Skip to content
June 5, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Social Networking

When first hearing of it some people have difficulty appreciating how social networking platforms can be used in more ways than posting you just ‘brushed your teeth with new whitener’ or ‘ going to DSW to get some new uggs’. For business people social networking are powerful marketing and connecting vehicles. In the education world social networking can be summed up in two-words: Think-Tank.

For educators social networking is like being inside a giant global think-tank. You have educators you can learn from and share with and always leave conversations or reading posts with ideas bouncing around in your mind.  The ability to connect with other professional educators (and yes it does take time to sift through the ‘personalities’ one comes across while building a viable, solid personal learning network) in the same or similar field leaves you with a very empowering feeling. Social networking platforms let educators share and exchange a wellspring of knowledge be it through videos or links to other websites or online materials. I will come across a new tool or idea or website someone suggests and if it is something that fits my needs I will save, mail or bookmark it for later. Educators should consider sites such as http://edupln.ning.com/http://www.classroom20.com/ and http://yu20.org/ to get started in social networking.

For students social networking plays a major role in their lives outside of school. Incorporating social network platforms such as Edmodo in the classroom can positively affect how students think relate and interact with each other in platform with which they are already accustomed. Platforms like Edmodo have strict privacy and filter settings to help ensure the safety and security for the students and school. When taught properly, students also learn digital citizenship and proper etiquette which will hopefully impact their decision-making on social networks outside the classroom as well. Students enjoy the feeling of connectedness and having their voice heard by their peers through their writing or video posts. With the future of education going digital (Florida Dept. of Education will be mandating its’ public schools go completely digital in the classroom, textbooks and all, by 2015) using social networking platforms in the classroom may seem bold right now but will eventually be the norm for schools.

May 26, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Getting Things Done

I like productivity tools. They really do aid in GTD (getting things done). There are an overwhelming amount of tools to use so I suggest picking one, familiarizing yourself with it and then taking on more at your learning pace. However Google Reader, and Google Docs are two of my favorites. With Google Reader I save so much time having news and education materials come to me instead of me locating/going to them. You simply create a free Gmail account with username and password. Once logged in click on ‘reader’ at the top of your google window. You will see a button that says “add a subscription” with the words “enter a search term to find feeds or paste a feed url.” Go ahead and enter a search term or paste a url and then press the “add a subscription” button. Then sit back and let it all come to you. I was speaking recently with a close friend and high school Judaic educator and he told me when he learned of google reader from one of his administrators it helped him so much. I can really appreciate that. There is such a wealth of information on the web and so little time to sift through it to get the real ‘nuggets’ you seek.

Google Docs in particular is probably the most well-known productivity tool. For students Google Docs allows online collaboration on a document. Outside of class students can edit, leave and come back to the document at their leisure.  It enables them to focus completely on the task at hand without having to worry about where to store it, who has the most recent version of the document and so on. Inside the classroom students are engaged on a deeper more sophisticated student centered level. I also like the measure of student accountability that Google Docs provides. There really is little to no wiggle room for students- either they are on task in the classroom or not. They either have spent time working on the assignment at home or not. The fact of the matter is that online tools like google docs can make students better learners.

May 20, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Podcasts Pros.

Hands down my favorite podcasts are  ‘Ted talks’ (www.ted.com) which offer short fascinating videos of people and technology positively impacting our world. Podcasts free up time and are a convenient way to digest the information you are interested in. I have heard people say it takes time at the outset to decide which podcasts to subscribe. I incorporate what I subscribe to as part of my natural webquests. If I like something I see or hear I setup the RSS feed and finished.

On the students creating end I think podcasts are a great way for students to experience authentic learning. Setting aside the “Kahn Academy” approach (or what was previously known as ‘flipped’ classrooms) the fact of the matter is that kids enjoy videos and sounds and as such technologies, like voicethread for example, align perfectly in aiding students authentic learning experiences.

Blogs help students be focused  and well thought through, knowing their words are being displayed to the world. Podcasts are similar (to a certain extent) using technology like voicethread which motivates students to learn the material well and then demonstrate their proficiency by having their responses recorded. For example if there is a Chumash class and students are assigned to record themselves reading, translating and explaining 3 pasukim incorporating two separate commentaries, they will want to be well versed in the materials before recording and articulating their responses.

On the teachers creating end, podcasts are an effective teaching tool. Teachers can create audio/video lessons for students to listen to when it is convenient. Students can even listen to podcasts in the classroom freeing up the teacher to move around, focusing his/her energies on those students struggling with the lesson, while allowing time to engage higher level learners
with deeper, challenging questions and discussions. Podcasts also enable differentiated learning (not differentiated instruction) meaning the students can truly take ownership of their learning and work to their individual abilities and skill sets. A concept I think most teachers, if provided with the right  resources and technologies, would try to employ in their classrooms.

