Sunday, April 18, 2010

Moving On (Back to Reality!)

This will be the final post to this blog.  It provided space for me to reflect while participating in the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher program.  I am, however, motivated to continue, I have moved all of these posts to a new blog, which can be found by clicking here.  I have enjoyed the global interactions with all those who have posted, lurked, and confessed to reading the stories I have told.  Let's keep the dialog going.....see you online at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It takes a village.....

Not exactly an original title, but appropriate.  It is time to say goodbye, for now, to Israel.  The official part of my Fulbright is at an end.  In two days, I'll be back in Fenway working with an eager group of seventh graders.  A fellow blogger wrote recently that it is important to thank people.  OK, this is going to take a while, but here goes....In no particular order.....Thanks to Paul A. for working the back end to make sure Catlin Gabel would continue to run smoothly in my Pam and Noa for being willing to head off on an unknown Richard, Faith, Johny, David, and Daisy for making sure we had all the tech tools we needed and for maintaining the long distance backups, Kabir for taking the medieval the class of 2015 for allowing me to leave in the middle of the my C&C for trusting that I would return in time for the end of the year and for finishing the yearbook Ruth, Tamara, and a host of others at Mofet for making sure I was well-taken care of in Augusta, Lamese, and the wonderful staff at AED for providing the framework for this Fulbright Kristin and the staff at Vanderbilt for making sure I had enough to read in Rafi, Eleanor, Alicia, Sarah, Reuven, and Susan for meeting with me, shepherding me in the right direction, and allowing me to tag along as they went about their the students and staff at all the schools I visited for showing me the best side of Israeli education, students working hard under the guidance of terrific Ribhe for making sure we always had enough the security guard outside Tal Bagel for making us feel welcome in the neighborhood and for proving that people don't have to speak the same language in order to Efrat for making Noa feel "grown up." Elaine, Chaim, their children, and their friends for making us honorary Yemenites, showing us how joyous celebrating Shabbat can be, and feeding us amazing Ahmad, Manal, and the kids for showing us the Israeli-Arab side of the equation.  We needed to spend more time with you.  To Dad and Louise for being willing travel companions north and the staff at Cafenetto in Mitzpe Ramon for the most delicious lunch in the Benedict for serving the best breakfasts in the entire staff at Cafe Restobar for making us feel at home in Jerusalem.  We invite you to join us in Portland and wish you good luck with the birth of your second Moller for the GPS unit.  It worked like a all of the Egged bus drivers who worked tirelessly to get me to where I needed to go and back home to Jerusalem again, even when I was exhausted, you kept me safe and Marilyn, s, Mom, and friends all over the world for responding to blog posts.  You kept us all motivated to write more, observe more, record Spencer for keeping us connected to Jeff for pushing me to write regularly, and not just about education in the classroom sense...and, finally, to Jay and his family for showing us the ropes, making us feel at home, answering unending questions, and pushing all of us to explore Israel in our own ways.  A huge thank you to everybody who I have left unnamed because I am still enjoying one more day in the fine Jerusalem spring.   One final note.....this blog will be moving to a new site in the near future. All of the posts from this site will still be there, but I think a new title is in order as this chapter is ending.  Stay tuned for Peeking over the Edge....Goodbye for now to Jerusalem and Israel, hello to Portland and the USA.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good, No, Great Friday

It is Good Friday.  Actually, it is a great Friday.  About 25° C (77°F), sunny, light breeze in the air.  While I was thinking of how to begin this piece, Sebastian Engelbrecht of Bavarian State Radio beat me to the best opening.  "Today, in Jerusalem, everybody is equal.  It is Good Friday for Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Protestants; Passover for Jews; and Muslims will attend Friday prayers.  People from all over the world are streaming into Jerusalem."  There is no more important city in the world today for the faithful, whatever their faith.  Others will write about the religious aspects of the day,  Yes, those are impressive celebrations, and it is a joy to see so many people peacefully professing their faith in so many different ways yet always directed towards the same God.  The people most responsible for insuring that all runs smoothly today will, if all does run smoothly remain almost invisible.  The Israeli military, border police, and local Jerusalem police have carefully planned how to insure that all the groups which need access to areas in Jerusalem's Old City have it.  Roads have been blocked off to insure smooth traffic flow.  When an Israeli soldier on traffic duty tells you that you may not pass, he is speaking with the power of Gandalf, the wizard in Lord of the Rings.  The only thing missing is his wizard's staff.  Watching the woman in the picture try to argue her way past (that is her cab behind her) brought smiles to our faces, and, eventually, she was going to have to find another way to where ever she was headed.  The way she was gesticulating, it seemed she was going to have to go all the way to Amman, Jordan, to reach her destination.  

On foot, through the Zion Gate, our favorite way into the Old City, there was no traffic.  There were almost no people!  We passed one group of pilgrims, and we entered the City as if it were any other day.  We headed straight for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we figured the crowds would prevent us even getting close.  Evidently, we were very early because we ended up at the final checkpoint before the Church.  We noted the knots (as in at least ten) Israeli security guards at the intersections and along the final streets leading to the Church.  The guards were clearly relaxing, having a little breakfast, and in general, not paying much attention to the crowd.  Now, this is misleading.  There were always at least four men (no women today) watching carefully, insuring that all went smoothly.  We passed traffic barricades ready to be moved into place to help guide the pilgrims towards the Church.  One road we walked on had huge awnings over it, crowd barriers to help keep order, and big screen tvs ready to go for services.  The awnings were to try to shield the faithful from the intense sun.  The security personnel were ready for anything.  Riot helmets were on shoulders or in backpacks, kevlar vests were packed with all the gear needed for the day, including at least three water bottles, and first aid kits visible on every soldier.

Noa and I stayed around long enough to enjoy the crowds, watch one group of pilgrims after another complete their march on the Via Dolorosa, and then decided it was time to move along.  The crowd was growing quickly and we didn't want to be on the wrong side of the barriers trying to explain to an Israeli policeman why he should let us through....

So we headed back into the alleyways and made our way through the Cardo to a spot we know has a great view of the Western Wall and Temple Mount.  There were more Jews around due to Passover festivities.  But, there were almost no visible security personnel.  Oh, a solider here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Down at the Western Wall and up on the walkway leading to the Temple Mount, there was the usual Friday complement of guards and police.  

The one interaction we chose not to view was further back along the Via Dolorosa.  Christians marching the Stations of the Cross have to walk West to follow the route.  Muslims trying to get to the Temple Mount, a traditional gathering place during and after Friday prayers have to cross the Via Dolorosa heading South.  Israeli security folks evidently stop the Christians every few meters with barricades to allow the Muslims to cross.  Watch tonight's news to find out if all went well.  

