Sunday, August 09, 2020

Rabbi Avi Genack praises fourth grader Adam Ruben Cohen during class via the Class DoJo app.

The Silent Light app gives students points for maintaining an optimal test-taking environment during a Chumash exam.

An eighth grader reviews a Chumash lesson via the Zaption app.

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Manhattan Day School Uses Technology to Engage Students in Jewish Studies Classes

Learning Torah and other Jewish studies subjects is no longer limited to flipping the pages of a well-worn Chumash. These days, apps, podcasts and video chats help Manhattan Day School students get excited about learning.

“Zaption allows me to interact with the students while they are at home, on their own time,” says Rabbi Avi Genack, who teaches Judaic studies to fourth and seventh grade boys. “I can highlight the important aspects of the class and what students should take away from the video. In addition, it creates accountability by letting me know exactly who has watched the video and how much time they have devoted to it.”

Nightly, Rabbi Genack creates Zaption videos that review pesukim and challenge students to read between the lines of the text. They often engage parents, as well. Says Rebecca Maleh, a fourth grade parent, “I’ve seen two of your tefillah video explanations and they have definitely enhanced my own amidah. Thank you!”

Class Dojo, a communication platform that is used in class, is a way of communicating with the student without having to speak. It enables the teacher to give specific praises for learning with enthusiasm, reading well, asking a great question, etc. The app creates a pie chart which can also be viewed by parents to keep them informed of their child’s performance in class.

Many students do not wish to read aloud unless they are confident in front of their peers. Showbie is changing all that. “Showbie allows me to hear each child practice reading the shakla v’tarya (give and take) of the Gemara and provide feedback privately, making him comfortable and well-practiced,” says Rabbi Genack. “It assures that no student will slip through to the next grade without advancing in reading, and/or detecting a specific reading difficulty which can be very costly down the road.”

Inspiration Maps is also used in Gemara classes to help create a graphic organizer. Different rabbis’ points of view are illustrated via bubbles which can later be turned into a written organizer with the click of a button. This helps students get a more visual explanation of the structure of the Gemara in a web graphic.

Apps like Oovoo turn learning into a more social experience, replacing the traditional study group. Oovoo allows students to video chat with up to 12 friends, send text, picture and video messages and more. “My students use it to practice reading from the Chumash, debate Rashi’s ideas with friends and encourage each other when they need help or make mistakes,” Rabbi Genack says. “Like social media, it enables kids to get into the conversation and connect to others. It also helps them feel more confident in expressing themselves.”

In sixth, seventh and eighth grade lashon classes, teachers use Brainscape to create a “smart flashcard” repetition system for vocabulary words. Students grade themselves on how well they know the words and the system bookmarks words they need to review later with a teacher or tutor.

Another popular app used in class is Silent Light. Research shows that today’s children are inefficient listeners who require optimal conditions in order to hear and understand. Silent Light empowers learners to manage their environment for optimum learning, especially when being introduced to difficult texts.

Davening is also taking a technological turn. Through a grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, Manhattan Day School middle school students have their own personal digitalized siddurim on their iPads and can incorporate their own thoughts about the prayers they are saying to give them more meaning.

Manhattan Day School is leading the way in technological learning in a manner that greatly benefits its students and speaks to the needs of children of this generation.

By Karen Brooks

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