Technology in a Jewish Studies Classroom
Today, education and technology go hand in hand. Just as general studies teachers regularly implement different technological tools, many Jewish Studies teachers are also exploring technologies that bring new ideas, tools, and activities to their classrooms.
I was fortunate to be introduced to a tool called CoSpaces Edu, which I used for a special Torah project in my fourth grade class. This tool helps bring the Jewish curriculum to life by using augmented reality (AR) alongside virtual reality (VR) to immerse students into current and historical Jewish learning. CoSpaces Edu is an intuitive educational technology app enabling students and teachers to easily build their own 3D creation, animate with code and explore in VR or AR.
What is the difference between VR and AR? In VR, the viewer looks through a special device that blocks out everything else while allowing a full, 360-degree view. By contrast, participants in AR experience the world around them and see added things with the AR tools. For example, a viewer can look at a building, item or picture in AR and extra data appears on the app screen that the viewer wears. In VR, one’s vision is occupied completely with a 360-degree screen, creating the feeling of being part of the activity seen.
The goals for this project were to:
- Learn the story of Bereishit 13 in Parashat Lech-Lecha: who are the characters, what are their actions, why Lot chooses to move, what do we learn about Abraham and his character.
- Write a play in five scenes about the story that ensues in chapter 13, using everyday Hebrew vocabulary and grammar while keeping the play similar to the original story.
- Learn how to use CoSpaces Edu with support from the instructional technology specialist.
- Create five scenes on CoSpaces Edu and implement all the tools we learned about the app.
The students studied the chapter, first to grasp the actions and second to explore the characters’ motivations. They focused on Abraham’s character and his actions. Students worked in groups of four and started to write the scenes. They used vocabulary and sentence structures taught in class to create conversations between the different characters.
The next step was to transfer these plays into VR. Together with the IT specialist, we taught the students how to use CoSpaces Edu. We shared with the students what the final project might look like, employing the “Get Ready/Do/Done” format. Students brought their deep understanding of Chapter 13 to code the characters according to the story. Through the use of a visual block-based and intuitive programming language, students created characters who were able to move, have a dialogue, and shift and transition from scene to scene. Students recorded themselves saying the different parts of the play and added a translation into English to allow parents to understand and connect with the play. They worked diligently on the project and were very proud of their final result. Using VR goggles, they were able to watch their final project.
This project improved digital literacy skills, enhanced creativity and fostered collaboration in the classroom. It inspired students to participate in class and assisted struggling students to find interest in the Jewish Studies class. It showed that tools such as CoSpaces Edu offer a wonderful means to engage students.