Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A business Model for the Jewish People?
Let's try Imagineering!

Yesterday, I watched a video of an ELI talk at the recommendation of Lisa Colton. It featured Sam Glassenberg and he was brilliant. Sam is the CEO of Funtactix – Israel’s top video game studio and world-leading publisher of social games for high-profile entertainment properties.

Lisa  recommended it not only because of the content, but because she was going to have a live chat today with Sam. (Video of the chat is at the end of this posting) It was a very interesting conversation. And those of us watching were able to participate via twitter. I would like to invite you to first watch Sam's initial video above. Then check out the conversation they had. If you would like to follow the twitter conversation, look up the hashtag #ELITalks for March 20, 2013. And join the conversation. On Twitter. Here. Or on ELITalks facebook page. Or the Darim Online Bookclub on Twitter. Or pick up the phone. There have been a number of responses to Sam's original video on eJewishPhilanthropy. You can see them here.

Sam talked about how J Date has turned the Jewish world upside down and how those of us in the organized part of the Jewish world are not even aware of it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Can You Do Chavruta En Masse and Online?
A Conversation about B'nai Mitzvah

I was reading the February issue of Fast Company which focused on all kinds of conversations and how they can drive us and our culture forward. It was actually quite interesting to see different takes on the idea - from Lena Dunham/Judd Apatow to Steve Jobs/Ed Catmull to Mark Zuckerberg and a high school buddy named Adam D'angelo. It was all about the art of dialogue and how the best, most creative ideas come out of dialogue.

Applying my schmaltz-colored glasses (my wife's term for my looking at everything through a Jewish lens), I see the chavruta all over this issue of the magazine. The idea that Torah was not meant to be studied on your own - like a poorly prepared student cramming for a final - but with a partner, a friend. "Find yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend..." says Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Perachya in Avot 1:6. The whole idea is that the sum of the wisdom of people in dialogue is greater than the sum of their individual ideas. I like it. I get it.

One of the dialogues in the section is "The Long And Short Of Creative Conversations" and takes place between world-class interviewer Charlie Rose and the founders of Twitter, Ev Williams and Biz Stone. It is a great piece and you can watch the entire, much longer interview on the Charlie Rose Show. I would love to have a dialogue about the topic of dialogue. Maybe later.

Williams and Stone are the guys who gave us the 140 character elevator speech. Some have called it the death of communication. Others sing it's praises (I do). They talked about a new app their company had developed called Branch. The idea is look at long-form conversation. Here is a part of their dialogue:
Photo by Christian Witkin
Williams: One (of our new projects) is Branch, which is an online conversation platform, and the concept there is very simple. If you want to have a good conversation around this table, you can't just say, "Whoever wants to show up can show up," and, you know, say two words and leave, as if it's just a free-for-all. That's essentially what online conversation has been for the past decade, and there's a beauty to that. The openness is great, but it doesn't lead to quality conversations. What Branch does is allow people to host dinner-party-like conversations and say, "Pretty much everybody can watch, but we're limiting who's actually invited to sit down at the table."

Somebody begins by inviting people to discuss a topic on Branch. In that way, it's almost modeled after what we're doing here.

Indeed. There have been I don't know how many efforts to create conversation around a dinner table for a television program, using a table to bring people together, and having somebody host it because you need someone just to kick it off.

Williams: And also to be able to end it. To say, "Thanks, everyone, I think this is the summary of what we've learned. . . ."
So I went to the Branch site. And I started my own dialogue last Friday afternoon, asking people to consider what we can do to make the process of becoming a Bar/Bar Mitzvah more meaningful to the student and family, to deepen connections with the congregation and the larger community and to enhance the entire experience. And then I invited my tweeps (folks I follow and/or who follow me on Twitter) to join the conversation. So far five have done so. You are invited as well. If you missed the invite, no worries. If I didn't send one, I am sorry. I either neither of us follows the other (please rectify that - I am @IraJWise) or your name didn't pop up. The interface for accessing your Twitter list could be a bit more elegant.

Check it out below or at

Jump in! The water is fine!

Friday, March 15, 2013

WarGames: Matthew Broderick Wished He Got a Badge

A great piece before Shabbat from eJewishPhilanthropy explores using badges and Project Based Learning in Jewish Education. I would love to see how this would work in a synagogue-based school! Anyone want to play with me and figure it out? Posted on March 12, 2013 written by Sarah Blattner.

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In the 1983 film WarGames, Matthew Broderick stars as David, a precocious teen, who has computer skills beyond most of his contemporaries and adults in his life. David hacks into a military computer system named Joshua, where he is challenged to play a nuclear war game. America and Russia go head-to-head as the real military system begins to launch a countdown to start World War 3.

It was fun rewatching this film with my own children recently, where they were confused that a computer system took up the space of an entire room. As an educator contemplating learning in the digital age, I noticed the subplot. The audience gets acquainted with David’s student profile, a kid who blows off school and finds himself pretty bored in general. At first, he pings the computer system, exploring which doors are open (which is humorous to my kids, as he uses an old-fashioned telephone to connect). After researching the designer of the system, he makes contact by uncovering a password, which eventually engages the entire computer.

So what does WarGames have to do with digital badge learning and project-based learning? Let’s first frame the story through the lens of David’s actions. He begins his learning journey from a “need to know.” His quest is passion-based and interest driven. His curiosity takes him down multiple paths. He is engaged in game play and finds it invigorating. He seeks out an adult mentor, Dr. Falken, who can assist him in stopping inevitable war. He researches Falken, his contributions to computer science, and he discovers clues about the computer system, Joshua, as well as how to make face-to-face contact with his mentor. He continues to seek out more information to solve his problem. He is fully engaged, intrinsically motivated, curious and steeped in a real word experience.

