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A Rich Torah Curriculum

Vegetation along the Nile. You can see the riv...

Image via Wikipedia

In Siddur Class, we continued learning the blessings for the Torah. Once we say the brachos for the Torah, we study some Torah right away – it’s right there in the siddur. In birkas kohanim we ask hashem to give us good things, and to protect them from anything bad happening to them. A person can give a gift but can;t make sure that the gift will last, but Hashem is the giver and the protecter, so Hashem can do this. We ask Hashem to show us a “shining face” be kind to us, and give us peace – shalom.

We continue to learn Torah by studying about mitzvos that don’t have a limit to how much we may do. We can leave large corners of our field for needy people to take whatever grows there. When we have the beis hamikdash, we can give a lot of fruits to the kohein. We may appear many times at the beis hamikdash on Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos, and every time is a mitzva. We can help many people every day, and each time it’s a mitzva. The more Torah we study, the more mitzvos we are doing, with every word. Thses are all mitzvos without a shiur – they are limitless – unlike the mitzvos of Sukkah or lighting Chanukah lights, which are limited in the number of days we may do them, or Shabbos, which we may observe only while the day lasts.

We drew examples of limitless mitzvos using the tools of the virtual classroom.

Book Club Class: In the story No Questions Asked, we discussed assumptions, and speculated about whether Aliza’s assumptions about how fantastic Gita’s mother is will turn out to be true.

I enjoyed subbing for Rabbi Resnick’s Parsha class. Beginning of Parshas Shemos with selected Rashis.

We studied the psychology of Pharoh’s personality. There are opinions that say that he was the sme man who was “not the same man” anymore, because he changed his attitude and his rules. He was also worried that the Children Of Israel, who were having six babies at once, would become so many and so strong that they would overpower the Egyptians and either leave Mitzrayim slaveless, or else chase out the Egyptians. Pharoh expressed concern that the Jews would leave, when his true concern was that he would be forced to leave.

A student brought up the issue that it might have been difficult for the Jews to take care of so many babies. We suggested that there were also so many older siblings to help out.

How did they come up with names for all the babies? one student wondered. We learned that at the time the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they actually invented many original and creative names that reflected the times they lived in and their trust in Hashem. Some names in the Torah are popular nowadays, and some are not commonly given. Students reflected on their Jewish names and those of their family members.

Kids asked insightful questions!

And I enjoyed subbing for Rabbi Resnick’s Halacha Class! Kitzur Shulchan Aruch – Siman Vav – Seifim Aleph Beis and Gimmel –

A Little Bit About Brachos

We learned that before we say a bracha, we have to know which bracha we are saying. The main part of the bracha is the first part, which mentions Hashem’s name, but when saying that we need to know how we will end off. Some foods can be challenging as far as knowing which bracha to say, because they are made of different ingredients. We should make sure we know which bracha is right! In Israel many foods actually have the correct bracha pinted on the packaging. One student in the US said that the snack Tiny Bits states its blessing on the packaging.

The only things that should be in the mouth when saying a bracha are the words praising G-d.

It is inappropriate to say Hashem’s name for no reason, in any language. It’s bad to curse a person using the name of G-d. One student said that some groups of Jews do it so maybe it’s allowed for them. We learned that although a student may know Jews who speak this way, all Jews need to try to speak in a refined manner.

Then I taught Parsha during Morah Miriam’s class. (Morah Miriam had a baby boy on Shabbos. MAZAL TOV!)

On Simchas Torah we started reading the Torah from the beginning, and last weel we completed all of the Book of Bereishis. This week we begin a new Book called Shemos. The parsha of the week is also called Shemos.

We – the Jews – our great great great great great etc. grandmothers and grandfathers were made slaves and had to work hard for the mean King Pharoh in Mitzrayim (Egypt). At first there were only 70 people from Yaakov’s family, but Hashem blessed the Jews and gave every mother six babies at one time! Pharoh was angry that the Jews were becoming so many, and wanted to kill them. He told the midwives (women who help mothers have babies) Shifra and Puah to kill the baby boys. But they didn’t listen. Hashem was so proud that Hashem made the people that came from them kohanim, leviim and Jewish kings.

Pharoh made a law that all Jewish baby boys had to be thrown into the Nile river. but Hashem made the water carry the babies to caves, and made milk and honey flow out of rocks for the babies to eat. Later the boys were able to go back to their families. Another way Hashem may have protected the babies was b making their mouths like the mouths of fish, so they were able to breathe under water.

Pharoh was told by people who read messages from the stars that a Jewish baby boy would be born, and when he grew up he would take the Jews out of Mitzrayim. A mother named Yocheved had a baby and hid him for three months. Then she placed him in a wooden box that she made waterproof, into the Nile river. She told his older sister Miriam to hide among the tall plants called reeds and watch to see what would happen to the baby. (We know that it was Moshe, and he would be fine, and really take the Jews out of Egypt when he grew up.)

Next  time we will see what happened to the baby.

Students drew a baby in a box in the river, and he was crying WAA!

In Book Club Class, we finished reading No Questions Asked. When Aliza finally realizes the truth about Gita’s amazing mother, she begins to appreciate her own. (Gita’s mother died.)

In the story we visit Gita’s pretty bedroom. The students drew their own rooms as we discussed the story.

A fast paced and very productive reading of the letters with vowels kamatz and patach occurred in Aleph Beis Class. Students did some drawing of letters on the board.

