From the Editor: AI and Tech

Elliott Rabin
AI and Tech

I recently came across my first AI artwork: “Unsupervised,” by artist Refik Anadol, exhibited at MoMA, New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The piece (viewable on YouTube), which is constantly changing and churning, producing and erasing, “uses artificial intelligence to interpret and transform more than 200 years of art at MoMA.” It possesses a strange beauty, endless energy, infinite creativity…

When you think about it, though, a raft of anxieties may bubble up to the surface. AI can “master” all of art, all of knowledge, and then use its terabytes to produce new things: besides art, stories, essays, books, conversations, genetic codes, computer coding… anything. Is what AI can produce “art”? Isn’t art the quintessential expression of our humanity? What happens to human art in the age of AI art? Is our whole understanding of human nature, human uniqueness, crumbling into zeroes and ones?

And even: Might that be a good thing? In the age of AI, are humans going to become “obsolete,” as many bemoan, or something else? Will AI enable us to be more human, or more “animal,” in some way? How will we know?

I feel a mix of excitement and horror at the prospect of this new technology. When I was a child, Frankenstein seemed merely a funny, kooky wind-up doll that could never become real. Now, AI not only threatens to take over human functions, jobs, it is already doing so and in many cases doing it better than people. And it’s just getting started. As Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson write in Power and Progress, their book about the history of technology and its economic impact, AI “will make humankind much more prosperous, healthier and able to achieve other laudable goals,” while also expanding inequalities, impoverishing billions of people, and destroying democratic institutions. “Rather than focusing on machine intelligence, it is more fruitful to strive for ‘machine usefulness,’ meaning how machines can be most useful to humans.”

As we will see, the authors in this issue keep their eye on places where AI and other tech can be most useful, where they can help our students learn, lighten teacher workload and improve school management, while exercising caution and restraint in areas where their potential danger outweighs their utility.

Not a day goes by when an article, often many, about AI does not cross my screen. Just one issue of the daily ASCD SmartBrief trawled the following articles: How AI Tools Can Aid Special Educators; How to Grade Essays in the Time of AI; Best Practices for Introducing AI Tools in Education; Planning Professional Development on ChatGPT. It’s starting to feel that AI is the only topic people want to talk about these days. While most articles assume an embrace of AI, for its vast powers or as the latest in a long list of edtech tools, some advise hitting the brakes, warning lest “we sleepwalk to a destination that we don’t want and can’t reverse back out of.”

While education seems more AI-enamored than other fields, every aspect of life and study is turning to AI. AI may help us solve problems of water distribution and consumption; it may even crack the linguistic code of whale communication. On the downside, AI provides enemy governments with the perfect vehicle for disinformation.

We originally conceived of the issue as addressing a range of new technologies, with AI as just one, the Johnny-come-lately. But very quickly it became apparent that people wanted to talk about AI far more than anything else. Among the authors of this issue, the enthusiasm to try new things, the range of experimentation and the sophistication of insight into AI bespeak the vitality and maturity of our field. Hence, most of the articles here discuss AI, while others address various additional tech platforms, their potentials and pitfalls for schools.

The first section of the issue reveals how school leaders are thinking about and setting policies regarding tech use, at different levels. Shpall and Sonnenberg discuss the reasoning they took to embrace AI and modern tech in the school. Raz and Glass describe methods for imagining the future and visualizing how school, and life, will change. Skolnick-Einhorn and Krieger explain how their schools have worked with the parent body to create tech-use policies, in and out of school, and Lebwohl presents a responsible-use document informed by student input. Kolhatkar and Piraino recount the lessons derived from the experience of leading during Covid that have endured in their work on AI.

Articles in the second section exploring the nature of AI as a game-changer. For Levy, AI has the potential to transform the nature of schooling in ways that visionaries have advised for more than a decade. Pinnolis shows how he is helping teachers to tap into AI’s potential to strengthen and ease their lesson planning and evaluation processes, and Lamm presents an approach to teacher PD in AI. Palmer uncovers ways that Israel’s National Library has developed dynamic AI tools to help students with research into history and primary texts, while Kalman reflects on the ways that AI may change the nature of Jewish sacred text study in schools. Nagy points to three different areas in which AI can “rewire” education and school management.

Our school feature, “AI in the Classroom,” showcases five schools using AI tools to advance student learning. The third section focuses on matters of tech use in education. Tierney spells out methods teachers can employ to cut down on digital distractions. Fass examines the “4 Cs of 21st century learning” through the lens of Jewish teachings. Augenbraun paints a multimedia approach to teaching today’s diverse learners, and Rothwachs offers guidance for tech limits and benefits for students with disabilities. Wolkenfeld considers Jewish precedents regarding the adoption of new tech for educative purposes.

The last section, called Caveats, contains articles that weigh more toward the side of caution in tech use. Referencing the social thinker Jonathan Haidt, Gottlieb ponders the deleterious effects of smartphones on religious belief, cohesion and trust. Porosoff maps out ways to infuse the tech classroom with values. Cohen Skulnick introduces a unit of study that succeeded in getting high school students to change their social media use. Addressing parents, Seidenfeld gives suggestions for things to look for in a school’s approach to technology. And Chomski presents a device, the paper tablet, that combines the benefits of tech and physical materials.

I hope the articles here help you to think about your approach to technology, in the classroom and beyond, and get inspired by ways that AI and other forms of technology can serve your educational vision and administrative needs.

Standing With Israel

AI and Tech

On Shmini Atzeret, October 7th, as we were celebrating the holiday and preparing to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah, our hearts were inalterably rent by news of the brutal massacre and kidnapping of so many Israelis. The weeks since have only deepened our pain and anger at the suffering inflicted. As Jews, we are doing all that we can to support Israel, Israelis, our relatives, friends, those we know and others who are part of our larger family, the House of Israel. At such a time, it is difficult to focus on anything else.

Jewish day schools are where we teach our future leaders to love Israel, to advocate for justice, to carry on our beautiful Jewish traditions, and to give tzedakah to causes aligned with our Jewish values. Just as we who live in the Diaspora need Israel as an endless source of meaning, attachment and spiritual sustenance, Israel needs Diaspora Jews to support her on every conceivable level. By strengthening our schools, we are ensuring that Israel will remain vibrant for generations to come.

Moreover, day schools are one of the few places where students and staff alike can be unapologetically Jewish, unapologetically Zionist. This foundation of pride and freedom is so needed to ensure that they are prepared to go out into a world where everything they’ve learned will be challenged.

Even as the war continues, students in Israel are returning to their classrooms while schools and teachers balance the education of Israeli schoolchildren with the needs of soldiers, families and society. Likewise, as our schools are holding in balance our attention to Israel and the education of our students, so too we are placing Israel here at the center, even as we release the latest edition of HaYidion, the Prizmah Journal. 

This issue embodies the values that we assert in the face of those who would deny our very existence. They showcase what we love and work for every day: reflection on contemporary matters in the light of Jewish sacred texts; creative adaptation to new ideas, methods and technologies; a drive for improvement, learning and growth, and the spark of connection between teacher and student where genuine education arises.

Am Yisrael chai.

Data-Driven Decision Making: Three Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Strategy

Odelia Epstein
AI and Tech

At Prizmah, we believe that data and analysis has an important role to play in a leader’s decision-making and strategy. This article presents three ways school leaders can utilize data to elevate both their strategy and practice.

1. Utilize comparative school data. Comparing your school’s financial and operational metrics to schools with similar profiles is a fundamental step in improving your schools financial health and educational excellence. By gaining insights into where your schools compensation ranks in the marketplace, you can make informed decisions that impact staff recruitment and retention. Looking at the percentage of net tuition collected at comparable schools can help you and your board make better decisions about financial aid and the impact of non-tuition revenue.

Free tools like Data and Analysis for School Leadership (DASL) is a great place to start accessing this information. DASL will allow you to compare your school’s metrics to local, regional and national schools or a comparison group that you choose. More than 120 Jewish day schools and yeshivas now participate in DASL for their data collection and analysis of the day school market.