May 15, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Why Twitter?

Although Twitter has been available to the general public since 2006 I just started using it this year.  Twitter is a powerful social and networking tool. In the months since I began tweeting I have used Twitter primarily for educational purposes. I began by reading tweets from other educational professionals both in general and  Jewish educational fields and starting following some of them. The more tweets I read the more I understood how they could be incorporated into educational settings. Whether it was a link to a video I could use as a trigger clip to a lesson plan, to someone’s philosophies or personal mission statements on education, they always left me thinking how I could refine and enhance my skills as an educator.

I created my own education #hashtag list (#edtech, #jed21 and #jewished for example) and started partaking in a few Twitter ‘chats’ on education or education technology.. As you probably know by now you are limited to 140 characters per tweet so one’s words must be straight to the point. Whenever I sat at my computer I would be sure to have my twitter feed open so I read and saw what people were sharing. I liked connecting with educators spanning the country, in real-time, in laser focused conversations.

There is definitely a feeling of being connected to other educators on Twitter which continually provides a support system and reenforce the importance of being an educator. You feel like you are constantly engaged in a professional development arena with people of similar interests who want you to be successful too. That being said, I am still trying to get a handle (pun intended) discerning which people tweet for genuine or self-serving purposes.

Having experienced this feeling of continual learning, I am now at a point where I speak to other educators and persuade them to try Twitter. For some educators microblogging is such a paradigm shift and so out of their comfort zone that they do not want to even begin learning about it. For other educators, the feeling of connectedness and continual support outweighs the fear of the unknown and they take the leap. And although microblogging can be intimidating and leave you feeling overwhelmed at first, over a few months you slowly begin to understand why over two hundred million people are tweeting too. Not too long after that you will start asking why there are only two hundred million people tweeting.

May 8, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

All Blogs Considered

I have only begun to blog this past year, never fully understanding nor appreciating the benefits of blogging. When I first heard the term blog I associated it with the word ‘blah’ and pictured a bunch of people throwing down a bunch of blah on a virtual page. After slowly dipping into blogging I can fully appreciate why tens if not hundreds of millions of people blog. First off-  You have to know that what happens on the web stays on the web. A blog is no different. If I typed my thoughts and posted them (and even if you haven’t posted it yet…) they are out there and not going away. So I have to focus my mind and really think through what I am going to write. I appreciate that.

What else do I appreciate about blogging? I like how my blog is a virtual extension of myself and allows my voice to be heard by people who I may not necessarily have connected to or communicated with in person. I like how blogging is not one-sided but engages the reader in an ongoing dialogue and has the potential to engage a plethora of people, around the world, who can offer their comments, suggestions and thoughts.

As an educator, it is fascinating to see how people who blog are truly engaged in a learning process while feeling connected to something bigger than themselves.  This bodes well for students in the classroom who are seeking a concept of community and can use blogs as a platform to build community. In the good old days (and present) the teacher would assign a paper, which the teacher would then grade, include a few comments and/or suggestions and then hand back to the student. The student would then either reflect on what the teacher wrote or not and most probably throw away the paper.

Now the following can take place: Teachers can ask students to blog about a chapter or passage they read. The students take time to reflect on their writing as they know their posts will be viewed by their peers. Peers then read and offer comments (praise and constructive criticism) on each other’s blog post. A communal dialogue of learners is created. The students voices are heard by their peers, the assignment does not get tossed out, and a transformational, authentic learning process takes place.

Game changer.

May 3, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Personal Learning Networks

If you want to understand the value of a P.L.N., have started venturing into the world of P.L.N.’s or feel overwhelmed where to start, check out this short clip which puts things into perspective.

May 2, 2011 / Rabbi Meir Wexler

Should students use mobile devices in the classroom?

For years researchers, futurists and technology gurus have asked how can schools can integrate technology in the classroom? With each passing month students are buying or being gifted iPads, iPhones, smartphones and other mobile technologies.  With the ever-increasing popularity and affordability of these devices it is no surprise to hear updated questions such as “can mobile devices enhance learning in the classroom.” I came across this link on my personal learning network and wanted to share it with you.  What are your thoughts on students using their phones in class for learning? What are the pros and cons? Is this question subjective or objective (does it depend on the student or teacher or could they be effectively integrated in every class all the time)? Will this entire discussion be rendered obsolete with in a few years (or months) as technology progresses to a point where everyone in our society is constantly wired in?

Looking at the big picture, I am a big proponent of technology in the classroom. I think incorporating cell phones into a unit, theme, or lesson plan can change how students perceive learning in the classroom. However I also believe that for any technology to be effective in the classroom there must be an effective educator, one who is ‘green and growing’ and not ‘ripe and rotten.’ When an educator strives to be a transformative learner then he or she will have a higher success rate incorporating technology in education to ultimately create an environment of authentic student learning.