“Welcome to the Cognitosphere!”

No, that’s not the Pink Floyd LP you just discovered at the bottom of your uncle’s dusty LP collection, but rather the conceptual framework that education change-maker Grant Lichtman uses to describe the world of interconnected information in which all of us, and especially our students, live. Lichtman energized the 2015 North American Jewish Day School Conference with his systems approach to understanding what we do, coupled with a liberal dose of classic progressive educational philosophy à la John Dewey. In a dynamic keynote address he shared his observations of numerous schools, some of which are transforming pedagogy to empower their students to learn and participate meaningfully in the Cognitosphere, while others fear innovation and plod along with teacher-centered, conventional schooling, alienating their students along the way.

In addition to the many interesting one-on-one conversations I had while chatting informally with school leaders from across the country, I learned a lot at the conference sessions I attended. Three quick highlights:

Vivian, who literally wrote the book on instructional rounds in teaching, pointed out that “Teaching is the only profession that still operates in isolation,” and suggested that rounds are a way for teachers to develop relationships with each other built around student learning. This is in contrast to the ‘culture of nice’ where teachers are superficially polite but don’t trust each other enough to give meaningful feedback. Marc complimented her sharing of the goals and vision of teaching rounds with a systems thinking exercise. Defining the problem as “we don’t seem to be able to consistently and continually improve teaching quality at the rate we want to,” session participants identified assumptions and beliefs behind different interpretations of what was happening and then dug deeply to uncover new ways to understand the problem. My group focused on school hiring processes, and how the articulation of a school’s vision of teaching excellence at every stage of hiring can impact teacher development over time.

The Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in downtown Philadelphia, was founded a decade ago by Chris Lehmann in partnership with The Franklin Institute. Despite the name, the school’s inquiry-driven approach is much broader than science content knowledge. Students take four core core courses in their freshman year: engineering, art, drama, and technology. These courses teach the students the foundational skills they need to participate fully in their project-based learning and contribute meaningfully to their community and the world. Touring the school was fascinating. Most significantly, I was struck by the pedagogical consistency throughout the school. It is clear that the school is driven by a powerful vision, and much thoughtful work has gone into aligning the implementation of the school mission. Hallways are plastered with documents explaining the five core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection, and every student I spoke to reflected these values when they explained not just what they were learning, but why they were doing so.

This session was one of the featured ‘Uncommon Conversation’ sessions taking place throughout the conference, but this conversation on challenging the dominant paradigms in day school education was particularly unique because it inspired honest exploration of taboo topics in Jewish day schools – such as our field-wide failures to really teach American Jews to speak Hebrew or to accommodate all learners who want a day school education. The significance of this conversation was made clear by the standing-room only crowd that piled into the conference room, even after Cannon’s warning that anyone stuck on defending the status quo was not welcome. More significant than any particular topic discussed, the real impact of this session was the networking that occurred and the conversations that will continue amongst passionate educators.

One final note – I am deeply appreciative that I was able to participate in this conference thanks to sponsorship from the DeLeT Alumni Network. Experiencing this conference alongside fellow DeLeT alum, DeLeT faculty and the many FoD’s (friends of DeLeT) created a space for teacher-leaders at this conference. I think we have much to contribute to the national conversation in our field, even if ‘teacher’ was not option to click when registering for this conference.


Opening Doors to Learning for my Students

This piece was originally posted on YUEducate, the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership blog.
diverse learners


Dr. Jared Matas, Educational Technology Teacher Leader at JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School, shares how technology can be used to help students connect to the material and engage in lessons.

As a classroom teacher, I try to use every tool at my disposal in order to best meet the needs of all my students. One such tool is digital technology. Although the lure of the shiny screens can be deceptive, and student motivation to use technology does not by itself necessarily contribute to student learning, there are a number of ways that technology can indeed open doors to learning for students.