2. Look at economic trends. Economic fluctuations can significantly influence your school’s financial stability. Proper-long term financial planning necessitates an understanding of the implications of economic trends, such as how inflation in 2021-2022 affected your school’s overall purchasing power. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2023-2025 projection (in the US) and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (in Canada), in the coming years interest rates will remain high, gross domestic product growth will be slow and unemployment is projected to go up slightly. This means the economy will not be getting better in the near future.

Here are ways you can use this data to impact your planning. Ask yourself, how do these economic trends impact our current and prospective families? What financial impact might higher interest rates two or three years from now have on your families? How will sustained inflation impact salaries and your school’s purchasing power?

How will fluctuations in stock market values impact philanthropic support for your school? How do they impact your school's day-to-day operations, the launch of new programs or planned facility investments? Equally, it's crucial to assess how these trends impact your financial-aid budget, ensuring its alignment with the evolving economic landscape.

3. Understand general and Jewish population trends. A deeper study of your community’s demographics can have real implications for your school, over both the short and longer term. The decline in U.S. and Canadian birth rates over the last decade, coupled with a decreasing fertility rate, presents both challenges and opportunities for all private schools.

The number of births in the US has been dropping precipitously, from 4.32 million births in 2007 to 3.66 million in 2021. The total fertility rate in the US has also been decreasing, from 2.12 births per woman in 2007 to 1.66 in 2021. Canada has been experiencing similar trends; in 2021, Canada had a fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman.

The Jewish community’s birthrates look slightly different, according to Pew’s most recent data on Jewish birth rates. In the Orthodox community, the average number of children born per adult is 3.3. For Reform Jews, it’s 1.4; for Conservative Jews, 1.8.

Another important trend to watch: The National Center for Education Statistics is projecting a significant dip in enrollment for first grade in 2027 and 2028 due to the drop in births during the pandemic. If you lead an elementary school, how might knowing that you may have a lower enrollment for those years affect your plans? Should you project a smaller class size for that age cohort in your budget?

That age cohort will continue to high school in 2035. What would a significantly smaller age cohort mean for your high school? How might your strategy and budgeting take these variables into account? How might your admission and development team work together to plan and strategize for a potential decrease in enrollment or funding?

As people have fewer children in general, school leaders should anticipate how this demographic shift will influence your recruitment efforts and the composition of your student body. If this continues, it will mean there will be fewer children in our general population and fewer school-age children than in previous generations. Knowing that people are having less children in general, how might you shift your recruitment strategy to ensure a steady or growing enrollment?

As stewards of our educational institutions, school leaders bear primary responsibility for charting a path toward success in an ever-changing environment. Through the embrace of benchmarking data, economic and population trends and demographic shifts, school leaders will be better able to steer their schools toward greater financial health, improved academic excellence and long-term financial sustainability. Successful implementation of these strategies may serve not only to elevate your schools overall strategy but to strengthen its ability to adapt and thrive amidst the constant evolution of the educational terrain.

On My Nightstand: Fall 2023

Chance Lattasima
Barb Gelb
Cheryl Maayan
Elliott Rabin
AI and Tech
The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
book cover

Linus Baker, a certified rule follower and caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, has been tasked to visit an island orphanage to determine whether six magical children pose a danger to the world. According to upper management, the children are the most dangerous, and it is up to Linus to assess whether the orphanage should be shut down. Once he arrives on the island, he meets the six children — a gnome, a wyvern, a blob, the devil’s son, a boy who turns into a Pomeranian, and a sprite. He also meets the odd master of the orphanage, Arthur Parnassus. Linus studies their “dangerous” behaviors and interactions and submits his weekly report to upper management.

Despite not wanting to get too attached, Linus begins to develop a fondness towards Arthur and the children. He begins to question his role in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth and how his actions could ultimately tear this family apart. He witnesses the hate and vitriol towards the children from people on the mainland, and he sees the unconditional love that Arthur provides to these children. This opens up his heart in unimaginable ways as he navigates what it means to truly belong.

Having lost my love for reading fantasy fiction in adulthood, I had low expectations for this book when it was recommended. However, I was struck by how much it meant to me. Wholesome, heartwarming, and hilariously witty, The House in the Cerulean Sea is a beautiful story about love, family, tolerance, and celebrating our differences.

Review by Chance Lattasima

The Love Prescription, by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman
book cover

About a year ago, I was listening to Brene Brown’s podcast interview with these world’s leading relationship scientists. I was fascinated by their playful yet scientific conversation about the little things that lead to more intimacy, joy and connection, and I picked up the book to see whether there might be areas of growth for me and my beloved.

The book is meant to be read in seven days, with a new habit to introduce into your relationship each day. The theory behind each actionable item is backed by years of scientific data from the Gottmans’ “Love Lab,” but the habits are simple and easy to immediately incorporate. One of the steps, “making contact,” includes asking questions like “What do you need from me today?” and turning toward your spouse to listen to the answer. Another step is simply saying “Thank you” and being specific, and meaning it. Other steps include non-negotiable date nights, touch and asking big questions.

Although I believe my husband and I have a strong marriage, I found that incorporating these habits with intention led to more time really listening and paying attention to each other. The program reminded us that with all the different roles and responsibilities we have, our relationship is the most important thing to both of us. I also believe some of the steps are useful in relationships with our adult children and other loved ones. This book is fantastic for anyone who wants to take their relationships to a higher level.

Review by Barb Gelb

Teams that Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness, by Scott Tannenebaum and Eduardo Salas
book cover

As day school leaders, we are involved in many teams, leading some and participating in others. From early morning to late at night, we are constantly navigating the human dynamics of teamwork, and all of us have experienced that some teams are more successful than others. Tannenbaum and Salas give us a lens through which to zoom in on various aspects of those teams, reflect on them and move forward strategically for better success.

 The authors call our attention to the most important drivers that lead to productivity and efficacy of all kinds of teams, and expose myths about what leads to great teamwork. They do an excellent job of taking the enormous body of research on teamwork and making it accessible to a wide audience. 

The Day School Leadership Training Institute fellows are reading Teams that Work this fall, and the Prizmah staff joined the journey, engaging in a book discussion as part of our professional development. This book is on our nightstands, and I highly recommend that you add it to yours.

Review by Cheryl Maayan

Jews Don’t Count, by David Baddiel
book cover

When I visit places on vacation, domestic or abroad, I always make a point of stopping in a bookstore or two to bring back books that help me understand the place better. Often, I’ll also look for books about the local Jewish community, when relevant. Many years ago, on a tour around Ireland, I could not resist purchasing an obscure, charming collection of short stories titled Who Ever Heard of an Irish Jew?

Last year, on a trip to England, I came across this book with a loud cover shouting at me. As someone who loves reading anything about Jews and Judaism apart from antisemitism, I resisted this one, strolled around the rest of the bookstore, picked up some other choice reads... but came back to it. Perhaps it was all the impressive people lauding it on the front cover: historian Simon Schama, actor Stephen Fry, comedian Sarah Silverman, screenwriter Neil Gaiman, etc. As depressing as the subject is, the book promised to open a window onto life for Jews in England today.

I managed to avoid it until now, but October 7 and its aftermath led me back to it. The author is well known as a comedian, playwright and writer in England, someone who is open about his Jewish identity and makes it central to his material. His Judaism is quirky—atheist, though wore a kippah in his Jewish elementary school; Saturdays are for soccer games—but the only word on his Twitter account is, provocatively, “Jew.”

Written in a breezy and incisive style, the book recounts various ways that “Jews don't count,” that antisemitism is downplayed, overlooked or excused compared to other forms of hatred or oppression. Baddiel focuses mostly on the British left—a group with whom he largely identifies—but glances at the right as well, and comments on events in the US. Antisemitism is often ignored because Jews are considered “white,” “privileged,” “rich” and therefore don’t fall under the categories of oppression that are prized by the left. His examples, many taken from Twitter, are drawn from politics, entertainment, sports—the notorious association of certain soccer clubs in England and elsewhere with local Jewish communities leading to vicious antisemitic slogans and curses. 

Although he doesn't focus on Israel particularly, we have seen all too clearly how easily antisemitism has morphed into anti-Zionism and become one and the same. Alas, the oldest hatred has returned with a vengeance and must be opposed wherever it surfaces.

From the Board Chair: God, Jewish Day Schools and AI

Lisa Coll
AI and Tech

The famous computer scientist Alan Perlis once said, “A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God.” 

