Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A few words of advice to those applying for an entry-level position

Recently, I posted a job description for the position of Life-Long Learning Associate at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.

Of course, I respond to every application individually. Nevertheless, here are a few unsolicited words of advice to anyone who might be applying for a job for the first time:

  • If you have the word "beach," "kitten," or "toy" in your email address - you might want to consider opening a new gmail account for business correspondence.

  • Don't apply for every position that is being advertised at the congregation with exactly the same cover letter.

  • If I ask you about what you know about the congregation, don't cut and paste from it's website in your response.

  • Probably not best to address me as "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Hello ," - I mean, my name's on the friggin' job description.

  • If your email is three sentences long, every sentence shouldn't end in an exclamation point! Really! Honest!"

We are still collecting resumes for this position. If you need me to tell you to look under "job descriptions" (to the right), this is not the job for you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cory says, "Homework Sucks!"

Today on Boing Boing: Cory Doctorow's review of The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. He calls it "a fine and frightening explosion of the homework myth: that giving kids homework improves their educational outcome..."

"...all the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments...

"...Not that most teachers would know this -- homework theory and design isn't on the curriculum at most teachers' colleges, and most teachers surveyed report that they have never received any training on designing and assessing homework...

"...The stories go on and on, and just when you're ready to throw in the towel and send your kids into the woods to be raised by wolves, the authors supply several long chapters of strategies and sample dialogs for convincing your kids' teachers to ease off on homework, for changing the homework policies in your school district and for rallying other parents to their cause.

"They're not whistling Dixie, either: the authors have gone through this themselves, challenging and changing the homework policies in their kids' school districts. The last section of the book is an activist guide and a postmortem of the strategies they employed. One of the authors, Sara Bennett, is a celebrated civil rights lawyer; the other, Nancy Kalish, is a famous editor and writer of material for parents, especially mothers. One imagines that their school board didn't know what hit them" [full text of review].

More information can be found on StopHomework.com, co-author Sara Bennett's blog. She recommends taking action by signing the petition calling for the dismantling of the "No Child Left Behind" Act at The Educator Roundtable.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sure Mark . . . why not? (Survey on "Family Purity")

I received this email earlier today, which I am quoting in full:

"My name is Mark Guterman. I am a Clinical Psychology PhD student working with Orit Avishai of the University of California at Berkeley. We are doing an internet survey of Jews of all denominations. The survey is for both singles and married couples. The survey is online at: http://www.JewishSurveys.org.

"I was wondering if you could post a link on your site for our research? I ask you, because your blog draws readers of a type that we may not be able to reach through any other means. Please help us out. We are not making any money on this; we are simply trying to learn more about our community. Your cooperation in this would be greatly appreciated, and you would be doing a service to the Jewish community at large.

"More info on the survey: The study looks at issues regarding Negiah (premarital touching) and Niddah / Taharat HaMishpachah (family purity). Niddah and Negiah play an important role in the every day lives of Jewish men and women. The collection of handbooks on this topic grows from year to year, yet we know very little about how Jewish couples, men, and women experience and observe Niddah and Negiah. Anecdotal evidence and our previous research have led us to conclude that many couples and individuals are experiencing difficulties with this aspect of the Halachah.

"We are inviting the Jewish community at large to participate in this important survey to shed light on these difficulties and explore some ways to address them. Given the intimate nature of these matters, this brief, online survey is totally anonymous, and no identifiable information is collected."

Follow this link to take the survey. You must be 18 years or older to participate, and all information is provided anonymously. I took the survey (it takes about 10 minutes): You may find that your responses do not easily correspond to the choices provided in the drop-down menus. However, I was amused to see that kashrut and shabbat observance is rated on a scale from "flexible" to "strict."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Job Posting: "Shabbat Leader," Society for the Advancement of Judaism

The SAJ, a Reconstructionist and Conservative synagogue on the Upper West Side, is seeking a "Shabbat leader" to lead family services and to teach in our Hebrew School. Our family services are warm, inviting, and very musical. We use a mix of traditional prayer, storytelling, and interactive educational activities to create a service that is welcoming to all. At the Hebrew School we use an experiential learning approach to introduce children of all ages to the joys of Jewish life. We are looking for an educator who will bring educational engagement and a high level of ruach-oriented fun to our Hebrew school.