In a recent class, my 7th grade social science students had a boisterous discussion on the loyalties of various characters from the American Revolution, debating where they lay on a spectrum between Patriot Revolutionary and supporter of the British Crown. Then one of those wonderful moments occurred when a student who rarely speaks in class shared a thought and all the other students suddenly hushed up to listen. “I know that soldier is not really a big supporter of King George,” she said. “When I was talking with him last night, he told me that he is just a soldier because his family needed the money.” An interesting anecdote that enriched the classroom conversation, yet how could a student in 2015 have a conversation with a British soldier from 1770? This was a virtual conversation took place in the role playing video game For Crown or Colony.  

By interacting with the characters in the video game, students don’t just learn content material – they are able to go deeper and make personal connections with the people, events and ideas depicted in the game. Students who have difficulty remembering details or staying engaged in conventional learning activities become deeply involved in the game and as a result come to class discussions with more to contribute.


Digital technology allows students to create engaging multi-media content to demonstrate their understanding, and can easily be shared with an authentic audience. Students take their role seriously when they know they are creating material that has a broader audience than just their teacher. For example, by using GoogleVoice and the iPad app BookCreator,  I helped first grade students create e-books of the story of Yosef, with illustrations and recordings of each student narrating the story in Hebrew. Students loved calling in to the ‘Humash Hotline’ to record the weekly passage – they would come in to school and ask their teacher if she had heard the new recordings yet. The enthusiasm in the room on the final class when they finally shared their finished work was only surpassed by the responses we received from parents and grandparents who downloaded the e-books.


Technology can also be tremendously helpful for students that have challenges keeping track of their paperwork. For all assignments, I give students a paper printout in class and then also share virtual copies using Google Drive. This means that students always have access to the course readings, on any device with Internet access. As my students work on a major paper, they use the textbook to find appropriate material to add to their notes and they can also search through the materials online. This is especially helpful for students who lose the paperwork faster than I can photocopy it. Students work on their assignments at home and in school, and seamlessly continue their work, because, as one student put it “no matter what computer I am using I can always access my paper.” This is also very helpful for me because I can keep track of student progress by accessing their rough drafts.

While these are just a few examples of how technology can help make learning more accessible to all students, it is important to keep in mind that just because most students are motivated to use technology does not mean that all technology contributes to student learning. Digital technology can offer many distractions to students. Our job as educators is to make careful and deliberate decisions about how to use technology appropriately in the classroom, and then carefully teach students how to use the technology effectively and appropriately.

Please visit Jared’s blog at https://teachplaylive.wordpress.com/

If you have a story you would like to share, please email Melanie Eisen atmelanie.eisen@yu.edu

Want to read my dissertation?

The Impact of Digital Education on Learning and Teaching

A doctoral thesis presented by
Jared Matas
The School of Education
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Education
College of Professional Studies
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts


The purpose of this study was to identify how teachers can transform teaching and learning by integrating 21st century digital technology. In this paper, teacher action research was used to investigate the impact of digital education on teaching and learning. The main research question was ‘How can teachers integrate digital technology into their teaching practice in order to transform teaching and learning?’ The study was conducted in a suburban Jewish day school in the Northeast, in the teacher-researcher’s seventh and eighth grade social science classes. In an iterative cycle of research, reflection and revision, the teacher-researcher integrated technology interventions into his teaching while also collecting data. Two surveys and one interview were conducted to triangulate the data collected from examining student work and the teacher’s reflexive journal. The findings from the study suggest: (a) student motivation can lead to deeper student engagement; (b) digital projects can represent a ‘high water mark’ of student learning; (c) the teacher’s technological-pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) is vitally important and (d) technology has tremendous potential to contribute to constructivist learning environment. Teacher choices determine whether student enthusiasm translates into deeper engagement with course content. Digital assignments that encourage deeper student learning were identified as representing a ‘high water mark’ of student learning, where the finished project captures the depth of the students’ conceptual understanding. This did not always occur and was dependent on alignment between the assignment goals, students and technology. The implications for this research are that teachers must learn to apply their emerging TPACK in order to effectively integrate technology into their teaching. Even when teaching with technology, teaching and teacher still matter.

Download available here.