Technology has become one our greatest blessings, but it can also be a curse. It allows us to connect and work in new ways; Zoom facilitates teaching and learning even when students physically can’t be in school. Social media enables family and friends to stay in touch despite distance. 

Yet technology can also have a dark side. It can give a platform to hatred, and can allow horrible realities to reach us wherever we may be, without warning, as we witnessed all too terribly in the days after October 7th.

As parents and educators, it is our responsibility to make sure our children learn the power of these tools, and to use them wisely. They need to learn not only how to use applications like ChatGPT, but when and why. The task of teaching this is even more difficult as it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of technological change. 

Adults may try in earnest to monitor the online presence of their tweens and teens, but this can be difficult as the kids tend to be at least five steps ahead of us in adapting the latest technology. Social pressures may lead them to participate in unsafe behavior while creating accounts that elude parental supervision. 

Jewish day schools are in the unique position to have a beautiful framework through which to teach about technology. Like any other subject, we have the foundation of strong Jewish values to direct this pedagogy. As articles in this issue reveal, our educators draw upon the incredibly rich wisdom and sensitivities of our tradition as they approach AI and other technology with creativity, intelligence and exuberance.

I recently had the opportunity to watch as over 350 Jewish day school educators from the Boston area participated in a shared professional development day focused on the use of AI in K-8 education. It was a joy to see educators from many different schools come together to learn and share how best to employ AI both in and out of the classroom setting, as a tool for both teachers and students. The overarching theme of most discussions was counterintuitive—that the most important input for the effective use of technology is our basic humanity.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our educators and lay leaders as they help our students navigate new issues and new technology through the ancient lens of Jewish wisdom. May you go from strength to strength. Anyone who has spent time in our schools knows that Alan Perlis’ quote should be paraphrased: “An hour spent in a Jewish day school is enough to make one believe in God."

From the CEO: Using Tech with Kavvanah

Paul Bernstein
AI and Tech

As an organization that includes the word “network” in our tagline, Prizmah has an identity that is inextricable from technology. Technology makes so much of what we do possible, and we also know, perhaps now more than ever before, that technology always starts with a choice. “Turning on” a power button or checking a screen is the essentially human act that makes technology possible. Without the human touch, technology is bytes and pixels.

During the first days of the horrors of the Hamas attack on Israel in October, we felt both the power of technology and the driving need for human agency in determining how to access all our screens and when to restrain ourselves. Images were too much, our minds were overloaded, and we knew we needed to make deliberate choices about and anticipate what to see, what to share and what not to. As educators and parents, many of us also had to make those choices for children or to facilitate conversations with teens so that they could in fact make their own choices. 

Educators have always known that any educational tool—and technology such as artificial intelligence is just one example--starts with a choice. Even the most instinctive teachers make conscious decisions to employ a particular approach with a class or with an individual student. The first step is always to ask about the goal, the intention, and then to choose the appropriate tool.

In Hebrew the word for intention, kavvanah, shares a root with kivvun, direction. When we talk about bringing kavvanah into our prayers, we mean that we want to be conscious in how we focus on our words. As we position our bodies towards Jerusalem at davening times, we also direct our minds to a specific, intentional orientation. “Having kavvanah” can mean having a proper mindset for prayer, and it can also mean having faith that the choices one makes are heading in the right direction.

Prizmah is blessed to engage technology to meet many of our goals. We collect and share data, we create connections throughout a diverse field, we open pathways and networks for learning across distances, we communicate about opportunities and resources, we promote the value of Jewish day school, all using social media and cutting-edge strategies to achieve our decidedly non-techie goal of strengthening Jewish day schools for a strong Jewish future. Our kavvanah is for sustainable schools that enrich their communities and prepare their students for vibrant Jewish life. 

Living in the Age of Innovation, these goals can appear to compete with so many other priorities. Our attention is drawn and divided in so many directions. Technological advances keep accelerating and push us to reexamine our priorities and the ways we connect to each other. 

At Prizmah, we see this push as a reminder to check in on the kavvanah, on the intention and on our core goal. Whenever technology can help us towards that goal, we engage deeply and invest heavily. Knowing that the first step is always the human touch to “turn on,” we remain committed to empowering those who lead and teach in our schools to access technology with a full intention.

AI in the Classroom

AI and Tech

Connecting to Ancestors with AI

Michael Voskoboynik, Technology Coordinator, Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis

Connecting to Ancestors with AI

Our students regularly speak with their ancestors as well as long-gone heroes of Jewish history. At the Hasten Hebrew Academy, we embrace AI as a tool that connects students to their history while making humanities and Jewish history exciting.

For the past three years, our students and their families have worked collaboratively with Israeli peers in a program of the ANU – Museum of the Jewish People to bridge the gap between grandparents and their grandchildren. Students from both schools learn about their family origins by interviewing their family members and researching family artifacts.

An important part of this work is the use of the latest creative technology tools to make the final product interactive and engaging. Students created videos with Flip, traced their family origin with Google Earth, and depicted their family stories in VR with CoSpaces and But when the “revolutionized” AI came along last year, they were able to add a cutting-edge dimension to this project.

Students found old family photos, often with parent and grandparent assistance, and used AI to enhance and colorize them and even add AI-generated backgrounds, making their great-grandparents feel more familiar and approachable.

These photos were then imported into MyHeritage AI Deep Story and Character AI, allowing students to speak to their ancestors! In order to make this work, students spoke with family members and researched to create detailed profiles of the individuals in the photos. This process helped strengthen generational family bonds as well as reinforcing the history the students are learning at school. Next, students needed to research the times during which their family members lived. This extensive information was then used to write scripts that their ancestors could access to answer modern-day questions. Students in essence brought their ancestors back to life, albeit virtually.

The AI tools helped students make this project a reality, but they also helped integrate knowledge and study skills from humanities, Judaic studies, music and so many other subjects. Students needed to use critical thinking to determine what information their ancestor would need to possess to be able to answer questions fully and seemingly independently. Presentation skills were of vital importance in the planning of the “interview” with their ancestor and then in explaining it to classmates, teachers, Israeli counterparts and attendees at the ISTE conference last summer.

This project provides students with meaningful connections with their families and those of their classmates and Israeli peers. While these presentations may take place over Zoom with the school in Israel, local parents join the students in their classroom, helping to explain family heirlooms and adding to what the students present. Their own family history is seen in light of everything they have learned in their other classes, and history becomes more personal and visceral.

Aligning AI with Our Educational Goals

Dr. Rachel Harari, Co-Head of the Elementary School, The SAM School, Manhattan


As an English language arts educator for the past 15 years, I have been forced to reconsider my goals for the classroom now that my students have access to AI, this powerful new tool. Here, I explore two critical goals for educators to consider when incorporating AI into their instruction.


Goal #1: Teaching Source Evaluation and Bias Detection

Rationale & Purpose

Information is spread so quickly today through social media and other outlets. Students need to discern reliable sources from those that are misleading or biased. AI can be a useful tool for illustrating the importance of source verification and the dangers of misinformation.


Lesson Activities
  • Use AI to generate reports on topics being studied in class, intentionally including subtle biases and bogus sources.
  • Distribute these reports to students and have them work in pairs to identify information that appears biased or suspicious.
  • Facilitate group discussions to explore the information students found questionable. Encourage them to question the credibility of sources and the potential consequences of relying on such information.
  • Instruct students to return to their pairs and verify the sources cited in the AI-generated reports. What do they learn?
  • Teach students to identify common “red flags” in online content, such as sweeping generalizations or surprising statistics. Then engage in a discussion about the real-world implications of misinformation.


Goal #2: Emphasizing the Writing Process and Ethical Considerations

Rationale & Purpose

I like to tell my students that nothing they read was ever published or accepted in its first draft. When we value the writing process over the final product, we mitigate a lot of the challenges AI presents by ensuring students value the development of their ideas and the ethical sourcing of information.


Lesson Activities
  • Building upon the previous lessons, challenge students to edit and revise the AI-generated articles to eliminate bias and include accurate, neutral information.
  • Assign each student or pair a target audience (a child, teenager, parent) and have them work with AI to create articles tailored to that audience.
  • Encourage students to identify weaknesses in the AI-generated articles. Have them critique citations and assess whether new biases have emerged.
  • Facilitate important and powerful discussions on ethics. If these articles were to be used, when and/or how do we cite AI? What are the newest policies across the country? When should it be allowed? Educators can include students in the conversation to create a school policy together.

