Game On: Summer Hebrew Fun

Nemo HebrewLearning and Practicing Hebrew has never been so much fun!  Use your iphone, ipod or ipad to learn while you play.  And there are so many FREE and low cost apps that you can choose from.  Whether you want to practice Hebrew reading or writing, learn vocabulary or prayers, play alone or with someone else – here are several good ones to get you started:
Alef-Bet Bullseye teaches the Hebrew alphabet with a fun arcade style game. Users get to choose the letters they need or want to practice. Choose the whole Hebrew alphabet or only three letters at a time, it is up to the individual player.  Throw a pencil to choose the correct letter – it’s simple and fun.  Choose the settings to customize the game with boy/girl voice, level of playing and background music.  $1.99
Alef Bet on the Go is a cool app that lets you write the letter on your device, hear the letter sound, learn a word that starts with the letter – and much more.  The settings lets you change colors, backgrounds and voices making this app fun to use over and over again.  Great for building a beginning Hebrew vocabulary too!  $1.99
Alef Bet app lets you practice pairing letters and vowel sounds.  Alef Bet HD is the app version of the cardboard wheel we use to use to learn the alef bet.  Settings include transliteration, music and more.  Great for learners of all ages. $2.99
Practice reading prayers and learning tunes with this AWESOME and FUN free app.  Prayer Player lets you choose “learn” or “play” mode and lets you decide to read one word at a time or a short phrase.  Great tool for preparing for Bar/Bat Mitzvah while playing games.  FREE
With Nemo Hebrew your iPhone/iPad becomes a Hebrew teacher. Learn essential words/phrases, with native speaker audio. Master your accent with Speech Studio. Record yourself speaking, then hear your voice next tot he teacher’s. Audio is downloaded to the device and accessible without wifi. Meant to use whenever you have a few minutes in your day. No prior Hebrew required.  FREE
Ready to take things up a notch? Try HebrewNext a Hebrew flashcard app that teaches you phrases and expressions in Hebrew.  Great app if you’re planning a visit to Israel, or a visit with Israelis or if you want to try speaking Hebrew!  Includes translations, audio and lots of cool features.  FREE
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Keep Talking. I’m Listening.

TalkingI talk with a lot of educators.  We talk a lot about good teaching and engaging learning. I’ve learned a lot by talking.  And even more by listening.

Talking is a good thing.  I’ve written about it before.  I enjoy talking to people – the people I know and those I’ve just met.  I used to work in healthcare customer service and regularly talked by phone with people I never actually met.  I got good at recognizing the voices of repeat callers which taught me a valuable lesson about listening and hearing.  Listening requires full attention, no distractions and empathy – – or listening with your heart.  Hearing has to do with ears.   When I greeted callers by name after their “hello” the joy of being recognized was always so audibly palpable and much appreciated.  Those moments of connection were so powerful that most often we resolved their presenting issue, reduced their upset, and ended with smiles.  I never saw their faces, but I knew they were smiling.  My heart heard it.  And I was smiling, too.

It’s been many years since the phone is my primary communication tool.  I talk with my IMG_2974fingers a lot these days.  Amazing how much we can talk with our fingers.  I try to listen closely – deeply – but I find heartfelt listening to be more challenging with fingers and words.  So when I feel the connection I’m especially curious what it is about that communication that resonated.  And what I’ve discovered is – THE SAME LESSON.  Listening requires full attention, no distractions and empathy – – or listening with your heart.  Fingers can listen too!  Powerful stuff!

I especially enjoy talking with people when I can see their faces – when my eyes, ears, and heart work together the opportunity for connection is stronger.  Technology today has enabled fantastic opportunities to connect face to face, to talk with anyone anywhere. Don’t be fooled – the work of connecting and listening is still the work we need to focus on.  The deep listening.  The heart listening.  The listening that makes the connecting incredibly worthwhile, resolves issues, reduces upset, and encourages smiles.

Educators do a lot of talking.  Let’s check to make sure we are listening, too.

Keep Talking.  I’m listening.


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Learning Creative Learning with 4 Ps

#LCL2 Meets Jewish Educators

Creative Learning and the 4Ps:Projects, Peers, Play & Passion

I experimented this week with a new project that involved peers (whom I’d only met online), passion (for creative learning) and playing around with an idea.

Imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine… and so I have.

The 1st round prototype is here:

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Connected: A Primer

WHY Connect: Teachers teaching teachers 

Ten Tips for becoming a Connected Educator IMG_0303

With WHOM to Connect:

A “short list” of awesome educators to follow

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 11.24.28 PMWHAT to Connect about

EduTopics on Twitter

How to Connect:

Teacher Isolation Is Your Choice

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No Day-After-Regrets For Me!

I knew the day would be over before it even began.  I was right.  I assumed I wouldn’t have day-after regrets, but knew I had to do it, in order to know for sure.

The night before – the whole week before – I was a bundle of excited nerves, ready to launch in real-time what had been six months of planning – six months that today, looking backwards, feels more like a lifetime.  But in fact, the concept of  edcamp was totally foreign to me one year ago and the term JEDCamp had not yet been coined.  Fast forward twelve months and a whole lot has changed.




