Deborah Fishman

The Transformative Value of Fieldwide Teacher Collaboration

 Posted by on January 11, 2017 at 10:04 am  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Jan 112017

This article was first published in HaYidion: The Prizmah Journal in its inaugural issue on Collaboration.

by Deborah Fishman

Last summer, four day schools in the Midwest came together to explore a common challenge: how to differentiate instruction in a Hebrew classroom to meet the needs of students with varying levels of knowledge and experience. Teams of educators and administrators from each school—Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School in St. Louis, Akiva School in Nashville, The Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor and Hyman Brand Academy of Kansas City—met at Mirowitz to learn about differentiation from a master general-education instructor, and to discuss among themselves how to apply this learning to a Hebrew classroom.

The educators’ energy and enthusiasm, both in bonding as teams and in meeting and networking with one another, was overwhelming. With multiple teams sporting school shirts, morale was very high; despite the fact that some of these schools resumed sessions the following week, they were nevertheless investing this time in their professional development and forging relationships with other educators. The instructor remarked early in the day how he couldn’t tell which educators had existing relationships and which had become instant best friends with “complete strangers.”

The professional development day is one example of collaborations that are taking place within the JDS Collaborative, with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation. Where can we find the leverage to strengthen the Jewish mission of schools throughout the day school field? The Collaborative aims to provide one answer: collaboration by teachers and leaders within schools and between schools can allow school change to take place in the most efficient and effective manner through the creation, prototyping and spread of new ideas, forging of new relationships, and sharing of resources. The Collaborative’s unique process connects day school leaders and teachers over long distances; focuses them on challenging aspects of their Jewish mission at their school; and ignites collaborations on projects that they believe will address the challenge, largely through online networking strategies. Additionally, there is some funding to support professional development and travel opportunities.

The Hebrew differentiation project is one of 21 such projects currently underway in the Collaborative. These projects range from designing curricula using game-based learning, to developing Hebrew language activities built around real-life opportunities and experiences, to using educational simulations to explore scenarios school leaders face regarding Judaic teachers and curriculum content and tradition vs. innovation. Below are the implications we have seen from this work so far regarding the features that are most important for achieving impact and success.

First, while school participation depends on the school leaders’ buy-in and investment in the concept and its potential for application at the school, we have found that in many cases it is most effective for the majority of the work to be done by the teachers themselves. School leaders are simply too busy to be as invested in the daily process, and in the end it is the teachers in whose classrooms the resulting projects will be implemented.

Moreover, we have learned that Jewish day school teachers are indeed hungry for opportunities to form relationships with other teachers and to be exposed to resources, ideas and connections outside the four walls of their classrooms. When Cheryl Maayan, head of school at Mirowitz, opened the Hebrew differentiation day by asking the group to share about challenges in Hebrew instruction in a Jewish day school environment, the room exploded with everyone wanting to contribute.

“This is an area of growth for Jewish day schools. There are lots of opportunities in the field for leaders to connect, but we don’t always provide these opportunities for faculty,” said Maayan. She serves on the Collaborative’s Leadership Team along with Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl, head of Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia; Dr. Michael Kay, head of Solomon Schechter of Westchester; and Larry Kligman, head of the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Los Angeles.

Suzanne Mishkin of the Sager Solomon Schechter Day School in Northbrook, Illinois, which is participating this year in a project about STEAM and the chagim, emphasized the benefits of sharing expertise. “We are interested in the Collaborative because we believe it is important to be able to pool resources. I worked for public school for many years, where there are many schools in a district, so you have access to educators with varied experiences and new ideas. There are great ideas in our building, but to be able to go outside and collaborate is always a positive experience.”

Second, we are finding the Collaborative’s support in project management is an essential resource in order to make sure projects come to fruition. Jonathan Cannon, director of the Collaborative, employs the following steps in the process of forming new projects:

  1. Recruiting potential participants
  2. Eliciting their priorities for improvement of their school’s Jewish vision and practice
  3. Connecting participants who face similar challenges and/or opportunities
  4. Helping them formalize this commonality into projects, around which they can collaborate.

