Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jedcamp Brooklyn - Building a Community

Six months since the first New York-area Jedcamp, the second one was held this past Sunday in Brooklyn, New York.  For those of you not from the New York Metropolitan area, Brooklyn may seem relatively close to Paramus, New Jersey, home to the last Jedcamp.  However, locals know that the distance from one locale to the other may as well be a thousand miles, so daunting is the traffic in between and so seemingly far away are our two states (even though they are roughly contiguous).

And that is exactly one of the goals of JedcampNJNY - to start creating a community among the thousands of educators who work in Jewish education from Long Island to Brooklyn to Queens to Manhattan to the Bronx to New Jersey to Rockland County.  While this is not something that is easily accomplished in one day or one conference, it is something that I believe can happen one step at a time.

The demographics of this week's Jedcamp were noteworthy, particularly in contrast to April's camp.  While the springtime event drew heavily from the local population in Bergen County, New Jersey, Sunday's camp predictably had a strong Brooklyn showing.  However, both camps attracted people from across the region, and it is that group of individuals who will likely develop into the core of the Jedcamp community.  How so?  As we continue to plan Jedcamps and related events, the educators who become regulars will be the individuals who carry the banner for Jedcamp in their schools, encouraging their colleagues to try it out, sharing their growing wealth of experiences from having attended several Jedcamp events.

The goal of creating a Jedcamp community is to craft something that exists at all times, at not only at the several events during the year.  As such, I see spaces such as #jedchat on Twitter, Jedlab on Facebook, the YU2.0 and YUHSchinuch communities, and the Lookjed mailing list as a series of overlapping communities that everyone is able to plug into between discrete events.  The core group of people who put together JedcampNJNY first came together via Twitter, but at this point we have all met face to face many times, and we have worked to collaborate on a variety of other projects, as have many other people who first connected at a Jedcamp.  The various online communities provide opportunities for people to continue conversations that they began at live events, or to start conversations that will then become live discussions at live events.  While no one can have 1,000 "best friends", it is good to know that there are thousands of educators out there who are ready to reply, respond, and reflect in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

There are more Jedcamps (and related events) coming, and the potential to create one exists everyone.  If you live near one, sign up to attend.  If there is none being planned in your community yet, step up and plan one.  Come and join the growing community.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

JedcampNJNY Returns - With a Full Year of Events!

After last April's highly successful JedcampNJNY in Paramus, New Jersey (see here for more), one of the most common reactions was either "When is the next one?" or "Why didn't I know about that - I would have loved to attend!"  Clearly, the model of an open-ended, participant-driven, free day of professional development (with good food) had struck a chord with many people, much as the Edcamp movement continues to grow and expand to an ever-growing list of cities.

To try to address that desire for more opportunities for professional development, JedcampNJNY will be offering a full complement of activities this coming year.  Our overall goal is to continue to expand the community that has been formed through the #Jedchat hashtag on Twitter, through various online groups such as YU2.0 and YUHSChinuch, and through Jedcamp itself, and to be able to maintain momentum throughout the year while providing several opportunities for people to participate, connect, and share with colleagues from around the region.

First and foremost, JedcampNJNY - Brooklyn is just 10 days away!  Under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Bitton (@RabbiMBitton) and David Galpert (@dgalpert), our opening Jedcamp of the year promises to be at least as exciting and dynamic as the last one.  The event will take place at Magen David Yeshiva High School in Brooklyn on Sunday October 20th, and you can fill out your free registration at this link.

Following Jedcamp, we are introducing a series of "Night Activities".  These events will be shorter and more focused in nature, and will not always follow a strict Jedcamp format.  On November 20th, Yehuda Chanales (@chanales) of Torah Academy of Bergen County will be hosting an evening dedicated to discussing Learning, Spirituality, and Inspiration in the 21st Century.  On December 18th, Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz) of Solomon Schechter in Queens will be organizing an evening dedicated to discussing educational technology and social media.  We are working as well to confirm a third Night Activity in February.  Further information about all of these evenings, including how to register, will be disseminated through the various networks in the weeks preceding the events.

Finally, our year will be capped off in May by a second Jedcamp, hosted at the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ by Tzvi Pittinsky (@techrav) and Tikvah Wiener (@tikvahwiener).  Our hope is that the plethora of events will allow as many educators as possible to take part at least once and to thereby add themselves to a growing network of Jewish educators who are perpetually linked and always have someone to turn to to discuss whatever is on their mind about Jewish education.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

PBL and the Search for an Authentic Audience - A Success Story

I have written before that one of the most difficult parts of constructing a true Project Based Learning project is finding an authentic audience for the project.  I spoke at length with the wonderful Suzie Boss (@suzieboss) about this topic over the summer, and we agreed that sometimes you have to "invent" an audience.  By that I mean that, as I wrote in the linked blogpost, sometimes you set up someone or a group of people to be an audience, and for the purposes of the project they play the role of someone who has a genuine interest in the project.  Think about a school science fair - most parents who come to view the projects have no prior interest in any of those topics (even the topic chosen by their own child), but they take a momentary interest during the fair - then go home and more or less forget about all of it.

However, I am happy to share a true success at finding an authentic audience.  My colleague Simcha Schaum (@simchaschaum) conducted a project last spring with his 6th grade class where he asked them to learn material relating to some of the seasonal changes made in the prayers.  He charged the students with creating bookmarks that theoretically could be handed out in shuls (synagogues) so that people would know what changes to make when, and what to do if they made a mistake.  Rabbi Schaum had a couple of local Rabbis come to class so the students could present their bookmarks, and the project concluded with some very wonderful presentations and some very gracious Rabbis.

However, the project did not conclude there.  This past week on the Jewish calendar was one of the times when changes are made to the prayers.  And a day or two later, Rabbi Schaum received the following email from one of the Rabbis who visited his class back in May:

Hi Rabbi Schaum,

As [you may have heard], the bookmarks were a huge hit in shul on Shmini Atzeres.  I distributed them (and explained where they came from) and went over the related halachos [laws] before Musaf, and that was the heads-up to begin saying Mashiv Haruach.  Everyone has been using the bookmarks to remind themselves to say Mashiv Haruach and enjoying them.

Yasher Koach [kudos] to you and the students, and thank you!

Wishing you much hatzlacha [success] this year,

The "pretend" authentic audience, which at the time was sufficient to motivate the students to complete their projects, has successfully become a real authentic audience!  While not every project meets with such success, it is inspiring to know that our audience is out there - we just have to set the wheels in motion so that we can find them.