide not only inspiration but can be used by teachers as a resource to create more. Students are sparked to greatness by seeing what other students have achieved. Let’s have the goal of creating our own report or clearinghouse, as well as having the best of our students’ work included in any future research presented by foundations.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, Silvia Tolisano, Liat Walker, Edith Horovitz and Shana Gutterman in creating the preceding examples.