The technology factor

The technology factor

School turns to high-tech to stimulate students

Yavneh technology director Chani Lichtiger and students use iPods to navigate through the Amazon rainforest. Courtesy of Yavneh Academy

When students in Rabbi Aaron Ross’s Torah study class learn a new topic, they do more than just scrutinize the text. They go to the Wiki, fill out the Google Doc, watch teacher-produced videos about the unit, and take part in online discussions of the material with Ross and their classmates.

“It’s a lot more fun than having them go home and teach themselves the material from the book,” mused Ross, a middle school Judaic studies teacher at Yavneh Academy I Paramus. “The Wiki is a hub for all sorts of media where they can post pictures, videos, VoiceThreads, and articles to teach each other. What it facilitates is amazing.”

Ross isn’t the only one incorporating such techniques into his curriculum. Most instructors at the school continually work with the technology department to find new ways to bring technology into their classes.

A recent “Tech Night” at the school gave parents the opportunity to see firsthand how technology is being utilized in their children’s classes. Staff explained the programs being implemented, and a video produced by the technology department showed parents how the daily curriculum integrates technology. Afterwards, parents had the opportunity to try some of the programs on MacBooks around the room.

Most parents voiced surprise at the advanced technologies being incorporated into the curriculum.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Courtney Lopchinsky. “I watched this and feel like it justifies the tuition I’m paying. This is exactly what the kids will need to exist in the world and to be successful.”

Sunni Herman of Teaneck, who recently transferred her children from another day school, was also impressed. “This is very innovative. It’s worlds ahead of anything my children were doing before.”

Herman noted that integrating technology into the learning process is beneficial to all children, because everyone learns differently.

According to Chani Lichtiger, Yavneh’s director of technology, students are working with Google Docs, video editing and movie making, digital storytelling, photoshop, iPod apps, VoiceThreads, and Lexia Learning. They are participating on a Wiki with other students throughout the world as well as creating their own Hebrew E-books.

The students create their own avatars using Web 2.0 technology and explore the rainforest using iPod apps including Encyclopedia Britannica.

“A rainforest app on the iPod gives students the feeling they are in the rainforest,” said Lichtiger. Students also researched the lives of halachic authorities using VoiceThread, she said.

Yavneh Academy, embracing pre-K through grade 8, “is at the cutting edge of technology integration,” said Principal Rabbi Jonathan Knapp.

“This is not new to your children,” he told the parents at the recent event. “We’ve had great success in implementing it for the past few years. Our students are prepared for the 21st century.”

Lichtiger says she’s worked hard to stay on top of the changing technological world throughout the seven years she’s held this position, working to bring new technologies into the curriculum to enhance learning and make class more interesting.

She noted that the advanced technologies also help prepare students for the outside world.

“It’s our job to make sure we give them the tools they need to succeed,” she said.

In second-grade math class, students don’t rely on math books anymore. Nor do they use a pen and paper for practicing math problems: They use a smartboard, practice examples using the MacBooks on their desks, and work on their individual iPods with apps to make math part of their real world.

“This helps them speak math and conceptualize it better,” she said. “It helps them feel it.”

Teachers say technology can offer tools for students to utilize their creativity in new ways. Adrienne Shlagbaum, an enrichment teacher for students in grades 1-5, noted that, “It definitely makes learning more interesting and reaches all different types of learners.”

Her fourth-grade students studied an event in Jewish history and shared the factual information in a VoiceThread, writing from the perspective of someone who lived through the event.

“One student, for example, created a VoiceThread about a child experiencing the First Zionist Congress, and another one about the Six-Day War. You can really see the application of their knowledge,” she said.

Meryl Rubin, a third-grade teacher, said computer technology brings her lessons to life in a powerful way and makes her students more involved in their learning.

With the use of iPods, they “navigate” through the Amazon rainforest to investigate animals. Through the use of iMovie and green screen technology, they are transported into the rainforest, where they study the habitat and creatures. “The excitement in the room is infectious,” she said. “They children are so enthusiastic.”

Integrating technology into the curriculum has also enhanced her students’ understanding of the material, she said. “I am impressed by how much they absorb as they navigate the new technology.”

In an age of video games and 3-D special effects onscreen, students agree that the technological devices make learning more exciting.

“Our math teacher shows us online videos to help us understand the material,” said Simone Tassler, a seventh grader. In social studies class, she and her classmates made podcasts, or media presentations, about explorers and loaded them onto iPods so they could share them with their classmates and family.

Tassler’s twin sister, Robin – who created an animated film about cybersafety for computer class – said the technology and gadgets make learning more enjoyable.

“It’s more fun because it gives us an opportunity to interact and do things on our own,” she said.

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