The Shabbat leader will:
  • Lead two Friday night family services a month, one geared towards younger children (ages 4-8) and their parents, and one geared towards tweens and their parents.
  • Lead one monthly Saturday morning service geared towards younger children.
  • Teach music in the Hebrew School twice a week, ideally on Sunday and Tuesday. There will be a particular focus on teaching songs from the family Shabbat services, to create a bridge between the Hebrew School and the family services.
  • Help plan and attend two havdalah events during the winter.
  • Work closely with and be supervised by the education director, meeting with the education director on a weekly basis.
  • Attend bimonthly meetings of a lay "Shabbat committee."
The schedule for the various services should allow for each service to occur on a different week of the month in order to accommodate all family groups.

The ideal candidate for this position will have at least four years experience in song-leading, have the ability to song-lead while playing either guitar or keyboard, and will also have experience creating and leading family education programs. He or she will be upbeat and outgoing, and will enjoy and relate well to children.

Compensation ranges from $15,000 up, commensurate with experience.

Please email resumes to education.saj@verizon.net or fax (212) 724-0293.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Now THIS is how a Wiki should be used!

You may recall that about two months ago, in an entry about JESNA's Lippman Kanfer Institute Wiki, I lamented that "rather than being an interactive or collaborative experience, [this] Wiki is still currently functioning much like any other website." Well, I want to share with you a wiki that I think makes brilliant use of the potential of the technology: flatplanet, the Wikispaces "space of the month" for April 2007.

Flat Planet is:

"...an online collaborative project between students in two religious education classes in Catholic High Schools in Canada and the United Kingdom. The students were given the task of examining environmental issues affecting both Canada and the U.K. and to think about the ethical/moral responsibility of Roman Catholics with regard to the environment..."

So what makes the result so fantastic? Here's just a few of the creative ways the site takes advantage of the potential of the technology to twin classrooms in different parts of the world for collaborative learning:

  • clocks on the home page with the current times in Oakville, Canada and London, England)
  • students can post photos of themselves so their other group members can see who they are
  • project pages, on which the students post text, audio, photos, and videos
  • discussion pages, on which students discuss what they are posting and respond to one another's concerns (here is a sample, from the project on animal testing)
  • a resource page (actually, a blog) on which students can post articles and weblinks they think will be helpful to all the groups

Along with the technology, the site also demonstrates a number of pedagogical techniques that are simply good practice, including a clear rubric for grading the projects.

How far ahead of the crowd is this wiki? Well, for a quick comparison, pay a visit to the (relatively) new blog, "Web 2.0 in the classroom" and try clicking on any of the links (which have impressive names like "21st Century Education"). Despite their great intentions, not a single one has been updated since April (and most consist of a single entry). Presumably, these were created as part of some sort of technology-in-the-classroom training (on March 12th). But I'm just guessing.

So what are we waiting for? For inspiration, here is what Simon O'Carroll (in Canada) and Neil D'Aguiar (in London) - the teachers who set up Flat Planet - had to say about their experience:

"The thing that we like about Wikispaces is the ease of use. It was fairly simple to figure out how to use the Wikispaces editing tools. Within a few minutes we had set up our Flat Planet Wikispaces site and were laying the groundwork for our students to begin their collaboration. I especially like the ability to easily embed things such as video, audio, and other types of media into the wiki."

Want to learn more about Web 2.0 and other new technologies, and their educational applications? Browse through the articles and other resources at the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, join the community at Classroom 2.0, spend some time at Suzie Vesper's Educational Software and Web 2.0 Wiki, and of course don't miss Caren Levine's jlearn 2.0. Enjoy!

StorahLab Summer Institute at CAJE

This comes via our friend (and Storahteller extraordinaire) Dr. Shira D. Epstein:

Are you a Jewish educator? Want to learn the art of Storahtelling and transform your classroom into a stage for The Greatest Story Ever Told?

Join us for StorahLab Summer Institute 2007!

StorahLab is an exclusive opportunity for supplementary school educators to learn from dynamic educators and Storahtellers. Participants delve deep into Storahtelling's innovative, educational methodology in an intimate setting and return to their communities with a fresh set of tools to enable students to find renewed relevance in our sacred texts. Learn the ins and outs of Storahtelling's Cool Tool for School, a comprehensive curriculum utilizing the Storahtelling methodology of dramatic translation and interpretation of Torah.

StorahLab will take place as an intensive learning track each morning of the 2007 CAJE conference, Sun. August 5th - Thurs. August 9th in St. Louis, MO.

For more information, contact the CAJE offices at cajeny@caje.org or Sarah Sololic at sarah@storahtelling.org or 212-695-0807.

Job Posting: Full-Time Teacher at Central Synagogue, NYC

Central Synagogue, a Reform congregation of over 2000 households in mid-town Manhattan seeks to hire full-time educators for the fourth year of an innovative educational initiative for academic year 2007-8. Our full-time teachers work as a team to plan and implement formal and informal learning experiences for our 3rd-9th graders and their families, including Shabbat and holiday celebrations, enrichment activities, and social action projects.

