Using Cell Phones for Teaching and Learning

Following is a piece written by an educator in the field about using technology in the Jewish classroom. For Joel Lurie Grishaver’s take on technology and Jewish education, check out his article, “The Jewish Message as Medium: Jewish Education in the Information Age,” from the Summer ’07 issue of Jewish Education News. You can read it by clicking here.

by Andrew Pass

Last year I taught an eighth grade Hebrew High School class at my Conservative synagogue. Class met for a total of two hours a week. Each week it seemed as if I was competing against my students’ cell phones. They rang at the most inopportune times. Can you relate?

Finally, towards the end of the school year, I had an idea. One Monday evening, I asked my students if they all had their cell phones. Of course, they did. I said, “Good! We are going to use them in class today.” After a short discussion on the nature of God, I asked students to take five pictures of objects that they believed supported the existence of God and five objects that they believed deterred from such a belief. The students were intrigued that I was asking them to use their cell phones instead of telling them to put them away. They engaged in this out-door activity. We had a wonderful discussion about the pictures, and more importantly about God, after we returned to the classroom.

Ten years ago who would have thought that eighth graders would bring cell phones with them to Hebrew high school? Who would have thought that nearly all cell phones would have built-in cameras? We live in an age of incredibly advanced technology. For most adults this technology is fantastically innovative. Most teenagers don’t see technology this way. Instead they see it as a normal part of life. Mark Prensky, a well known educational technologist, refers to children as “digital natives” and adults as “digital immigrants.”

So what does this mean to Jewish educators who work in community high schools?

In short, if we have any hope of engaging our students in teaching and learning, we’d better recognize the role that technology plays in their lives. We need to consider how this technology can help them connect with higher ideas such as Godliness and spiritual fulfillment. The cell phone that they carry with them is more powerful than the first computer that I used as a classroom teacher. Ask your students what kind of capabilities their cell phones have.

If students have Internet browsers encourage students to investigate intriguing websites. Is it possible to see God on the Internet? Are their holy ways of using the Internet and technology? Challenge students to find somebody in Israel with whom they can have a conversation using Encourage then to ask questions about Israel that can be answered from the other person’s close-up perspective. (If you don’t know what is, go and check it out.) Invite them to go outside and find a place where they feel closest to God. Encourage students to text message another student in the class explaining why they feel closest to God in this place. Text messaging forces students to articulate their thoughts and pay attention to the thoughts of others. Urge them to ask one another questions.

As Jewish educators we should not seek to promote the use of technology. We should strive to help our students understand their own inner voices (neshama) and the voice of God within the world, within others, and within themselves. This is our ultimate goal. But if the use of technology helps us achieve this goal, then we should by all means use it and encourage our students to do the same.

Andrew Pass has been working in schools for nearly twenty years. He is currently the representative for the Michigan Council of Social Studies Region 10 and is a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Council for Teachers of English. He has completed advanced doctoral work in Curriculum, Teaching and Educational Policy at Michigan State University.

He blogs at