Who doesn’t love to play?
From the toddler who just wants to take toys apart and zoom across the yard to the teen who loves Minecraft to the adult who gets super competitive over a game of Monopoly, we all know play is enjoyable and also, that play facilitates learning.
“It’s the most natural thing we do,” said Barry Fishman, Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and School of Education. “Parents play with their babies–peekaboo, mimicry and object permanence games–these games are the basics of learning.”
But then school comes along. And while the game playing doesn’t end there, suddenly, it’s of a different breed. Now, students are playing to win… a good grade. “Students become focused on getting the highest score,” Fishman continued, “and this isn’t always a good thing.”
“The way school and our current cultural context is shaped,” he said, “discourages risk-taking and failure, because it’s a high-stakes game. If you fail along the way, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get into the college you want, which creates an atmosphere of negativity and pressure on learning. But failure is so important; the things we fail at are our most important learning experiences.”
Fishman is certainly not alone in his thinking. In fact, scholars across the country are currently researching, writing and speaking publicly about ways in which we can lower the heat of the high school and college pressure cooker, help kids enjoy learning, and learn vital life skills in the process.
“We’ve created an environment where it’s not OK to experiment or be off-topic for even a moment,” Fishman asserted, “and it’s a culture that turns people off of learning and creates an extrinsic set of motivators for learning. We really need to think about changing the design of learning, and help students seek out challenges,” he added.
So… how can technology help?
First, consider the concept of “gameful learning,” a pedagogical approach that takes the best aspects of gaming and applies that knowledge to the learning environment, while placing a high priority on student engagement.
Next, enter GradeCraft, a learning management system dedicated to supporting the “gameful” classroom, currently being developed by Fishman and his colleagues at the University of Michigan.
“We essentially have three basic human needs that motivate our actions,” Fishman explained, as way of introducing the ideas behind GradeCraft. “First, to feel like we have autonomy to make choices that matter, second, to have a sense of belonging and relatedness and third, a sense of competence that we’ll be supported, and be given a challenge that we can accomplish.”
To this end, GradeCraft.com is a tool that supports a diversified grading system.
A student enters the GradeCraft site and sees all of the assignments for the semester laid out for her. She can access a grade predictor, and calculate how many points she needs to reach various levels in the course; essentially “gaming” the class, by creating a strategy developed upon clicking and choosing how much she needs to accomplish in order to get to a specific place. She has a student dashboard, with current points earned and total points available, a list of course assignments, a calendar and badges. There are also student-determined assignment weights, self-awarded points, and more.
“Not everybody takes tests well,” Fishman said, touching on an old anxiety but one that is very relevant for today’s students, who are subjected to far more standardized assessment testing than ever before. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t know the material. There are other ways to demonstrate mastery, and we can use GradeCraft to assess where students are across these diversified pathways.”
(Visit the GradeCraft website for links to YouTube tutorials which explain how each aspect of the system works.)
What’s more, beyond the individual student, technology like GradeCraft creates ways for students to band together, to compete against other students, to form groups that work toward a common goal, and to open up the classroom learning space, explained Fishman.
“If your starting grade on any assignment is out of 100%,” he said, “then you can only lose from there. If you get a 99%, you’ve lost a point. You’ve gone down. It’s a losing design, one that only allows you to chip away at perfection.”
Instead, Fishman advocates starting everybody in the class at zero, giving students the freedom to finish wherever they want on the scale, but laying out the pathways where he or she can earn different grade outcomes.
Fishman admitted that this is not easy for the college professor or classroom teacher to manage. “The first time I taught this way [without GradeCraft], I had a dozen spreadsheets going, and my students were lost. But we’re been building tools to support this kind of teaching.”
Currently, about 20 instructors and 4,000 students in approximately 12 different areas at The University of Michigan use GradeCraft. There’s also a middle school history teacher in Virginia who is experimenting with the site, as Fishman and his colleagues work out the early kinks in the system.
Ultimately, however, the secret to successful use of technology in the classroom isn’t about websites, badges, videos or games. It’s about two other essential components.
“First, motivation is paramount,” Fishman, said. “Motivation, and the study of what gets people to engage, to persist and to see tasks through to completion are essential. Without it, there is no learning.”
And second? “The secret of educational technology is that it’s never about the technology,” Fishman said. “Instead, it’s always about what’s happening in the classroom.”
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project