Why a focus on Israel's military today?  On this Great Friday, they are demonstrating why, under any proposed peace plan, they should remain the only military force in the Old City.  Unlike the Jordanians who barred Jews from the Old City for the 19 years they were a military presence and unlike the Palestinians who seem hell-bent on creating violence in the Old City, the Israeli military allows equal access to the important sites in the Old City to any peaceful  person who wants it.  They have done it since 1967, they continue to do it today.  Well done, gentlemen (and, because we know there are women working invisibly behind you, ladies.)  I can hardly wait for Sunday.....Easter and the end of Passover on the same day! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flirting Gone Awry

Today was a glorious day, weather-wise, in Israel.  Noa and I decided to head to Tel Aviv one final time.  Clearly, we were not the only folks in Jerusalem with this idea.  The Bus Station was as crowded as we had ever seen it.  Egged puts on extra buses for Passover to try to handle the crowds.  We got on a bus to Tel Aviv that was already pretty full.  I found Noa a seat near the front and headed for the back.  Usual bus etiquette is that one asks if a seat is free....some folks try to occupy two seats....and there is usually no problem.  Today, I approached a high school age boy, asked if the seat were free, and he clearly was reluctant to let me sit with him.  In fact, he left to go sit with another friend of his.  I called Noa back to me figuring we could sit together.....Big mistake.....Now, before I continue, I need to remind readers that Noa has fairly negative feelings towards Arab boys, ages 10-18, who have been more than menacing when she and Pam have walked through Arab neighborhoods and the Old City.  These children have threatened to spit at them, an interesting cultural characteristic.....Ok, back to the bus ride.....As we were entering the freeway, Noa and I felt sunflower seed shells hitting the back of our heads.  I turned around and glared at the high school age children behind us.  We were in the middle of a group of about 12 sophomores (my guess), maybe freshmen.  We thought they were spitting at the high schoolers in front of us.  When the second batch hit us, I turned around and asked the young people to stop saying that enough was enough.  The kids grew raucous, mimicked us, but at least they stopped spitting at us and resumed spitting on the floor.  A couple of the girls in the group also yelled at the boys to stop...which they sort of did.  Then a soldier sitting in the middle of the bus asked the kids if it were really necessary to be so loud and obnoxious.  They mocked him, too.  It must have dawned on a couple of the boys that they weren't getting Noa's attention, so they tried out a few English phrases on her, but she wasn't having any of it, so they began using their English to tease her.  This proved equally ineffective.  Then one of the boys decided to try smoking (all Egged buses are non-smoking.)  Again, the soldier in the middle asked what the heck was going on, the kids realized they had a problem, so they opened all the vents to try to clear the air and yelled at the smoker to knock it off which he thankfully did.  Once the boys realized that flirting with Noa was not going to happen , they went back to trying to impress the girls who were with them.  Now, I have taught high school kids in many countries, but I have never witnessed the hard slaps to the head that both boys and girls were dishing out.  These kids were way out of control.  Yes, it is Passover Break in Israel, and high school kids need to prove they are cool to their friends, but this group of children was not only disrespectful towards us, but towards all of the passengers and the Egged driver who was going to have to clean up their mess.  Clearly new to bus travel, many of the boys in the group tried to get off at the security checkpoint just outside the bus terminal.  The security guard sternly told them to stay on the bus.  Enjoying a moment of quiet after they exited, Noa and I made our way to the front, thanked the driver for his patience, and proceeded to have a fabulous day in Tel Aviv!

We walked up to Benedict, Noa's favorite breakfast joint, sat at the bar and enjoyed the world's best chocolate pancakes (Noa) and Matzohbrei (me)  Fresh orange juice and perfect coffee rounded out the meal.  Then, we walked the boardwalk.  It looked like a typical beach scene at the height of summer.  After a day in the sun, we returned to Jerusalem on a bus with no children, a great driver, and a bit of peace and quiet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A veritable feast!

As the Fulbright winds down, and the education community is on Pesach vacation, it's time for a gastronomic post!  Noa and Pam will blog about our visit to Ahmad Amer, a Fulbrighter from Kfar Qasem.  We ate unbelievable food! Noa's post for that meal.  Tonight we joined the throngs on Emek Refaim at Caffit.  All day long, people have been eating on Emek.  There is little Hebrew being spoken, but half the Jews East of the Mississippi must be in Israel right now....and they are all in our little neighborhood.  We ordered salad, matzo ball soup, sweet potato latkes, and a Pesach roll.  Then, we sat back and watched the hecticness of the season.  We have never seen hostesses (Pam will describe the fashion) working harder than we have seen anybody work.  The level of noise was similar to an NBA game.  Yet, food was prompt, gorgeous looking, and very tasty.  OK, Pam's soup is better, the matzo balls are fluffier.  The Pesach roll was.....better with butter!  Sweet potato latkes were delicious with the chive sour cream.  Noa's fresh apple juice was foamy and delicious. We had a terrific time laughing with the masses and cementing memories of our time here.

Many restaurants just close for the week.  Remodels are completed, work which might normally disrupt customers can be completed with no disruptions whatsoever.  Supermarkets cover up the "forbidden" Passover foods, and interestingly enough, Israelis finally obey instructions!  Nobody peeks behind the plastic!!  Even the gelato gets a makeover!  Our favorite flavors are on vacation this week....but we will have one more opportunity to try them on Monday night.

Definitely a fun time to be in Israel.....and with Easter coming up this weekend.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Experiential Education

Time to dedicate a blog post to Judy Teufel, art teacher extraordinaire and friend.  Judy taught kids to write "important stuff."  Didn't really matter if it appeared in nice, sentence form.  Much of what I have learned in Israel doesn't really fit a category, it was either observed or experienced.  So, in the spirit of Middle School Breakaway, Catlin Gabel's Experiential program for middle schoolers, here goes.....

Last week, a carpenter stopped by to see what could be done to seal windows and doors to try to keep the rain out.  While he was looking at the patio doors, I noticed a pistol sticking out of his waistband.  I've never worked with a handyman who carried a weapon before!  And, in a gesture seen only in Israel, on his way out, he touched the Mezzuzah outside our door. 

Those who follow Noa already know we travelled to the Golan Heights last weekend to visit the Hoter family.  We celebrated the most religious Shabbat I have ever participated in.  After leaving Jerusalem, we traveled east to the Dead Sea and Jericho.  We turned north at Jericho and found ourselves driving through a desert.  As we traveled north, the desert gave way to greenery.  We passed through the Border Police checkpoint and were out of the West Bank heading towards Beit She'an, often referred to as Israel's Pompeii.  Upon reaching Lake Kenneret (Sea of Galilee), we stopped for lunch at a delightful arts center.  We had the entire cafe to ourselves as we enjoyed the view, serenity, and good food.  It was an idyllic place filled with sunshine, birds, and flowers.

Back on the road, we stopped near Qazrin for a short walk before arriving at Alonei Habashan, the Moshave where Elaine and her family live.  Elaine is one of three Israeli recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, essentially my counterpart in this program.  Shabbat cleaning was in full force.  People running everywhere, furniture up off the floor, food being prepared, etc.  We were guests, and invited to take showers!  In addition to our visit, Elaine's daughter, Michal was home for the first time in many months, daughter Orit had come home from Acco (Acre), and three other family friends were also spending Shabbat with the Hoters.  It was quite a crowd!  I wondered about space for all of us, since most Israelis homes are not that large.  We all fit quite comfortably.  Noa, Pam, and I stayed in Orit's room. 

Once showered, Elaine lit the Shabbat candles.  No big ceremony, nothing like I had experienced before.  I looked up and she was over at the mantle lighting the candles.  Then, it was off to Shul with Chaim (husband) and Avichai(youngest son.)  Zichron and Effi, Chaim's college buddies joined us.  At one point Chaim asked me if I could read Hebrew, I said yes, but I couldn't read it fast enough!  Some of the prayers sounded familiar, others were totally new to me.  I was just happy that most of the time, I knew where to turn the page and didn't have to wait for Chaim to show me.

