A New Approach For Personalizing Learning In Jewish Day Schools

A laptop. Photo: Raimond Spekking

By Andrea Helling

San Francisco-based education technology company, AltSchool, is kicking off a nationwide search to partner with innovative Jewish day schools. Thanks to a grant from Philadelphia-based Kohelet Foundation, select day schools will have the opportunity to join the growing network of schools and districts using AltSchool’s personalized learning platform, which includes access to Judaic Studies milestones built into the technology. In addition to comprehensive training and services for teachers, schools also get the unique chance to collaborate with the Pengineers and designers to help shape the tools. Longtime Jewish day school education leader, Bryna Leider, has joined AltSchool to spearhead the initiative and support day schools in the network.

“Educators know that technology alone cannot improve learning,” said Leider, AltSchool’s Head of Partnerships for Jewish Education. “That’s why teachers using the AltSchool platform play an essential role in the design of the tools being developed to empower a learner-centric education. This marks the first time a coalition of teachers from day schools around the country will be able to work alongside Silicon Valley engineers and product designers to improve Jewish day school education broadly.”

As a public benefit corporation and a Certified B Corporation, AltSchool is one of the new for-profit companies that have a mission to create a positive impact on society and abide by high environmental and social practice standards. AltSchool’s team of educators and engineers are working together to design an operating system for education. The platform runs behind the scenes to empower real-world learning between teachers and students by helping teachers key-in on individual student needs, letting students manage day-to-day activities and long-term goals, and providing parents visibility into their children’s progress.

AltSchool first began developing the platform in its own lab schools in 2014. Today, schools and districts around the country are using the platform through AltSchool’s partner program, a growing movement of educators who are working to make personalized, student-centered learning possible for all children.

Kohelet Foundation, whose mission is to catalyze and support the transformation of Jewish day school education, will make a select number of grants available to Jewish day schools who wish to join the network for the 2018-19 school year and meet AltSchool’s criteria.

“The Kohelet Foundation’s mission is well served by the opportunity to make these grants,” commented Holly Cohen, executive director of the Kohelet Foundation. “We’re especially enthusiastic about the incorporation of the Judaic Studies milestones into the AltSchool platform. It opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of creating consistency and networks within the Jewish day school field.”

Last year, Kohelet Yeshiva Middle School and Temple Beth Shalom Innovative School— a Miami, Florida-based school—were two of the first Jewish day schools chosen to join the AltSchool partner network for its inaugural year.

“As a student-centered Yeshiva middle school focused on combining personalization and choice with high expectations across all disciplines, what we value most about our partnership with Altschool is the way in which they help us to be the best versions of ourselves,” said Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl, head of school at Kohelet Yeshiva and chief academic officer for the Kohelet Foundation. “The presence of the Judaic Studies milestones means that we can now harness the power of data to track our children’s growth not only in English, Math, Social Studies, and Science, but also in Chumash, Mishnah, Gemara, and Ivrit.”

From Torah studies to mathematics, the platform is designed flexibly to support various pedagogies and standards. New Judaic Studies milestones, designed in collaboration with the faculty of Kohelet Yeshiva Lab School, have been built into AltSchool’s platform. Schools can choose to leverage these custom Judaic studies milestones or use their own. The milestones are integrated into the tools, providing a framework for teachers to plan and assess lessons tied to the specific knowledge, skills, and habits that students must master.

“Each day, teachers might have hundreds of observations about students and their work habits, lessons and even their own teaching approaches, however it’s very hard to simply capture those moments, let alone to act on them,” said Temple Beth Shalom Innovative School’s head of school, Margie Zeskind. “Teachers on the AltSchool platform are able to document these observations in an organized and systematic way. That has enabled them to first reflect on and then turn the information into meaningful actions, which has proven to be a powerful tool in our teachers’ abilities to plan for learners both individually and as a whole class.”

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