Local Jewish Schools Introduce $850,000 iPad Program
Each student at nine Jewish schools, including schools in Merion, Wynnewood and Bryn Mawr, got their own iPad this year.
With the introduction of the iPad in their classrooms this year, Kohelet Yeshiva High School students have gotten the chance to experiment with molecular physics from the comfort of their desks.
“No! It exploded!” shouted one ninth grader on a Thursday morning in September.
“So... is it like a bomb now?” another girl asked from across the room.
“It’s not really a bomb," their biology teacher, Rabbi Aaron Horn, replied. "It’s just not a stable element." Pointing to the animated element diagram projected on the biology classroom’s whiteboard, he continued. “… Throw in some more electrons and neutrons and see what you create.”
After some more experimenting and a few minutes of teaching, Horn runs a spot check: he asks students to answer a question about electrons on their iPad. A few seconds later, a tally of the class's results shows up on his computer screen, showing him that most of the class's dozen students are following along.
Not only Horn's students, but all 137 students at Kohelet Yeshiva are doing much of their learning on iPads this year. Each student at the Jewish high school, along with students at eight other schools making up the Jewish Day School Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia, received iPads at the beginning of the school year as part of the collaborative’s SmartSchool initiative.
About 1,200 iPads were purchased for the program by the Kohelet Foundation, a Narberth-based organization that supports the mission of Jewish day schools in the greater Philadelphia area.
“In a world increasingly reliant on technology, it is only fitting that students are trained to utilize platforms that support and enhance their academic growth and prepare them for the future,” explained Holly Cohen, executive director of the Kohelet Foundation, in a press release. “The Foundation is providing the tools necessary to do just that.”
The program has cost more than $850,000 across the nine schools, which include Bryn Mawr's Barrack Hebrew Academy and Wynnewood's Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia and Kosloff Torah Academy. That figure includes the cost of the iPads, installation at the schools and hiring Apple educational professionals to train teachers, Cohen said.
“It’s a quantum leap for research tools in the classroom,” said Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach, Head of School at Kohelet Yeshiva.
The iPads, which students bring home at the end of each day, have meant fewer physical textbooks (though not all are available to download yet), a way for students to notetake and record homework, and have provided opportunities for learning that a traditional classroom model can’t, Weinbach said.
That includes math and science classrooms, but even the school's Hebrew studies classes have benefited, Weinbach said. On the iPad, students have access to classic sources, including the Bible, Talmud and Jewish law sources, for both reference and research. In Hebrew language classes, students have access to language dictionaries and even Hebrew apps that help teach classic grammar, Weinbach said.
In science classes like Rabbi Horn’s, the iPad means students have the chance for more hands-on learning, something ninth grader Chaviva Galapo, one of Horn's students, said she really appreciated.
“I think it makes us think more,” added Ariel Gabay, another ninth grader. “There’s so many more resources available right on the spot that you can look something up right away.”
The elements, the ionic bonds, "are so hard to visualize,” Horn said. By using the element simulator app on the iPad, “the amount of things students learn in a second—just by looking at it, by watching those atoms rotate and electrons move back and forth, by seeing that it’s not static, it’s dynamic—to play around with that is invaluable,” Horn said.
"Does it mean, necessarily, that they’re understanding everything on a deep, sophisticated level by themselves? No—that’s why we have teachers," Horn added.
The role of a teacher, he said, is to help students come to that advanced knowledge of the material: "helping students to utilize technology, and to learn from it."