After an hour or so, services were over.  We met outside Shul.  Pam and Noa had been sequestered in the women's section (one of many reasons, we won't become orthodox anytime soon.)  Then it was time to eat and experience Yemenite culture close up and personal.  Turns out Chaim and his buddies are all Yemenites.  The Shabbat evening had such joy in it that Pam and I were soon laughing, humming, and attempting to sing all the while enjoying what we THOUGHT was the Shabbat meal......turns out it was only the first course!  The experience was dizzying.  Food everywhere....and very good food, too!  Chaim chanting blessings at the appropriate times, Effi and Orit singing the entire time.  Others joining in when they weren't eating or talking. After more than three hours of celebrating, the Monheimer's, who were falling asleep went to bed.  Fortunately, we had quite accidentally left our lights in the correct position or else we were going to have to sleep with the lights on!  No turning lights on or off during Shabbat.  Lights in common areas are on timers so we had light and hot water in the morning, etc.

Saturday morning, we had a light breakfast of sweet cakes and breads.  Zichron and we had both brought goodies from the same bakery in Jerusalem.  We discovered both Zichron and Effi lived and worked withing meters of our apartment!  The world is truly small.  We strolled around the Moshav while others attended prayers.  Then, it was time for lunch....which was nearly as elaborate as dinner the evening before!  Effi continued with what seemed like non-stop singing, Zichron and I engaged in a fascinating conversation about which electronics could be used on Shabbat and which couldn't and why the rules were needed.  After lunch, we strolled up the hill to an old Israeli bunker and admired the view into Syria.  The border reminds me of the German border in the days of two Germanys.  We observed no obvious weapons, but it was also clear they weren't very far away.  After returning to the Hoter's, it was finally time for the Shabbat nap! 

Of course, after our nap, it was time to celebrate the end of Shabbat guessed it, eat AGAIN!  Dinner was a mix of leftovers and freshly prepared new dishes.  After a quick hike on Sunday back to the Syrian border to take pictures (no photos on Shabbat), we headed back to Jerusalem.  Oh, I almost forgot....Pam, Noa, and I are now officially Yemenite.  We passed the two tests (secret, sorry.)  Sunday, it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Jerusalem.  Experiential Education part two coming up....Pam and I don't think we will ever celebrate Shabbat the old way again!  We understand why Jews look forward to it, and why, if we could go back in time, being Yemenite is the way to go!  Thank you Chaim, Elaine, Effi, Zichron, Avigal, Michal, Orit, and Avichai for being such patient, wonderful teachers!  The flower?  Golan Iris, only blooms in the early spring.  The Israeli equivalent of trillium.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring alternatives

This has been quite a week.  Monday, I joined a group of educators in Be'er Sheva (pronounced "bear" not "beer") who were visiting Bedouin schools.  Israel and the Bedouins have a special relationship.  Israel would like them to settle down, become less nomadic, and has built communities (think townships) for the Bedouins.  Some Bedouins have embraced this idea, others prefer to live in the manner their people have always lived.  To reach the first school, we drove about 5 miles out of Be'er Sheva and found ourselves on a brand new road with newly created roundabouts driving through what can only be described as a township in the South African model.  When we reached the school, I was struck by the fact that we just walked in.  There was apparently neither armed guard nor locked gate.  We just walked in, said hi to the kids playing, asked directions to the main entrance, and headed into the school.  Very different than every other Israeli school I've been in.  We walked into the male faculty room.  Later, we spoke with the principal who has a male assistant.  Clearly, there are cultural norms in these school which are different from other Israeli schools.  This must make some types of communication difficult, if not impossible.  This elementary school was an "experimental" school.  The Ministry of Education allows schools to "experiment" with lots of different areas of learning.  Experiments are funded for five years, then evaluated for success or no success (failure is really not an option.)  Successful schools are those whose students score at the same level as "non-experimental" schools in subjects such as language and math.  They then receive more funding to replicate their model and train other teachers/schools.  Almustabel (the future in Arabic) is right on the edge of the desert.  Students study every aspect of desert life, plants, soil, animals, birds, etc. in conjunction with Bedouin culture.  These kids collect tons of data.  I have already contacted Scott Bowler at Catlin Gabel to see if he wants to trade Northwest data with the science teacher at Almustabel.  The science guy (pictured here) lives in an unincorporated Bedouin village with no electricity.  He tethers his laptop to his cell phone and powers the whole internet connection with a USB modem run on solar power.  The biggest speed bump for this school right now is teacher retention.  It must be difficult to run an experimental school with high teacher turnover.  I don't envy Abdullah, the principal.

After lunch, we joined a caravan of cars travelling off-road to a brand new school in an unincorporated area.  Remember, those areas have little, no roads, no power, problematic water distribution, etc.  Suddenly, we drove around a dune and were face to face with a lovely two story pastel colored school.  The first thing I noticed was a loud hum.  The entire school is powered by a generator the size of a small recreational vehicle.  Once inside, I thought I was back in Oregon.  Bright pictures on the walls, no hum (thick walls!), lots of color, the whole place looked just like an American school.  We met with school staff to discuss an ongoing project involving teaching Bedouin parents how to use computers.  Hurdles to overcome in this program include separating moms and dads (they didn't even want to join together to celebrate their completion of the course!), stopping in the middle of the meeting to pray, and, most importantly, the fact that many more families want to be included than the school has either teachers or space for.  I asked if families were tracked after the course to see how they put the computer knowledge to use, but, I'm not sure I understood the answer.  It was a tiring, long day, and as I was returning to Jerusalem (on an Egged bus that was overheating), the bus driver switched from talk radio to oldies music.  I smiled and sat back to Aretha Franklin's RESPECT.  That is what the Bedouins really want.  Many serve in the military.  They just want cultural respect from their country....Israel.

Tuesday, I accompanied a university instructor visiting a student teacher who was completing a practicum at a nearby special ed school.  The best part about the visit was I didn't have to take a bus!  I could have walked to the school, but, of course, I met the instructorfive minutes walk from our apartment and we drove the final 5 minutes to the school.  This special ed school appeared to be boys only.  It was a tough audience in a tough school (doors in this school are locked not to keep the world out, but to keep the students in.)  I asked the instructor how the student-teacher came to be placed in the school.  Turns out she asked to work with this population.  After the lesson, I offered suggestions about English sites which the student teacher might find useful.  She is still acquiring the skills she needs to be an effective teacher, but, she already has a very important quality.....she is passionate about the welfare of her students.  All in all, a fascinating couple of days in schools which are way outside the Israeli educational mainstream.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can Teachers be Taught to Teach Better?

By now many of you have read Elizabeth Green's article in the current New York Times Magazine, Can Teachers Be Taught to Teach Better?  Already, one of my Israeli friends has asked if I have read the article.  Now, I don't know how early Reuven gets up, but I was reading the article when his e-mail arrived!  The article is already the second most shared article in the NY Times.  For some unexplainable reason, an article on vacationing in Tuscany is rated higher.....sigh.

Green, through her interviews with some very smart people raises excellent points, alludes to many of the historical reasons great teachers have not been successfully replicated, and fails to address qualities which effective teachers possess.  Part of the reason I came to Israel was to try to discover why so many American student teachers had difficulties during their practica, and why so many were no longer teaching five years after being hired.  Israel faces many of the same problems.  Ah, but back to Green...America sets one of the lowest (being charitable here) bars for prospective teachers.  To become a doctor, one needs to complete an undergraduate program, take the MCAT exam, be admitted to med school (no small feat), and complete a rigorous course of study.  Lawyers have a similar path.  But, to get into a teacher prep program, there is no testing hurdle and admittance is not an issue for most people.  Green makes a clear case for the need for this profession with no hurdles.  In her bar graph analysis, she points out there are slightly under one million lawyers in America, but nearly four million teachers.  There is simply no time to set rigorous standards for admitting students to teacher prep programs.  There is a dire need of replacement teachers.

