In this Educator Spotlight, you'll meet Alyson Jacobs and find out why her students are so engaged, and loving Judaic Studies.
Alyson Jacobs is a Judaic Studies teacher at HAFTR Middle School where she has been teaching for 3 years. She feels so fortunate to be teaching in such a supportive and growth-oriented environment. She loves incorporating technology in the classroom to encourage a feeling of relevance, excitement, and love for Torah. Alyson studied at Stern College and was part of the Legacy Heritage Teacher Training Fellowship at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School, where she earned her Master’s Degree in Jewish Education. After teaching for three years in Sunnyvale, CA, she decided to make the big move to NYC where she currently resides.
When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?
I majored in Psychology, and throughout college I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I thought maybe I'd go into school psychology but realized it wasn't the right fit. During my senior year of college at YU, I found out about the Legacy Heritage Teacher Training Fellowship. The Fellowship allowed me to teach near San Francisco, which is where I grew up, and I discovered I really loved teaching!
How did you learn how to integrate technology into the classroom?
At my old school there wasn’t the same amount of technology as there is at HAFTR although now this has probably changed. I’m very tech-savvy; I’m attached to my phone just like my students are. I wanted to make learning applicable to them - something that’s fun and that they can relate to. They loved working on computers instead of writing by hand. At HAFTR I was able to finally use more innovative tools. You can also just learn as you go. I wanted my students to make a children’s book, so I just Googled and found this great website called StoryJumper! It’s awesome and I highly recommend it.
What are some ways you use EdTech for teaching Judaic Studies?
My students create music videos on iPads. It all started with a friend of mine writing a parody of “Forget You” with words about Melachim (the Book of Kings), very much like the Maccabeats change lyrics and make them Jewish-themed. I love working with music. If I hear a song over and over, then eventually I know I’ll always remember those lyrics. I wanted to do something similar for the students, incorporating music they’d have to listen to many times, so they could memorize the lyrics. I recorded each student singing her part of the Melachim song along with the instrumental version in the background, and emailed the recordings to them. Then, in groups of five, they created music videos using iMovie. The iMovie app automatically underlaid their recordings into the movie. Not only did making the movies guarantee that they memorized the lyrics, but it also enabled them to really learn the biblical story. Also, the whole project gave each student an opportunity to use his or her unique talents and different intelligences. One student could do the editing, another could make the costumes, another one could do the filming. They loved it! Each video was five minutes long, and at the end of each class for a week, they enjoyed watching one group’s movie.
The students also each have individual blogs through Google Sites. After learning a chapter in Nevi’im (Prophets), each student summarizes the story in that particular chapter by writing a blog post from one character’s point of view. They have to summarize the entire chapter to demonstrate their understanding, so even if a character isn’t in part of the chapter, they still have to write from the character’s point of view, which encourages them to be creative. The blogs are a great form of formative assessment because they write them after learning each chapter. At the end of the year, the students do another project in which they make a children’s book using StoryJumper. What I like about all these projects that use technology is that they’re digital, so years later the students can refer back to them, and never have to worry about them getting lost. They take ownership of these digital products. This is the case especially with the blogs, because the students also write them in 6th and 7th grade, so by the end of middle school, they can be proud of that culmination of three years’ work.
You also use the flipped classroom model. What does that look like for your students?
I participated in a program last year through The Lookstein Center that taught us about flipped learning. I use the model mostly for the things I don’t have time to get done in class. Sometimes, I’ll use the flipped classroom model for assessment. I make PowerPoints and then record myself speaking over the slides using Screencast-o-matic. Then I upload the PowerPoint to Zaption, which allows you to insert questions, and the students can’t move on to the next slide until they respond. I’m able to see if they're actually watching the videos and answering the questions. The flipped classroom model is great, and the best part is that the students can go back to the videos again and again if need be. At the end of the year, when I asked them if the videos were helpful, they said they went back and used them to study for tests. It’s also a great way for students to get caught up if they’re absent. I’d love to flip all my classes! That way all the students could refer back to the lessons whenever they need.
What are your favorite EdTech tools?
I love iMovie and have done a lot with it. StoryJumper, of course. I’m always learning new tools and find lots of them by searching on Google. When I wanted the students to make infographics, I just searched for and found a website where they could do it. There’s so much online! I try to stop myself and ask, “What is the goal? Is it to make the students reflective? Does it need to be an assessment?” Then I try and find the tools to reach that goal.
How do you feel being a teacher is different today?
In general, kids are learning very differently now; everything is at their fingertips and at their disposal, but all that instant gratification means they’re not used to really working to get results. Today, teaching is a lot about classroom management and keeping them engaged. I constantly have to find new things to get them to love learning. My goal as a teacher is for students to love the subject. I try to incorporate different intelligences into the learning. So, for example, if a student likes dancing, then let her make a dance routine, because engagement is so important.
What has been the best part of integrating technology into your classroom?
Seeing students who aren’t normally engaged in the learning, start to love learning. For one lesson, the students had to make a movie trailer in iMovie about the sin of the golden calf. There was a girl in my class who never spoke, and this project helped her blossom. To see her work with these others girls whom she never would have talked with - and laughing! - for me those memories are priceless.
Here's an example of a "Draw My Life" style video created by Alyson's students: