Apr 292013

Watch the following captivating short video to learn how See3 Communications, with AVI CHAI’s support, helped Jewish day schools all over the country learn how to be better online communicators. Through participation in social media and video academies, school staff learned how to tell their stories to parents, donors and community members; involve their alumni in becoming advocates for their alma mater; conduct online fundraising; and engage their communities in the life of their school. The schools continue to share their ideas with one another through their Facebook group. The schools in the second cohort of the social media academy are now hard at work finishing up their projects. We can’t wait to see how they use their new social media skills in telling their stories!

Feb 132012

After months of video production, promotion, and hard work, the Jewish Day School Video Academy Awards contest has come to a close with over 17,500 votes!! The competition was intense with 116 videos submitted by 68 schools. In addition to the three “people’s choice” prizes, three prizes were awarded by a panel of expert judges. The time that we’ve all been waiting for has arrived.

Drum roll please…

1st place winners of $10,000 are:

People’s Choice:
Columbus Torah Academy
for If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Expert Judging:
The Weber School – Doris and Alex Weber Jewish Community High School for Admissions Video

2nd place
winners of $5,000 are:

People’s Choice:
Lander-Grinspoon Academy, The Solomon Schechter School of the Pioneer Valley for A Gem in the Valley

Expert Judging:

Milwaukee Jewish Day School for Milwaukee Jewish Day School Trailer

3rd place winners of $2,500 in video equipment are:

People’s Choice:
Greenfield Hebrew Academy for Put the P Back in PTSA

Expert Judging:
Martin J. Gottlieb Day School for MJGDS 50th Anniversary Video Invitation

Congratulations to our winners and to all participants! The new video production skills and expertise that participants are bringing back to their Jewish day school communities are invaluable.  Keep up the great work!

Interested in participating in the next contest? Great!  Stay tuned in early March for more details on our next video contest!

Learn more by visiting the Jewish Day School Video Academy website, join our booming Facebook group, and follow our Twitter feed at #JDSVA. (And follow AVI CHAI’s Twitter feed  and Facebook page.



Jan 262012

By: Leah Meir

I was reminded of my father when I read a recent New York Times article entitled “Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain”.  This major study found that good teachers have lasting effects on their students’ lives that go way beyond academics, affecting life choices the students make years later. This study only confirms what many of us have felt personally. And the impact of teachers is even more crucial in Jewish studies, where we expect teachers to “lead by example” and act as role models for students in addition to imparting knowledge.

And why was I reminded of my father, Rabbi Judah Nadich z”l, when I read the article?  Because when he was 12 years old in 1924, he had a teacher who changed the course of his life, launching him on a path to the rabbinate, to serving as Senior Jewish Chaplain in Europe during World War II and Advisor to General Eisenhower on Jewish Affairs and then to a distinguished career as a leader of American Jewry. He was the kind of rabbi whose teaching had deep impact on both adults and children. His years in the chaplaincy are the subject of a current exhibit at the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, through February 7th.

In his unpublished memoir, my father tells the following story:

Growing up in Baltimore, his Jewish education had consisted of private lessons with a European-born teacher. By the time he was 12, he was completely bored with the rote lessons (which his teacher often listened to while sitting in his kitchen drinking a cup of tea Russian-style, sugar cube between his teeth). He started to skip his lessons to play in the park with his friends. He had absolutely no interest in the Jewish studies that he had experienced. When his parents found out, his mother lamented that he was in danger of growing up to be “a truck driver”, clearly not an acceptable career choice for her Jewish son!

She had heard about the Baltimore Talmud Torah, a more “modern” school on the other side of town, and enrolled him there. He was amazed to see that his teacher was a 19-year-old Johns Hopkins student by the name of Morris Perman, only a few years older than he was!  At the end of his first day, Mr. Perman asked him what he enjoyed doing and my father answered that he liked to draw. Perman asked him whether he would draw a map of the Kingdom of David, which the class was studying, on the blackboard the next day. My father was hooked.  A teacher was interested in what he liked to do, and actually asked him to use his skill in the class! It was a small but profoundly important gesture that made a lasting impact on a young boy.

My father noted in his memoir that Morris Perman went on to a career in Jewish education, leading religious schools in a number of cities including the illustrious Talmud Torah of Minneapolis. Searching the internet, I just discovered that Morris Perman passed away in 2008 at the age of 101, just months after my father. His obituary notes: “His zeal for teaching profoundly enriched and touched generations of students, family, and friends.” It certainly did.

Thank you to Mr. Perman and to all the teachers in Jewish religious and day schools who show their students the way, through their character and behavior as well as their knowledge. How can we recruit more like Morris Perman and Judah Nadich?

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation. Connect with her on Twitter @lmeir

Dec 012011

By: Leah Meir

“Jewish geography” is a favorite game among Jews who meet up anywhere – conferences, social gatherings, work meetings, street corners. You know the game questions: “So where are you from?” “No kidding, New Jersey! Do you know my brother (son, daughter, sister), who went to school (camp, college) there?” “Sure, I know your brother (son, daughter etc.) – We were really friendly at school (camp, college etc.)! I actually just connected with him (her) again through Facebook (Twitter, LinkedIn).”

Jews have been master networkers since the Babylonian exile 3,000 years ago – our survival as a people has depended on the ability to stay connected with fellow Jews wherever they were scattered across the globe. Our networking helped us hold fast to our shared values, texts, behaviors and religious traditions.

Jewish geography was just the jumping-off point at the recent “NetWORKS” conference in Boulder: “Exploring the Power and Possibilities of Networks in the Jewish Community.” The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation hosted 36 hours of discussion of “the power and possibilities of networks as a tool for strengthening both the Jewish community and the broader world.” In other words: let’s appreciate the power of the networking that the Jewish people has been doing for millennia and harness all those multiple relationships toward common goals and values.

The power of these webs of relationships to lead to common goals and actions is termed “social capital.” Social capital has to be based on trust and reciprocity, give and take. Personal relationships and networks are the heart of social capital, with technology and social media amplifying and expanding the networks in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

It’s not only the younger innovators and the “start-up” folks who are recognizing the power of these relationships in building a 21st century paradigm of Jewish community. Prominent foundations in the Jewish community such as the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The AVI CHAI Foundation, are moving toward what Adene Sacks of the Jim Joseph Foundation, calls “a network mindset” in a recent post in eJewishPhilanthropy.

We at AVI CHAI have begun by helping Jewish day schools and summer camps to think and function in a more networked way. They each have potentially powerful networks of alumni linked by relationships built during their years of positive Jewish experiences together. Last spring and summer, we sponsored a “Social Media Academy” for eight New York-area day schools led by Darim Online, in which they learned how a “Networked Nonprofit” thinks and behaves; they each established ongoing conversations with their alumni and parents using social media. We’re now sponsoring a “Jewish Day School Video Academy” for day schools throughout North America in which they are learning how to make and distribute online videos about their schools. It will culminate in the “Jewish Day School Video Academy Awards”, a contest in which two schools will each win first prizes of $10,000 for a five-minute video created as a result of participating in the Academy training; one of the prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges and the other by public voting. There will be second and third prizes in each of the two categories as well. The academy was developed and is being run by See3 Communications.

These are examples of first attempt to enable Jewish schools and camps to harness the power of their networks. We’re interested in your suggestions for ways to transform Jewish day schools and camps into “networked nonprofits” with the power to energize their networks to act in support of intensive and immersive Jewish education. Send us your comments, ideas and suggestions. We believe that there’s power in our network too!

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.

Do Jewish Day School Students have to be Computer Programmers too?

 Posted by on August 25, 2011 at 10:41 am  No Responses »  Categories:
Aug 252011

With a double curriculum of general and Judaic studies, do Jewish day school students need to learn computer programming and robotics too? You might well say: “Programming? Robotics? Great for an after-school activity, but don’t distract them when they’re supposed to be learning math or Humash or English or Hebrew.”

The Jewish Community Day School  (JCDS) in Boston, along with a growing number of other Jewish day schools, beg to differ:  “Yes, our students need these technologies integrated with all of their curricular subjects.”  Earlier this summer, I attended a conference sponsored by JCDS for teachers to help them do exactly this: “Integrating Programming and Robotics in the K-8 Classroom.”  Having just hung on during high school physics and opted for the “science for poets” course in college, I was a more than a little apprehensive about whether I even had the vocabulary to understand the conversation.

What a relief! Hearing two brilliant technology experts not only speak comprehensible English, but talk about technology and robotics in the service of helping kids develop the skills that they’ll need in the 21st century: creative responses to new situations, working collaboratively and reasoning systematically.

Dr. Mitchel Resnick is the director of the  Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which develops new technologies to engage people (particularly children) in creative learning experiences. Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers is an associate professor in child development and an adjunct professor in the computer science department at Tufts University. Her research is in the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote children’s positive development. Bers heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group and collaborates with Tufts’ Center for Educational Engineering Outreach (CEEO) .

The conference focused on two ways to integrate technology into the curriculum: The first is Scratch, a graphic programming language developed by MIT that allows young students to tell stories, draw, create games and share it all with others. (An amazing feature is a drop-down menu that allows you to switch to one of 15 languages, including Hebrew.)  The second is robotics, such as the Mindstorms program developed by the Lego company (yes, the same ones you used to trip on in your living room!) that even kindergartners can work with.

Video of JCDS kindergarten kids called “Mi Ani? Who am I?”

Do students need to be learning 21st century skills? No question. Do 21st century technologies always have to be utilized to teach these skills? No – sometimes the “old-fashioned” ways, such as havruta learning, can teach these skills just as powerfully. But they will need these skills and these technologies to function in our new digital world. The challenge is – not a simple one – to develop school environments that appreciate the use of technology not as a new “gimmick” but as an exciting way to help students work together and dream up creative solutions to life’s problems. Then, schools have to help teachers achieve enough of a comfort level with these technologies to make them a part of their classroom “tool kit”. Can Jewish day schools meet this challenge?

Leah Nadich Meir is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @lmeir

Camp Massad: Reunited After 30 Years

 Posted by on June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm  1 Response »  Categories:
Jun 222011

I spent this past Monday night at summer camp. Together with hundreds of other former campers and staff members at Camp Massad, I spent an evening celebrating the continuing legacy of the Hebrew-immersive camp that existed from 1941-1981 – that’s right: it’s been closed for 30 years!

So many showed up that an audio and video feed had to be set up in another room to accommodate those who didn’t fit into the auditorium. What brought an overflow crowd of Massadniks in their 50’s and 60’s (and older!) to pay homage to a summer camp that they had attended so many years ago?

In addition to the desire (and the curiosity!) to see how old bunkmates and summertime sweethearts looked 50+ years later, these former campers retained an unshakable loyalty and sense of indebtedness to an institution that gave them a lifetime gift. The gift was an eight-week home in which Hebrew was the language of the everyday, of sports, of music, of plays, of color war (“Maccabiah” in which all the activities were cleverly designed to teach about Jewish and Zionist history). Shlomo and Rivka Shulsinger, Massad’s directors over the 40 years, were “meshugaim ladavar” – fanatics for the cause of Hebrew. Supported by others in the Hebrew language movement and by the Histadrut Ivrit, the organization for the support of Hebrew in North America, they brought together an extraordinary staff of like-minded people. Some were religiously observant, others not; some were socialist Zionists, some were Revisionist Zionists, but their shared passion for the Hebrew language bridged all the differences.

Massad was a religious Zionist coed environment, something rare these days. While many of the campers were students at modern Orthodox day schools like Ramaz and Flatbush and many of the senior staff taught at such schools, others lived outside New York with little in the way of Jewish community or education. Their summers at camp gave them a concentrated dose of Hebrew, Jewish and Zionist education in addition to friendship bonds that kept them connected with Jewish friends throughout the year.

Massad also produced an astounding numbers of Jewish leaders. Just ask any Jewish community luminary “of a certain age”, and you’re likely to hear that he/she was at Massad. On Monday night, we watched a moving video that was recently created, alternating old movies and videos of camp with interviews of well-known Jewish leaders talking about the impact of the camp on them and on their peers. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehillath Jeshurun Synagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Rabbi Gerald Skolnick of Forest Hills and Dr. David Bernstein of the Pardes Institute, among others, spoke of the profound impact that their camp experiences had on them.

The evening’s highlight was the talk given by 90 year-old Rivka Shulsinger, Shlomo’s widow, in her characteristic forceful voice. It was alternately nostalgic, funny and moving. If your Hebrew is good, enjoy her talk on YouTube (click here for part 2.)

Other Jewish camps continue to have, powerful impact on campers and staff alike. Ramah and URJ camps, JCC camps, Yavneh to name a few, provide unique educational experiences summer after summer. Massad was a product of its time and sadly, may not have flourished if it had been founded in the 21st century. But its legacy lives in the camps that have followed it and in the fluent Hebrew spoken by its alumni. It’s fascinating to reflect on what the legacy of today’s Jewish summer camps can and will be. And can the experiences of camp be embedded into Jewish schools during the other 10 months of the year?

We ended Monday night’s program by singing – what else? – classic Israeli songs and the Massad camp hymn, the words of Birkat Am (commonly known as Techezakna) a poem by the Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik. Those familiar Zionist lyrics “Al ipol ruchachem, alizim, mitronenim, bo’u shehem echad, leezrat h’am” (“Let your spirits not fail, come joyously, shoulder to shoulder to the people’s aid”) transformed us for a short while into 10 and 12 year-old kids wearing blue shorts and white shirts, thrilled to be surrounded by their friends and bunkmates, living once again in Hebrew.

Apr 082011

“Blended Learning”:  The best of both worlds?
By: Leah Nadich Meir

Can “Blended Learning”, which combines face-to-face and online learning, give students “the best of all possible worlds”? This approach is now widely-used by schools that are dipping their toes into the waters of online learning.

I recently participated in a webinar sponsored by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) in which Michael Horn (one of the authors of “Disrupting Class”) and Tom Vander Ark described six models of blended learning that they’ve observed in a recent study they conducted. Their full report is available on http://www.innosightinstitute.org.  As you’d expect, the models run the gamut from quite traditional (i.e. face-to-face) to fully technological (i.e. all teaching and learning is done online).

A synopsis of the models:

1) Face-to-face teachers deliver most of the curriculum using online resources, e.g. Rosetta Stone language curricula.

2) Students rotate on a fixed schedule between online and face-to-face learning, within the same course, e.g. Carpe Diem e-Learning Community in Arizona.

3) A “flex” model in which most of the curriculum is delivered via an online platform. Live teachers provide as-needed support through small groups and individual tutoring, e.g.  .

4) The “online lab” in which the entire course is delivered via an online platform and paraprofessionals facilitate the in-school discussion and support, e.g.  Florida Virtual School of the Miami Dade County Public Schools.

5) The “Self Blend” model, in which individual students register for online courses in an “a la carte” fashion, without an entire class in their school being registered for the same course. The teaching is entirely remote, e.g. Michigan Virtual School.

6) The entirely online model, delivered through an online platform and remote teacher. Students work remotely, with a face-to-face “check-in” at school required by some schools and optional at others, e.g. Albuquerque e-cademy.

Horn and Vander Ark recognize some of the very real challenges to effective Blended Learning:

> Insufficient technology in many schools

> Pressure to cut costs, but not raise the quality of learning. Technology is not simply a way to reduce costs – it should be, first and foremost, a way to improve learning.

> State requirements based on students’ completing a required number of hours in the classroom, rather than reaching a certain level of achievement.

>  Providing more than just online textbooks, but a personalized and student-directed method of learning. That requires investment of money and skill.

Can Blended Learning humanize student learning through technology, the way that Sarah Kass described in her April 6th post on this blog? Can Jewish day schools turn to Blended Learning to make their students’ learning more customized, more student-centered and more relevant to the 21st century as well as more cost-efficient to the schools?

What if Jewish day schools as a “network” turned to the Blended Learning Advisory Services for advice? Are there other ways for Jewish day schools to share their knowledge and resources in Blended Learning? Could this be a win-win for everyone who cares about how our students are learning?

For more resources on Blended Learning, see http://cybraryman.com/blendedlearning.html.

Tom Vander Ark recently blogged on the Huffington post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-vander-ark/the-idea-economy-requires_b_829670.html.