While school leaders and faculty alike are enthusiastic about participating, they have very busy schedules, and the friendly guidance of Alanna Kotler, Collaborative project manager, can make the difference between a successfully implemented project and one that falls by the wayside. Kotler ensures that projects stay on track through managing the team roles and responsibilities and breaking down deliverables, milestones and deadlines.

The Hebrew differentiation project reveals how participants develop their work through collaboration and resource-sharing. In the time since the day of learning, the schools narrowed down their focus to differentiation strategies for second grade Hebrew reading fluency, and together determined the standards they wanted to work on. The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School of Rockville, Maryland, subsequently joined the project, and its Hebrew reading specialist created a webinar that was given to 15 teachers and administrators at Mirowitz and Akiva. After the webinar, teachers worked in their schools to create new benchmarks for reading fluency and share lesson ideas of how to differentiate instruction in light of student assessment. The schools are currently working on furthering the work in their schools to better define assessment and fluency criteria.

The process represents a shift in the way many day schools approach challenges that can seem beyond the ability of the school to address. “The Collaborative is the first opportunity we’ve had to think about a problem from within our school rather than joining an external program that’s been created for us. The impact has been subtle but profound. There hasn’t been any one “aha moment” or one stand out experience but every few weeks we gained more information and pushed forward. Now, a year later, we have come a long way,” said Daniella Pressner, principal at Akiva.

Third, we are unearthing at what stages of this process collaboration is most helpful, and to what end. What is the best model for structuring collaboration among multiple day schools such that it is a value added rather than an obstruction to a successful outcome? What unexpected benefits of collaboration may not have been anticipated?

We are finding that collaboration among different schools is most valued for the learning (professional development) and evaluation phases, whereas collaboration within a school is prioritized during the implementation phase.

One ancillary reported benefit of the Collaborative is that collaboration between teachers teaching the same topic and administrators within each school itself has increased enormously and has been sustained, leading to a culture of cooperation that has the potential to transform relationships between colleagues and positively impact student learning as a result. “Our experience is showing that the sustainability of projects that had collaboration in the schools is greater because of the joint conversation and accountability,” Cannon said.

In conclusion, day school collaboration is critical because it allows schools to share resources, which is not only more efficient, but also leads to the spread of new ideas. “As a Jewish day school field, we need to figure out more effective ways to share resources. I don’t just mean financial resources but that sense of support… the idea that someone has your back,” Pressner said.

If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative, please contact Jonathan Cannon at

Case Study Webinar Available: Hebrew Instruction at JDS

 Posted by on September 27, 2016 at 9:59 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Sep 272016

As evidenced by the high rate of participation in an AVI CHAI webinar yesterday, Hebrew instruction is a topic which elicits passion in many Jewish day school educators and leaders. The webinar – hosted by Dr. Michael Berger, AVI CHAI Program Officer – sought to illuminate the challenges and possibilities of JDS Hebrew language education in the JDS classroom. The recording is available to watch here. It was based off two case studies on this topic from “How Schools Enact Their Jewish Missions: 20 Case Studies of Jewish Day Schools”: “Meshuga La Davar: Hebrew,” about The Epstein School, by Dr. Michael Berger and Pearl Mattenson, and “A School That Places Israel at Its Center,” about the Golda Och Academy, by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, who served as Project Director of the case studies project. Speaking on the webinar were Stan Beiner and Dr. Joyce Raynor, former heads of Epstein and Golda Och, respectively. Beiner is now a consultant to non-profit organizations and schools, and Dr. Raynor currently serves as the Head of School of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas, NV.

The webinar speakers encouraged attendees who are designing or improving their schools’ Hebrew programs to consider questions such: How do you create an immersive Hebrew environment in your school that simultaneously provides ongoing professional development and teacher support? How do you assess and evaluate your approach? How do you leverage current thinking in bilingual education? How do you effectively market and advocate for your Hebrew program? Do you want your Hebrew program’s aspirations to reflect your community, or to lead it?