Responsibilities include:

  • team-driven curriculum planning and assessment
  • classroom teaching
  • evaluation of student achievement
  • weekly communication with parents
  • family programming and parent education
  • home and internet based learning initiatives

This is a full time position with benefits.

Starting date: July 1, 2007

Salary: $38-49K based on experience

Applicants for this position should have previous experience in classroom teaching and curriculum development, excellent organizational and communication skills, and a strong work ethic. We seek reflective practitioners, committed to professional growth, who are able to work effectively as part of a team and to share a love for learning and of Judaism with all members of our synagogue community. This is a challenging position with tremendous opportunity for achievement. Our faculty creates cutting-edge learning experiences, incorporating the latest pedagogical theories, while receiving mentoring from experts in the field. In order to create a diverse educational team we are seeking candidates with special skills in one or more of the following areas: music, song leading, technology (web/video), dance, theater, visual arts, and Judaic studies.

The position requires evening and weekend work throughout the academic year. Hebrew proficiency and familiarity with Reform Judaism are essential. An advanced degree in Education and/or Judaic studies is preferred.

For more information or to apply for this position, please send cover letter and resume to:

Sara Blumstein
Director of Educational Administration
Central Synagogue
123 East 55th Street
New York, NY 10022
212-838-5122 x254
212-486-1944 (Fax)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Third Annual Jewish and Israeli Blog Award winners announced

It's been a big week for awards announcements, apparently. Despite concerns raised about right-wing bias and hacking attacks on its website, the winners in all categories for the JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blog) Awards have been posted.

The big winner is Yaakov Kirschen's Dry Bones blog, in which he presents a daily cartoon accompanied by his commentary on it - a methodology for which blogs are particularly suited.

Kudos also to our friends at JSpot, who picked up the award for best group blog, The Jew and the Carrot, who snagged the best new blog award (with an incredible 592 votes, nearly three times as many votes as any other blog received in ANY category), and Mah Rabu, who picked up a bronze for his Hilchot Pluralism series.

Other big winners include treppenwitz's musings on daily life in Israel (and whatever else comes to mind), Gil Student's ortho-haredi halachic commentary on Hirhurim, and the spiritual reflections of Lazer Brody at Lazer Beams - all of which are award winners from previous years.

Jewish Agency launches free pilot of their on-line Hebrew Ulpan

The Jewish Agency of Israel is introducing a new on-line Hebrew Ulpan, which will be inaugurated with a free 4-week pilot. It is open to individuals age 15 and older, and knowledge of the alef-bet is a prerequisite. According to their literature, the pilot will include:

  • 4 Lessons consisting of 1.5 interactive, live (real time) contact hours each, plus independent study (assignments, review)
  • Acquisition of the full range of language skills - Speaking, Reading,Writing, Listening and Visual Comprehension
  • All lessons contain Vocabulary, Language Structure and Grammar
  • Blended methods of study [ed: I had no idea what that meant, but Wikipedia did.]

The format will consist of four synchronous webconferences on Mondays (at 5:00 PM Israel time), starting July 2. To register, or for more information, contact Sandrine Balloffet.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Job Posting: Project Assistant, Lippman Kanfer Institute

JESNA is a continental nonprofit organization that is focused on improving Jewish education through a cycle of learnings, dissemination, and application.

JESNA (www.jesna.org) is seeking a highly-motivated, self-directed individual for a part-time (10 hour per week) position as Project Assistant for its Lippman Kanfer Institute. The Lippman Kanfer Institute operates as a think tank within JESNA, focusing on the identification and diffusion of innovative ideas and practices that will keep Jewish education relevant and effective in the 21st century. The Project Assistant will work closely with the Director of the Institute (who is also JESNA’s Chief Ideas Officer) to manage its initiatives and day-to-day activities.

  • Assist the Director in planning the activities of the Lippman Kanfer Institute, including meetings and events, publications, presentations, and other activities.
  • Ensure that these activities are implemented effectively and in a timely fashion.
  • Manage the Institute’s ongoing communications with key partners and constituents, including members of the JESNA Board and staff, the Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, individuals working with the Institute on projects, advisers and consultants, Jewish education funders, and other professional and lay leaders in the field of Jewish education.
  • Coordinate meetings, consultations, and other events organized by the Institute.
  • B.A.
  • Experience in managing projects and activities in the for-profit or not-for-profit sectors.
  • Skills in using word processing, spreadsheet, presentation (Powerpoint) software; skills in using project management, graphics, and web software a plus.
  • Personally familiar with and knowledgeable about the Jewish community and Jewish education.
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing, with all levels of management and staff, volunteer leaders, partner organizations, and media.
  • Ability to juggle multiple tasks under deadlines.
  • Demonstrated resourcefulness, optimism, flexibility, and good humor in approach to project assignments and in working with colleagues and constituents.
  • Commitment to JESNA’s values, mission and goals.
START DATE: September 1, 2007; possible earlier start if candidate is available sooner

LOCATION: JESNA’s New York office

SALARY: $300 / 10 hr. week

APPLICATION PROCESS: Email resume and cover letter with position title in the subject line to Jonathan Woocher, Director of the Institute, at jwoocher@jesna.org.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More winners, and a blog as well!