PBLheptagon_redProject-based learningProject-based learningProject-based learning is defined by the Buck Institute as an experience where “students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century skills, such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking.”

And why is PBL so awesome? The Buck Institute explains, “students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.”

David’s adventures in WarGames looks a lot like PBL, doesn’t it? The deep content he explored focused on the computer system and how to teach Joshua that some games have no winner. He had choice; he had a voice; he revised solutions as he experimented along the way; he had a public audience; the experience was inquiry-driven; and his mentor helped guide his thinking. The only piece that doesn’t support ideal PBL learning scenarios is the high stakes situation of impending war. Ideally, we want our students to have low-stakes learning opportunities where they can explore, take risks, prototype and revise their understandings and models along the way.
If David were to earn a digital badge for teaching Joshua about games with no winners, what would it look like? He might have a badge learning advisor (teacher or mentor) who helps him map out his learning journey. The mentor may identify required elements in his learning journey, like learning a computer programming language, reading and responding to a collection of articles and writing a reflective blog as a transparent sharing space.

Together, David and his mentor may  craft a “need to know” question or guiding essential question that focuses his work and future project.  Along the way, David would receive frequent feedback from his mentor, experts in the field and maybe even feedback from his peers. Ultimately, David would produce some sort of product that demonstrates his learning and understandings. The artifact would be published out to the world, rather than sit on a shelf in a classroom or in a pile on a teacher’s desk.

David would earn a digital badge that is hard coded with metadata, revealing his learning pathways, rubrics for achievement, skills learned and maybe even a link to his work. He could share out this badge to the world through social media interfaces like blogs, wikis and more. And along the way, he may even earn smaller digital badges that serve as milestones in his learning journey. He may also get promoted to “peer reviewer” status within his online learning community, reviewing work of other students on computer science learning quests.

Digital badge learning is naturally framed within the tenets of project-based learning, providing opportunities for students to hone their 21st Century learning skills sets through a “need to know” quest. Teachers serve as mentors and coaches along the way, guiding students in pursuing new understandings and in building prototypes. Students are engaged, motivated and empowered. Learning is relevant, authentic and real world.
John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” Digital badge learning is one innovative approach that teaches for tomorrow. TAMRITZ (“incentive” in Hebrew) seeks to empower Jewish Day Schools to teach for the future through a digital badge learning network. TAMRITZ is a Jewish Day School initiative incubated by the Joshua Venture Group Dual Investment Program and supported by the AVI CHAI Foundation.

TLN-MainUnique to the Tamritz Badge Learning Network is a badge-based professional development e-course, “Digital Age Teaching,” where teachers are immersed in the experience and hone their 21st Century teaching and learning skill sets. Through face-to-face training, teachers also have the opportunity to develop their own badge learning curriculum, based on their school culture and program.

A “Digital Media Literacy” badge-based e-course prepares students for future badge learning experiences and sharpens their connected learning toolkits. All within a digital learning environment, teachers participate in an ongoing community of practice and students participate in a badge learning network. This means that Jewish Day School students in California can collaborate with students in Boston, review peer work and benefit from collective wisdom.

Jewish Day School teachers can share badge learning curricula and rubrics within the network.
TAMRITZ just launched a request for proposals for Jewish Day School middle schools.  The deadline for applications is Friday, April 12th.

Sarah Blattner is the founder and executive director of Tamritz.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Shabbat Unplugged...How it went

I recently wrote about participating in the National Day of Unplugging. It took place this past Shabbat. Here is what I am sharing about it in the temple bulletin next month:
What was it like? Nice. It was a little quieter. I didn’t avoid all technology – I drove, we watched a video and used the phone to talk. There was no internet, no texting. No checking e-mail or voice mail. I came home from work in the late afternoon on Friday, and had a conversation with my wife Audrey. We read books together. Then I prepared Shabbat dinner. My son Harper helped cook. My mother-in-law joined us for dinner. We lit candles, drank wine and ate a challah Harper had baked himself.
At right is the actual Sabbath Manifesto. You can get greater details about each point at I would say I was 7½ out of ten. (Didn’t spend time outside and I did spend money.) It was a great Shabbat. It would have been even better if we could have left later for the high school debate tournament. Then I would have been able to attend the 8:00 a.m. Shabbat service and breakfast.

If you haven’t made it to that service, you are really missing something wonderful – and easy. NO dress code (I usually wear jeans, we have seen kids in soccer uniforms heading to a 9:30 game). Services are an hour and followed by bagels and cream cheese. The fellowship (a word our Christian friends use, and is quite descriptive) of  conversation and sharing a bite with others who were at services – or who have just arrived and are planning to stay for Young Families Havurah or Torah Study – is delightful. And then on with the rest of the day.

So let me offer a challenge or an opportunity. Don’t wait until next March to sign a pledge and unplug. Give yourself a treat – one that costs nothing and pays off in the ways that truly matter. Put down the Android or iPhone – or at least use it only as a telephone from sunset on this or any Friday until three stars come out on Saturday. Try one or more of the items on the Sabbath Manifesto. Perhaps join us on Saturday morning. Hug and kiss your loved ones. Read.

Have a Shabbat Shalom (a peaceful Shabbat) – try it. You’ll like it!