In the Q&A, many webinar viewers were thinking about purveyors of Hebrew language programs and how to decide which programs and approaches best fit their school’s needs. The advice given by the speakers was that the answer should stem from thinking about what goals and outcomes you want to see from Hebrew language instruction, its philosophical underpinnings, and what would create a purposeful approach toward these goals. Is the goal speaking fluent modern Hebrew or reading religious texts/comprehension? Also, you shouldn’t be afraid of using multiple programs, or of adopting pieces of various programs to meet your specific needs and goals. You should start with what you want to accomplish and then select appropriate texts rather than vice versa.

Some of the programs mentioned and submitted by viewers included TaL AM; NETA-CET; Bonim B’Yahad – Distance Learning from Israel; JETS Israel – Distance Learning; Morim Shlichim Program of World Zionist Organization; and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

Thank you very much to the webinar speakers and viewers for your participation and b’hatzlacha with your important work in Hebrew instruction this year!

Watch the webinar recording here:

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Aug 192016

This summer, Jewish day school leaders unlocked new leadership skills at two programs of the Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This is the first post in a series highlighting thoughts on leadership and the Jewish vision and mission of day schools from leaders who attended with AVI CHAI sponsorship. Etan Dov Weiss is the Director of Jewish Life and Hebrew at the Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School and attended the Harvard Art of Leadership (AOL) program. See below for a video filmed at Harvard where Etan describes the school change project he will be working on during this coming school year.

What have you been working on at your school?

I’ve been in my position for a year. I was brought in at a time when there was a significant change in leadership personnel and structure. This provided a great opportunity to work on systematizing, documenting, and updating handbooks. We also went through reaccreditation and completed our strategic plan. Our strategic plan focuses on professional excellence: creating a culture where people are excited to work, with revamped expectations, supervision and professional development opportunities. In Judaic studies, we are working on a full review and articulation of goals for our Hebrew program. We are considering questions such as: Where does the connection to the State of Israel go in the curriculum to be most effective, with Hebrew or Jewish history? What does that look like and what are the goals of the Israel connection piece, and of Hebrew overall? We are analyzing how to fill in curricular gaps and how we improve communication between teachers to make sure the work is in sync.

What are you personally focused on and/or passionate about?

My personal goal is to improve my leadership style and skills: finding a balance between efficiency, efficacy, and building trust. Especially since the whole leadership team and structure is new, I place an emphasis on building teams and trust, communication, and articulating where we’re going and the strategy to get there. I am also engaged in getting buy-in for this strategy, both internally to teachers and externally to community partners. My main focus is on knowing where my skill set lacks and how to then recalibrate a balance that works for me.

At the end of the day, though, the students are the focus. What keeps me up at night is the Jewish mission and vision of the school actually, and the passion and dedication to that. This is what I’m committed to. I want it to be optimally effective for each individual student, and this will only happen through creating changes and systems that will be long-lasting. At the same time, my child is in the school, and my child only gets one first-grade experience. So there’s a balance between recognizing that building relationships is key for long-term sustainability, yet wanting change to have already happened. As the sages say, “If not now, when?”

What is your vision for pluralism in your school’s Jewish life?

We tackled our vision for pluralism in our strategic plan – we are working on using the term ‘community’, which we think means more than ‘pluralism’. We recognize that there are 70 faces to Torah, as the Talmud says. Whereas I may have my own way, I also have to hear about the ways of others. Parents sometimes worry that their child will be exposed to other ways in Jewish day school which will end up taking precedent over their ways. What I’ve actually found from 10 years of working in Community day schools is that the child becomes the standard bearer of the parents’ ways and gets to show pride in how their family connects Jewishly. For instance, kids love to share how their families observe Shabbat. They never say: your family should do it the same way as my family. They just want to share. When you’re exposed to and challenged by different perspectives, it helps you feel more comfortable in your own. This helps the children reflect on: How can I be part of klal Israel, so I can build community? How does the community affect me?

