Jewish Schools and Technology: More Wired Than Ever Before

Many 30- and 40-year-olds will remember when a cart with a computer and monitor was wheeled into the classroom and students formed a single line waiting for a chance to use the device for a few minutes. Perhaps it was typing out a few lines of code in BASIC to move the cursor several inches along the screen, or perhaps it was creating an elementary art design.

Today, the Technology Age has entered the classroom at full speed and it is integrated in every subject and curriculum. Jewish day schools have recently added chief technology professionals to their management teams. Congregational schools have technology experts on the faculty. Synagogues have cleared away dusty books in the library from a bygone era to make room for student computer labs and SmartBoards.


iPad in School - Jewish Schools and Technology

iPads are becoming mainstream in Jewish day schools


At the Jewish Academy of Orlando, Apple iPods are not an unusual site. While the students are not allowed to listen to Miley Cyrus or Matisyahu in school, they can be found hooked up to their iPods to learn Torah trope (cantillation). One of the school’s Hebrew teachers has created a set of podcasts for the students to learn individually as she works with small groups. The school has also used blogs to connect with other Jewish schools on topics of interest. Digital photography mixed with the latest production tool was used to create a slideshow of the children in kindergarten using their bodies to form the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Linda Dombchik, the school’s director of technology, explains that middle school students used technology to create a virtual Holocaust museum using Keynote, Apple’s presentation creator, to teach their peers.

While many Jewish day and supplemental schools provide access to computer labs with dozens of computers, some schools have transitioned to ensuring that each student has access to a laptop computer throughout the day. Many schools struggle to keep up with the latest technology as students become accustomed to faster computers at home and the technology quickly moves toward obsolescence with each passing school year. Jewish federations and foundations, like AVI CHAI, work with day schools and synagogues to provide the newest computers and devices, including SmartBoards and iPads.

The AVI CHAI Foundation has engaged with classroom teachers through experiments in an educational technology grant program, in which 400 applications were reviewed and 30 allocations were made. Eli Kannai, who directs educational technology at AVI CHAI, notes that the field is now starting to use SmartBoards (“more than just fancy projectors”) in many classrooms demonstrating the shift to “interactive teaching.”

In the past decade, the Jewish classroom has become integrated with technology. What was once a stand-alone experience, technology is now a utility for all subjects in schools, from math and science to Hebrew and Torah study.


New technology equipment in Jewish day schools is necessary in the 21st century


Students at Hillel Day School in Metropolitan Detroit use an interactive tool called Wordle to visually represent the concept of technology. These young students might type a descriptive paragraph about the week’s Torah portion, a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, or the words of a psalm. Wordle then generates a “word cloud” with the provided text. The words appearing more frequently show up comparatively larger in the word cloud.

Perhaps the single greatest technology integration into the Jewish classroom centers on Hebrew language learning. Kannai cites the enhanced use of audio and video devices to teach Hebrew. Rather than rely on the language labs of old, both day and supplemental schools are using the latest interactive software applications to make learning Hebrew fun and challenging. Students who are accustomed to playing video games at home enjoy the thrill of gaming at school to learn the ancient Jewish language.

TES, the largest Jewish software distributor, has released several applications focused on teaching children to read Hebrew, conjugate verbs, and master biblical Hebrew in an innovative way. Today’s children are more comfortable in front of a computer than any previous generation and the mode of learning must match the familiarity level.

Another trend is “user-generated content” in which teachers now create richer lesson experiences for their classrooms, and share these tools with other teachers. Each teacher maintains a webpage and blog that students and parents may access to complement classroom learning. Additionally, students are generating their own content by filming videos and uploading them to YouTube, blogging their research projects, and collaborating with their peers on websites and PowerPoint presentations to teach classmates.

These forms of user-generated content create a virtual classroom of sorts without formalizing the distance-learning approach.

As more students own personal devices that can access the Internet, we are near a situation when every student will have such a device in class, be it a Smartphone, tablet, or small laptop. The lessons of the past should prove helpful to a Jewish education system that needs to continuously adapt to the technology changes in this new world.

It is up to the educators to realize that before banning iPods, iPads and laptops from the classroom, they must seek out the ways to integrate this technology into the curriculum.

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Jewish Techs: The Jewish Technology Blog

This blog looks at how modern technology affects Jewish life, particularly the impact of the Internet on Jews across the globe. The Internet has made the Jewish community seem smaller. The Jewish Techs blog, written by blogger Rabbi Jason Miller (The Techie Rabbi), explores the places where Jewish culture, education and faith intersect with technology. Of course, like anything, Jews will continue to ask if technology is good or bad for the Jews – the age old question of our people. Good or bad, it is undisputed that technology has changed Jewish life. If you’re Jewish or interested in technology or both… you’ll enjoy the conversation. Thanks for reading the Jewish Techs blog.

The Techie Rabbi – Rabbi Jason Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller, the Techie RabbiJason Miller is NOT your typical rabbi. Known as the Techie Rabbi, he launched Access Computer Technology in 2010 and has grown it into a full-scale technology firm that provides social media marketing consulting and web design in addition to IT support. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary a decade ago, Rabbi Jason has made a name for himself as a popular blogger, social media expert, educator and entrepreneur. Based in Detroit, his congregation includes more than a million people who read his blog and follow him in Cyberspace. He began the Jewish Techs blog in January 2010 as the New York Jewish Week's technology expert.

An entrepreneurial rabbi and an alum of Clal's "Rabbi Without Borders" fellowship, Jason Miller is a rabbi and thought leader whose personal blog has been viewed by millions. The Detroit Free Press called him “the most tech-savvy Jewish leader" and the Huffington Post ranked him among the top Jewish Twitter users in the world. A social media expert, Rabbi Jason is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He writes the "Jewish Techs" blog for The Jewish Week and the monthly "Jews in the Digital Age" column for the Detroit Jewish News.

Miller won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is one of the winners of a Jewish Influencer award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.