Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
JTeach.org is driven by the belief that our Jewish future depends on today’s youth building lifelong connections to Jewish culture and learning. We translate this into action by providing Jewish educators working in a variety of settings with innovative resources to build meaningful lessons. Materials are adaptable for different religious settings, age groups and learning styles. Posts are a mix of lesson plans, text sheets, projects and experiential activities. Opportunities for technology integration are suggested to better engage digital learners. Concise background information to deepen teachers’ Jewish literacy is provided, ultimately impacting the quality of learning for their students.
From the words of the Torah to the teachings of the Sages to contemporary works such as poetry by Yehuda Amichai, we base much of our work on the Jewish wisdom accumulated over the years. The vast majority of lessons posted on JTeach.org begin with background for the teacher that are rooted in classic texts of the Tanakh and Talmud, with examples of how to link the materials to students’ lives. Some examples of work infused with Jewish wisdom are: A discussion sheet about despair and resilience in a time of crisis begins with examples from Ecclesiastics and Psalms and moves through time to finish with insight from Joseph Trumpeldor and Rachel Frankel. A lesson created to weave together Martin Luther King Day with TuB’Shevat and the concept of legacy, begins with the Talmudic tale of Honi Ha-Magel, and ends with an art activity which helps each student explore the relationship between their values, their actions and their impact on future generations. An idea sheet celebrating Pi Day includes Maimonides’ commentary on Pi and suggestions for other circular activities to help students make meaningful, unexpected, Jewish connections to their daily lives.
JTeach.org‘s materials provide several pathways to Jewish wisdom and its direct application to daily life. In addition to providing text sheets and teacher background information, one direct example of how we help others make personal connections to Jewish wisdom is through our current, year-long project, Picture Yourself in the Parasha. Every Monday we post to Twitter (@jteach_org) and Facebook (JTeach BJEChicago) a couplet that gives a brief idea from that week’s parasha and challenges users to post pictures of how the idea relates to their own lives. We initially thought that users would post their pictures, but have subsequently found out that most teachers, not comfortable using social media, prefer to download the meme and use it as a classroom prompt for discussion. We will continue to post until we reach the end of Deuteronomy, and then publish the entire year of Torah on JTeach.org as a complete set available for download.
Our materials provide background to educators in order to increase their own Jewish knowledge base. We then provide the scaffolding to enable educators to pass on this wisdom to their students. By combining traditional learning with non-traditional approaches, the materials of JTeach.org also inspire new wisdom as educators and students have the opportunity to reflect on the ideas presented and to bring them out into the world in their own lives.
The JTeach team is transforming the Jewish educational landscape by providing online access to high-quality, innovative, user-friendly, content-rich teaching materials. We provide 24-hour online access for our local community and beyond. In this way, we are able to impact many different populations among the global community, including:
• Part-time teachers with limited preparation time and busy day-time schedules
• Teachers who are looking to supplement their pedagogic skills and/or their familiarity with Jewish wisdom
• Teachers who want to increase their use of technology in order to engage today’s wired community
• Volunteers who need professional support
• School leaders who want to provide concrete support to their teachers
Through a dynamic, creative, and collaborative process, our team creates materials integrating “what's needed” with our own expertise on “what works.” An example of this process is the decision in early 2015 to begin embedding professional learning within the context of individual lessons in the form of “Teacher Background” and “Differentiation Opportunities.” This was in response to user feedback and our own observations. These added pieces provide our users with context and additional tools to optimize the lesson for their students while deepening their own understanding. Our process of continual assessment and adaptation based on needs observed in real time is what distinguishes JTeach.org from other resource/lesson plan databanks. As we continue to deepen and broaden our curricula and support materials to improve teachers’/leaders’ professional practice, JTeach.org will in turn empower teachers to make significant, positive impact on student learning and engagement.
The impact of JTeach.org nationally and internationally can be seen in the increase in overall downloads and return traffic to the site. More and more people are coming to JTeach.org for curricular support, and a higher percentage of them are coming back because of the impact that JTeach,org curricula have in their schools. As the quantity and quality of materials posted has increased, JTeach.org website usage has grown dramatically! From its inception in August 2014 through August 2015, downloads averaged 260 per week. During the last 4 months of 2015, downloads increased to an average of 640 per week and in the first half of 2016 we have experienced a remarkable 41% increase to 900+ downloads per week. We know from conversations with JTeach.org users that these figures do not reflect a complete picture. Many users, especially education directors, download, photocopy and distribute our materials to their colleagues, faculty members and constituent families. In addition to the growing number of downloads, the percentage of return traffic has nearly doubled as well, from a 17.1% return rate in 2014 to a 33.7% return rate thus far in 2016. Our analytics also show that 79% of JTeach.org users are from the USA, with Israel (4%), Canada (3.5%), Australia (2%) and South Africa (1%) rounding out the top five users by country.
Often, with the advent of new socio-cultural phenomena, Jewish communal professionals rush to see how they might capitalize on the trend, bringing the newest Disney characters into religious services for young children, using social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to enhance and extend in-person experiences.
What we have learned in creating materials that allow teachers and students a vehicle to meaningfully reflect on and respond to global crises, contemporary political issues, and everyday life is that, though aligning Jewish values and practice with popular trends may provide results in the short term, it is applied Jewish wisdom which brings comfort and understanding, and deep connection.
JTeach.org touches tens of thousands of educators each year. Many have a passion for Jewish education but lack a depth of Jewish textual knowledge. Natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, political unrest, such as that which led to the Syrian refugee crisis later in the same year, and the culture of violence which seems pervasive in the United States in the recent past, leave educators wanting to engage with their students and students needing to make sense of the world. The upcoming presidential elections offer opportunities to explore what values are important to being a good citizen in the world. The natural flow of the seasons, especially Jewish holidays, generates occasions to reflect on personal development and how wisdom can lead to action. The JTeach staff is successful in providing materials - specifically Jewish text and guidance on how to apply them - which allow students and teachers to have meaningful, relationship-building Jewish conversations.
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