I’m interested in a cultural shift for students where I want them to be there for each other. For instance, on Shabbaton, kids determine their own bunk rules as to how to do Shabbat so that everyone feels comfortable. It’s about learning to stand up for yourself and stand up for others. My ideal is for an Orthodox student to think of a Reform classmate: s/he needs this from me so as to feel fulfilled. Likewise, I want reform communities to say: We need a mechitza in the school for our Orthodox classmates. I want them saying this for each other instead of for themselves.

How does your day school intersect with the local community?

Locally in Minneapolis, we are pulling in the rabbis of synagogues and leaders of Jewish institutions to think about: What do you want from a Jewish day school? What is the distinction between skills you learn at synagogue and at Jewish day school? For instance, personally I believe that leining (reading from the Torah) is a synagogue skill. We need to clarify what is and isn’t our goal, and what are we not doing enough of to support each other? This is particularly true because we are a smaller community, with around 8-10 synagogues. The end goal is all about enhancing the Jewish mission. If we can partner with one another and be spokespeople to tell the story of the amazing work we’re all doing, we can increase enrollment and it will benefit us all.

Author’s note: Heilicher participated in “How Schools Enact Their Jewish Missions 20 Case Studies of Jewish Day Schools.” The case study exploring tefillah at Heilicher is available here.

Jun 102016

The Pardes Day School Educators Program (PEP) graduated its 15th cohort last week. The two-year program combines intensive text study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies with a Master of Jewish Education from Hebrew College. The graduates will go on to fulfill their commitment to teach Jewish studies in a North American Jewish day school for a minimum of three years upon completion of the program.

AVI CHAI Program Officer Michael Berger addressed the cohort with some words of wisdom and mazal tov in the following video:


May 252016

We are pleased to announce the release of a new case study on the adoption of online/blended learning in Jewish day schools. “Zafon Elementary School: Growing the Station-Rotation Model in Year 3,” is available here. This is the second case study to document “Zafon,” an Orthodox, pre-K through 2nd grade school, which opened in 2012 with blended learning as a core element of its design. The prior study, released in January 2015, is available here.

Conducted by Dr. Leslie Santee Siskin of New York University with Daniel Loewenstein, the new case study examines the shift from building a new school to one that is growing larger and older. In Year 3, the focus was on establishing the infrastructure and school culture; the case also looks forward to anticipated challenges in Year 4 (2015-16) around changes in moving to a new building and reconfiguring the school’s administrative structure.


The case is available here on the AVI CHAI website.


Apr 062016

The AVI CHAI Foundation and BetterLesson recently hosted three two-day PD sessions focused on developing actionable implementation plans for blended and online learning. Forty-six teachers from 14 Jewish day schools across the US and Canada receive ongoing support from BetterLesson coaches to refine and implement their plans throughout the Spring semester. The partnership with BetterLesson seeks to advance the Foundation’s goal of improving “the quality of day school education by increasing individualized data-based instruction and enabling students to develop skills and ways of thinking needed in the 21st century.”

Since 2010, the Foundation has sought to place itself at the forefront of blended learning integration within the Jewish day school network, “working to help day schools get ready and to provide encouragement and assistance through a diverse set of grants.” The partnership with BetterLesson is another opportunity for teachers to receive comprehensive support in applying blended learning in their classrooms.

BetterLesson asserted itself as a leader in the blended and personalized learning space with the launch of its Blended Master Teacher Project. In 2014, the company partnered with The Learning Accelerator to showcase the blended practices of expert teachers nationwide. The free, online resource uses videos to show and explain how a strategy was developed and implemented in the classroom.

From this project, BetterLesson extended the knowledge to the field of professional development. Their team of expert Blended Coaches developed a PD offering that provides teachers with the time, space and support to develop a Blended model and then implement it over the course of the school year. BetterLesson’s PersonalizedPD involves a two-pronged approach: an in-person Design Studio where teachers work with coaches to develop their plan and ongoing coaching as they implement the plan in their classrooms.