Green writes that first-year teachers in America are expected to face classrooms of more than 30 children with no mentoring, professional follow-up, or other tools to help them become effective teachers.  Other countries, notably Singapore (that bastion of top-notch mathematics scores every country aspires to) and Germany (with one of the most rigid, prescribed education systems in the world); have figured out how to draw their best and brightest students into education, how to train them, and how to retain them.  Perhaps the American reformers mentioned in the Times article should interview Singaporean and German teachers/administrators, bring those ideas back to American schools of education, and, then track teachers trained under those systems. 

One concept emphasized in Green's article is the idea that effective American teachers allow students time to think about their answers/thinking.  This is important to help kids develop thinking skills.  The term Green avoids to describe this is currently called meta-cognition, thinking about one's thinking.  Effective teachers not only know the correct answer to a problem/question, they are also able to think through every "wrong" method kids throw at them.  In some cases, math facts for example, the "wrong" answers might be known in advance.  In other instances, history for example, there might be "wrong" answers the teacher could not know in advance, but will still have to deal with when they arise.  I have never yet had to tell a class, "I need to think about this a bit, let's continue the discussion tomorrow."  But, I know that someday I will face that situation.

Then there is the issue of how kids learn.  Over the past ten years, thanks to MRIs and other brain pictures, teachers now know more than ever before how kids learn, how they retain information, and how they are able to recall, review, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate information.  The problem is that we know this generally.  Kids don't come to class with their brain pictures in hand.  It would be terrific if they did.  Teachers would understand much more about how individual children learn.  Green's article and the accompanying comments (at this writing most add to the discussion) are a good basis for discussion or as the Slate Political Gabfest folks say, good cocktail chatter.  If only I attended cocktail parties....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Learner or Teacher?

Today was Purim in Jerusalem.  For those who have been to Carnival in Rio.....never mind, I can tell this comparison is not going to go well.  On the other hand, Jerusalem could use a few really good samba clubs.  For the cultural side of Purim, read Pam's and Noa's blogs.  They offer terrific Purim perspectives.

While riding the bus home, I observed a situation in which the adult was trying to be the teacher, but ended up being the learner.  Today's blog is dedicated to Margie Boule, longtime Oregonian columnist and master storyteller who wrote her final column today.  A couple of stops after I boarded, a family with two kids got on the bus.  Mom, dad, and two boys, both dressed up as pirates.  I don't recall pirates in the Purim story, but that doesn't seem to matter today.  We have seen as many pirates as we have Esthers.  Both boys stopped just after passing the driver.  Their parents nearly fell over them, the mom told the younger boy to move to a group of open seats much further back.  The dad told the older boy to head that direction, too.  Now, Israeli buses are designed low to the ground and about two seats back is a "hump" which is really the front wheel well.  There is a pole in the middle of it for folks to grab and most adults stand at that point.  Most kids (and teenagers) climb up on the wheel well and wrap their legs around the pole.  It gives them a great vantage point as they can see the entire length of the bus.  The older boy "told" his father he was not going to sit in a seat, but wanted to "play" pirate by sitting up on the wheel well.  The father's tone became somewhat agitated as he sternly told the boy to move to a seat further back.  The boy raised his voice and whined that he didn't want to do that.  Exasperated, the father moved to the open seat in the middle of the bus.  The boy climbed up on the wheel well, plastic six shooter in a holster, and pirate sword still in hand.  "This is why the Israeli school system has such issues with pupil respect for adult authority," I thought as I chuckled at the boy's rebellious behavior.  Never afraid to wade in again, the father told the boy, quite harshly, to keep his sword pointed down.  Bill Cosby's famous comedy routine came to mind.  "There are only two injuries in childhood...break your neck and poke your eye out."  The young man decided this was something he could live with and the plastic, dull blade disappeared behind the seat in front of him.  His old man could still teach him a thing or two.  At this point the boy yelled back to his mother, "Look at me, I'm a pirate" (or something like that....remember, the whole conversation was in Hebrew!)  Mom responded positively and the boy's affect changed noticeably.  He sat up straighter, looked ever like a pirate, and kept his sword pointed down the entire ride.  Sometimes one is the learner, sometimes one is the teacher.  What a wonderful metaphor for schools, teachers, students, new tools, and learning.  "I like Purim," I thought as I got off the bus and walked home.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Practicing learning....

Major thunderstorm with hail and over 4 inches of rain right now in Jerusalem. It was clearly a good day to catch up with my RSS reader and I came across the recent Will Richardson post titled Teachers as Master Learners.  I've been trying to reconcile Will's post with Jim Heynderickx's post on Comprehensive Learning Spaces.  Creating classrooms and teachers for the future will require schools to not only re-think what being a teacher means, but what a classroom is, too.  Needing a whack on the side of the head, I looked up when Noa said, "Dad, look what I did!"  She had downloaded TrippingFest 2 - Drawing and Sketching Lite, and wanted to show me her creation.  It was pretty cool.  I asked her if she could show me how she did it.  She replied, "No, but I can TEACH you!"  This is what Will is talking about.  As to the learning space.  Sorry, room sofa was our classroom.  On the other hand, the fact that Noa was teaching me to use a drawing tool outside of a traditional classroom was a perfect example of how learning can occur anywhere, anytime.  Oh, to see Noa's drawings, you could go to her Facebook page....or admire them below.  Thanks, Noa.  It was fun having you teach me!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beit Sefer Huberman

Back to Petach Tikva I travelled yesterday.  This time, I accompanied Rafi Davidson and his team of teacher educators from Kaye College in Be'er Sheva.  Rafi was trained as a biochemist and his group had a definite science bent to it.  I met the group and we attempted to find the school.  I had distracted Rafi just long enough for him to forget to give the driver directions....and I practiced picking up Hebrew for left and right!  Turns out the school is not difficult to find, but it is in a neighborhood with a series of one-way streets.  The school staff literally provided real time GPS navigation over the phone!

Sign outThis school was proud to have us visit, they gave us folders upon our arrival.  I felt like a visiting dignitary.  At the entrance to the school building, two youngsters were ready to play a clarinet/flute duet at a signal from the principal.  Hail to the Chief is peanuts compared to the intensity with which these two kids played!  Once inside, we were treated to an amazing rendition of a Star Wars song by a young.....trombonist!  This school is all about music.  Everybody plays something.  Moist-eyed, we were ushered into a conference room to learn a bit about the school.  Beit Sefer Huberman has 450 students, 45 computers, and some of the most dedicated teachers in Israel.  After a brief overview, once again with great snacks (PNAIS visiting teams don't have it this good!), we moved to a class which was using the 10 laptops.  They were engaged in rhetoric and debate lessons.  This school had kids present what they learned during the lessons and how using the computers enabled them to go further than they thought possible.  Then it was off to the computer lab to see a 5th grade class.  The English teacher in this class was also the ICT person for the school.  I finally saw my first Hitachi Starboard!  Nice looking piece of hardware.  Click here to see this class in action.  I chatted with a tech guy whose title is "municipal guy in charge of allocating tech hardware in schools (OK, that's not his real title, but that is his job.)  I don't envy him.  He would like to install a projector, interactive whiteboard, and as many computers as the teacher needs in each classroom in Petach Tikva.  He doesn't have the budget for that type of outlay in one year, or even three years.  So, his model is installing a projector and computer (with a monitor in a wheeled cart which HE designed!) in each class.  Each school gets one interactive whiteboard which is then used to train the rest of the staff.  Teachers who demonstrate the need for an interactive whiteboard might get one eventually, or the school just shares the lab....which is too big a hurdle once time conflicts occur.

