In this DJLN Educator Spotlight, you'll meet Rabbi Emily Meyer and find out how she uses blended learning in her Judaic Studies classroom.
Rabbi Emily Meyer grew up outside Boston, MA, studied Classics at Connecticut College, and became a rabbi in 2010 at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH. For the past two years, she has been teaching 5th grade Jewish Studies at the Seattle Jewish Community School. She also serves as the rabbi of Bet Chaverim in Des Moines, WA. She lives in Seattle, WA with her husband Aaron, who is a rabbi at Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Her favorite hobbies are kayaking and going for walks with her poodle Camille.
Q: What were some challenges you encountered in your classroom that prompted you to try technology solutions?
A: Differentiation and helping the students to work at their own paces. The technology helps me make sure I’m not missing anything, because I get to look at everyone’s work every day. When it’s emailed to me it makes that really easy, but if it was all in a notebook, for instance, then I wouldn’t always have access and neither would the student. Putting the assignments online, like a quiz about prayers, ensures that I have access, the students have access, and they can move forward at home because they aren’t tied to a particular physical notebook.
Q: How have the Samis Technology Initiative and the DigitalJLearning Network helped you to learn with a community of practice?
A: I came in to the community of practice with the technological skills and had been making videos before, but what Samis and DJLN offered was mentorship, which is really helpful. It’s a community that is a good sounding board and also provides validation that the work I’m doing is important and worthwhile, that it isn’t just “This is cool.” Being involved with Samis and DJLN helped to frame my use of technology in the classroom, especially for the parents. They could see that this is something really important, and that there is more to Jewish Studies that just being in a classroom. Using the technology enables the students to contribute something that is valuable for the world beyond the school walls.
Q: How have you used educational technology in your Judaic Studies classroom?
A: For our unit on prayer, I set up a website and created a series of videos using GoAnimate about the prayers for the students to watch. With the videos online, the students could watch them and go through them at their own pace. The videos covered key content of the Amidah prayers that I wanted them to know, such as why Jews pray facing east. The website also had the text of each prayer, so the students could read the text, watch the videos, and then read the prayer on their own and work on fluency. This model allowed them to be self-driven and direct their own learning. They also had the option of recording themselves reading the prayer, but most prefered to practice with each other. Once a student could read the prayer to me, then they could test their peers, which gave the students confidence and excitement about helping out. The videos and student helpers freed up my time to work with students who needed more assistance.
For the lesson on Parashat Korach, the students studied the parasha and different rabbinic commentaries on it. Then the students used the GoAnimate animation software to create their own G-dcast-style videos. In groups of three, they chose a part of the parasha story they wanted to tell, chose a commentator whose ideas they wanted to highlight, created their own characters, and then made a video showing how their chosen rabbinic commentary portrays what happened in the parasha. If I did the lesson again, I would have the students go through more of a step-by-step process with the video creation, but the groups shared the workloads very well. At the end, they all get to share their videos with each other.
Q: How do you use data to differentiate instruction for your students?
A: I use a website called Jimdo to host quizzes, so each video has its own questions and each of the prayers has a set of questions. At the end of each day, I get an email and can see who completed which assignments and how many prayers they’ve been through. I can see who understood the major themes and who might have been rushing through the work. This data from the quizzes is helpful with pacing, because I can really see who is or isn’t getting the questions, and then I can change whom I focus my energy on, working individually with students who need more help.
Q: What are some go-to Jewish resources for your blended learning classroom?
A: I use MyJewishLearning a lot; it’s a great website that has a lot of information. For biblical text, I send my students to Mechon Mamre, which is easy for them to navigate and has accurate Hebrew and a good translation. I also use G-dcast and Sefaria. Having all these different tools for Torah study makes it fun for the students. Sometimes I’ll divide the class into two groups and we’ll have a competition to see who can find the text faster. It’s important to show the students where and how to find Jewish texts online, because that will help them in the future.
Q: Is there an EdTech tool or website you wish you had for Judaic Studies?
A: There aren’t videos readily available from a pluralistic Jewish perspective that cover all of the subjects I’d like to teach. There isn’t one place with videos for students to learn Jewish history, prayer, and other Jewish topics, so I have to create them and it’s a lot of work. Also, one of the challenges of working with young children is that they don’t have their own email addresses, so we can’t use Google. I need safe and reliable sharing software. We’ve been using a tool called OneDrive, but it’s a classroom account, so all the students have access to each other’s work, which can cause problems when a student edits the wrong document. Not having a great sharing tool makes it hard to find a way for the student to gain those sharing skills. Making a document and sharing it, that’s the world today. I need to be able to ease them into that.
Q: What are your future blended learning goals?
A: I want to help other teachers learn to make videos, because the more videos we have the better! More videos would make it easier for me and better for the world too. I would love it if lots of teachers were making these kinds of Judaic Studies videos. Having three or four videos on the Amidah from different perspectives would give students even more choices and ownership of their learning. For my own classroom, I want to learn from my mistakes last year. Next year, each student will have an Amidah portfolio and will print out each of their tests. Then I’ll be able to ask them, “Are you proud of this work? What can you do better next time?” What will make next year better also is that I already have the videos made! I can fine tune them now or remake one if I need to.
Q: What do you find are the connections between being a rabbi and being a classroom teacher?
A: One of the reasons I became a rabbi was because I wanted to help people connect to Judaism. In Seattle especially, where there are so many people engaged in science and technology, I wanted to show my students how religion is not counter to that innovation. We can take things we know about the world from science and things know about the world from Judaism and those two can be intertwined. Showing my students that intersection is really important. So teaching goes along with my passion for helping people to see Judaism in new ways and how there is such a diversity of expression. When I was a congregational rabbi, I would always try and bring in new information in my sermons. In the classroom, it’s similar. I want to show my students there there is depth to Judaism, and that you can bring in traditional teaching and modern interpretations and all of that learning is part of understanding Torah.
Q: What is most rewarding about blended learning and educational technology?
A: The students love it! I don’t know what it is about screens, but they just love it. Anytime a student is excited about learning something Jewish, that’s a win for me. Seeing them really loving what they’re doing, that’s the most rewarding part.
Want to learn more about the online resources mentioned? See the links below!
Mechon Mamre: www.mechon-mamre.org