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August 15, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

The End of the Beginning

An entire universe of knowledge has been opened for me. Frankly I may have known it existed and just didn’t see the value in it. Now I don’t understand how students can learn to their full potential without technology. I constantly find myself thinking about web 2.0 tools, blogs and wikis and how I can apply them or help educators apply them to their classrooms and beyond. I see how the world has changed through technology and how schools are changing as well.

 I recognize that at the heart of education, schools need to have excellent educators guiding the students. However with 21st century technology in play the role of teacher truly has shifted from lecturer and deliverer of content to guided facilitator, engager and moderator of content. I recognize that schools can have all the gadgets and web 2.0 tools in the world but that won’t improve student learning unless educators know how to infuse these technologies in the classroom to enable student to be effectively engaged with these technologies. There needs to be a healthy balance between educator and student and technology and student. At the same time a teacher must truly be an educator. One who is both a skilled educator and confident in technology will add real harmony to the classroom.

 I never truly appreciated what 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds meant until I enrolled in our Ed. Tech. courses.  Without proper navigation and continual professional development through a Personal Learning Network one one can get lost in the sea of tech. as it continues to rapidly excel. I have come to realize how one can learn to be proficient in technology by learning through the medium of technology. I also feel a different part of my brain has been engaged and has transformed how I view education for the next generation of learners.

I am now at a point where although I was not born a ‘digital native’ I do feel confident enough in my Ed. Tech abilities to infuse these abilities into the classroom and school. Whether its Skyping with Jewish people from Romania and Austria (coming soon!) to learn about Jewish life and culture to blogging with students half across the country- The digital landscape is endless- and I have all the paint I need on my web 2.0 palette. Now in terms of the as yet undefined ‘Web 3.0’- My sleeves are already rolled up and I’m ready to dive in.

On a personal note I want to thank Dr. Eliezer Jones, Mrs. Adina Poupko, Dr. Scott Goldberg, my peers and colleagues, the YU Institute for University-School Partnership and the Jim Joseph Foundation. You all made Our Ed. Tech program fabulous! I look forward to being a part the YU Institute for University-School Partnership’s inaugural cohort in the Online Masters Degrees in Education Technology- Just give me the word 🙂

July 17, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Wordle Works Well

Wordle: http://rabbiwex.blogspot.com

Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg, an IBM researcher, who co-authored a paper attributing Wordle’s mass popularity to “a cultural system in which viewers are also producers and remixers, and where visualization serves as much as an authoring tool as a method of analysis.” In other words people want to roll up their sleeves, dig in and feel a sense of accomplishment. The paper issued 3 sentences on educational uses: “I am a teacher. Wordles help me introduce topics to pupils by allowing them to see what a new topic is about. In academic writing, I use Wordles to check for excessive use of any word or phrase.”
I decided to create a wordle of my blog (shown above) and was surprised to see which words were more prominent than others. I started to reflect why certain words would stand out over others and it gave me insight into how I think, process, reflect and write on topics that appeal to me and what I think is important in education. 
Being an educator, I started thinking how Wordles can be applied to the texts I use in the classroom. So I started experimenting with different texts. Below is my first Wordle based on the first chapter of the Book of Beraisheet/Genesis.
Wordle: Beraisheet Chapter1

For those of you who read Hebrew it is interesting to see which words pop out of the screen. (Note that depending on which color schemes one picks will affect which words pop and which don’t.) 

Wordle: Beraisheet 1st Chapter

Here is a version where I blended both the original Hebrew text and English translation. Such a powerful way to start a conversation with students on what they are going to delve into. Or students could summarize what they learned by creating a wordle with more significant words or topics having a more pronounced look on the page.  Think about the many applications Wordle can have in the classroom!

July 5, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

ISTE Video Review

Here is a link to the video I recently viewed of an ISTE session on podcasting and mobile media for teaching and learning. The presentation, led by 3 apple distinguished educators, was centered around the question of ‘how does a teacher incorporate all these technology tools into meaningful learning?’

One of the first things I loved was right before they even presented any materials one of the speakers mentioned a ‘back channel’ on this site. The purpose was for attendees to offer feedback and questions in realtime on the web as the presenter was presenting. It may sound like a ‘duh’ moment to you but it was an ‘aha’ moment for me. I immediately set up my own back channel for one of my upcoming classes this fall.

The presentation itself was good. I think it one sense the presenters validated or helped me gauge where I am on the technology continuum. Most of the software or apps they showed I was familiar with (granted the presentation seemed to have an Apple bent to it) yet there were a few things that I was able to think about and realize how powerful and fun it would be to use in the classroom.

My favorite part was a clip they showed of a 2-year-old baby holding an iPad in his lap, and started navigating his iPad by swiping, scrolling, tapping, pressing, etc. It was really amazing to see how second nature it was the way this 2-year-old was navigating. He was painting a picture, inserting animals on the screen, scrolling to a part of an animated video to watch his favorite scene. The message was obvious as to where education is headed (if not there already) but still incredible to watch that baby do all these things on an iPad.  One other takeaway was the ISTE 2011 app I had downloaded to my iPhone. Although I could not attend the convention this year the app was useful in networking with presenters and seeing the who’s who of ed. tech.

There were some great lines as well like (and I will paraphrase) “everyone talks about 21st century learning and web 2.0, but we are already 11 years into the 21st century. We need to be thinking about web 3.0, what it will comprise and even be thinking of web 4.0” I really appreciated the visionary aspects of that quote and fully agree with the sentiment. I finished the video with lots of education thoughts and ideas bouncing around in my head and next steps questions. Time to share and discuss what I learned with my P.L.N.!