Having seen all of the computers in this school, we retreated to the conference room once again for more snacks and presentations.  Then we were transferred to a municipal center used by teachers for professional development.  I was struck by the high quality of the municipal facility. Just like Mofet, it contained state of the art computers.  I realized midway through the afternoon presentations that Israel is a "Moodle" country.  Every teacher is creating a moodle page to share content with classes.  I haven't yet seen that teachers are sharing class pages with each other or connecting lessons between teachers.  I think I need to ask about that.  Deep in thought by this time, I was aware that the conversation level had quieted and that the whole room was looking at....ME!

Now, my Hebrew has improved these past 60+ days, but not to the point where I catch more than a snippet of the topic at hand.  So....I smiled, and a couple of folks made the suggestion that they wanted my opinion on matters.  After all, they reasoned, I had traveled nearly half way around the globe to observe the Israeli school system.  What did I think about what I had seen today?  Oh, my, I thought....extemporaneous speaking....good thing I have been working with Noa on this.  So, I shared a bit.  Afterward, an Israeli colleagues said I did fine.  Pam and I are going to practice this since I have a feeling it will happen again.

It was time to say goodbyes and head home.  My head was filled with all that I had observed and I was asking my questions than I was answering.   But wait, one more test was in store for me....while waiting for the bus, an Israeli military vehicle (large) slowed and a soldier (in uniform) asked me Hebrew!  Talk about the blind leading the blind!!!  Enjoy the pictures of the Beit Sefer kids, they are a hardworking group!  For the here.

Parrothead Post

Yesterday, I returned to Petach Tikva to visit Beit Sefer Huberman.  More on that later....As the Egged (bus) driver pulled out of Jerusalem, I was thinking, "Another morning commute...."  A few minutes later, I heard familiar music, but couldn't quite place it until Jimmy Buffet began singing Come Monday.  Most Egged drivers listen to Israeli talk/news radio, but this driver was different.  He had his own ripped CD with nothing but American Country/Western tunes.  Many of them were the karaoke version....the driver was singing along!  He drummed the steering wheel, rocked back and forth and sang along with his tunes.  I found myself smiling and the trip down the hill never went faster.  I was totally cracking up when Toby Keith began singing The Taliban Song.  I even turned around to watch my fellow passengers' reactions.  Nothing, they were either wearing their own headphones or too far back to really hear the music.  Great way to begin the day.  Best Egged driver ever!  Approaching Petach Tikva from the south, they have a public art display....

Monday, February 22, 2010

What if there were art class only once a year?

Today's Haaretz, Israel's leading, and by many accounts, best daily newspaper ran a story about the Fichman School in Haifa.  Click here to read the story....then, return to the blog for my comment.

If you are reading this, you have now read the story.  Schools are dropping art?  I don't believe it for a minute.  Every piece of brain research conducted in the past fifteen years practically screams at the importance of art in learning.  The Fichman kids were treated to the best art has to offer because their principal made time for the biennale artists to spend time at the school, not just talking AT the kids, but getting them involved in the creation of, reaction to, and thought about art.  "Draw a map of yesterday?"  What a fabulous concept for kids to think about and discuss through art!  Chewing gum as a medium?  Think of the budget savings!  And, what a great use for all that chewing gum residing on the undersides of thousands of school desks and tables.  Kids were dancing, laughing, and thinking "outside the box."  Of course they were.  That is what art allows and encourages kids to do.  

So where does the idea come from that art is being dropped?  Perhaps it is because, unlike math or reading, art is rarely, if ever, tested.  There can seldom be a "right" answer to an art question.  Oh, sure, kids could be asked if a given painting were in the style of Duerer or Monet, but that isn't really an art question, it is a history one.  Yes, paintings are often included on multiple choice tests, but their meaning is usually political or historical.  Kids aren't being asked what they "think" about a painting, photo, or cartoon.  Art has to be dropped in schools in order to allow kids to have more time to read and calculate.  As the kids at Fichman School will probably demonstrate, more art time will actually lead to higher scores in other areas.  Go find some white t-shirts, sit down as a family tomorrow night and draw a map of yesterday.  Feel free to post photos of your art in the comment box.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brandon's Story

This qualifies as an Israeli post because I'm enjoying another 75 degree day in sunny Jerusalem, light breeze blowing through the living room.  Recently, a blogger I admire, Richard Kassissieh, wrote that Catlin Gabel had acquired a Kindle for parents to test.  Full disclosure....Richard is also a colleague (and an admired one at that.)  While reading the post, I thought back to my conversation with Brandon Goodfliesh, currently at the American School in Japan.  I met Brandon on a Mexico cruise a couple of years ago, when I was still considering the purchase of an iPod touch.  Brandon patiently showed me how he used his touch as an e-book reader, downloaded books from sites such as Amazon and Project Gutenberg, etc.  I wasn't convinced.  "How do you annotate pages?" I asked.  Brandon explained how he could annotate pages, but was more likely to take notes a different way.  Still more than skeptical, I observed Brandon reading throughout the cruise.  His touch ever at hand, he was seriously enjoying the books he was reading, including a novel or two his English teacher had assigned over Winter Break.  Fast forward to this past fall.  I finally acquired an iPod touch.  I began reading novels on the plane trip to Israel.  I just finished NurtureShock.  E-book readers now have sophisticated note taking software (even the BN reader which is the lamest of the readers I use.)  I know that colleges such as Reed in Portland are experimenting with Kindles.  I believe these experiments will not go well.  We need to let students choose their e-readers.  Kids who already carry laptops and smartphones will probably choose e-readers which work on the smartphones.  Why carry another device?  A common complaint about annotating is that it is awkward.  I am not sure that kids who are lightning quick texting with their thumbs will have any difficulty at all.  Schools will be led by students in this area.  Wikipedia has a couple of interesting comparison charts on formats and hardware.  Sometimes following isn't such a terrible thing.  Thanks, Brandon.  I hope you are well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Visiting Savyon School

I had the opportunity to visit Savyon School this week. Savyon is a residential neighborhood just east of Tel Aviv. Quiet, tree-lined streets led us (took Jay with me) to the school, one of the largest I have seen in Israel. OK, full disclosure, Savyon has been described as the "Beverly Hills" of Israel. After negotiating the usual school-gate security (the guard lets you talk to the office and the office buzzes you in), we found our way to Ruth Ben-Yishai, our host for the day. We observed a dynamic math lesson with Dana who began with an entertaining computer activity. After warm-up, Dana had kids working individually. Kids could choose to use manipulatives (more should have), or work the problems out in their math tablets. One thing that struck me was that the problems were presented and solved horizontally. I always thought it was more helpful for visual learners if problems were presented vertically to reinforce the concept of keeping like units together. Perhaps Israeli tests display horizontal problems? The third graders clearly enjoyed working on math problems and it was fun to observe their interactions with each other and their teacher.