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Special Needs in the Virtual Classroom

Ritalin (photograph)

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My friend Ayala had Shabbos guests, a personable, intelligent couple named Yitz and Rivka and their young children. During the meal, the general prevalence of ADHD came up. Yitz started joking about it. My friend and her husband let it go. Then Rivka began joking that there really are a lot of people around with ADHD; the prisons are full of them!

Ayala placed a hand on Rivka’s arm. “Stop,” Ayala said, in a kind voice. Rivka brightened at Ayala’s apparent interest, smiled, and started elaborating on the humor.

Ayala looked into Rivka’s eyes, speaking calmly and firmly. “Stop. Stop.” Ayala’s hand remained on her guest’s arm.

After a moment Rivka turned a little pale and whispered confusedly, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Ayala’s son has ADHD and related behavioral and learning issues. She and her husband have had a lot of challenges with their son. Currently he resides away from home and seems to be doing well in a yeshiva that tries to meet his needs.

It’s disconcerting to Ayala to hear a Shabbos guest suddenly bring up her deepest fears.

You never know on whose toes you may be stepping.

Speaking of meeting the needs of special learners, I think that Rabbi Resnick, who runs Room 613, put it so well:

Students are able to choose their method of participation in the virtual classroom. As I remarked recently, for a student to use a smartboard, perhaps the ultimate in traditional classroom technology, they still have to walk up to the board. And that seemingly simple act can be a painful experience for some students.

Our format allows for so many permutations and possibilities for learning. Students can tailor their experience to their own comfort level.

Some of our students just use the chat feature – exclusively – to participate in classes. That means neither I nor the other students have ever seen their faces or heard their voices! Yet they are an integral part of classes, fully engaged and participating, offering their opinions and ideas.

Others choose to use a microphone, with or without a webcam. 

For the shy student, for the autistic student, for those who like attention, and choose to use the webcam and mic, I can’t think of a better way to reach, empower, and satisfy all types of learners.

Drawing on the Positive

Wash effect (painting)-example

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Leeba types into the chat box, “I love to draw on the whiteboard! But I’m bad at drawing.”
 
I announce into my mic, “You can’t be bad at drawing. Any way you draw is the right way for you.”
 
Virtually  – as in every classroom – what my students need most is validation and positive reinforcement.
 
 

Undue Panic

1.2 L Super Big Gulp

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I am alerted that a lurker might appear. Apparently someone in the life of one of my students with a personal agenda has threatened – possibly as a bluff –  to infiltrate my classes.

Big gulp. This is uncharted territory.

I mean, do I want to be the smiling face welcoming a stranger into my classroom? What if this person poses as a guest student? My principal gives me a few safety tips.

Class starts. A lurker appears.

Guest 7 arrives late and soon changes his or her screen name. The “guest” cannot or will not confirm his or her last name or state his or her age. A student types into the chat that she thinks the “guest” is a real student, and she types in the name of the student she thinks it is. I apologize and quickly disconnect the unidentified lurker. After a minute he or she rejoins, this time using the name suggested by my student.

I tell the kids that I have to know who everyone is in the class for everyone’s safety.

I hope I am vigilant and not paranoid.

40 minutes after class ends, my “guest” is still logged in. I disconnect the intruder.

I contact Rabbi R. He writes back, that things check out okay. This “guest” seems legit.  It’s a student who either just walked away from the computer while logged in, or was hanging around the classroom. No big deal.

But in my vivid imagination, a little creepy.

For me, this constitutes a defining moment. My exciting new world is not exactly virtual, not a computer game, but real three dimensional life with debris to dodge on its paths of construction.

We’re building  a thing of beauty here, and so we will conquer obstacles that try to get in our way. Morah Elana will do everything in her power to see to that! And may Hashem help our efforts succeed.

Okay, chill Morah Elana. Caution will help my students, but undue panic has no place in our classroom. Room 613 is a safe, responsible community.

613: What’s this Room?

Hebrew Calligraphy

Image by Nir Tober via Flickr

When a child takes your hand, you never know where he may lead you.

I’m online, in Room 613, and it’s like an alternative universe. An all Jewish computer game where players act the roles of classroom students with names like Esti, Dena, Yair and Evyatar. 

The Dena character is drawing a ritual washing cup on the classroom whiteboard. Esti and Evyatar are collaborating on practicing their aleph-beis writing skills. Yair uploads an English chart of the Hebrew letters. “Morah,” he types into the chat, “thank you for the class. I loved it!”

“You’re welcome!” I type-chat back. Because Yair is real, and I loved it too. These are my students and Room 613 is far from a game. It’s a real classroom – mine.

You know you’ve really arrived in the 21st century when your students appear as half-inch wide images on a computer screen and teaching them involves an internet connection, an external microphone and headset, a plugin mini webcam and technological support.  

All because of Bentzi. Searching for enrichment for my bright four year old, search engines led me to the innovative, dynamic Room 613 classes. Rabbi Yosef Resnick courteously invited my son and me to sample a few. I asked if he was hiring teachers; I knew I would love to do this!

And here I am, two weeks into this breathless world of  exploring Torah topics with my amazing, motivated Jewish homeschoolers.  Stay tuned for a recap of all that’s been happening in Morah Elana’s room. It’s as vibrant as Creation here at www.room613.net!

To read all the stuff that happened next, see my RECENT POSTS at the upper right of this page 🙂