Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dealing with traumatic news reports - Terrorism in Mumbai

North American educators were likely on vacation this past Thursday and Friday as scenes of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai were appearing in the media. The terrorists, who took aim at innocent victims in a place that we do not immediately associate with a significant Jewish community, deliberately chose a Jewish site as one of their points of attack. Having seen these pictures and read about the murder of hundreds of people - among them Jews in the Chabad House - many of our students will return to school this week with questions about identifying themselves as Jews and their own safety and security.

For better or for worse, circumstances in Israel have created an environment where educators have learned to be prepared to help children cope with traumatic events. Following the 9/11 terror attacks, in cooperation with Dr. Mooli Lahad, director of the Community Stress Prevention Centre at Tel Hai College, the Lookstein Center developed a mini-site called "Islands of Resiliency" that offers articles, educational materials and links to organizations that offer suggestions on how to deal with traumatic events. This resource may be helpful to you in preparing for class. You can access it at

This is also an opportunity to discuss with students the history of the Jewish community in India, a country unique among nations, with a Jewish community dating back centuries (according to the traditions of some local communities, as far back as the first Temple period) with little, if any, history of anti-Semitism. See


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Podcast - When a kid fails a test

Last week's podcast on defining the role of the teacher got some active discussion going on Lookjed - see,17407

In this week's "Classroom Teaching" podcast, Mark Smilowitz talks about what to do when a kid fails a test.
Whose problem is it?
What should you say to the student and what do you say to the parents? Here is a comprehensive guide to handling this situation with competence and professionalism.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 29th resources

With November 29th approaching, I would like to draw your attention to a new resource recommended by Joyce Levine called On the Road to Statehood.

On the Road to Statehood is a series of twenty web-based lessons that focuses on Zionist history from 1881 until November 29, 1947. Students experience this pivotal era in Zionist history through the eyes of ten characters that are featured throughout the site, who tell their own historically relevant stories. These stories engage the students and help make the historical periods come alive for them.

Along with first-person narratives, material in each chapter is also presented through text, photos, posters and links to other resources such as interactive maps, illustrations and newspaper articles. Activities and enrichment opportunities are included, as is a glossary. The timeline helps students order the events they are learning about in historical sequence, as well as understand how events relate to each other. Through these engaging, interactive and multidimensional lessons students gain an appreciation for the interplay between historical, political, social and cultural factors.

The lessons may be used as a complete series or a smaller number of lessons may be selected. You might consider using the first lesson - which introduces Kaf Tet b'November - as we approach November 29.

Goto Check out the introduction and first chapter; look over the teacher's guide and the rest of the site. See if this might be suitable for your students.

The webquest that I developed some time ago is available at
Some of the links are being updated, so be patient if they do not all work the first time you try it.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jews young and old

Someone wrote to Lookjed asking for help in locating "the logo that won a contest in Israel featuring a tattooed holocaust survivor's arm and a child's hand interlocked. If anyone has an idea where to find this, please let me know."
Well, here it is.
Now I am being asked if it is in the public domain. Any ideas?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New podcast: The Role of the Teacher

This week's Lookstein Center podcast with Mark Smilowitz focuses on the role of the teacher.

The Role of the Teacher – You can't be everything for everyone, so, as a teacher, what exactly are you and for whom? Where do the responsibilities of a classroom teacher begin and end?
Clarifying your role as teacher will focus your efforts on real achievement and can significantly reduce your stress levels.

Download and/or subscribe to the weekly podcast at

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book review: Amudei Hod

Book review:
Amudei Hod - Pages of Glory (Hebrew)
By Amihud Glaser
Feldheim 2008
Reviewed by Shalom Z. Berger

I still recall when someone first showed me a copy of Makbilot ba-Mikrah, a slim volume that simply juxtaposed parallel Biblical texts, highlighting how the same narrative or set of laws showed up in two places with minor differences. While any beginning student knows that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments in the Torah and that the differences between them beg explanation (unless you subscribe to the position taken by the Ibn Ezra that any repeated text was bound to have differences and that in most cases they could be glossed over), seeing so many of such texts placed one next to the other made me realize how even seemingly simple texts in the Torah need to be read and understood within a larger context and framework.