Yesterday (May 16, 2007) the AVI CHAI Foundation announced the fifteen awardees of their Educational Technology Experimentation Grants (out of around 180 submissions). They comprise "a diverse range of projects with the ultimate goal of learning about and identifying promising educational technology initiatives for Jewish education."

Winning initiatives make use of smartboards, websites, podcasts, and video to teach subjects ranging from Hebrew to Talmud to prayer. All the winners are from day schools - no summer camps, supplementary schools, or other programs are represented.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is AVI CHAI's use of a weblog by which to follow each grantee’s progress along the experimentation route.

Although it is hard to guess from the terse descriptions presented which of these projects will be the most innovative - and of course, the most creative might not be the most successful - one in particular stood out to me: A project by Rabbi Judd Kruger Levingston at the Saligman Middle School of the Perelman Jewish Day School in Melrose Park, PA:

"Rabbi Levingston will be exerimenting with on-line tefilla; electronic siddurim; podcasts and other new media expressions of prayer by and for the middle school students."

Best of luck to Judd and to the other winners, and let's stay tuned to see how these projects develop!

In poor taste but...the Hitler or Falwell game

With thanks, sort of, to Boing Boing for the tip-off, it's Hitler or Falwell! According the inventor, it's a "simple game of Godwinism, in which I present a quote and YOU guess who said it!" For example,

4. I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!

5. Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.

Find the answers, and play the game, via this link.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We have a winner!

Remember back in December, when BabagaNewz announced its "Capture the Dream" contest? If you've forgotten, participants designed an original logo for a plane carrying passengers making aliyah to Israel. Well, a winner has been announced: Alexis D., a fifth-grader in the religious school of Har Zion Congregation in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Alexis' design will be on a Nefesh B'Nefesh plane to Israel and she will accompany her illustration aboard the plane on a free trip to Israel this summer.

The designs by the three runners-up are posted at the BabagaNewz website.

Awards for Adult and Congregational Learning from the Reform Movement

At some point, when I wasn't looking, the Union for Reform Judaism seems to have redesigned its home page, making it considerably easier to navigate the site (among the features that have been moved to the front is a link to their "Sacred Choices" curriculum for congregations and camps to teach sexual ethics to teens).

Anyway, the URJ is sponsoring two awards that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Does your synagogue engage its adult members, from post-confirmation teens to senior citizens, in active learning experiences? If so, please consider applying for the Union for Reform Judaism Congregation of Learners Awards 2007, honoring congregations of all sizes that provide varied and comprehensive learning opportunities for their members.

Winning congregations will be recognized at the San Diego Biennial, receive free URJ Press books, videos and CDs and will be featured in a Best Practices book available to all Reform congregations.

NEW THIS YEAR! The Nachshon Awards, recognizing congregations in the process of transformation, on their way to becoming Congregation of Learners. These awards will be given to congregations for one new and innovative program or project that demonstrates a congregational commitment to adult Jewish learning.

Application deadline is June 1, 2007.

You can download the application form directly from the internet. For more information, contact Brooke Montgomery at bmontgomery@urj.org or 212.650.4110.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sesame Street returns to Israeli and Palestinian television

Off the air (due to a lack of funding) since 1997, "Rehov Sumsum" returned to the Israeli children's cable television network "Hop!" this past Chanukah (2006). This week, Ma'an, an independent network of Palestinian television stations will begin broadcasting their version of the series. Ha'aretz reports:

"...Producers tailored the Middle Eastern casts and story lines to the fit the audiences. 'Rehov Sumsum,' the Israeli version of the show, for the first time includes a Muppet of Arab origin. Its Palestinian counterpart, 'Shara'a Simsim,' seeks to offer positive role models to boys in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." (April 30, 2007)

A little background:

"...After the shows ended in 1997, a joint Palestinian-Israeli production in the planning stages was shelved when the Palestinians launched the second intifada in 2000.

"Instead, a limited series called 'Sesame Stories' was produced in 2004 by independent Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian production teams. The animations and live-action episodes were dubbed and aired on each other's series.