There is nothing novel about sharing knowledge, learning from others, interpersonal connecting or reflecting on ideas in a group.  And yet the combined power of learning, sharing, connecting and reflecting among educators is so singularly creative that each occurrence is a uniquely new experience.

How do I know?  After 3.5 years there have been more than 300 unique edcamps that have officially linked to the Edcamp Foundation wikispace.  Edcamps are constantly popping up in new communities; communities that have hosted edcamp are hosting 2nd and 3rd edcamp events; offshoots of edcamp are happening – like JEDCamp and edcampONLINE.

So powerful is it, that Arne Duncan launched the first online Connected Educator initiative in August 2012,  and in support of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology announced October 2013 as Connected Educator Month.

DSC_0144So if this many people have already attended and written about it as something new and exciting, I wonder why the Jewish education community has taken this long to adopt the edcamp model?  Why write yet another blog post describing an event that many others have written about?

JEDCampSFBay was the 340th edcamp to happen. Not so outstanding, right? But it was only the 4th ever JEDCamp and the 1st on the west coast!  And one of the founders of EdCamp was there, along with 60 other educators. It was her first JEDCamp. My second. I participated in JEDCampNJNY in April 2013 and was so inspired by the experience that I set out to create JEDCampSFBay. “See one, do one, teach one” may or may not be the best learning model for medical students, but it is the route I am following, and if the power of four in other things Jewish has any import (for example) – the 4th JEDCamp might just be a big deal.

But four does not a deep impact make, not in the Jewish education world and not in the world of lifelong Jewish living, learning and connecting. 40? 400? I don’t KNOW what the magic number is – the tipping point between flash in the pan and m’dor l’dor, but I know my next step is to plan another JEDCampSFBay *and* find a new Jewish community to work with and help them realize their own eduAWESOME day.

DSC_0182JEDCamp isn’t about keynote speakers, it’s about harnessing and sharing the collective expertise among the people in the room.  JEDCamp is about taking ownership of our learning and professional development and doing it in ways that cross discipline and subject area lines helping us grow our personal and professional learning networks – so that we advance the learning and the education experience for ourselves and our students.  M’dor l’dor.

There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain, so how can we leverage this awesome power?  Hmm, maybe that’s a topic for the session board at the next JEDCamp!

Stay tuned for JEDCampNEXT!  Have an idea?  Talk to me.

In the post-event survey we asked, What was your favorite part of the day and Why?

  • The sessions.  It is refreshing to attend a conference that really understands and acknowledges our expertise as teachers. By opening the sessions to everyone to share, great questions and information was shared.
  • It was good to meet new people and take time to have conversations that we don’t always have time to have. 
  • Meeting with other educators and being able to lead our own discussions in the appropriate groups helped with a lot of new leads for planning my lessons. 
  • I loved being able to get into groups with like-minded individuals and discuss challenging issues, as well as share ideas. The facilitation of the event was really strong and the people there were really committed and talented.  
  • The fact that the basis of the sessions was to foster an exchange of ideas and experiences was what made the day worthwhile. Rarely do workshops devote enough time to this dynamic.
  • Teacher-led seminars provided a contrast of new and old challenges. I learned a lot about new classroom technology counterbalanced by the age-old dilemmas of teaching in a Jewish school.

DSC_0200We also asked participants to share a “soundbite” explaining JEDCamp to those who’ve never attended:

  • There is so much “noise” around best practices in schools. JEDCampSFBay provided a forum to sort out the ideas that are working well in real classrooms from those that are not. The absolutely democratic nature of the program is inspiring.
  • Sharing my Sunday with other motivated and engaged colleagues in Jewish Education who all volunteered their time to attend JEDCAMP was a treat. The quality of conversations and interactions reflected a wonderful group of talented and thoughtful educational innovators
  • Collaboration at it’s best.
  • Spending time talking with other Jewish educators, sharing ideas and experiences on focused topics was invaluable. Too many times I feel “talked at” by experts without a real sense of what it is like in our classrooms.
  • A day of: unexpected wealth of inspiration and interaction between educational colleagues, so much diversity and commonality among Jewish educators and fantastic conversations. I came not sure how long I would stay, but didn’t want it to be over at the end!
  • Hearing how other schools work on solving the same questions/problems/issues/opportunities that come up at my school
  • I love how ed/jedcamp values teachers, sharing, collaboration, and community building. This was a powerful pd experience and I can’t wait to share some of the things I learned about with other teachers!

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Have a great… EVERYTHING

I saw it on the sidewalk, written in chalk, while strolling through the Golden Gate park, “Have a great EVERYTHING” it said.  It caught my attention, I snapped a picture, I posted it to Twitter.  I didn’t spend more time thinking about it until one follower responded, “A Joker Blessing (good for everything)” which totally caught my attention – since I didn’t know if that was a good thing, or bad thing.  I know we don’t live in a binary world but sometimes you just want to know – good or bad, true or false – yes or no.

