Jacksonville Jewish school convened successful first ever national conference on incorporating new technology into Jewish day school education
JACKSONVILLE – Twenty-one Jewish day schools of different religious orientations came together in Jacksonville for edJEWcon, a groundbreaking conference designed to demonstrate to teams of day school educators how to implement a 21st-century approach to curriculum and instruction. The integration of technology and digital media into teaching and learning are essential tools to engage all learners. This innovative conference raised the bar and showed the way for participants to acquire new understandings and gain needed skills.
The Martin J. Gottlieb Jewish Day School (MJGDS) in Jacksonville planned and led the three-day program that featured two keynote presenters with international reputations as leaders in the field, Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Angela Maiers. Heidi Hayes Jacobs spoke of the “5 C’s” necessary for curriculum and learning to be relevant and current to our learners: communication, connection, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. The school’s own experts facilitated hands-on learning for the educator teams that came from across the United States. Jon Mitzmacher, Andrea Hernandez and Silvia Tolisano demonstrated how to seamlessly integrate technology into the life and culture of Jewish day schools.
Participants blogged and tweeted throughout the conference. One blogger captured the spirit of the conference this way: “The Talmud and the Commentaries are one long conversation and communication between thinkers, scholars, generations and societies. Critical thinking is innate, part of the Jewish DNA.”
As a Jewish day school well on its way to becoming a dynamic 21st-century learning environment, MJGJDS’ faculty shared its vision of teaching and learning that transcends physical boundaries and connects across geographic borders and time zones. The school is part of the Schechter Day School Network, an association of Jewish day schools that is working to inspire and encourage member schools to chart a new course to excel in the future. A number of community and Orthodox day school teams attended the conference and agreed that part of the path forward in Jewish education is to adopt successful elements from the general education milieu. The Schechter Network schools are at the forefront of a paradigm shift incorporating new technologies such as social media and digital and online expertise. The conference’s approach to curriculum and instruction was aligned with inquiry-based and discovery learning, tenets of Schechter schools’ pedagogy.
“There’s no question that with the high cost of Jewish day school education, day schools must prove to parents and students that we offer an exceptional and worthwhile educational experience,” said Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, MJGDS’head of school, and the organizer of the conference. “EdJEWcon represented an opportunity to demonstrate that Jewish day school can be synonymous with excellence. Jewish day schools are uniquely qualified to lead the 21st-century learning revolution that is currently underway, and edJEWcon is a powerful demonstration of that leadership in action. This is all about highly engaged learning and doing, and we wanted ay schools to have the chance to collaborate and learn from each other.”
Dr. Elaine R. S. Cohen, director of the Schechter Day School Network, which supported the conference from its inception, added, “The Schechter Day School Network is working every day to live up to the standard that our schools approach education through inquiry; we seek to stimulate critical thinking as a cornerstone of academic excellence and student engagement.”
The entire conference was digitally recorded and broadcast via social media platforms including Twitter – the feed is available at https://twitter.com/#!/edjewcon – and blogged at edJEWcon’s website: http://www.edjewcon.org/.
Mitzmacher secured funding from the AVI CHAI Foundation to support the conference.
“The incorporation of 21st-century teaching and learning is of paramount importance to the future of Jewish day school education,” said Rachel Mohl Abrahams, program officer at AVI CHAI. “AVI CHAI was pleased to support edJEWcon as a wonderful opportunity for day school educators to develop best practices in this arena. We are proud of MJGDS as leaders in this emerging field and commend them for wanting to share their work with other schools.”
Andrea Hernandez, one of the conference organizers and presenters concluded: “We often talk about 21st century learning in terms of the skills needed to be successful in this technological world. One of those important skills is collaboration. edJEWcon is collaboration at its best.”
Future plans include turning edJEWcon into a yearly professional development opportunity and sharing the learning at national educational conferences, beyond the day school milieu.