'The Muppets couldn't speak each other's languages, but they connected over falafel and hummus, and a common dislike of onions,' Knell said.

"The new Israeli and Palestinian shows are produced independently, placing an emphasis on educating children about their own societies. Like any "Sesame Street," they also teach basic skills like numbers and letters, good manners and keeping the environment clean.

"'Rechov Sumsum' teaches tolerance by portraying a street inhabited by Israelis of varying backgrounds who live together peacefully: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, veterans and immigrants. The neighbors are real-life children and adult characters, including a Jewish man named Tzahi, an Arab woman named Ibtisam, a Russian woman named Irina and an Ethiopian student named Malkamo." (JTA, May 14, 2007)

Sesame Workshop, in a press release from last December, described the initiative as part of their commitment "to creating and providing positive media content for children in the Middle East." Along with the new Israeli and Palestinian versions, this includes productions in Egypt ('Alam Simsim', now entering its 10th year) and Jordan (Hikayat Simsim). The new Palestinian series:

"...will be accompanied by an educational outreach campaign, will feature a new set that now includes a Fix-It shop run by Salim, a new male character in his early 20’s. Beloved Palestinian Muppet characters Haneen, a 5-year-old learning how to count and read, and Kareem, a 7-year-old rooster, who is organized, tidy, timely, and traditional, return to Shara’a Simsim. The new season responds directly to the needs of Palestinian children by focusing on boys’ empowerment and introducing the character of Salim, who will serve as a positive role model for young children."

All this is great news for Israelis (and the rest of us) who until now have had to turn to YouTube to hear "Barvazoni" ("Rubber Duckie" sung in Hebrew).

My favorite quotes: Hannah Arendt

This is from The Crisis in Education (1954):

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable.

“And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Experiential education at its worst

Associated Press reports today (May 14, 2007) that staff members of a sixth grade class in Murfreesboro, Tennessee "staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables."

"The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip...

"...Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation 'involved poor judgment.'" [full story at CNN.com].

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Australian Jewish Punk Rock Cartoon

Melbourne-based band Yidcore has released a bizarre and kinda wonderful cartoon-video for the title track from their new album, "They Tried to Kill Us. They Failed. Let's Eat!" I have to admit I can't entirely understand the lyrics, but then again, I'm pushing 40. In any case, the title of the song says it all.

Check out the Yidcore Myspace page for more song samples, including their speed-metal version of "Od Yavo Shalom." Their homepage features more punk-Jewish goodness, including their recipes for chulent and kugel.

Thanks to the blog "i tempi e le idee" for turning me on to this. Of course, that blog is in Italian, so I have no idea what is being said there, either.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

King Herod's Tomb Discovered!

The tomb of Herod the Great has been discovered, reports Mati Milstein at National Geographic News:

"Hebrew University professor Ehud Netzer and colleagues say they solved one of Israel's great archaeological mysteries by unearthing the remains of Herod's grave, sarcophagus, and mausoleum at the Herodium complex.

"Most scholars had assumed Herod, who ruled Judea between 37 and 4 B.C., was buried at the Herodium complex, but his final resting place had remained undiscovered until now. The site lies about 6 miles (15 kilometers) south of modern-day Jerusalem.

"King Herod is renowned for his monumental construction projects, including the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Caesarea complex, and the palace atop Masada. Herod constructed Herodium as a massive administrative, residential, memorial, and burial center.

"The site's unique character and other finds at the Herodium prove without a doubt that this is Herod's burial site, Netzer said at a press conference." [full article]

Amiram Barkat in today's edition of Ha'aretz (May 8, 2007) writes:

"Herod, whose father and grandfather converted to Judaism, was appointed governor of Galilee at the age of 25 and was made "King of the Jews" by the Roman senate in approximately 40 BCE. He remained king for around 34 years.

". . .At Herodium, Herod built one of the largest monarchical complexes in the Roman Empire, which served as a residential palace, a sanctuary, an administrative center and a mausoleum. Herod first built an artificial cone-shaped hill that could be seen from Jerusalem, on which he constructed a fortified palace surrounded by watchtowers that he used solely in wartime.

". . . With the outbreak of the Great Revolt, Herodium was seized by the rebels, but then handed over without resistance to the Romans following the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

"Fifty years later, Herodium was also used by the rebels during the Bar Kokhva revolt, but was abandoned thereafter.

". . . The first archeological dig at the site, between the years 1956 and 1962, was conducted by a Franciscan monk and revealed most of the currently-known remains. Israel began excavations at the site in 1972, several years after its capture during the Six-Day War." [full article]