Incorporating AI into the classroom is an opportunity to rethink our goals and how we can equip students with critical digital literacy skills, reinforcing the value of the writing process and ethics.

Putting the AI in JudAIsm

Dr. Lee-Ron Kaye, Head of School, Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto (AHS)

Putting the AI in JudAIsm

I am a strong proponent of STEAM education and believe that it is enhanced to its fullest potential when infused with Judaic content. STEAM is an educational philosophy that values contextualized and relevant projects empowering students to develop many academic and 21st century skills. These skills are timeless and transferable to any context or application, like communication, collaboration, time management, problem-solving, creativity and self-evaluation.

STEAM learning can be used as a springboard to engage with Jewish concepts. When STEAM first emerged on the landscape, it was referred to as STEM. The “A” was later added to incorporate Arts, and in the way we have adopted it into our curriculum, I propose calling it “STREAM,” the R in reference to religion. STREAM education is the means through which we innovate tradition and traditionalize innovation; these learning opportunities allow our students to connect with their Jewish roots and heritage in relevant and meaningful ways. STREAM learning allows us to bring Judaic concepts into the 21st century. 

When thinking about what lies ahead on the STREAM horizon, it is clear that advancements in AI will have a strong impact. With platforms capable of producing comprehensive texts with just a few keystrokes, many educators are wary of the challenge this presents for assessment. I look at this not as a challenge, and instead as an opportunity. We are presented with the opportunity to teach students about integrity and to leverage these tools in a transparent and effective manner to serve their needs, goals and interests. Another opportunity we have is to traditionalize this innovation by putting the “AI” in Judaism; we can creatively consider how to leverage these technologies to support the Jewish community and create a bright Jewish future. 

This is an inquiry I engaged in with participants in a Wexner Fellowship Institute, and our teachers during a professional development session. Participants were challenged to come up with a concept for a new AI app that makes Judaism more accessible, strengthening individuals’ connections with Judaism or Jewish people’s connections with each other. Examples that groups came up with included an app that scans the local grocery stores for the best deal on kosher ingredients, and then uses this data to compile a grocery list and create recipes for a Shabbat or holiday menu based on preferences and parameters the user could set. Another idea was for an app that cross-references the contacts in an individual’s social media networks with obituaries to provide people with timely updates about losses in their community. 

We look forward to launching this STREAM challenge as a cross-curricular, project-based learning opportunity for our middle school students, and incorporating lessons on how to code and program an app. Whatever the outcome, the purpose of this challenge is to encourage participants to adopt a future-focused mindset, exercise their creativity and embrace innovation while remaining anchored by core Jewish values.

Why ChatGPT Is Not a Golem

Phreddy Nosanwisch, Teacher, Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit


Though 400 years old, the story feels like it could have been written today: the spread of rumor, “fake news” and misinformation rouse a mob to attack a vulnerable minority whose only hope for survival is the closeness of their community and a bit of novel technology—in this case a golem, a clay giant brought to life by the Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague.

I teach a unit on H. Leivick’s Yiddish dramatic poem, The Golem, as part of our seventh grade class on Jewish literature and mysticism. We begin the unit by defining and identifying sentience, and then asking whether deep-language learning AI models (computer programs that can “talk” to/with humans) can be considered sentient. These discussions serve as the basis of our inquiry about and empathy for the play’s tragic hero, Yosef, the golem.

Although I planned this unit before the 2022-23 school year started, the month or so that we spent studying the text strangely coincided with inflammatory tweets by Ye and Kyrie Irving, and the release of ChatGPT 3. Each day as we read aloud around the table, there were more and more moments for us to connect situations in the story with the events in the news. Even more importantly, The Golem enabled the students to unpack how they felt about those news stories as young people and as Jews.

As I was pondering how to conclude our study of the play and build a container for all the diverse and nuanced opinions and feelings that arose as a result, my partner wryly challenged me: “The only way to finish this thing is to make a golem.”

So I took her advice and typed into ChatGPT: “Write a play based on H. Leivick’s The Golem about a digital golem designed to protect the Jews from antisemitism online.” What it produced was truly remarkable. Written in three short acts, it told the story of an algorithm that erased anti-Semitic hate speech anywhere it popped up online but soon ran afoul of free speech advocates. It concluded with the programmers pledging to find a middle road, where different groups collaborated to take down hate speech and educate about the dangers of hate rather than relying on a nonhuman algorithm.

The next day in class, I invited the students to write a prompt of their own and watch ChatGPT compose a second version. In this version, the “golem” was really a group of friends who banded together to engage trolls directly and help change their hearts and minds about their hateful beliefs. It was a beautiful, heart-warming story but it made glaringly obvious the one thing ChatGPT didn’t seem to know: what makes being Jewish so magical.

Neither story did or could say that fluffy challah eaten by candlelight is what makes it special, or singing ancient words set to new melodies surrounded by friends is what makes it special, or debating Israeli politics with your opinionated cousin, or making chamin, because each of those feelings/memories/experiences/delights is unique to me or you.

And I’m glad that ChatGPT didn’t try to write that in; trying to make a blanket statement about what is magical for all Jews is its own form of stereotyping.

In the play, what makes Yosef such a complicated figure is that despite the singular purpose for which he was created, he has feelings and desires of his own. He is sentient because he is particular. And ChatGPT isn’t. ChatGPT’s power is that it collects and synthesizes so much information that it can’t completely be idiosyncratic or passionate, sentient or particular. 

And so the students took the material that ChatGPT generated and brought it to life with their idiosyncrasies, their passions and their particularities. They each edited one of the plays, allowing them to talk directly to Kyrie Irving (whom they admire) and share their lives and hearts with him, and to tell internet trolls and each other what being Jewish means to them.

Bringing Text to Life

Shterny Dadon, College Head of Jewish Life (ELC- 12), Masada College, Sydney, Australia 



Tech is in my family’s DNA. My zaidy was forever glued to his video camera. My paternal grandfather purchased one of the first refrigerators in Jerusalem, and my dad’s preschool even had a field trip to witness this miraculous invention.

Me? In ninth grade I had internet access before anyone else. I even convinced my computer teacher to take my class on an adventure to my house to witness the modem’s magical dial-up connection. I was also the first one in my class to have a cellphone, but there was just one problem: I had no one to call!

As an educator with more than two decades of experience, I’ve always been an advocate for integrating new technologies into the classroom. Recently, I discovered an AI tool called ChatGPT that had been making waves across various fields. Intrigued by its potential, I embarked on an experiment to see how AI and design thinking principles could revolutionise my lesson planning.

My goal was to motivate and encourage the students to peel back the layers of interpretation, delve into the intricacies of characters, moral dilemmas and societal dynamics within various texts from the Tanakh. My ultimate goal was to leverage AI to deepen students’ connection to the text-based study of the Tanakh and to enable the biblical characters and themes to resonate in the context of the 21st century.

The class began by encouraging the students to approach the text with empathy, aiming to understand the characters’ perspectives and experiences. As they analysed the text, verse by verse, in both Hebrew and English, they recorded their observations on sticky notes, generating a wide range of ideas and questions. These notes were then organised into clusters based on similarity, forming the five overarching themes.

Students were then divided into groups, each assigned a theme to explore. This included delving into a central question, researching modern-day quotes, finding connections in other Tanakh passages, and formulating additional questions for exploration. The results were presented to the class, fostering collaborative learning, creative and critical thinking skills.

I utilised AI to assist in summarising the text, extracting and categorising the five key themes from a selected portion of text and formulating one discussion question for each theme. AI didn’t replace traditional text-based learning; rather, it served as a powerful tool to spark curiosity and appreciation for the richness and relevance of biblical texts.

In an era where students grapple with profound questions of identity, the significance of Judaism, and the study of ancient texts in a rapidly changing world, continuous innovation is paramount. AI can also help bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and modern understanding, unlocking the treasure trove of knowledge within texts like the Tanakh. In turn, this experience cultivates student curiosity and engagement, fostering an immersive classroom learning experience.