I used to believe that most of life fell into two neat categories – right and wrong.  Don’t fault me for having those beliefs – it’s what, and how, I was taught.  But life has a way of teaching perspectives that contradict, exposing half-truths and distortions that confuse, and dispatching posers and impostors that divert the path.  And here I am, a half-centenarian, still wondering.

In the Jewish calendar we are at the end of the Torah, and the beginning of a new year – a time for reviewing the past while anticipating the future.  As we begin the cycle again we have the opportunity to repeat and reinforce, not repeat and attempt a re-do, or some combination of all these aspects:  repeat, reinforce, change and re-do.  The Hebrew word for year is sha-nah, from the root to change, to repeat, to do again.   No small coincidence.

When I look back and reflect on the “everything” in my life I generally feel that I’ve been blessed.  What I’m not clear on is if the blessing is in making choices or making the right choices.  And if it even matters.  A distorted blessing, or an after-the-fact-I-understood blessing – is still – a blessing.  That I possess this perspective may be the richest blessing of them all.

Years ago I read Stephen Dubner’s memoir about his search for himself and the dramatic changes he made in his life in stark contrast to the changes his parents made, just a few decades earlier.  Reading the prologue to his book – which I imagine he penned at the completion of his story – took my breath away.  It was as if he heard the words rattling around in my head.

“Only when a good piece of your life has unspooled can you look back and see how one connection led to the next, how a seemingly random sequence of events conspired to propel you down a certain path – and then you begin to doubt that there was anything random about that journey at all.  You begin to ask yourself: Are all these connections truly a product of chance and reason, or do they represent our connection to the Divine, inlaid on our souls like some indelible fingerprint of God.”


So is there a right path in life and whatever path we choose to walk ultimately leads us to our path – or does the path we walk become our path after a lifetime of walking that direction.  Perhaps this is two sides of the same coin – a “joker blessing” – whichever way you play it, it all leads to good because it all leads to your unique path.

Two stories in the Jewish tradition reflect a similar outlook from different perspectives.

  • Rabbi Akiva taught: A person should always say: “Everything that G-d does, He does for the good.” 
  • Why was he called Nachum Ish Gam Zu (“Nachum This Too”)? Because whatever happened to him, he would say: “This, too, is for the good.” 

There is a subtle difference between the two positions though not a debate about right and wrong.  Both affirm that whatever happens is “for the good” but where Ish Gam Zu actually points to the thing itself and the outcome as good – Rabbi Akiva does not.  Some things, in Rabbi Akiva’s perspective, are not good, some things are bad even though the outcome is “for the good.”

Growing up I often heard the rebuke, “Who makes excuses?  Failure!”  Clearly excuses and failure were both bad and something that I was to steer clear of.  But that’s how life goes – we make mistakes, do bad things, choose the wrong option.  And yes, we fail.  Should we claim that it is “for the good” and that it is part of the journeying on our life’s path?  Perhaps “for the good” comes about when we recognize that we made a poor choice, and we learn from that choice and apply the lessons to our future steps.  Is the blessing in making the mistake, recognizing that it was a mistake, learning from the mistake – or some combination of all these aspects?

IMG_5629I’m walking my path – making my mistakes and trying each year to repeat some things and change up some others.  I’m sure to fail, even at my ripe age… but I will not make excuses for them or feel shamed by them.  I will continue to look for the blessings scattered all across my path.

Which has me wondering if a blessing might be a bad thing.  I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 1.13.10 PM

Have a blessed new year and a great everything!

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You Are What You Post

(cross posted here)

I’ve step into a walled garden.  I feel safe.  I can explore and experiment and know that I’m with a community that supports my growth and my curiosity.  It’s OK if I make mistakes.  That’s how I learn.

In 1st grade the teacher asked a question.  My hand shot up and I could barely stay in my seat.  I knew the answer and I wanted to share.  Apparently, it was the wrong answer.  That’s what I remember Mrs. S telling me.  Out loud.  In front of the entire class.  I didn’t feel safe.  I decided I wouldn’t share my answers in class anymore.

#JET13 started today.  The core principles of the institute are:

  • We are always modeling
  • We make time for reflection
  • We will be transparent

The theme of Day 1 is empathy.  I feel safe enough to share and from the looks of the participants around me, they feel safe, too.  Even if they aren’t sure what Interactive Writing really is.  Even if they’ve never shared a blog post before.

This week I hope to learn more ways to use the power of technology to engage students, extend their learning, and encourage them to connect with the global world in a variety of ways.  Which means that their teachers need to feel comfortable doing it, too.  I hope to learn this week from the teachers how to best encourage them to try new things so they can best encourage their students.

I’m launching an “unconference” conference for educators in Jewish settings in October.  Based on the #edcamp model, participants will be the presenters.  We will build a schedule together on the day of.  We will learn, share, reflect and connect… and then repeat it often and in all kinds of spaces and places after October 27.

I am what I post.  I am what I learn.  I’m looking forward to a week of learning, posting, and face to face connecting!

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