Makbilot ba-Mikrah was first published in the 1960s when the use of different fonts and graphic presentation of texts was barely a twinkle in the eyes of the creative educator. The powerful graphic methods that exist today allow anyone with a simple graphics program to prepare work sheets that emphasize such literary devices in texts as recurring word usage as a leitmotif, chiastic structures and the like. Amihud Glaser, a teacher's teacher in Israel, decided to apply color and schematic designs to the Biblical text of Bereshit and Shemot, and in doing so has succeeded in creating a text that is attractive simply to look at, and upon further examination makes text doubly meaningful to the reader - with barely a word of additional explanation.

Glaser does not offer the entire Biblical texts, he rather chooses key chapters that are broken down in a number of ways, usually offering a page that shows the simple breakdown of a chapter by themes, one that tracks recurring words and one that highlights recurring expressions. Each of these is accompanied by a brief explanation that directs the reader to concepts that can be derived from the parallels, but leaves room for independent, creative thought, as well.

Proverbially, "a picture is worth a thousand words" and nothing that I can share in a review can do this book justice, so I persuaded the author to share some sample pages with Bookjed readers.

These three pages (which the author shared with me in an English version of comments, although the text that is currently available is all in Hebrew) focus on the story of Akedat Yitzhak - the Binding of Isaac - and highlight such things as different names that are used for God, which passage divides the chapter and how the two halves of the chapter parallel each other -

These two pages focus on story of the search for a wife for Yitzhak -

For the non-specialist English speaking educator, there are some challenges in learning the terminology that Glaser takes for granted - even English words that have been Hebraicized will appear unfamiliar to native English speakers. The graphic presentation however, speaks for itself, even if the accompanying notes may present difficulties.

If anything is missing from the book it is an introduction that offers a more detailed explanation of the different symbols that are used to clarify the text. On some level they are intuitive and with use they can be figured out, but especially for people who are unfamiliar with the methodology that is presented, it would ease the transition. The author expressed willingness to make professional development presentations in schools for educators who are interested in the method and how to present it to students.

The book does not yet appear in Feldheim's on-line bookstore, but you can contact the author at for information on purchasing it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New podcast: Classroom norms

This week, the "Classroom Teaching" podcast suggests that classroom norms may be a better alternative to classroom rules. Norms help create a culture of learning in the class and teach kids that controlling their behavior is a fundamental part of learning.

To listen or subscribe, go to

Send your comments and suggestions to the podcaster, Mark Smilowitz at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What do schools textbooks say about Israel and Jews?

Jewish educators often think that their job focuses on teaching Jewish history, philosophy and texts, but believe that what goes on in math or social studies is beyond their purview. Who writes the textbooks that our students use the rest of the day?

A recent study found that there are real concerns about the way Judaism is portrayed in standard student textbooks. In an article entitled "US textbooks misrepresent Jews, Israel" the Jerusalem Post reports on an organization that has studied American school textbooks and has found that their messages are potentially damaging to the perception of the Jewish community.

See the JPost story here
and a summary of the findings here -

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Classroom teaching" podcasts

The Lookstein Center is pleased to present a new podcast with Mark Smilowitz. "Classroom Teaching" is a weekly podcast with reflections and strategies for budding young education professionals. Rabbi Smilowitz has taught Judaic studies in middle school and high school levels for 11 years, in New Jersey, Washington State, and Israel.

I have listened to some of them and they offer true insight into classrooms and how to improve what goes on in them. It is a compelling 15-20 minutes of listening.

To download the podcast or signup for the RSS feed, go to

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jewish Educational Leadership invites articles for the Spring 2009 issue focusing on Active Learning

Active Learning is used to describe a broad array of learning modes designed to actively engage the student, with the common element of moving away from traditional frontal teaching. It could include cooperative learning, Socratic circles, experiential education, constructivism, peer teaching, service learning, student-generated commemorative programs, and much more.

* What does research indicate are the benefits and downsides of active learning?
* Are there modes of active learning that are more effective than others?
* How do we assess active learning?
* What are the difficulties involved in moving from a traditional teaching method to one of active learning?
* Can active learning be employed in traditional Jewish text-study?
* What role can technology play in the development of active learning?

For more information on the types of articles and guidelines for writers see

Submissions will be accepted until February 15, 2009.

Please send your abstracts, final copies, or questions to the Editor,
Zvi Grumet at

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An election day story

With the American elections this week (and the Israeli elections not far behind) I thought that some of you may want to share this resource with your students -

It describes the actions and emotions of a religious man who goes to the polls to vote in the first Israeli election.