As we journey into the future of educational technology, let’s remember that it’s not about the tool itself, but how we use it to augment our teaching and harness it as a valuable resource.

Setting Norms: It Takes a Community

Yael Krieger
AI and Tech

In September of 2011, I started working at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. For the next decade, I watched at the front lines the impact of the Smartphone, selfies and social media apps on high school students. I saw firsthand the ways social interactions shifted, sleep hours decreased and anxiety increased. The research and data that began to emerge around the risks and addiction connected to teenage social media and smartphone use confirmed my own anecdotal observations. 

One day, in an admissions conversation, an incoming ninth grade parent said to me, “My child is addicted to her smartphone. What are you going to do about that? How are you going to help her?” It was at this moment that I realized how helpless parents were feeling, and how deeply they needed support and education. I started thinking about these issues as a communal challenge and part of an ecosystem that required a collaborative effort.

The digital landscape blurs geographic and physical boundaries of community, and this complexifies the question of where a school can or should exercise its jurisdiction. Covid really concretized how certain behaviors of individuals outside of the school walls can impact the community as a whole. So too with technology: One kid’s exposure impacts others. The communal impact requires us to establish an expectation around family practices. While different families will approach this issue in different ways, we still must take seriously our responsibility to the school community to educate and empower families to make informed decisions. Having shared language, communal learning and a community norm better facilitates this collaboration.


Meeting New Challenges

Moving into a leadership position at Oakland Hebrew Day School, a BK-8 Modern Orthodox school in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was excited to see all the ways OHDS had already been thinking about and taking these issues seriously. Even in the middle school, students were not allowed to have cellphones or smart watches out during the school day, and device use was only permitted for class specific instruction and with direct adult supervision. Starting in second grade, the health and wellness curriculum included digital citizenship components, and the school had run several adult education programs around parenting kids and technology. 

Unfortunately, the world we had created within our building was not immune to the impact of student access to social media and smartphones outside our walls. In just one year, we navigated seventh graders quoting content creators who espouse violent and misogynist worldviews, third graders who happened upon a pornography site during a playdate, and internet bullying. We began to increase our correspondence and conversations with parents to make them more aware of the digital landscape. 

In one conversation with a parent, they said, “Given what's out there, I believe concerns about tznius (modesty) and middot (values) are far more important in the context of social media than they are in a school dress code or even classroom behavior.” This statement catalyzed our administration to really reflect on the behaviors, both in school and out of school, that we expect of our families. We felt that the responsibility of the school to be making clear, research-based recommendations around social media and device use was our responsibility.


Working with Parents

Our journey to bringing the conversation of communal norms around technology use has been rooted in conversations with parents. The families are, after all, what make up the community, and the process of developing our Technology Position Statement would be meaningless without buy-in from the school community. 

Our first step was an in-person meeting with a small group of parents who were either technology professionals, mental health providers, or our local Modern Orthodox rabbis. Through this initial meeting, we drafted an initial version of our statement, which I then shared with a focus group of another cross-grade group of parents from across the school community. I requested feedback focused on the following questions:

  • Does this read as supportive and in partnership with families?
  • Does this feel like something you’d be able to get behind and support?
  • Are there frustrations or concerns that emerge for you while reading this?
  • Are these things missing that should be included?
  • Are there things that should be excluded?

Parents expressed appreciation at having been brought into this process. The feedback we received helped us clarify our language, better communicating a commitment to partnership with families and fostering a stronger sense of accountability to the community. After another revision of the position statement, we shared the draft with the entire parent community and elicited more feedback. Much of our parent feedback brought to light requests for more research links and the need for parental support in learning how to better educate our children around their technology use.


Making A Statement

Our Position Statement begins from a place of partnership: “Oakland Hebrew Day School believes in partnering with parents in the task of building a healthy support structure for our OHDS student community around technology use.” Most importantly, it is explicit that the goal of making this statement is “to empower parents to work together and to support each other in adhering to research-based practices that support the health and wellbeing not only of our individual children, but of our community as a whole.” And finally, we explain why it is our place to make such a statement: “Our job…as a school community, is to acknowledge the challenges and provide as many tools and education as possible in order that families can make informed and empowered decisions. We view this document as a guide with the hope that we can start to steward members of our community towards best practices.”

Before articulating the “Best-Practices Recommendations,” we state the school’s own commitment to staying up to date on the research to support students with their technology use in healthy and safe ways and to facilitate regular parent education on these topics to better facilitate open and honest conversations among the parent community. In this way, families understand that this is rooted in partnership that requires ongoing efforts from both families and the school. 

Here are the five best practices in our family handbook that we have asked parents to strive towards:

  1. Families will do their best to delay giving their children smartphones, and abide by a minimum age threshold of the sixth grade (11-12 years old). 
  2. Parents will become digital mentors who help their children learn how to navigate meaningful online interactions and develop “family media plans.”
  3. Parents will have active oversight over their children’s online activities, enacting parental controls and boundaries.
  4. Families will adhere to recommended age requirements for the existing social media platforms that you allow children to use.
  5. Families will be communicating their own needs and ask questions about what might be allowed at someone else’s house during a playdate.

Through our feedback processes, we confirmed that our statement reflects a strong expression of the community. With the ever-changing landscape of technology’s role in our lives, we anticipate this document being a living covenant, responding to both the needs of the community and the changes that technology brings. Most important, this statement will serve as an anchor and catalyst for communal conversations and learning.

Values-Based Relationships with Devices

Lauren Porosoff
AI and Tech

Students encounter rules about where, when and how they should use devices, but they don’t always learn how to assess and regulate their usage based on what’s important to them. As educators, we can help students discover how using a device can align with their values.

Psychologists who practice contextual behavioral science define values as “freely chosen, verbally constructed consequences of ongoing, dynamic, evolving patterns of activity, which establish predominant reinforcers for that activity that are intrinsic in engagement in the valued behavioral pattern itself” (Wilson and DuFrene, Mindfulness for Two). In breaking down this definition, we gain insights into what values entail and how educators can help students develop values-based relationships with their devices.


Values as Qualities of Action

Verbally constructed means values don’t have a physical form; they’re qualities of action we need words to describe. For example, chein, chesed and rachamim are not physical things or actions but rather qualities we can bring to our actions in various contexts, including device usage. With this understanding of values, we can help students identify the qualities they want to live by and explore how their devices both facilitate and obstruct the expression of those values.

One of the activities (available here) in my book, EMPOWER Moves for Social-Emotional Learning, has students reflect on how their devices both help and hinder them in enacting their values. First, students select three qualities of action that hold personal significance to them. While the book provides a list of common values, in a Jewish school, this list could be adapted to include values drawn from Judaic texts in Hebrew.

Next, students list ways their devices both help them and impede them in acting upon each value. For instance, a student who values rachamim might say her phone allows her to send supportive text to a friend who’s having a rough time, and that her social media accounts give a false impression of her friends’ inner lives. Encouraging students to list several different ways their devices affect them gives them flexibility and choice in how they enact their values and makes them less likely to rationalize any one behavior.


Values as an Exercise of Free Will

Freely chosen means we each decide whether, when, where and how we express a particular quality though our actions. Even as Jewish schools impart certain values such as kavannah, tzedakah, kehillah, shalom and tikkun olam, each student ultimately defines their values and determines how they’ll act upon those values—in and beyond school, in physical and virtual spaces, now and in the future.

After students have explored the ways their devices both help and hinder them in enacting their values, we invite them to share anything they notice. Almost always, whatever they notice connects to the fact that they have a choice.

For instance, they might realize their Nintendo Switch distracts them from upholding their values, or that Instagram constantly challenges their values. Recognizing these patterns helps students acknowledge that their actions are driven by choices they make, whether it involves spending a certain amount of time playing video games or using social media in a particular manner. This awareness empowers them: If they can choose how they currently use their devices, then they can make different, more values-consistent choices going forward.

As a last step of the activity, each student thinks of a single specific action they can take so their device better supports them in living by their values—or at least interferes less with them. Examples might include setting a timer so they spend more time making art than on a gaming console, or pausing before commenting on TikTok to consider a kinder response. The objective isn’t to compel students to act but rather to raise their awareness of their ability to choose to live by their values.


