Making Student Voices Count With 1:1

| By Gerald Lazar

This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish Day School educators to the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We asked the participants to share what they learned and how the conference inspired them to take action in their schools. Gerald Lazar (@GeraldLazar), Director of Student Life at Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, shares his thoughts in the third installment in this new blog series.


Gerald LazarISTE is an experience that is difficult to describe to someone who hasn't been there. It is large, overwhelming and intense. Ultimately, it's an amazing learning and professional development opportunity. It impacts thousands of teachers and administrators yearly - all of whom return to their schools, influencing their colleagues and, of course, their students.

I left ISTE with a lot of ideas. Firstly, it made it clear to me that we had to move to 1:1 in my school. The decision was already made to mandate our grade 9 students to bring laptops with them to school. When those grade 9s are in grade 12, the entire school will be using laptops. A number of sessions I attended focused on staff training and the basics of going to a 1:1 system. It is important for staff to understand that they are taking risks and may make mistakes - and that is ok. One of the presenters spoke about the current generation of teachers being pioneers in education; teachers are changing systems today that have been in place for decades, perhaps centuries. The new systems are going to take time to be developed and refined. That's just the way it is. Technology is certainly not going away and our students are best set up to succeed in the workforce by integrating technology into their education. Learning how to use the latest and most current programs, creating a culture that keeps up with current trends, ensures our students will remain competitive in their fields.

I took away a number of exciting ideas for my English classes. However, I've already learned that these ideas will apply well beyond that. One of the ideas I shared with our school's Menahel (principal) was creating a "fancast" after finishing a novel study. The ISTE presenter said she encouraged students to create little photo collages (using something like pic-collage) of which actors they would cast if they were directing a film based on the novel they had just finished. Then, they'd write blog posts justifying their choices,making comments about why the actor's persona would fit the character's personality. Students commented on and debated each other's blogs. In fact, the presenter said that the commenting continued so long that comments still came in the week after school when she'd disabled the site! I thought this was a great idea for English, but my Menahel immediately said "English? We could use that for Tanach classes!"

QuoteAnother idea I'm excited to see in use is "backchanneling." The basic idea/premise here is that students are already backchanneling: they're running a side commentary in the back of a classroom. Why not use this back channel - and facilitate meaningful discussion online (where anyone can have a voice)? The presenter for that session had two suggestions that I could see myself using. The first suggestion was using backchanneling during a film. A colleague of mine, who teaches history, and I have found ourselves frustrated in recent years when showing a movie. Students don't just sit and watch a movie anymore - they make comments, they want to also be on their phones, etc. Backchanneling changes that - students can make relevant comments, ask clarifying questions - all without disturbing anyone else's focus on the film. The teacher can add commentary and answer questions - without having to stop the film. Students at different levels are reached better (someone who isn't following can have his or her questions clarified on the back channel), when we embrace 21st century learning styles and manage the classroom better. The second suggestion I hope to try in my school is to backchannel during a staff meeting. This suggestion achieves two goals: It demonstrates the effectiveness of a technological tool, and it would improve the atmosphere of a staff meeting. We could use it during a session explaining Ontario Ministry expectations - teachers who have questions could have them clarified online, rather than stopping the presentation.

A larger shift for me after ISTE is going to be in my use of Google. My school has just switched our email to Google accounts. This means all students and staff have Google Mail, Calendar and Drive. The administration has already started sharing calendars with each other to improve overall scheduling and organization. In my classes, we will begin using Google Docs in ways I hadn't thought of until ISTE. In English, the suggestion I really liked was uploading Shakespearean plays being studied into Google Docs. This way, students can learn collaboratively - I can ensure involvement of more students as I share the Doc with the entire class and ask for all to participate in the analysis of the play. In my History class, I plan on using Docs to help students organize research papers. Starting with a template organizer I created during the session I attended, students will be guided through their research. I will keep an eye on what they're doing and where they are by having the Doc shared with me. Essays in both English and History can be written in Google Docs - I no longer have to hear a student say they can't work on it or show it to me because their essay is saved on a computer that's at home or needs to be charged, etc. Students can easily share an essay for commenting and proofreading with a classmate.

This is just a sampling of the plethora of ideas with which I left Philadelphia. I have so many new resources, learned how to use many apps,and had my eyes opened to ways to integrate technology reasonably in an educationally valuable manner. I have ideas that will support our 1:1 integration, as well as our shift in staff training and mentality. My classes will be positively affected - and the implications run beyond my departments and into Judaic Studies classes. These ideas and resources came not only from sessions I attended, but from the evening conversations we had with other DJLN-sponsored attendees.

Thank you to DJLN for supporting my learning and my students' education.


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