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Miami Jewish Day Schools Pioneering Bold New Direction in Technology-Supported Education

Five Miami Jewish day schools have taken steps toward adopting a cutting-edge approach to Jewish education — known as “Blended Learning” — that combines traditional teaching instruction with technological tools to introduce highly personalized student experiences and new models for lifelong learning.

Blended Learning combines established teaching strategies with electronic teaching aids, as well as independent study using digital education tools. This hybrid of “brick and mortar” classroom studies with computer-mediated learning experiences enables each participating student to learn at his or her own pace, taking advantage of his or her personal style of comprehension.

The Blended Learning Initiative is being funded by a grant from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation with the generous support of the Avi Chai Foundation, the Targum Shlishi Foundation, and a generous challenge grant from Dr. Shmuel and Evelyn Katz and Moises and Lilian Tabacinic. Additional grants are being sought for implementation of the program.

Participating Jewish day schools include the Gordon School of Beth David Congregation, Jacobson Sinai Academy, Hebrew Academy (RASG), Lehrman Community Day School and Scheck Hillel Community School.

Administrators, teachers and educational technologists from the five schools assembled in early September under the umbrella of the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE), a subsidiary agency of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. Their two days of discussion began an 18-month learning academy focused on instructional models of Blended Learning.

The educators and specialists will continue to meet throughout the coming two years to develop Blended Learning strategies that address specific learning goals for each of the school environment.

“Blended Learning represents a real paradigm shift in education,” explained Valerie Mitrani, CAJE’s Director of Day School Strategy and Initiatives. “We are exploring modules and modalities of learning that are more collaborative and engaging. This approach allows every student to learn at his or her own pace, and take advantage of his or her individual strengths.”

Gary Hartstein, Digital Learning Network Director for The Jewish Education Project, facilitated the two-day meeting to acquaint the local educators with the Blended Learning concept modality and detail how this approach can be tailored to each school’s unique curricula and learning environment.

The Jewish Education Project is a New York-based agency of forward-thinking educators and volunteer leaders, created to spark new ideas and approaches to Jewish education. The agency provides tools, resources and technology to spread those new ideas in educating Jewish children.

“Our approach throughout our two days of meetings in Miami has been that this is a learning initiative, not a technology program,” Hartstein said. “We’re developing a strong foundation of technological resources in each school to facilitate the Blended Learning and personal learning experiences.”

The Blended Learning Initiative meetings signaled the start of a second phase of a three-step process. The first phase began three years ago when CAJE approached the Avi Chai Foundation, a private foundation committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism, and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people. After conferring with CAJE about implementing the Blended Learning concept in Miami, representatives of the Avi Chai Foundation and The Jewish Education Project conducted a series of visits to Jewish day schools in Miami and met with local education professionals.

According to Hartstein, Miami stands out as an excellent pilot community for implementation of the Blended Learning Initiative because “Miami has a very strong Jewish community with high-quality Jewish day schools doing many great things. There are some early adopters who are already implementing many of the ideas in our initiative, as well as others with a strong desire to learn new methodologies.”

In the second phase of the initiative, representatives of the five schools will continue to meet and consult with CAJE and The Jewish Education Project during the next two years to learn and institute programs that will address student learning needs through a Blended Learning solution.

“We are sharing ideas about learning approaches with real impact on students,” said Julie Lambert, CAJE’s Director of Professional Learning Initiatives and Early Childhood Education Strategies. “Our conversations are focused on pedagogy and methodologies in the 21st century that lead to excellence.”

In the final phase of this program, each school will receive grants to support implementation of their plans for integrating Blended Learning in their schools for the next three years. Working collaboratively with coaches and peers and analyzing data collected during the earlier phases, schools will identify and address challenges to ensure thatBlended Learning is meeting the needs of Jewish day school learners.

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