Hebrew schools across North America made a dramatic and rapid shift into virtual classrooms in the wake of COVID-19. Now, with the potential for a second wave of contagion this fall, educational directors are making plans to keep classes online at the start of the next school year.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Jewish education landscape was severe, with many synagogues scrambling to adapt their curricula to online platforms, some more successfully than others. Online curriculum providers were suddenly flooded with inquiries, many from educational directors who had little to no experience with virtual classrooms or blended (online and in-person) teaching models.
One such nonprofit organization, ShalomLearning, which specializes in online and blended curricula for Hebrew schools, saw demand jump sharply. Since mid-March, an additional 210 teachers began using the platform, while the number of students enrolled in their virtual classrooms grew by 2,000 to 7,800, bringing ShalomLearning’s partnership total to 163 congregations across North America.
“We weren’t surprised that interest rose so quickly as our numbers have been growing every year and teachers, students and families are really enjoying our lessons. And there was an enormous increase in demand for teacher training on how to run a virtual classroom since we had the technology in place since 2011 to address this need ,” said Joshua Troderman, ShalomLearning’s CEO. “What was surprising, however, are the reports that we are receiving that student attendance in the virtual classrooms are rising tremendously. Many Jewish educators who were once reluctant to embrace new technologies were caught off-guard, but they now realize the necessity and are getting on-board, especially considering all the summer camp closures that have been announced this month and what’s expected this Fall.”
Public health officials have begun to warn of a potential second wave of COVID infections later this year, which could be further exacerbated by the return of flu season. With this in mind, several synagogues have already declared their intention to operate virtually at the start of the school year, including Kehilat Shalom in Montgomery Village, MD and Temple Sinai in Brookline, MA.
“We look forward to keeping our virtual learning going in the fall,” said Temple Sinai Director of Education Heidi Smith Hyde. “I’ve heard from a few parents that offering an online option will make their lives easier by eliminating the need for transportation to and from religious school, especially during a busy work week.”
One benefit to online platforms that use a blended model is the ability to seamlessly switch from in-person to online as needed. The curriculums are designed to be flexible and adaptable, which is increasingly important to educators given the current uncertainty over COVID.
“Kids were so bored sitting at home, so having something like ShalomLearning that was programmed and familiar made it more enjoyable for them,” Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom added. “No one knows what’s going to happen by September and this uncertainty is what’s making people antsy. Continuing our online classes will help give people a degree of certainty.”
We have always believed that Jewish learning is not limited to the traditional classroom. With school closures, we’re offering:
- Free access to the Tribe. These materials are designed for families with children ages 4-8 to do at home. They can explore Jewish values and texts together at any time.
- Free access to our 3-7th grade values based curriculum. Our pluralistic lesson plans are designed for the virtual classroom (e.g. Zoom or Adobe Connect) where students can attend a live, online, teacher-led class.
- Reduced fee for our Hebrew program. These materials are designed for the traditional classroom, virtual classroom (e.g. Zoom or Adobe Connect), and/or self-paced learning. Students can learn in live classes and/or login to our portal to complete self.
- Reduced fee to play our online Escape Rooms. Families will enjoy working together to decipher the code to escape each Jewish-themed room. Use code ESCAPE10 to save $10. Or contact us to sign up unlimited families in your school/community for $99.
We are also providing support to all educators during this time.
- Tips for the Virtual Classroom. We held this live session three times with over 200 attendees in total. You can watch a recording of our first session on our site.
- Beyond the Basics of the Virtual Classroom. We are hosting a follow up webinar for those who are ready to learn some additional techniques for the virtual classroom on Tuesday 3/31 at 2 pm Eastern.
- Q&A session. We hosted a live session for all educators to ask the ShalomLearning staff any questions they had about distance learning. Watch a recording here.
- Live training sessions for all new ShalomLearning educators to prepare for their first class. This session is offered frequently. To attend the next live session, please contact us. You can watch a recording here.
As needs are changing, so are we. Let us know if there’s another way we can share our expertise using education technology to make Jewish learning more accessible for everyone.
ShalomLearning has been the leader in Jewish virtual classroom instruction since 2011. Founded by Edtech visionaries, ShalomLearning has grown its partnerships to 150 sites.
Our award-winning, Jewish values-based curriculum was designed by renowned Jewish educators such as Dr. Erica Brown, Rabbi Sid Schwarz and Jonathan Woocher (z”l). In addition to our pluralistic curriculum with detailed lesson plans and self-paced Hebrew modules, we train teachers on best practices and virtual classroom management. ShalomLearning was recognized as one of the most innovative nonprofits in North America and has over 1000 teachers in its growing communities of practice.
This fall (September 2019) ShalomLearning will offer three new levels of our values-based curriculum (K-2). Similar to grades 3-7, our lessons tie Biblical stories, prayers, holidays, and Jewish text to a value. In addition, for these grades, we focus on arts, literature and experiencing the values through the senses.
Here’s a sample activity from our Yom Ha’atzmaut unit for first grade. Keep in mind, this is just one piece of a larger lesson plan.
Israel has so many wonderful foods. We are going to taste a few today. If children have tried some Israeli foods in the Kindergarten lesson, choose a different food this year, or stick with a favorite and remind students of their taste test last year.
Serve as many of these foods as you have access to.
- Israeli salad (Tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, salt, pepper)
- Hummus (could serve with cucumbers, carrots, pita)
- Chocolate spread (goes on the pita)
Spend some time doing some exploration about the foods. For example, ask children to wonder what hummus is made from. Have some chickpeas on hand to show them. Students can even try their hand at mashing the chickpeas to make their own hummus.
One reason the Israeli salad is the most well-known dish of Israel is that the cucumber has a long history in that region of the world. Ask students when they might eat an Israeli salad. Share that Israeli salad was part of the traditional Israeli breakfast at home before cereal became popular.
After tasting the food that you have, have a conversation with the students about what they liked or did not like. What was the same as what we eat, and what was different?
At ShalomLearning, we’re always improving our offering. Check out these latest updates to our program
All New K-2 Values-Based Curriculum
- Explores 12 Jewish values through the senses, arts, and literature.
- Stand-alone lesson plans for Jewish holidays.
- Lessons plans include “Fun With Hebrew.” These activities introduce Hebrew letter sounds and words.
Updated 3-7 Values-Based Curriculum
- Each lesson has a 45 minute or a 90 minute option
- More hands-on in-class activities for greater student engagement
- Options for 6th and 7th graders to integrate personal devices
Torah Aura Revisions
- New in-class lesson plans and updated slides for more engaging learning
- Additional Torah Service prayers and other tefillot
- Updated online and at-home activities for better reinforcement of self-paced learning
Mazel Tov to Ben Z from CA for being the first ever ShalomLearning Escape Room winner! Ben correctly used the Gematria chart and decoder ring to escape all 5 rooms and piece together the clues to pinpoint the secret location within a half mile of the exact solution. Above is a photograph of all the notes he took along the journey. Way to go, Ben! We can’t wait to hear how you spend your $100 winnings!
Heidi from ShalomLearning worked with Ben’s parents to arrange a surprise video conference to break the great news. Watch his reaction:
Even though we have a grand prize winner, we hope the rest of you will keep playing! Remember, you need to escape all 5 rooms to receive your $20 Amazon gift card. Game play is open through March 31, so keep pushing forward to get to the end!
We’ve received so much positive feedback about this program that we’re excited to announce that an all-new ShalomLearning Escape Room Adventure will be available in Fall 2019! More details will be available later this Spring, but if you have any questions or suggestions, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.