July 1, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Wiki-Wiki

I had a difficult time understanding the exact purpose and usage of a wiki until I started reading and realized wiki platforms can be used in a variety of ways. Creating a wiki can be very simple depending on one’s comfort level with websites and editing. The good news is one doesn’t need to worry about being versed in HTML code or be fluent in C++ (+?), Java and the likes. All the coding ‘stuff’ has already been taken care of. All one needs to do is think about the content, layout and over aesthetics of their wiki.

For content a person would create a paragraph heading followed by the actual content of that section. The links, widgets, and files a person needs to upload are very user-friendly and easy to do. I have found like most new sites that have already taken care of the programming aspect it helps to go through the different widgets to get a feel for what they do and experiment with them on your wiki pages even if you will remove them later. The more you ‘mess around’ the more comfortable you will feel inserting, uploading embedding, etc…

The layout of a wiki will depend on what the goal of your wiki is. For classroom wikis the teacher should make sure each page is clearly laid out with proper steps and instructions. For wikis that are a clearinghouse for other websites you will may find all kinds of links and tidbits for the other sites strewn around the page.

Aesthetically speaking a wiki should have an appealing look that is easy on the eyes yet attractive (or cool) enough to draw a person in. You will find wikis that have basic colors and will see ones which have bright, bold colors. Obviously these are all subjective in nature but one thing to keep in mind is that your wiki could be viewed as a reflection/projection of you and your personality- so plan accordingly!

June 23, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Second Life or Get a Life?

I was genuinely confused when I lived my Second Life for the first time. What is so intriguing about creating an avatar in a virtual world where a person can be themselves or pretend to be someone else? It actually sounded a little creepy. It was very overwhelmed gazing at the opening map of places/islands/cities/ etc. to venture to. I took a few minutes to read through the controls and the different options. I eventually picked something that aligned with my interests- the International Society for Technology in Education. When I entered the ISTE island the first thing I experienced was a sense of calm and relaxation. I saw a bunch of pine trees, some bridges and the what looked like the ocean in the background. The weather looked sunny and felt like it was in the low to mid 70’s (my guess…). I noticed a few people standing around (literally err virtually should I say?) and I tried to strike up a conversation but they seemed preoccupied and I didn’t want to bother them so I moved on. I realized I had the freedom to roam anywhere in the ISTE island, but I wanted to have a birds-eye view of the layout and venues so the first thing I did was hold down the function key (fn) and press the up arrow and started lifting straight up to get an aerial view of the island. From the air I some what looked like cabanas or huts and flew to them. When I set myself down (function key + down arrow) I saw the booths were for bloggers (‘bloggers hut’) and podcasters (podcasters place). I was impressed with the setup, layout and overall aesthetics of the rooms. Podcasters Place has all types of icons, images and even had a desk with laptop and all the podcasting equipment you need! Bloggers hut had links to blogs you could touch and then go to, a list of people blogging about ISTE, and areas to sit and ‘work.’ It was cool stepping out of huts and being able to go down to the ocean to relax. I felt like I was ‘sharpening the saw‘(as Stephen Covey would say of his 7th Habit of Highly Effective People) gazing at the sky and feeling a deep sense of calm. Afterwards I continued around the island before finally unplugging. When I unplugged I was beginning to understand how this ‘whole virtual world thing’ could be popular both from an educational perspective and a relaxation perspective. I felt relaxed from going to the ocean and yet also felt inspired to blog after reading some of the blogposts at bloggers hut!

Bloggers note:This Second Life article was written from a first person perspective so please excuse the frequent use of the word ‘I.’

June 15, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Visual Learning Tools

For generation ‘X’ educators teaching students of the net generation, visual learning has a very different connotation. Granted visual learning has been around since the stone age. From caveman using sticks to draw pictures in the sand to good old-fashioned 20th century (21st century?) chalk and blackboard. But visual learning has changed. Wikipedia defines visual literacy in education as “a student’s ability to comprehend, make meaning of, and communicate through visual means, usually in the form of images or multimedia” The last word really help us understand the 21st Century understanding of visual literacy multimedia. Drawings and pictures are definitely one aspect to which sites such as www.flickr.com and  tooondoo.com will testify. However the multimedia aspect really takes learning to the next level.

Multimedia really captures the attention of auditory or visual learners and is second nature to most students who have already embraced it outside the classroom. For formal educators multimedia tools can be incorporated into daily lessons, units and used as formative or summative assessments. When I use multimedia for assessments I try to differentiate the tools students use to align with their abilities. For example some students are artistic and like to draw comic cells or detailed picture scenes. other students like to produce, act and edit film. They have their choice. When engaging students through a multimedia platform educators should prep the students so they understand the goals of viewing the multimedia. My students know the multimedia I use is a means to the end-  The end being the student’s understanding and comprehension of the materials learned through the use of multimedia.

In terms of a specific multimedia for teachers, I can’t stress how effective YouTube is for my classes. After pre-screening and approving of them, YouTube clips are a great way to captivate students and help them really grasp the essential question(s) posed. I recently created a smartboard presentation with the goal of students understanding the importance of border placements among countries. The lesson began with a link I had embedded to a clip discussing border placements in the Middle East (Israel’s borders in particular). I then played YouTube clips showing footage of different cities living on/near borders and how they were affected by borders being redistributed. The videos helped students to wrestle with and grasp the concepts of how border placements affect people, economies, etc. in the 21st Century- Words alone would not have produced the same impact.

June 10, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Smart Notebook Interactive White Board Lessons

Israel’s Pre-1967 Border1