Values and Fulfillment

Intrinsic in engagement in the valued behavioral pattern itself means values-oriented actions feel fulfilling in and of themselves, unlike outcome-oriented actions, which only feel fulfilling if and when we get the outcome we’re after. Consider studying for a test: a student who studies solely to attain a particular score will only experience fulfillment upon achieving that score. However, a student who studies because it’s part of being a curious person and a thoughtful learner will find the act of studying fulfilling in and of itself—even if she’s disappointed by her test score.

One way that students can develop their values is to act upon a certain value and notice how fulfilling the action is. That’s why it’s essential to follow up with students to ask whether they took the actions they identified. If a student says they did, for example, post kind comments on TikTok or spend more time making art than playing video games, we can ask how that experience went for them. These conversations give students a chance to describe feelings of discomfort that sometimes accompany values-based actions and to amplify feelings of satisfaction and vitality inherent in aligning their actions with their values. We can also ask what value they were pursuing, just so they have a chance to repeat their values out loud and thus make them more present.

If a student says they didn’t take their intended action, we can ask what got in the way. Were they unable to think of a kind comment that felt genuine? Did they not have the supplies they needed to work on their comic? Did they try FaceTiming grandma, but she didn’t pick up? Did they search for fitness apps but couldn’t find a decent free one? If the barriers are external, the class might help the student find a creative workaround or suggest a different, more accessible action.

However, most barriers are internal: when it comes time to keep the commitment, the student feels uncomfortable. Maybe the student could think of kind things to say on TikTok but felt awkward actually saying them. Maybe the student didn’t FaceTime his grandmother because he felt tired as he imagined the conversation. Any expression of a difficult emotion such as nervousness, embarrassment or frustration is a great opportunity for us to thank the student for their willingness to share, empathize with their struggles, help them name the emotions they experienced, and ask them if feeling those emotions is worthwhile.


Values and Discomfort

Establish predominant reinforcers for that activity means we act in accordance with our values because the action is important to us, even if it’s sometimes difficult or painful. Another activity in my book, Fun and Important Graphing, has students identify actions that are (1) both fun and important, (2) fun but otherwise pointless, (3) important yet painful, and (4) both painful and pointless. While the activity works for any type of action, students can use it to assess things they typically do on their devices.

Try it yourself: Make a list of things you typically do on your devices. Each item on your list should begin with a verb that expresses your action—such as check email, write unit plans or shop online. Now, make a graph with the vertical axis labeled fun and painful and the horizontal axis labeled pointless and important. Place each item from your list in the relevant quadrant. What patterns or insights emerge?

For an action you said is both fun and important, how might you find more opportunities to do this on and off your device? For an action you said is important yet painful, what makes this activity worthwhile? For an action you said is fun but otherwise pointless, how can you make sure you fully enjoy this activity without using it to avoid doing things you find important? For an action you said is both painful and pointless, what system or strategy might help you do this less? Questions like these can help students notice how values-based actions aren’t always fun but ultimately feel meaningful and fulfilling.


Values Development Over Time

Consequences of ongoing, dynamic, evolving patterns of activity means our values develop in response to our various experiences. As we go about our daily lives, we can observe our own psychological responses to various situations and use them to guide us toward our values.

Yet another activity in the book, “Emotions and Values Audit,” has students recall moments when they experienced various emotions such as joy, surprise, anger and disgust. Then they identify what was at stake for them during each of these emotional experiences. For example, if a student felt angry when a false rumor about a friend circulated online, that anger can reveal values such as integrity, honesty and consideration. Over time, students can continue monitoring their emotions in different contexts and derive their values from these emotional responses.


Balancing Rules and Values Work

At home, I make rules about how my kids use their devices to protect their health and wellbeing. Many schools, including the one where I used to teach, enforce policies prohibiting mobile phone use during school hours. In my seventh-grade English classroom, I had students close their Chromebooks during announcements and discussions. There are times when restricting students’ device use is necessary and beneficial. 

At the same time, following rules doesn’t help students clarify or commit to their values. As educators, we can find a balance between enforcing rules that protect our community and empowering our students to choose actions that are more values-aligned.

Changing the Default Settings

Deborah Skolnick-Einhorn
AI and Tech

Driven by both contemporary society and timeless Jewish sources, our Jewish day schools should be models of intentional community-building, meaning-making and relationship-driven culture. As part of that, I argue, Jewish schools should be at the forefront of a technological counterculture within our communities. Global concerns about smartphone and social media use, and their particular effects on adolescent health, are omnipresent. Parents and institutions feel impotent in the face of the powerful pull of notifications, persistent text messages and ever-new games and apps. Resources invested in personal technology are only rivaled by the money, energy and often frustration many parents pour into mechanisms to control or limit screen time, especially once it’s in a pocket-sized, go-everywhere device.


To be clear from the get-go, I am not advocating for a world or schools free of technology. I am writing this article in Google Docs with my phone perched next to my computer. In order to yield myself the Sunday time to write this article, I’m certain that my youngest child is currently watching Netflix. And yet, even in a society and within schools that embrace technology for all of the gifts and access it brings, we have a responsibility to approach our use mindfully and ensure that it’s helping, not hindering, our mission.

As institutions with influence over hundreds of families making sensitive and impactful decisions about the role of technology in their kids’ lives, it is our responsibility to give them the tools to make informed, strategic, collaborative and communal decisions, rather than be forced by the “default settings” of the world around us. Society’s current defaults of early access to smartphones and social media are actually not beyond our control. Parental hands often feel forced because of the network effect: “Everyone else has one!”; but with greater parent education and collaboration, we can shift to a model where each parent is making the optimal decision for their child, not one that is pre-prescribed or inevitable.


Parent-Driven Decision-Making Around Technology Use


To that end, I want to share some collective, non-technological ways to harness and delimit technology with our students. I recognize and appreciate that other Jewish schools are approaching this issue head-on and making recommendations directly from the administration (as Yael Krieger describes in this issue). Here, I present an alternate but complementary approach that depends on parents to drive the conversation among their peers. Our school, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital, has piloted a parent-driven program that raises awareness and questions these defaults, with families binding together to make thoughtful technology choices, consider social media approaches and collectively delay smartphones for many students. 

Here are the methods that we’ve used to approach this question in a way that speaks to our community ethos:

  • Parents have driven the initiative through peer-to-peer outreach.
  • Parents driving the process volunteered to reach out to families with whom they or their child already had a strong relationship.
  • Recognizing the sensitivity of the subject and the level of personal choice, they wanted to be sure they we're broaching the matter appropriately.
  • School has provided behind-the-scenes support, connecting parents to others with similar concerns, both in their grade level and others.
  • School has provided parent education programs, particularly in dialogue with students, around digital citizenship and some of the vulnerabilities social media presents.

Parents worked hard to craft a message to their fellow parents that opened the conversation in a way that was free of judgment, while still stating their particular point of view. As a school with great pride in its culture of civil discourse, this process demanded the same of our parents:

“A group of fifth-grade parents has started a conversation about delaying smartphone acquisition during these formative years to help our children thrive. Delaying phone and social media acquisition has benefits in several realms including social, emotional and mental health. We want kids and parents to be free of peer pressure and not to make decisions based on claims that ‘everyone else is doing it.’ Each family will decide what is right for them and their kid(s). We invite you to engage with us in a thoughtful, pluralistic conversation among fifth grade parents. There is no pledge or ultimatum or anything of the sort. Just an effort to learn from each other and help our kids thrive in a values-based way.”

These emails, and the conversations that followed, yielded a large percentage of the class informally opting into smartphone delays. Responses ranged from “No thanks, that train has already left the station” and “Our older kids all got phones for their bnai mitzvahs and we don’t feel we can change it now” to “I’d love to talk about this more.”



The school, and our families, reinforce the pluralism of these decisions by having clear expectations within all school programs. We never expect or allow smartphone (or smartwatch) use at any school-sponsored event. Even, or especially, our immersive experiences are device-free. Eighth graders leave phones, tablets and computers at home when they travel to Israel. We believe it enhances their presence, especially in the precious in-between moments on the bus, and allows them to be fully engaged and immersed in the Israeli experience.

