By Dan Aviv

I have one child in Jewish day school. I’ve been present (in the fullest sense of the world) while he e-learns. I asked him what his experience was like, one week in. He said: “It’s different, but mostly the same.”

Teachers were asked to do the impossible – move their classrooms online in 48 (and sometimes 36) hours while trying to navigate the ever-shifting demands of the pandemic with their own families. And they did it! Jewish day schools “reopened” across Toronto within days of the province’s order to close. They reopened ostensibly as e-learning schools.

We are now living through the greatest educational experiment in human history. But whatever happens, let’s be clear. It is NOT a referendum on blended learning or its effectiveness. Blended learning, besides being a blend of traditional teaching and tech, is also about personalized learning.  What we’re seeing now is anything but blended and anything but personalized.  

If you look at what Jewish day schools are doing in homes so far and by absolute necessity they’ve simply added an “e” to what they’ve always done – a one-size-fits-all approach and experience for a captive audience.  They’ve taken the “traditional classroom” and moved it, chalk, blackboard and desks-in-rows, into ZOOM or Google Hangouts. And I don’t point this out to attribute blame. NOT AT ALL. Teachers, like all other front-line workers, are holding our society together. They did what they were asked to do to re-open their schools and get kids learning again.

But “e”-ifying school doesn’t just involve learning how to use a new set of teaching tools (i.e., screen sharing, white board, breakout rooms, etc.).  It requires a shift in mindset and pedagogy. It requires setting aside the traditional ways of teaching as well as embracing a new one – and getting out the kids’ way.  

And it requires far more than 36 hours of training.  

This new pedagogy requires time to process the massive change (and the massive changes we’re all experiencing). It demands time to work together with peers and kids to deploy these new tools to their utmost effectiveness. At ADRABA, we’ve been working on this aspect of the process for years. It’s reflected in how we design curriculum, use space and construct the learning day. (We also have mad ZOOM skills and training too, but that’s besides the point…)

For example, in a lesson on the Garden of Eden story, we integrate a “sidebar” where students virtually tour the Sistine Chapel and compare/contrast some of the frescos with with scripture and commentary.

Did you know that Michelangelo portrayed the Tree of Knowing Good and Evil as a fig tree?In another lesson, we explore the Israel Museum’s Pessah seder plate collection as “inspo” for designing your own.

As the first week turns into a first month, let’s be mindful about how our kids are learning – and whether tech is making their learning better or “same-old-same-old.” Will they have the opportunity to use technology to learn and grow as independent learners – or merely to reproduce the traditional school at their dining room tables?

I am confident that as we spend more time with these tools, we will grow into the former and leave the latter behind.

Dr. Dan Aviv is Lead Educator and Design at ADRABA. They will be offering drop-in Jewish history sessions on Monday through Friday (Mar. 23-27, Mar. 30-Apr 3) at 1pm via ZOOM. Sign up at info@adraba.ca.