When thinking about the teaching of Gemara and Jewish studies, it’s likely that your mind doesn’t immediately leap to cutting edge edtech. For the study and contemplation of such ancient and sacred texts more traditional modes of study spring to mind. But as the world moves online, technology is increasingly being utilized by innovative Rabbis and Jewish educators to enable more interactive and accessible study.
Leading the charge is Jewish Studies Teacher and Rabbi Jonathon Simons in Manchester, UK. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about how he and his students have been using Kami.
Going digital and discovering Kami
A keen Kami user for the past 6-7 months, Jonathon at first saw the app as a good way to pursue paperless working whilst also preserving his teaching materials.
‘Many of us [Jewish studies teachers] use proprietary tools like Smartboard or Promethean to make our materials. But what happens is as these tools are phased out or you move onto other schools, you can’t take your work with you.”
Understandably frustrated by this early on, Jonathon committed to never using proprietary programs and instead focused on tools not tied to the school he happened to be in at the time. This had the huge advantage of generally being more accessible and meant his materials were adaptable to any medium.
Kami, alongside other tools like Docs and Slides, allowed Jonathon to create a fully mobile and adaptable set of learning materials. If he wanted to update a worksheet he could simply locate the old one, edit it and be ready to go. There was no loss of old work and everything was conveniently stored ready for use.
Now working at Broughton Jewish Cassel Fox Primary School in Manchester, Jonathon seeks to enrich his lessons with technology.
“My responsibility at the school I teach at was originally to integrate technology into Jewish studies lessons.” An exciting task, but one which Jonathon quickly found required more of an overarching structure and system in place. “I actually stopped looking into all the potential tools and worked back from the basics to set up that fundamental infrastructure [to allow digital distribution and hand in of work].”
Jonathon’s school is now comfortably set up with Google Classroom and as a Google Trainer Jonathon was able to help teachers get to grips with this system. But once the structure was in place there was much more Jonathon wanted to achieve “I’ve always been looking at going paperless and Kami ticked the boxes for what I wanted to do.”
Using Kami in the Jewish studies classroom
Kami provided Jonathon with a range of functionality to aid him with teaching in the Jewish Studies classroom.
- Totally paperless: Kami allows for easy saving and editing of all digital materials (even scanned PDFs). That means no printing.
- Enables online, asynchronous working: Using Google Classroom to distribute and turn in work and Kami to complete assignments, students can work independently and at a time and place that best suits them.
- Materials are accessible and interactive for students: Kami tools such as video and audio comments to help students to express their thoughts and even watch snippets of guidance and explanation from their teacher.
- Improves reading skill: When learning foreign languages such as Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew, reading is often the student’s weakest skill. The video and audio comment tools in Kami mean that Jonathon can ask students to record themselves to hear their fluency.
- Allows meaningful discussion on the text and interpretation: Reading and translation are not the only part of diving into a sacred text. Kami’s comment tools give students ways to express and discuss their interpretations and understanding of meaning in what they are reading.
Kami Ticks many boxes Jewish studies teachers need world wide.— jonathonsimons (@jonathonsimons5) August 27, 2020
A quick idea for using Kami in Gemmorah Lessons with students.https://t.co/7swC2QOUnM
Jonathon uses Kami alongside Google Classroom to create a fully online workflow for his fellow educators and students. Worksheets can be updated or revamped using Kami and then distributed to students via Google Classroom, completed in Kami, then Turned In using the Google Classroom integration.
Once Jonathon’s students have their work or set text for the Jewish studies lesson they can use the Kami tools to:
- learn their set text,
- mark it up correctly (punctuate the language with correct prefixes and suffixes),
- sing the text and record it in a video or audio annotation,
- then explain or demonstrate their understanding using the video annotation or screen recorder.
Kami in lockdown
When the UK went into lockdown and the transition to remote learning began, Jonathon’s online infrastructure, with Kami as a key component, was readily embraced by all aspects of the school.
“When COVID hit and we went into lockdown it was straight into online school mode – we were ready.”
Initially worried that students who were new to Kami would be a bit at sea with a new app, as there had been no time for an in-person lesson, Jonathon was happy to report that these fears were not realized. ‘I made a quick video for them… and they all picked it up very easily… it’s so straightforward and has made this type of learning so much more accessible for the children.’
‘I really recommend everyone, especially in the Jewish Studies world, to have a look at Kami! Don’t worry you can still use your old materials and it will work excellently for all your needs.’