A Snapshot of Two Amazing Days of Learning

| By Gary Harstein

Last week, The Jewish Education Project and The Samis Foundation broke new ground together with a very special two-day event.  The DigitalJLearning Network hosted 11 educators from six Seattle Jewish day schools on a real Jewish Education Experience. During our time together, we visited five different Jewish schools in the New York area to learn how they integrate technology and blended models to support student learning.  And learn we did!

Day One had us spending time at two large, established schools: Magen David Yeshiva High School in Brooklyn and SAR Academy in Riverdale.  One might assume that two well established schools would look more or less the same, but this was not the case.  At Magen David, a very traditional school, we experienced blended learning in Judaic and General Studies, including a flipped Gemara class!  We also learned how a student-centered model drives everything at Magen David, even how and where technology is integrated.

At SAR, our group traveled through open classrooms where students at a variety of (K-8) grade levels were working independently, in groups and in whole class instruction.  The rows of wall-less classrooms were a bit of a surprise to many, especially those of us who were trained in the more “traditional” teaching ideologies.  Within a matter of minutes, it became apparent that there was a whole lot of learning going on all around us. The technology was seamlessly integrated to the point that it was just “what they did.”  More importantly, it was driven by academics, not the simple desire for more tablets and computers.

On Day Two, our group got an early start in East Brunswick, New Jersey, at the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center.  A blended learning school by design, PCLC is now in its third year.  We learned how they offer an affordable day school option that balances, as Director Lauren Ariev Gellman says, “the best of online learning with the best of face to face instruction.” Not only did we observe the PCLC learning experience first-hand, we were also treated to a roundtable discussion with four articulate and bright PCLC students.  They shared their perspectives on how blended learning and PCLC have helped them thrive.

After PCLC, we headed north to Yeshivat He’Atid in Bergenfield, NJ. At this school, which currently serves Pre-K through 2nd grade, they differentiate instruction with a blended learning rotational model.  Students move through different activity areas, including accessing computers.  The rotation happens much like the “centers” many of us grew up with as children.   In addition to seeing the students in action, we learned how Yeshivat He’Atid’s model helps the diverse learning needs and styles of its students, while providing an affordable day school option for parents.  We saw how student data is used to help teachers drive instruction that is individualized for each learner. We even heard from parents how their second grade children are already becoming independent learners.

Our site visits culminated at The Frisch School in Paramus, NJ.  A large, well-established high school, Frisch offered us an opportunity to see a mix of outstanding teachers seamlessly incorporating technology and blended learning, all driven by learning needs.  In our all-to-short visit, we learned how Frisch’s teachers incorporate a variety of media.  We saw blogs to engage students outside of class, and flipped classrooms to allow for more meaningful student discussions. We also observed teachers during class gathering real-time data, which provide formative assessment to facilitate agile teaching. They even use QR codes for extracurricular signups! We were able to experience how a large school supports faculty and student technology use and keeps it focused on the learning, not the devices.

This is just a quick peek into two very full days.  In the weeks to come, we’ll be updating our blog with more insights from our time on the road.  Do you want to learn more? Is there something about the trip that piqued your interest?  Are you just curious about something we saw? Do you have other general questions?  Let us know using the form below! Who knows, you may see your question answered here on the blog very soon.

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