After third grade, we observed sixth and eighth grade classes. Sixth graders purchase laptops, many of which are then decorated to match the personalities of their owners, through the school and are supposed to bring them everyday....but some forget power chargers, CD drives, etc. They then share with classmates. Rooms have been retrofitted with power and network cables. The effect of this added infrastructure is that furniture is locked in place (literally) Kids were extremely comfortable using laptops. We even had to kick them out of class during a break to enjoy the sun. After a brief introduction from Ruthy, kids went straight to work using HighLearn to get their assignment, complete it in pairs, and post it back to a forum. Yes, there was lots of time spent formatting the page, choosing colors, fonts, etc, but kids completed the assignments in the allotted time. In the eighth grade class, kids were learning about how mountains were formed. Again, they were adept at using the laptops. They closed them to listen to Ruthy, helped each other, rebooted when all else failed, and used HighLearn, sort of a version of BlackBoard, to access digital textbooks, Wikipedia, etc. Thanks to their laptops, kids could finish the assignment at home. Some kids chose Word to present information, others chose Powerpoint. Kids were empowered to make the choice on their own.

Talking with Ruthy afterwards raised some interesting questions. There are teachers in this 1:1 school who do not teach with the laptops the kids have. Why not? Too much uncompensated effort is required to either keep up with student work/create new lessons. 9th graders often move into high schools which are not 1:1. What happens to their skills/interest in school/learning? Mofet might consider sponsoring a study to follow kids who move from 1:1 schools to "traditional" ones. Lots of pictures and video can be found at the links below.....Savyon is clearly well-supported by its community, loved by its students, and a great place to teach....I can't wait to go back!
Savyon pictures
Savyon videos

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Study in Ennui

No, I didn't fall off the planet.  The past couple of weeks, we have been on the road.  Fulbright treated us to a tour of Northern Israel, then Dad and Louise were visiting and we were in Zefat, Tel Aviv, and Mitzpe Ramon.  We took lots of pics, Pam and Noa will blog the travel part.  While visiting David Ben Gurion's home, Jay called (I love cell service in dropped calls since we arrived,) and asked if I wanted to attend a conference where the results of a three-year study in how technology was being taught/used in Israeli Teacher Colleges.  I have learned that a Jay suggestion is worth considering so I made arrangements to attend.  The conference was scheduled to start at 10:30.  In Israeli time, that meant we got going at 11.  Turns out, this was an internal release of the survey results and many of the people were the very people surveyed.  In other words, the people attending were considered innovators in technology use in training teachers.  Some results were predictable.  More educators are using technology now than three years ago.  Some were surprising.  Most teacher colleges were not rated as innovative by either the professors OR the students.  While some teacher candidates reported they felt qualified to teach using technology, this enthusiasm quickly disappeared within the first few years of teaching.  Reasons varied from no support to no tools to too much time required to create lessons using the tools they had.  No one seemed surprised at the results.   As the afternoon wore on, there were calls for greater technology integration.  This will require a great deal of cooperation among different institutions and agencies within the Education Ministry itself if progress is to be made.  I'm not sure if this one study will push people to develop a common vision.  There may be some turf protection issues which require bulldozing.  As Andrew Beyer once asked me, "How many sacred cows will I have to grind into hamburger to achieve this goal?" I have met people from the teachers' colleges, various subject (curricular area) offices, the Education Ministry itself, Mofet, K-12 schools, ORT schools, and Arab schools just to name a few.  In addition, there are private sector companies trying to change the education system from the outside.  An education vision would be helpful, but is probably difficult to achieve right now.  As with so many meetings, I learned that the Israeli education system cannot be reformed quickly or that reform is even a common goal of all interested parties.  This Mofet meeting reminded me of what the American school system was like at the height of segregation.....but that will be a different post.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let's Play What If.....

Israel's are among the most politically active people in the world.  In the US, I can talk with folks about political subjects and while there are those who are politically aware, there are many who don't follow American politics let alone the politics of any other country.  Israelis have opinions....strong ones.  They wonder, for example, why President Obama neglected to mention Israel when he listed countries involved in Haiti.  Israel had a huge contingent of rescue workers, doctors, field hospitals, etc.  Yet, no American news outlet ever mentioned how much aid Israel was giving to Haiti.  Israelis are very suspicious of the American President right now.  An op-ed piece in today's Haaretz (the best daily read in all Israel) may explain why.....

Let's play 'what if'

By Karni Eldad

Assume for a moment that you are a Palestinian parent. Assume (really, let your imagination run free) that you are a Palestinian parent who wants peace. You would presumably want to educate your children in the same spirit. So how difficult is it, if it is even possible, for parents who live in the Palestinian Authority today to educate toward nonviolence, tolerance, recognition of the State of Israel and peace?

Sports are generally considered a good thing - a challenging, healthy activity. And that is certainly true of sports tournaments for children. A PA soccer tournament could be both fun and educational - if it were not named for the terrorist Dalal Mughrabi. She is the one who perpetrated the bloody attack on Israel's coastal highway in 1978, which killed 37 Jews.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, a celebration was held on Palestinian television to mark this terrorist's 50th birthday, sponsored by PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself. The event included a party at which a youth orchestra played in Mughrabi's honor. For the last two years, the PA has also run a summer camp named after this "martyr" (no, not Hamas, the PA - the good guys). Abbas funded a computer center named after her, and recently, a square in Ramallah was named for her as well, with Abbas' full backing. How heartwarming.

Later the article continues.....

If two PA schools are named after the arch-murderer Mughrabi, what will be implanted down the road in the subconscious of the children who attend them? That murdering Jews is a good thing, which brings you honor. If Palestinian television describes Palestine as extending "from Gaza and Ashkelon in the south to Haifa and, further north, Acre," if children are told that Tiberias is an important Palestinian city and Lake Kinneret a Palestinian water source, if Jaffa is called "Palestine's gateway to the world," what will your children understand from this? That there is no Israel. It doesn't exist.

In quiz shows on PA television and crossword puzzles in PA newspapers, children know the right answers to questions such as "Which is Palestine's most important port - Acre, Jaffa or Haifa?" Other questions include: "Name three states that border Palestine" (the correct answer is Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan) and "What is the area of the state of Palestine?" The correct answer to that one is 27,000 square kilometers - a territory that encompasses the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, including the entire State of Israel. It is clear from the questions, of course, that the state of Palestine already exists. And so on and so forth.

Your efforts to educate your children toward tolerance and acceptance of the neighboring Jewish entity are doomed to failure from the start. It is your word against the brainwashing inculcated by the schools, the television programs, the crosswords, the teachers, the textbooks, the songs. So what can you do? And how?