Our school is clear about its policies, in particular through its middle school and family handbooks. As a city school, we acknowledge the sense of need for many of our families whose children travel by public transport; we try to proactively anticipate and preempt other moments of potential contact. In all communications around events, we seek to provide a clear pickup time so students need not call parents to be picked up.




Here is what we share with both groups and enforce on a regular basis:

Cell Phone Usage (excerpt from Middle School Handbook)

Students may not use cellphones in the school building, including at arrival and dismissal and in all spaces of the building. When they are in the school building, students may not use watches that serve as a cellphone and are connected to the internet. If a student brings a cellphone to school to use in traveling to or from school, the phone must be stored inside a backpack for the entire time that the student is at school. If students need to call a parent or caregiver, they go to the front desk in the lobby and call using the school phone. 

If a student uses or is seen with their cellphone at school, a teacher who sees the student with the cellphone will take the phone and give it to the main office or to a principal. The student and the principals will meet and carry through the following plan:

  • After the student has used the phone one time at school, the student must turn in the phone each morning to the front desk upon arrival and may pick it up at dismissal for at least one week.
  • If a student uses a cellphone a second time at school, the phone will be given to the principals. The student’s parent or caregiver will arrange with the school administration to pick up the phone. If a student needs a phone when traveling to or from school, we will work with the family on a plan for storing the phone at the front desk rather than in their backpack for an extended period.  

With family-hosted events (mostly bnai mitzvahs), we encourage parents to be hyper-clear about the details of their event, including kashrut, Shabbat expectations and what services will be like. This helps families prepare their children for the range of Jewish practice we hope they’ll experience. Likewise, parents might share their hopes for technology at their events. One school family included the following in their pre-simchah email, with good success (and some kids surreptitiously using their phones in the coatroom, too):

Technology:  While there are many fun advantages to having a Sunday simchah, we are also sad to lose the tech-free zone that Shabbat brings to these events, which seems to help everyone be completely present and connected to one another. In the hopes of creating that same kind of atmosphere all day, we invite parents to have their kids ditch their phones for the day. We promise there will be plenty of ways to stay busy as well as a photo booth for capturing unlimited photos. There shouldn’t be too much variation in end-time (2:30 pm) and Kind Parent (202-222-2222) has kindly offered to be the “go to” parent that day in case anything does come up and you need to get a message to your kid (or vice versa). If you/they prefer to have a space to safely stash their phones for the day, we are happy to help with that as well.

With rising concerns and growing data about smartphone usage, we have seen these initiatives spread quickly across the school, with parents of students as young as third grade beginning to initiate the process among their peers. When parents approach us, we nurture the idea, connect them with pioneers in other classes and reinforce that the approach should align with our pluralistic ethos: open-hearted, focused on dialogue and respectful of multiple pathways.

AI Will Revolutionize Education for the Better … Mostly

Jacob Pinnolis
AI and Tech

The new and emerging versions of AI will transform every aspect of education: as a powerful tool for teachers’ planning and pedagogy, providing students with individualized tutors in the classroom and shifting what we expect students to learn. There is no question that generative AI that employs large language models will be radically disruptive to learning and teaching. Yet we must face the reality that these disruptions are coming. It is up to us to make this transition one that advances the learning of our students as much as possible. 

The fundamental questions that every educator must face are these:

  • What tasks and skills should we no longer ask students to master? 
  • What new, deeper tasks and skills should they learn instead?
  • How can AI improve student learning right now in my class or school?

While I think the first two questions are the most important, I believe that no one will be able to answer them well without first answering the third question. In other words, we all need to start experimenting right now with using AI in our schools. Learning how AI works and seeing what it does for student learning is the way we will figure out how to answer the first two, deeper questions.

So let me describe how I have been experimenting with GPT4 at Maimonides School, in my work with teachers, the way I plan courses and lessons, and in classroom instruction. Because Maimonides has students from 15 months to twelfth grade, I have demonstrated for teachers with students of every age how it can help improve learning. 


AI for Prepping Classes

As a tool for helping to prep classes, AI is already unmatched. Take an example I modeled for high school teachers. I wrote the following prompt: 

Design a lesson for a high school US history class that compares reaction to the Battle of Gettysburg in the North and the South using three to four primary sources, one of which is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. You choose the other two or three primary texts, none of which should be more than 1,000 words. The learning goal for the class is to have students, based on their own reading and interpretations of the primary texts, to compare and contrast how the two sides viewed the war in mid- to late 1863. The lesson plan should include an opening activator to get students thinking about the battle; describe each activity the students will do in the class, including what kind of pairings you recommend. Specify a few good check-in modalities to make sure students make good progress during the 60-minute class. Be sure also to include a simple but revealing formative assessment to end the class so I can easily evaluate how well they achieved the learning goal. Write the lesson plan in standard UbD format...Please identify all the sources and provide URLs where the sources might be found. Also, write out specific instructions I should use with students for each part of the lesson.

In seconds, GPT-4 returned a lesson plan that did exactly what I asked. It provided, in Understanding by Design (UbD) format, a lesson plan that included a short opening video that students would write reflections on, then a jigsaw activity with small groups of students working on different primary sources and recombining to share what they learned. It suggested what I should look for in each part of the activity that would get at progress toward learning objectives. It provided the locations on the web where I could find the sources, which included an editorial from the Richmond Daily Dispatch from July 1863 and a letter home from a Confederate soldier after the battle. The lesson was a solid, student-centered lesson. It required editing, refining and checking sources to make sure it would really work, to be sure, but all of that would be far less effort than starting from scratch with researching sources. 

I had GPT-4 produce similar planning work in English and math classes, and for middle, elementary and early childhood. Maimonides’ Early Childhood Center is a Reggio-Emilia inspired preschool. One of the more difficult tasks is for teachers to continually produce “provocations” for the children, the combination of environment, materials and prompts that produce conditions for creative learning and play. It took four attempts at a prompt that would get GPT-4 to produce this kind of “provocation,” but then it churned out lovely examples appropriate for four-year-olds on the topic of fasteners, including links about where to purchase the materials. Many of our early childhood teachers who saw this wanted more AI-generated “provocations” immediately.

When it comes to prepping classes, AI isn’t just a time-saver. It can help improve teaching in so many ways:

  • It can make sure teachers actually produce high-quality lesson plans and detailed records of what was taught. The lack of these is a frequent problem in Jewish day schools. Written lessons help students with a variety of learning needs. They help with onboarding new teachers, since there is a detailed curriculum to pass on.
  • Asking AI to produce lesson plans that follow a standard format that maps onto best practices can raise the overall quality of learning by improving alignment of pedagogy across all teachers. What if your teachers didn’t have to be an expert in Understanding by Design to produce and teach excellent UbD lessons? AI can accelerate teacher development and consistency.
  • Tweaking the prompts, asking for more responses or rerunning the same prompts can provide us all with more choices about how to teach a class than we are ever likely to generate on our own. We are, in essence, tapping into the collective wisdom of thousands of other teachers without having to slog through thousands of posts or blogs. In the Gettysburg example, I asked for two or three additional primary documents, but I could have asked for 10 or 20 and then chosen the absolute best among them. We have all had access to databases of materials that we largely ignore because of the difficulty of finding what we need. Now we can watch what we need generated in seconds.




AI in the Classroom

In my classes, the presumption is that it is always okay for students to use AI unless I specify that they can’t use it on a particular task. I do ask that they always provide their questions that prompted the AI response so that I can see what they actually understand. They know that I may ask them to do a follow-up if they used AI. I need to be sure of the skills and content knowledge they have or have not mastered.

My high school classes in philosophy or Constitutional law have very difficult material, and we use GPT-4 in a number of ways. It is a standard resource among others in the class.

It is in many ways a far superior research tool than traditional search engines. If your question is very specific, is about an unusual set of circumstances, or concerns a specific passage in a classic text of legal opinion, it can often be an exercise in frustration to try to find a quick answer with a search engine. But GPT-4 will often go straight to the heart of the matter and provide the sources one needs to double-check its accuracy. What does a passage from Kant mean? Who wins a point when a tennis ball spins back over the net after bouncing? These are easy for AI, not so much for search engines.

