Enhancing Teaching Through Technology

By Amy Gold, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Everywhere you look in the media today, we read that schools are working on how to integrate technology in the classroom. Recently, there have been many articles in professional education journals that are focused on teaching “screenagers.”  We are now teaching the Igeneration. The I represents  digital technology (iphones, ipad, itouch) and the highly individualized activities and immediate response that these technologies make possible. The face of education as we know it is changing and at Rashi we are keeping pace with best practice by training our teachers to teach with twenty first century tools and skills.

What is important to understand is that we have not radically changed what we are teaching but rather how we are using technology to convey content more powerfully and efficiently. Teaching and learning at Rashi is still student centered. Technology cannot replace the relational nature of teaching. Rather, the Activboard technology that we have here at school enables teachers to create lessons that are more interactive. Teachers can present information through a variety of modalities which helps students to develop richer, more complex mental representations of content.

Last year, we set professional goals in technology for all our faculty, and within the first year, our teachers met the initial goals. Currently, teachers are working on the next set of challenges which are more complex and technical as they require a deeper understanding of how to create and modify content using ActivBoards.

This year we added a complimentary tool to the ActivBoards, the learning response systems (affectionately called LARRYs). With these devices, teachers are able to ask both planned and unplanned questions for in-the-moment assessment and receive instantaneous feedback – which we refer to as dip-sticking. It provides real time data for making moment-to-moment decisions about how to progress with a lesson.

Do I continue to more advanced content or do I need to review some more and provide additional guided practice? The ability to make these immediate decisions helps to differentiate instruction and wouldn’t be possible without this technology.

It is important to remember that technology isn’t changing what we teach, it is enhancing our ability to teach. Teaching is an art. No matter how innovative and flashy technology seems, teaching at Rashi will always be about learning through relationships with students. We believe that technology helps to enhance our instruction, engage students, provide us with new ways to gauge their learning, and connect with our students. However, it will never replace the bond created by teacher and student as they explore new concepts and tackle new skills. With this new technology and professional development, we have invested in out teachers, we have invested in our students, and are providing an outstanding education amidst an ever changing tide.

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Rashi’s “ActivClassrooms”

By Dave Rosenberg, Third Grade Teacher and Assistant to the Head of School

Last year, in my tenth year of teaching, I began using an ActivBoard, and now I don’t know how I was able to teach without it. Rashi is now in its second year of implementing “ActivClassrooms” with the use of Promethean’s ActivBoard and ActivInspire software.

ActivBoards are Promethean’s brand of interactive whiteboards. I am able to write on the board, using the ActivPen, as I would an ordinary whiteboard. However, I’m also able to use the pen to click through websites and open video clips and other multimedia. The true power of the ActivBoard is its interaction with the ActivInspire software. In this program, I am able to create “flipcharts” using text, pictures, embedded multimedia, and digitized worksheets and textbook pages from existing curriculum. It allows me to project and interact with copies any pages that students have in front of them, from the previous night’s math homework, to the weekly Torah portion.

Using an ActivBoard allows for more time spent on learning, and both teachers and students benefit. Whereas I used to have to spend valuable class time in Jewish Studies walking around to individually help students find a specific word or phrase from a page of Hebrew text, now I am able to project a digital copy of the text, the same page that the students are looking at in their Tanakh, and use the highlighter tool to point out the words. Rather than taking a few minutes to furiously copy down notes from the whiteboard before having to thoroughly erase it in preparation for my next class, I can save notes from the board and then clear it for the next subject in two clicks. The following day, the previous day’s notes can be projected for students instantly, as opposed to having to spend transition time reconstructing what had been on the board the day before. Notes can even be printed and given to students who were absent or to those who require copies of the notes as an accommodation for a learning disability.

This fall we implemented Promethean’s Learning Response Systems. In grades K-2, students are using ActiVotes, a handheld voting device that allows students to respond to prepared or spontaneous multiple choice, yes/no, or true false questions. In grades 3-8, students are using ActivExpressions, a more sophisticated handheld device that can sort items in order, respond to likert scales, or text in open responses, both written and numeric.

My students love using the devices.They add a gameshow like element to lessons and allow all students to participate simultaneously. This is especially helpful for those students who do not frequently raise their hands or who are uncomfortable sharing in front of the whole class.

The Learning Response Systems give me immediate feedback from all students and allow me to check frequently for understanding and follow up to assist children who may be having difficulty. For example, as I was using the ActivExpresssions as the introduction to a math concept, I was surprised to note that two of my students, who were new to Rashi this year, were consistently getting the questions wrong. The data let me know I needed to follow up with them individually. I learned that although the students understood the math, they were confused by the formatting of Everyday Math, which they hadn’t seen before. It allowed me to review the format with them so that they were better able to demonstrate their understanding of the mathematical concepts.

ActivExpressions also enable me and other teachers to create self-paced assessments where students answer a series of questions directly on the device. Teachers can track responses during the assessments and export the results to Excel. This technology provides hard data instantly available to help teachers plan and differentiate instruction on the fly.

The possibilities of what we can achieve are very exciting. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring!

Helping Our Children Become Resilient

By Matt King, Head of School

Being a parent seems to get more complicated and challenging each year.  As a new grandfather observing the amount and complexity of equipment that parents now must have for babies, I was struck that the amount of new “stuff” seems to have doubled in a generation. And that’s the easy part, for the truly challenging work is guiding children through childhood and then adolescence.

A recent very powerful and provocative article in the Atlantic Monthly – “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” by Lori Gottlieb – touched on many issues, tensions, and dilemmas that are a struggle for all parents. The article synthesized a great deal of material that is relevant to people who spend their lives working with children. I sent this article to all Rashi staff as well as to Rashi parents, whom I also believed would benefit from reading it.

I have long felt that the most important gift we can give our children is to help them become resilient. Inevitably, life will throw you curve balls. Both adults and children will face disappointment and failure in their lives and we need to know how to deal with those situations. An increasing number of parents seem to think that their job is to shield children from frustration and failure, but doing so may have the opposite effect and undermine their confidence and ability to  handle disappointments.

Since one of our goals this year at Rashi is to provide more learning and social opportunities for parents, I convened two discussion groups with parents to review the issues raised in this article. The overwhelming response was that this is exactly the type of thinking we should be doing in this area. But there was also the realization that it is one thing to read and agree with an article, and quite another to “act in the moment” or to stand back when your child is in emotional pain. As parents, we are unhappy when our kids are unhappy. But we have to understand that if we “rescue” our children they won’t develop coping strategies on their own.

This year we are committed to increasing the resilience of our Rashi students and making our faculty more aware of issues related to resiliency. We will also be providing additional opportunities for parents to talk to each other, to facilitate conversations and to provide resources.

In this as in so many areas, being in an Jewish independent school makes it easier to raise and discuss these issues because we all share the same values. The parents who choose to send their children to Rashi embrace those values. When we have a discussion on a topic such as resiliency – especially when we gather in our beautiful Beit Midrash – the conversation is automatically enriched. Putting the discussion in the context of Jewish values definitely makes a difference.