The AVI CHAI design studios were hugely successful. Attending teachers left energized to immediately start integrating blended strategies in their classrooms. A participant wrote, “We learned, experienced, collaborated and enjoyed the atmosphere. But most importantly, I feel that I can use what I learned to enhance my students’ learning.”

Senior Program Officer Rachel Abrahams remarked on the leadership provided by BetterLesson coaches, “To a tee, they are professional, friendly and model teachers. It has been a pleasure to watch them work and to watch our teachers learn from them.  Most of the attendees have found the experience extremely powerful and are looking forward to the coaching.”

While no additional Design Studios are planned for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year, AVI CHAI and BetterLesson are in talks to discuss options for the coming school year.

Mar 232016

Purim starts tonight at sunset. In preparation, we polled the AVI CHAI staff as to their thoughts on:  What aspects of Purim do you find most meaningful and fulfilling? Here are the results:

Rachel Abrahams:

The familial nature of the holiday helps transmit your family’s customs and values around celebrations. What are the important pieces of the holiday to you, as a parent and as a family?  It’s an opportunity to show your children how you feel about matanot l’evyonim, what it means to celebrate and get dressed up. As my children become teenagers, I’m thinking about how it changes from just a fun time to get dressed up and shake a grogger into exploring what the real significance of the holiday is. It’s becoming about how you transmit that and not just the joyous nature of the day.

Galli Aizenman:

It’s meaningful to have a holiday where we come together as a family and a community to celebrate a great moment in Jewish history, and we do so with joy and fun. It’s also a great holiday for kids. I find it meaningful to hear the story each year with a renewed understanding of how special we are as the Jewish people and our place in Jewish history. It’s about feeling the joys and also acknowledging the suffering that has occurred to the Jews. There’s something communal and celebratory about it that is fun to be a part of. Other holidays – like the High Holidays – are about being introspective on your own. This is celebrating a joyful event for the community.

Michael Berger:

The Purim story is about all Jews uniting in a time of crisis, sticking together and helping each other out – kind of like “we all rise or fall together.”  In keeping with that theme, our family does three things: first, we add up everything we spend on mishloah manot and the seudah (meal) and we give at least that amount to matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor).   In some years, such as during the recession, we made the ratio 2:1 in favor of matanot le-evyonim.  Second, wherever we go on Purim, we keep with us a stash of baggie-size mishloach manot (with just a cookie, a few raisins, and a “Happy Purim” note) to give to everyone we meet, as if to say – “even if we don’t spent a lot of time together during the year, I value your presence in our community.”   Lastly, we are fortunate to live in a community with many of our children’s teachers, and we want our children to use the holiday to express their appreciation personally, so we have them make up and deliver mishloah manot in person to each of their teachers that year.  We think this helps builds community, and teaches our children this value.

Deborah Fishman:

I find it striking how our actions on Purim allow us to live out the history even in our modern-day environment in a very experiential way. We start with the Fast of Esther, a kind of recreation of how all Jews fasted before Esther risked her life by appearing before the king. Then, we have a megillah reading, followed by feasting just as Mordechai instructed in the megillah. I enjoy cooking Persian food for Purim, to make a feast that is closest in nature to what Jews themselves would have prepared in Shushan. All the while, everyone is dressed in costume, which exemplifies our identification with the cast of characters in the story – from all the Esthers and Mordechais in the crowd – as well as deeper aspects of the story, such as its topsy-turvy plot as well as the nes nistar (hidden miracle).

