Bi-Cultural Day School, Stamford, CT
It is true that there is a very limited amount of Jewish educational software especially for grades 3-8. There is much software for learning the alef-bet, but it is only for the early learning levels. There also exists much research software (CDs) for high school and older.
What our K-8 Jewish Day School in Stamford, Connecticut has successfully implemented is using existing multi-media productivity software to have students create programs. As we all know, if a student not only integrates information acquired, but then applies it to create something new, retention of information increases. Using programs such as HyperStudio and KidPix (for grades 2,3) to create multi-media presentations has allowed ours students to create their own Jewish software programs.
My colleague Pat Seldin and I spoke about this last summer at a Jewish education conference in Melbourne, Australia. What follows are some actual applications of how technology is integrated into the curriculum:

I. Jewish Heritage Program by GradeSix

We worked with the Jewish Culture teacher to develop this project for sixth grade. Fifty students created a comprehensive multi-media program about Jewish Heritage and Culture. We accomplished this project in 4 stages:

  1. The classes were divided into groups of two or three students each. The Jewish Culture teacher assigned a topic to each group such as: Where We Came From, How We Got Here (to the U.S.), Life in the Shtetl, Anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Jewish Traditions,Jewish Festivals, Jewish Genealogy, Jewish Music, Jewish Art, Jewish Foods, etc.
  2. Each group was required to complete research on the topic assigned, and prepare a “storyboard” on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper of what they wanted to present onthe screen and how they wanted to present it. The students were required to use critical thinking skills to determine what they wanted to write in the text boxes, what graphics they wanted to include, and what they wanted to record.
  3. Scheduled computer lab time was spent initially explaining multi-media to the classes and reviewing samples of other programs designed in HyperStudio. In subsequent classes, students were taught how to create text boxes (scrollable on non-scrollable), how to create buttons to cause an action, i.e., move to another screen, begin audio, video, etc., and how to import graphics and backgrounds. Some also learned how to use the scanner to scan in their pictures or photos to use in their program.
  4. Each team worked together to create their one screen on their specific topic. A significant by-product of what they learned, other than the technology, was how to work well together and to compromise with each other to finish the task! Upon completion of the screens, we linked all the screens together to finish the program. The project took approximately 3 months of classes in the computer lab, with students coming in twice a week for 40-minute periods.

II. Multi-Media Presentation on Brachot – Blessings on Food, First Grade

This was designed as a group project, whereby the Hebrew teacher brought the first grade students into the computer lab and we worked the computer. The Main Menu screen was already designed based on the input from the Hebrew teacher as to what Brachot the children were going to review. She also supplied photos and pictures of various foods for us to scan. Using a projector connected to the computer, the “computer classroom” time was then spent having the children identify which foods are associated with each particular blessing. When a screen was completed, a button was created to record the entire class reciting the blessing. In addition, each food graphic was also a “button” where each child had an opportunity to record his or her voice stating the name of the food in Hebrew. Thus, the class not only reviewed the blessings, but also reviewed some Hebrew vocabulary as well.
The project took approximately 3 weeks — with classes coming into the computer lab once a week for a 30-minute period.

III.            Integrating the technology into research and presentation for a school-wide Torah Fair.

Grade 2 generated Passover accessories using a computer. Together with the Hebrew teacher we designed various graphics — symbols and scenes of Passover using the Davka graphics software. The graphics were printed on iron-on transfer paper. Second grade students then selected the graphic they wanted and, with the help of their teacher, ironed it on to a large white piece of material to create a tablecloth. A pillow and matzah cover were also created this way.
Middle School students used the Internetfor research for various Judaic & Israel-related subjects. This was significant because although many students are Internet savvy, they had not been directed to “Jewish” sites until the Torah Fair project required them to do so.
Also, using multi-media software, some students opted to create programs about Kashrut and other Jewish topics for the Torah Fair. Computer stations were set up at the Fair with which visitors could interact.

 IV.            Technology in Hebrew Language Applications

Using a Digital Camera with the multi-media software application, seventh grade students designed their own Hebrew Conversation presentations.
The Hebrew teacher divided the class into groups of two. Each pair was required to create a Hebrew dialogue — about something seventh graders would really discuss. They prepared the dialogue both in Hebrew and in English.
Using the Quicktake digital camera, pictures of each member of the pair were taken. Students posed for the picture to go along with the line of dialogue. The pictures were imported into the computer lab server, and each pair imported the photos into the HyperStudio program. Each screen consisted of two photos in the order ofthe dialogue. They each then recorded their dialogue associated with the photo so that when a user clicked on the button or picture they would hear the student say the line of dialogue in Hebrew. Another button was created to record the same line of dialogue in English.
This project took approximately six weeks to complete, with the class using the computer lab once a week for a 40-minute period.

 V.            Designing a Program with Kindergarten – The Days of Creation

Using Kid Pix slide show software, even children as young as Kindergarten age can create a multi-media presentation.
Each Kindergarten student was assigned one of “The Days of Creation.” We had two cards for each day based on class size. Using Kid Pix software, each student designed a picture of what was created on that day. Using the slide show feature of the software, the pictures were linked together. Each student had the opportunity to record a verse about the creations of that day. And at the end of the program, the entire class sang a song about Creation.
This project took approximately 4 weeks with the Kindergarten classes coming into the computer lab once a week for a 30-minute period. The Kindergarten Jewish studies teacher made herself available when the children recorded.

VI.            Applications for Studying Torah

Using HyperStudio, seventh grade students created a multi-media presentation about a portion of the Torah relating to Cities of Refuge. Each student created a screen describing the conditions of negligence and the laws. Students applied what they learned in Chumash and demonstrated their understanding by describing the laws on the HyperStudio cards.
We believe that these projects successfully enhanced learning in Jewish studies. The children and teachers were creative and excited to use the technology. The significant part of successful projects, is the cooperation among staff members, and thewillingness to work with the computer department to develop ways to enhance what is happening in the classroom.