That is the challenge today....what should the Israelis do? How do they counter this Palestinian attitude? And, more importantly, how should Palestinian parents teach their children?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kibbutz Hatzor as a civics lesson

This past weekend, we were fortunate to be able to spend some time at Kibbutz Hatzor.  Jay invited us to meet his family and escape the urban Jerusalem life we had created.  We have not had a car in Jerusalem since we arrived.  There are many reasons for this, but the two biggest are the price of gas and the traffic.  Israelis complain about the traffic in Tel Aviv, but those who live in Jerusalem know their traffic is just as bad (not even going to include the parenthetical here!)  As a social studies teacher, I was fascinated with the communal side of the kibbutz.  Our first two meals were in the dining hall.  Lots of communal interactions to observe.  Jay and his family talked to other families.  His youngest daughter Hila (Hee-lah) was a clear favorite among all the younger children who came up for hugs, playtime, or just to say hi.  Tzippi, Jay's wife made sure we knew what we were eating and that our portions were big enough.  Friday night, Eitan, the oldest son was working in the dining hall. We observed multiple generations...a real community where everybody knew everybody else.  Aside from the white table cloths, there was no other sign this was Shabbat.  No communal candle-lighting, blessings, etc.  If this were done, it was all done privately prior to dinner.  After the meal, some of the adults went to a presentation on recycling, waste, etc.  The kids either went to the youth club (older kids, mostly) or hung out and eventually, watched TV (younger kids, mostly)  The kibbutz folk at the lecture discussed everything from rising use of plastic stuff to water use.  Everybody was astonished as they watched the slide presentation.  If you didn't just click on the link, please go back and watch is worth a couple minutes of your time.  Imagine our surprise the next day when water was served to the group involved in Tu' Bishvat plastic cups!

Back to civics....kibbutz housing is voted on by the members.  There is a limit to the number of houses/duplexes which can be funded.  And, of course, those living in "older" homes have to be able to "move up" to newer ones in an agreed upon period.  Because of this, one's immediate neighbors tend to be of the same age since they have also been on the kibbutz for the same length of time.  One can also see the private side of kibbutz life at Hatzor.  The homes aren't all equal.  Some duplexes have been built out.  Families drive kibbutz vehicles, but can also own private cars.  Even labor is now contracted out.  There are kibbutz workers who don't live on the kibbutz.  The kibbutz store carries multiple brands (used to only be one brand of soap in Israel.)  Hatzor even has it's own world-class sculptor, Zeev Krisher.  There was also a communal soccer game (ages 16-32!) where the goal was just to build community.  I spent much time thinking about the Catlin Gabel After-Rummage discussion.  Life at Kibbutz Hatzor was a blend of family, individual, and communal activities.  How can Catlin make the transition from Rummage to something else?  We live apart from each other, tend to drift away from the school if our kids have graduated/left, and are busy with our own lives.  What is the incentive to tackle another project.  Rummage happened because we needed a way to reuse items we no longer needed and found a way to include the larger Portland community.  Kibbutz Hatzor works because its members live, work, play, laugh, and eat together.  It is a living example of civics which continues to work because according to Tzippi, "Young people return as soon as they have children because their grandparents live here."

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Tragedy of the Commons

Israel and Catlin Gabel have garbage in common.  Israelis keep their personal spaces, homes, and gardens meticulously clean.  Catlin Gabel teachers keep their classrooms tidy and neat.  The problem is common spaces.  I have been following a conversation among Catlin Gabel Middle School teachers about the messy state of common spaces.  This mirrors our observations of Israeli common spaces.  There is garbage everywhere.  Most of it plastic, much of it recyclable.  Every teacher at Catlin Gabel agrees the problem is severe.  Israelis understand the problem, too.  This weekend, an Israeli friend commented, "It's terrible, just terrible.  Nobody cleans up."  Both Catlin and Israel have placed recycling containers so that it is easy to recycle paper and plastic.  There are garbage cans readily available in both spots.  Perhaps schools can be part of Israel's solution as well as guide Catlin Gabel.  The Northwest School in Seattle has environmental teams which serve three distinct functions.  Students in grades 6-12 have an interest in keeping personal and common spaces clean since they have to clean messy common spaces.  The bond created by environmental teams helps the school create a sense of community since environmental teams are cross-graded, cross-divisional, and cross-everything-else.  A sense of pride in self, school, and common spaces is instilled because the Northwest School students have rolled up their sleeves, grabbed rags, and plugged in vacuum cleaners.  Next time I visit an Israeli school, I'll have to check out the cleanliness of the school in addition to the technology.  On a larger scale, is the tragedy of the commons a symptom of civic disengagement?  As fewer people vote or feel connected to their civic institutions, do they feel less responsible about littering and picking up after themselves?  While hiking down Masada, Pam and I walked past an empty potato chip bag blowing in the wind.  It stood out, a glaring purple against the golden desert soil.  After two steps, we both stopped and looked at each other.  We were tired.  We had just hiked up and down Masada.  I turned around and hiked the 5 steps up to the bag which had already blown another 5 steps up the mountain.  I retrieved it, crumpled it up and threw it away at the Visitor's Center.  The tragedy of the commons is solved one piece of litter at a time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Networking--Part 2

Yesterday, we drove to Masada....that's the teaser, Pam and Noa will blog on the subject.  We arrived home, I logged on to a Social Networking conference moderated by Jay, hosted by Reuven Werber and Ami Salant.  After installing AT&T Interwise software, I entered the conference a bit late, but was still able to participate.  Jay, Reuven, and Ami could control who was talking, participants "raised" their virtual hands (talk about a classroom metaphor!), and when it was their turn to talk, their microphone was turned on....remotely!  Reuven demonstrated a couple of polls, displayed real-time results, and participants could analyze the data.  Afterwards, Reuven mailed everyone the whole presentation.  Click here to see it.  I wondered why there were so many fewer participants than the face-face Social Networking conference from the day before.  Richard Kassissieh recently set up a real-time feed for a conference which 100+ people attended, but fewer than 10 attended virtually.  Perhaps educators prefer face-face because that is what school is.  Teachers see student reactions to statements, lectures, projects, etc.  Based on the visual feedback, teachers make adjustments to their lessons.  If participants have to raise their virtual hands, the immediacy of the feedback to the moderators/hosts is lost.  Some have suggested recording sessions and posting to YouTube and other sites, but then, where is the Social Networking?  Recently, Guy Kawasaki posted a video by Lewis Howes on how to use social media.  Pay special attention to number 7.  Oh, and thanks to all the folks mentioned in this post who jogged my brain today.  Yep, that would be number 8!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Social Networking

I attended my first Israeli conference today.  Mofet sponsored a Social Networking conference.  After fighting Tel Aviv traffic (the morning commute on a bus is no easier than by car, there are no HOV lanes,)  I was handed a bag (plastic, naturally) containing all the conference materials, met Jay and was issued my official conference badge (see photo).  As the first speaker was welcoming us, Jay asked me if I understood her.  Yep, I replied, she just welcomed us to the conference.  We both laughed.  Of course I hadn't REALLY understood her, but I've attended enough conferences to know the first person ALWAYS welcomes the attendees.  We listened to six presentations.  They ranged from bizarre (Jay said it was time to go, so we walked out), to humorous (who knew Israelis followed American football so closely!?).  What I found interesting was that at least 80% of the attendees already knew each other and conducted an incredible amount of business in the short time they had to actually talk to one another.  Most of them knew the speakers and most of the speakers had presented to this group before.  Since none of the speakers actually suggested either why or how Israeli schools should use social networking tools, I wondered why these folks needed the speakers at all!  Participants could have accomplished much more if they had been able to meet in something akin to affinity groups (like-minded folk) and bounced ideas around.  The participants really wanted to be social with each other.  They all had ideas and suggestions to contribute.  Now, that would have been a social networking conference!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flying with the Austrians

Smack dab in the center of Jerusalem, near the Damascus gate, on a corner of the Via Delarosa is the Austrian Hospice.  This relic from the time when every country/empire wanted a toehold in Jerusalem is a guesthouse ostensibly for pilgrims, but anybody can request a room.  The Austro-Hungarians knew what they were doing purchasing this little corner (it isn't so little.)  We lucked out the other day and managed to get inside.  We noticed a tour group going in and attached ourselves to it.  Once inside, we detached from the group.  Lovely chapel, prices in Euros, etc.  Pam was very excited that coffee only cost 3.....when Noa said, "Mom, stop!  That's in Euros, not Shekels!!"  No coffee.  After climbing up 3 floors (hey, the place is for pilgrims, no elevators), we climbed up one more set of stairs to the roof garden.  We were amused by the sign that said "No sleeping on roof, no blankets may be taken outside."  Once on the roof, we understood.  The Austrian Hospice has a terrific view of the Temple Mount, the Muslim and Christian Quarters.  Oh, and it is just around the corner from the BEST falafal in Jerusalem.  The name of the stand?  According to locals, it is known as the falafal stand near the Damascus Gate.  Yummy!  The cat?  Living the good life on the roof of a restaurant.  We saw the owner toss up a bag of food.  Lucky cat!