Deena Fuchs:

I love the megillah. I remember learning it in depth in high school. Every year when I hear it read, all of the nuance and commentary comes back to me. I am compelled by Purim’s theme of the nes nistar – the hidden miracle. We are not always aware of why things happen the way they do, but upon reflection, we find that everything happens for a reason. In our fast-paced, non-stop, serious world, it’s nice to just be frivolous – to take a step back and laugh at ourselves. Finally, I love the sense of community that Purim builds, of preparing and delivering mishloach manot (gift baskets), of everyone being so happy to see each other in costume. While community building is not unique to Purim, Purim makes it intentional – and fun!

Susan Kardos:

In addition to celebrating with family and friends, Purim is a holiday I like to share with my non-Jewish friends. When I am out in the world, I find that there is a perception among non-Jews that Judaism is only about seriousness and deprivation: about all the things we don’t or can’t do: eat on Yom Kippur or other fast days, drive on Shabbat, or eat bread on Passover or drive.  In contrast, Purim is raucous and joyful.  It’s an inspiring and happy holiday, and I love introducing my non-Jewish friends to my joyful Judaism.

Nechama Leibowitz:

Purim is a fun holiday and a great time to make memories with my children. However, what has become truly meaningful to me about the coming of Purim is the day before, Taanit Esther, with the creation of Agunah Day to spread awareness of the plight of Agunot, chained women who are being denied a get (Jewish divorce) by their husbands.

Leah Meir:

Purim in Israel is really a fantastic thing. There’s a commonality you don’t see in some other Jewish holidays. Everybody is willing to put aside their real personas for a day. Kids on the street could be anyone’s kids, from the most traditional to the families who don’t necessarily identify as religious at all. There’s a common festive atmosphere at least for those 24 hours.

Yossi Prager:

I love the megillah itself, and I love reading it for the community. The tune is unique, used only for Megillat Esther. But it also includes traces of the tune we use for Lamentations, Megillat Eicha, which increases the sense of foreboding and fragility in the first half of the megillah. The megillah is filled with entertaining plot twist, satire and irony, while teaching a profound lesson about how individuals can be God’s agents in Jewish history.  The absence of God’s name from the megillah gives it a hide-and-go-seek quality: we are meant to see G-d’s actions in history, even when they are not self-evident. The most fun part of Purim, dressing up, complements this theme of hide-and-go-seek, as we, too, obscure who we really are.  And I love the way in which the mitzvot of the day help to build community: a public reading of the megillah, bringing food to friends and neighbors, and sharing our good fortune with those in need.  The story of two individuals, Esther and Mordechai, becomes a double lesson – about how much each of us can accomplish individually and the strength of community.

Michael Trapunsky:

I enjoy spending time home with family to celebrate Purim, especially the seudah. I also find matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) very meaningful – helping others less fortunate who might need help to have their own seudah. Finally, I think of Purim as a rededication to our faith, since at the time of Purim, Jews accepted the Torah again.

Mar 172016

If you are a school leader, you can apply to attend the AVI CHAI Harvard experience launching at The Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this summer. But – apply today! The deadline for applications is tomorrow, Friday, March 18th.

Why should you apply to this program?

You (or someone you know) should apply if you are a day school administrator serious about advancing your school through a significant change project that will enhance your school’s Jewish mission.  The program is designed to stimulate and begin implementing a high impact project in your school. Selected leaders will attend one of two Harvard summer institutes: Advancing the Art of Leadership (AOL), for leaders with 1-5 years of experience, or Leadership: An Evolving Vision (LEV), for leaders with 3+ years of experience.  AVI CHAI-sponsored participants will also benefit from an additional structured program, both at Harvard and throughout the 2016-17 school year, designed to apply the learning to Jewish day schools.

How can participating in this program impact your school?

“It’s a chance to step outside your environment and think with the broader Harvard cohort, and the more specific Jewish day school cohort, all coming from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. It has given me different lenses for how to approach my work. It’s hard to do big-picture visioning during the school year,” said Aileen Goldstein of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland.

Mordechai Schwersenski of Torah Academy of Philadelphia explained, “I walked away from every session with something practical. Every workshop could be turned into a year or two years of work at my school. There are real themes I will take back, such as the strategy of teaming, how teams function, and at the end of staff meetings, just taking two minutes to stop and think, just like we did at Harvard.”

