I Wanna Start a Fad

Joel Lurie Grishaver

Joel Lurie GrishavThere are a lot of places to look for what is hot in Jewish Education. You can look at JEDLAB and JED21. You can listen to the gate keepers. You can examine the sessions done at education conferences. You can read Educational Leadership and other secular models. You can be part of a conversation of friends. There are lots of ways to look at the new stuff, to think about it, to figure out your own adaption, and to take it out for a spin.

So here is what I know. Experiential Education. Fad! Project Based Learning. Fad! Mastery Learning! Not so much. Design Thinking. Not Yet. The Flipped Classroom. Silence. Hebrew Through Movement. Trending!

The Flipped Classroom. Nothing! Here us one really effective secular trend that could be really good for us to help us actualize our content goals (if we still have any content goals). Unfortunately it is drawing a blank.

The Flippped Classroom is a simple, elegant idea. Teachers record videos of their lectures or presentations that kids can watch at home. Then the teacher can help individual students or create classroom experiences. The classroom now works in small groups—it is always a laboratory—and a few minutes of watching at home replace all the lectures.

Let’s be creative. All neuroscience says that something we want to add to long-term memory like (for example Hebrew) has to be tickled in short-term memory every three or four days for it to have a good chance to enter long-term memory. The one or two day a week school is the reason that you need reteach most of the Hebrew Alphabet at the end of every summer vacation. The Hebrew letters and vowels probably made it into mid-term memory. It was more or less solid for most kids during the regular school 3 days a week years. But take an eight to twelve week break and it is gone. So let’s count. One. Day of Hebrew School. Two. School service (junior congregation, family services, etc.). Three. Computer driven at home Hebrew play.

The Flipped Classroom can make some real contributions to Jewish learning. Let’s not run scared because “homework” is part of its origin. and in Jewish education, homework is an eight-letter-word. Here are 8 ways to think about it: (1) trade a day a week of Hebrew school for 10 minutes of homework, (2) it is done on-line (or in the cloud) (and the school doesn’t own the technology), (3) it will up success by more than 50%–everyone likes success, (4) kids like on-line, (5) it makes classroom Hebrew school feel much better—and it is only ten minutes. (6) it is very 21st century and kids are probably doing it in their “real” schools, (7) It will be fun, and (8) It is the latest educational fad.

Let’s Think About Some real world Jewish school application.


Torah-Toons is a limited animation weekly portion of the week series by Torah Aura. Sort of like G-dcast but twenty-five years earlier. Torah-Toons is now being posted on YouTube and the 5 to 8 minute segments can be accessed by everyone.

So here is the plan. Families spend a few minutes at home watching a cartoon about the Torah portion on the internet. Then each person in the family answers a question from the portion that exposes their values and produces something that looks like a Talmud page. Total time: 10-15 minutes depending on how good a time the family has.

At the next class students bring in their “family homework” and share a few ideas. The class runs a camp-like, experiential education activity, that grows from the understanding of the Torah started at home. Coviewing is what happens when parents and kids watch media together. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center is a research arm of Sesame Street focused on media. Their report makes it clear that viewing and talking together is a really good family education experience here. That is what we are putting together here.

Coming out of this home experience where students (1) learn about the story of the Torah portion, and (2) discuss values with the rest of their family we move into the classroom primed for another experience. So what happens if some family skips the family piece? Nothing! Nothing we do in class will be dependent upon the home piece; only enriched by it. Home will be a gather around the table family moment. School will be a big creative exploration of a parallel aspect of the Torah.

Families watch a screen together. Classrooms have conventions and debates, do PBL and art interpretations and push the whole understanding to another level.

The Flipped PrayerTech Classroom

PrayerTech is presently in development. It is a multi-platform prayer mastery resource that will work with or without any classroom resource. If you are interested in previewing it, email jane@torahaura.com and sign up a chance to join one of our focus groups.

Let’s start with the worst thing about Jewish education—reading aloud (and failing) in front of your whole Hebrew class. One person reading at a time is the worst use of classroom time. It is boring. It is embarrassing. And it bruises senses of esteem. More than anything else, reading aloud should not be a classroom activity, but we’ve never had a way of double-checking and evaluating reading so we brought it to the classroom.

SEND IT BACK HOME! Let kids perfect and read their Hebrew passages at home and then e-mail them as a wave file to their teacher. PrayerTech is set up to accomplish that goal. It allows you do the big ideas English work on prayer meaning in class, and puts the drill (with online coaching) and then performance via e-mail. HEBREW SUCCESSFULLY FLIPPED.

No one needs to sit in chair eleven and spend all of class rehearsing line eleven before Tomás de Torquemada calls on Mr. Chair 11 to read the eleventh line. You can spend Hebrew school arguing about whether praying makes a difference, finger painting light rolled into darkness, and working on building a model siddur Car Wash. All the fun stuff you’ve had to put off because you didn’t have time can now be replaced by fifteen minutes at home

The Flipped Jewish Values Classroom

Studying Jewish Values doesn’t demand the transference of a lot of information. Any Rabbi, Any Educator, and just about any Jewish teacher could create an eight minute YouTube Video. While YouTube will now let you go longer than fifteen minutes—most home-made material doesn’t need it.

Forget the mini-lecture or the read-around introduction to a value—that can be watched at home. Let’s make class into service projects, You Be the Judge Court Cases, debates, plank writing conventions, research about NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) who work on these values, simulations of being disabled or hungry or homeless or a lot more. The value is a couple of Hebrew words that needs to be buried in real-life experience in both experiencing the problem and in solving it. The real goal of a Jewish Values curriculum is to turn our students into problem solvers. Learning that there is a Jewish aspect to each value is basically a vocabulary lesson that can be done at home. Let’s face it, in our world not everyone gets to white wash a fence, learning about whitewash is something you can watch at home on the internet.

FLIPPING to the Flipped Classroom

Experiential education is a lousy way to learn content. It is way too inefficient for concrete skills, facts and vocabulary. But unless we want to teach “Jewish Charity” the facts, the texts, the basics are important. Rather than giving them up, or teaching them in a boring way, we can do it, short, sweet, and online. It can be personal. It can be interactive. In can covey the basics. Then, when we get together it is to do communal things. We do the kind of stuff you can’t do alone. The kind of stuff that takes friends, takes a mentor, takes community. That should be our classroom time. Our kids are more than good enough media consumers to get the basic idea from a video. We have to get together to make it hands on. You wanna feel the blisters.

I want to see and hear some chatter about the flipped classroom. When we are borrowing big, it is too good to ignore. Sometimes an equation is just an equation. Practice and application is a completely different story. Consider the possibilities.