What does Hour of Code have to do with Jewish Education?

By Yifat Mukades

“Don’t buy a new video game, make one. Don’t just download the latest app, help design it. Don’t just play on your phone, program it!” So says President Obama in an effort to encourage schools and students of all ages and genders to take one hour and learn how to code. An Hour of Code #HourOfCode is a simple and fun way to get introduced to coding and is designed for anyone at any age and was specifically chosen to be part of this week’s national Computer Science Education week #SCEdWeek. So what does this have to do with Jewish education?

The truth is, no matter where or how old you are, computers and technology are going to be part of your future in pretty much every industry. We, as Jewish Educators, are trying to prepare our students for real life, to provide them with Jewish principles to use in many different circumstances throughout their day-to-day lives. In an article published last week on eJewish Philanthropy, David Bryfman wrote about the true meaning of Jewish Education, and stated, “The purpose of Jewish education today is to ensure that Jewish tradition empowers people to thrive in today’s world.” Thriving today means teaching computer science and coding, and Jewish education needs to be part of the effort to prepare students to be part of today’s world.

Our students are on their phones playing games, on social media or on their computers more than we are willing to admit. If our students are there, we need to be there too. Currently, there are 517,393 open computing jobs nationwide and last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. (source: Hour of Code Website). We Jewish educators now have another a responsibly, to prepare our students for the tech/computer real life job market and the social and cultural influences they have in our lives.

Judaism is evolving all the time and we learn new things from the Torah every time we read a Jewish text. However, Jewish education needs to prove that Judaism is also evolving with the rest of the world in regard to the ways our students (and we) consume media and technology. We need to teach Jewish education, Jewish values, holidays and Israel education through the use of technology and gaming. Otherwise, we will lose our students.

If computing jobs are the future, we must include uses of technology when teaching our students if we truly want them to be culturally literate in every field. Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube says, “If you can create Technology you can change the world.” This secular version of “Tikun Olam” is essential for our learners in order to succeed in the 21st Century.

Putting students at the center, and catering to them in ways that interest and engage them via tools, apps, games they are already familiar with is the key. Valley Beth Shalom Etz Chaim Learning Center (VBS ECLC) supplemental school in Los Angeles has been doing so for few years now. Keri Loventhal, the Director of the school, wanted to change the current paradigm of “Old School Hebrew School” and create a new kind of school that caters to students’ different learning styles. The goal was to provide different ways to learn traditional Jewish content/curriculum. Loventhal had her learners in the center the whole time when she created the academies and put to practice her vision for how Jewish supplemental education in the 21st Century should be. In her school there are three Academies: Performing Arts, Fine Arts and Technology. Each academy meets students “where they are” in terms of their interests while still teaching about Jewish holidays, core values and biblical stories via these mediums.

So what about Hour of Code you may ask? Loventhal’s Technology Academy students don’t need an hour of code to explore coding. They have been doing it twice a week, every week. They learned about Tishrie Holidays and themes while coding and creating Rosh Hashana themed games on their iPads using a block coding application called Hopscotch. In their Hanukkah unit, they learned about the multiple narratives of the Hannukah story and transformed the Jewish content into a Hannukah heroes computer game. By designing a Jewish-themed game on their iPads the students are engaged, their creativity and curiosity is piqued, and their problem-solving skills are utilized. They not only learn and receive the content/curriculum, but also get tools that will serve them in the outside world. These students, their parents, the community, and even new prospective families can see that Judaism is indeed changing, evolving and providing solutions for learners in the 21st Century.

I encourage you to take an hour with your students and learn how to code. Even if you are uncomfortable with technology, don’t be afraid. There are many resources available for first time teachers including lesson plans, links, videos, and even templates to send to parents. You can find more information on Hour of Code at www.HourOfCode.com and lots of teachers’ resources available as well: hourofcode.com/us/how-to. Then, I promise you, you will find your own creative ways to utilize many of these apps for Jewish and Israel education.

Yifat Mukades, MA.Ed. graduated from AJU in Spring, 2016. She was one of Camp Alonim’s Jewish Education Directors this summer, and now serves as Assistant Director at Valley Beth Shalom Etz Chaim Learning Center in Los Angeles where she is responsible for curating technologies and making sure the Technology Academy is on par with the outside world.

Sources:

Bryfman, D. (2016). “When You’re Happy and You Know It – The True Purpose of Jewish Education.” eJewish Philanthropy website, published on 11/28/2016
Hour of Code™ website www.HourOfCode.com

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