Visiting Petakh Tikvah

I finally visited a school last week!  I joined a group of educators from MOFET on their visit to Da'at Mevinim, a private religious school in Petakh Tikvah.  A bit of background is in order.  For those in Oregon, Petakh Tikvah has a population density of 12,000 people/sq mi.  Portland's density is 4200 people/sq mi and Oregon has a density of 36 people/sq mi.  That is not a typo.  36 people per square mile!  Petakh Tikvah is really a suburb of Tel Aviv, but for political reasons, Tel Aviv is not allowed to expand its city boundary to include its suburbs.  This allows Israel to claim Jerusalem as its largest city......As Bill Cosby says in the Noah sketches, "Right."  Click on the link to find out more about the city.  Let's just say that when I told my Jerusalem friends I had spent the day there, they asked if I had run out of charming places to visit in Israel.  The school itself has been the subject of some bad press, too.  Turns out there is a bit of a problem in Israel with schools admitting and then teaching Ethiopian students.  Back to Da'at Mavinim.  We were there because this school is a leader in integrating computers into various subjects.  The principal began the integration the same way so many schools have started using tech tools.  She issued every teacher a NetBook.  Now, my wife will tell you that working on a NetBook is fine if you are surfing the net, but not so useful if you are trying to use photos, video, or do more than one task at a time.  For example, just to research and write this blog I have 11 browser tabs open and am running 6 programs.  For school purposes, these Netbooks needed to connect with Moodle, a content management system in wide use throughout many schools in the US.  The teachers must be aware of the Netbook limitations because they were teaching in class using desktop PC machines connected to overhead projectors.  After a presentation by the principal, we set off for the classrooms.  In one classroom, kids were using Annotate, an online annotation program for creating and editing documents collaboratively.  Others were completing drill and practice exercises.  In another space, kids were creating characters using Toondo and Voki.  In an English class, kids had created sentences to describe the character created in Toondo.  They had recorded their voices, too.  Their sentences appeared on the board, kids stop-clicked their mp3 voice files, and their classmates were supposed to be drawing what they heard.  Sort of storyboarding in reverse!  Afterwards, a lively discussion was held among the visiting group.  Everybody was complimentary about what they had seen.  There were a few folks who questioned a bit of the pedagogy.  The idea that kids see "wrong" information and have to figure out it is wrong, then correct it can sometimes have the effect of cementing the "wrong" part into kids brains.  Later, they then have to unlearn the wrong pieces before they can relearn concepts correctly.  While trying to figure out what to say....I really have been practicing listening....I came across a post from Shelley Blake-Plock who writes the Teach Paperless blog (worth reading!)  His most recent post is titled Whale Blubber.  It sums up how I feel about education right now.  We are teaching today as if we had cornered the market on Whale Blubber, and oil has just been discovered.  Here are a couple of pictures .  The rest can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alon Shvut

From the moment began meeting with Israeli educators, everybody has been telling me I needed to meet with Reuven Werber. Educators who knew about me told their friends I needed to spend time with Reuven. With all the technology at my disposal, I finally picked up my mobile phone and called him. Reuven moved to Israel in the 70's, lives in Judea, is the technological heart and soul of Neveh Channah High School, and a wealth of information. Everything about my day with Reuven was memorable. I knew I was in for a treat when Jay said, "Reuven will have to tell you how to get to him since that involves settlements." Cryptic? As a former VP candidate might say, "You betcha!" Reuven tell me to meet him at Alon Shvut (yep, I asked him to spell it), old gate. A quick search revealed Alon Shvut's history. I have become pretty adept at navigating the Egged bus site. Egged is one of two major bus companies in Israel. I raised an eyebrow when I noticed the tank icon on the schedule of buses to Alon Shvut. Turns out buses from Jerusalem to the West Bank are armored. This was going to be an interesting expedition. After assuring Pam I would call her along the way, I set off to find Reuven. Sure enough, the bus looked different. It had extra plastic over the windows (no tourist shots from these buses,) grills over the lights, and very experienced drivers. After taking a seat near the middle, I realized I was going to have move to the front to try to take pictures out the front window of the bus. Here is a photo of the guy next to me....ignore him, look out the window. Now, imagine that view for the entire thirty minute trip!

First part of the trip was uneventful, just traveling through Jerusalem.  Then, life became interesting, we passed a police checkpoint, a major border crossing, and then we were on a brand new road with a wall on one side.  Yep, guardtowers, too.  We pulled into the first stop, went through a gate, let one person off, made a very tight circle around the roundabout, and were off again, through the same gate. We reached Alon Shvut, I got off, and called Reuven.  He knew where I was (I had once again, gotten off at the wrong stop), and said he would meet me in a couple of minutes.  Looking just like his profile photos, he showed up, we drove to his high school.  Neveh Channah.  Neveh Channah Torah High School for Girls is in the Etzion block.  Gush Etzion dates back to the 1920's, has seen more than its share of conflict in the past 80+ years, and seems to be off the table in the two-state border negotiations.  What is still to be negotiated is what will happen east of Gush Etzion.  Back to Reuven, the guy is simply amazing.  He has been active in edcuation technology from the beginning, serves as the technologist for his school, collaborates with schools around the world, and is quite simply, a font of wisdom.  He shared his wiki site which contains most of his recent projects.  Reuven also edits a whole section of the Mofet website.  A couple of Neveh Channah classrooms have newly installed ActivBoards.  Here is a photo of one of two physics classrooms.  His projects are totally student centered.  Kids are using complex tools to create projects about everything from the geology of their region to their reactions to texts read as part of a joint Israeli-Canadian project  A teacher with an idea comes to Reuven, who says of course it can be done,  Let's figure out how to do it.  What a great job!  At one point, I asked Reuven about the whether his students could do their homework electronically.  He said they could, but they usually preferred to check their Facebook accounts instead.  Sound familiar?  Computers keep Neveh Channah connected to the world.  There really isn't much around them.  Jerusalem is 1/2 hour by car or bus.  No walking.  It reminded me of communities in Central Oregon.  The schools were clearly the focal point of the community.  They were also the largest buildings I saw. After a terrific morning with Reuven, we talked briefly about the politics of modern Israel.  There has been much fighting in the 80 or so years since the first Jews returned to the area.  Former students of his have died.  We talked about what needed to happen in order for peace to come to the area.  I'll be forwarding Reuven's views to Senator Mitchell.  George is going to need all the help he can get.  Returning to Jerusalem, I began reflecting what life must be like for young Israelis.  These folks take the bus everywhere.  Every time they leave their home, they get on a bus with extra armor.....and it seems normal.