You can read additional stories from Jewish day school leaders and how their schools’ Jewish mission was enhanced by their Harvard experience:

Helena Levine, Head of School, Donna Klein Jewish Academy, Boca Raton, FL
Amy Platt, Ph.D., Director of General Studies, Bialik Hebrew Day School, Toronto, Canada

Apply to Harvard today or share this with a colleague!



Game-based Learning with JDS Collaborative

 Posted by on March 14, 2016 at 4:21 pm  No Responses »  Tagged with: ,  Categories:
Mar 142016
Working together on developing games at the Institute of Play.

Working together on developing games at the Institute of Play.

Last week, a group of day school teams participating in the JDS Collaborative joined together for a professional development day on game-based learning, held at the Institute of Play in New York City.

The JDS Collaborative supports day school teams as they collaborate in the design and implementation of programmatic initiatives that further their schools’ Jewish missions. Utilizing networked techniques, the Collaborative connects at least three schools that share a common passion for a specific project identified as a priority by the schools’ leadership. Then, the Collaborative provides the team of schools with professional project management and access to outside expertise to help the team see the project through to completion. Each school implements the project in its own school’s context, with continual opportunities to collaborate, learn from the implementation at other schools, workshop challenges, and share and document ideas and solutions, in a continuous feedback loop. The project is directed by Educannon Consulting.

In this case, the goal of these teams is to use game-based learning strategies to create engaging curricula in Judaic Studies, with a more specific focus around concepts of God. The schools participating were Magen David Yeshivah, Fuchs Mizrachi School, Jewish Educational Center, Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR), and Tiferes Bnos Girls School.

The day focused on actually designing, “modding” (modifying), and “play-testing” games in a methodical and thought-provoking way. The group learned the principles and theory behind game-based learning, which will help them put game-based learning into practice in their schools in a more intentional way. Here are some of the lessons they learned:

  • How can game-based learning be used in the classroom? The group was particularly interested in how to make less compelling material more engaging, and how to help students who may have more difficulty with the material learn more effectively. They learned that there are three impactful inflection points where games can be applied: 1) to introduce content; 2) for student assessment; 3) to reinforce concepts and information. The game format is effective because it provides students with a concrete reason to need to know the information at hand.
  • What is the best way to develop a game? The group learned that beta testing and prototyping is the best way to hone in on the best game for your class. Actually playing a game in order to perfect it is key, and you can try it out even if it is not fully developed. In doing so, a teacher embodies some of the principles of game-based learning, such as:
    • Failure is reframed as iteration;
    • Everyone is a participant;
    • Feedback is immediate and ongoing; and
    • Learning feels like play.
  • What can be learned from the structure and methodology behind a game? The key parts of a game are:
    • Goal – what you have to do to win
    • Challenge – obstacles in the way of reaching the goal
    • Core Mechanics – how the player plays the game
    • Components – materials of play
    • Rules – what can a player do/not do?
    • Space – where the game happens

It is really useful to build a game by focusing on these parts – specifically, starting first with being cognizant of the game’s goal.

Interestingly, these parts are not only helpful for thinking about games. They also can be applied for the systemic study of any concept. For instance, to look at the study of God in the classroom, you could look at what the goal is of studying it, what challenges there are to understanding it, the rules of the study, etc. This goes to the game-based learning principle that all of the learning is interconnected.

The collaborative context for the day’s activities was an important aspect of the proceedings. More importantly, the team-building that took place will serve the group well as they begin to work collaboratively on curricula. They will be able to not only collaboratively build curricula, but also be in touch with different schools as they implement curricula in their school. This will help them troubleshoot, get new ideas, and work together to explore new opportunities to make Judaic Studies teaching maximally engaging and effective.

To learn more about the work of this group and opportunities to join the Collaborative, contact Jonathan Cannon at, or stay tuned on the AVI CHAI blog for more updates.