Get unstuck! Often students find themselves unable to move forward because there is something they don’t understand. AI can provide quick, clear explanations in age-appropriate language. It can even provide suggestions for becoming unstuck. And for students who struggle with starting to write, AI can provide the initial kick forward.

Reviewing work. If a student wants to check their work on specific criteria, AI can do this in seconds, explain what it sees as the problems and suggest ways forward. The ability to have that review done in real time gets at the heart of great learning. The cycle of product, feedback and iteration can happen without delay, in class.

What I have found so far is that AI is useful for keeping students working on higher-order thinking rather than getting bogged down in lower-order problems. When you want students to get more quickly to bigger and deeper issues, a quick dip into AI to get a basic understanding can be quite useful.


AI For Feedback

Here’s an elementary school example. Uploading an actual sample of fifth grade writing (not included here), I asked GPT-4 the following:

Analyze the literacy skills of this fifth grader. Place the student’s writing development into descriptive, action or reactive sequence stages. Cite specific examples in the piece as evidence for the development stage you claim she is in.

I then uploaded the sample, and here’s how GPT-4 responded:

Based on the provided narrative writing sample, it appears that the fifth grader is at the descriptive sequence stage of writing development. Here’s an analysis of the piece and specific examples to support this claim: 

Descriptive Sequence Stage: In this stage, the student focuses on describing events or actions without much development of plot or character. The writing tends to be a simple sequence of events with minimal elaboration.

It then provided three details from the writing to support the analysis of the writing. The analysis seemed accurate and clear.

I asked it to provide feedback to the writer appropriate for the age of the writer and to include something positive before focusing on one or two key areas for improvement. Here’s what it offered:

Dear [name of child],

Great job on your narrative, "Too Many Tamales"! I really enjoyed reading about Marya and her adventure. You did a wonderful job describing the events and keeping the story moving forward. Well done!

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you extend your narrative and further develop your writing skills:

  1. Add more details: Try describing the characters’ feelings and thoughts when they realize the ring is missing. This will make your story more engaging and help the readers connect with the characters.
  2. Create a resolution: Think about how Marya and her cousins can solve the problem of the missing ring. Maybe they could come up with a plan or find clues that lead them to it. Adding a resolution will give your story a satisfying ending.

Keep up the excellent work! I can’t wait to read more of your stories.

Warmest wishes, [Your Name]

This isn’t brilliant, but it is serviceable. Imagine a student getting this kind of response when you aren’t able to provide feedback. It will do. And as the prompts get better, the feedback gets better.

In my classes, I am trying to use AI to provide students with a means to get real-time feedback on their ideas and writing when I am occupied with other students. If I am clear with them about what skill we are working on, and we write that into the prompt for AI, they can get pretty good feedback and make changes before I ever intervene. It can push the learning forward deeper and faster than I ever could without this resource. This is essentially the dream and promise of Khan Academy’s Khanmigo–to provide every student with an individualized tutor available in class at all times. Yet even without that, AI already provides an incredibly powerful assistant in the classroom.


Things to Know

I want to note three complications to all this.

  • The potential for abuse is there. The worry that AI will be used to do things that students need to do themselves because those things build critical skills is a real one. So everything we do has to be used carefully, with an eye toward potential unproductive use.
  • There is a steep learning curve for teachers and students to learn how to get the right kind of help and at the right depth and quality. I learned how to ask better questions by asking poor questions that got thoroughly mediocre responses. The main thing I learned: Specifying what you are looking for clearly and in detail is the key. You need to give way more detail than you would give to a person. 
  • Apps are quickly making the interface for teachers and students much easier to use, and they allow access to the latest versions of the AI, with all the latest tools (such as the ability to upload and analyze images, graphs, etc.).

For all the problems, complications and disruptions, AI is here and must be at the forefront of educators’ growth right now. The good news is that it will be enormously beneficial to learning in ways we are just beginning to explore. If we take those steps, we will soon be thinking about changing what students learn and why. That deep, reflective process will ultimately ground learning in the decades ahead.

Now Is the Time: Using AI to Catalyze Radical Change

Sarah Rubinson Levy
AI and Tech

In 2013, I sat in a room of Jewish day school leaders, listening to Tony Wagner talk about the state of education. He spoke about what our kids needed to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it was our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. Wagner’s books (Most Likely to Succeed, Creating Innovators, and the Global Achievement Gap, to name a few) focus on the skills needed for today’s world, such as critical thinking, agility and curiosity (which he calls the “Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century”) and how play, passion and purpose can optimize learning. When I first stumbled upon Wagner’s writings and heard him speak, I was immediately drawn in with a sense of urgency, thinking, “We need to do something now, before our kids get any further behind!”

In 2019, I sat in a room of Jewish day school leaders, listening to George Couros talk about the state of education. He spoke about what our kids needed to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it was our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. Couros’s message was very similar to Wagner’s (with a little more humor and a little less Harvard). His writings (such as his book Innovator’s Mindset) focus on the power of cultivating curiosity and creativity, and embracing new ways of doing things. I sat in the room and looked around at the 1,000+ leaders in attendance (many of whom were in the room with me in 2013) and wondered if maybe now was when we’d do something, before our kids got any further behind.

In 2023, I sat in a room of Jewish day school leaders, listening to three presenters from Stanford’s K-12 Lab talk about the state of education. They spoke about what our kids needed to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it was our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. They talked about how the world was changing, and how education just wasn’t keeping up. Over the course of their presentation, they emphasized the need for developing mindsets in our youth and fostering dispositions like curiosity and flexibility. They shared that the future needs us to be shapers and stewards of data, technologies, products, experiences, systems and implications, and it’s our role to ensure our students can do that. Again, I looked around the room at the thoughtful and passionate leaders, and sent out a silent scream: “Please! Can now be the time? Our students are depending on us!”

Enter ChatGPT.

The fact is that our education system is fundamentally broken, and AI is the catalyst we desperately need to allow us to rethink and reimagine what education is and can be.

While I was inspired by Wagner and Couros and the, I am not sure that any of them (or all of them) have the power to catalyze radical change in education in the way that AI can because AI, especially the forms of generative AI we’ve seen emerge of late, has the very real potential to make everything we’re teaching and how we’re doing it obsolete. Or more obsolete than it already is, seeing as how our current education system is nearly 200 years old and was based on the factory school model in Prussia in the 19th century. The goal of this system was to respond to the needs of the time during the industrial revolution. 

But that’s not where we are now and not where we have been for quite some time, and that’s certainly not what we need for our students. Yes, Jewish day schools are more recent in their creation, but they are still, largely, based off of this archaic model.

We’ve been doing our very best to optimize an outdated system—a school system that was developed for an entirely different purpose, preparing entirely different students for an entirely different world. We’ve adjusted to the changing landscape by adding makerspaces to our building, creating robotics electives and adding a week of intensive project-based learning here and there. We’ve spent the first quarter of the century trying to better understand “21st century skills” and how to teach them, as if they are items on a checklist. And now we’re behind because mindsets are even more important, and we still haven’t figured out how to teach curiosity and creativity when we’re still so allegiant to teaching the curriculum. We are so committed to the way things have been that we are scared to ask, “What might be?”

The time has come for us to rethink everything.

According to a study done by the Swiss banking giant UBS, ChatGPT set records for the fastest-growing consumer application in history. Bill Gates has gone on record as saying the technology can “change the world.” Sundar Pichai, of Alphabet/Google, has called AI “the most profound technology.” And Elon Musk has shared that AI is “one of the biggest risks to the future of civilization.”

ChatGPT (and AI in general) is here to stay. It will change the world. It will make an impact. It puts at risk everything we know. And it’s up to us to decide how we handle it and where we take control. 

As educational leaders, we have amazing opportunity and responsibility here, but only if we accept it and face our future directly. So, what if we all took a huge step back and truly considered what is best for our students? Instead of thinking about what has been, what if we consider what might be? What if we used the rise of AI and the transformational impact it is having on our world to also transform education?

What if we approached the whole thing, not from the constraints of what we’ve built and established over the last 200 years, but from a lens of where we could go over the next 200 years? 

What if we got back to those human instincts of curiosity and adaptability and inquisitiveness, both in terms of how we approach education and also what we celebrate and foster in our students?

What if we scrapped the whole system and built something new, guided purely by what is best for our students now and in the future? 

AI is turning out to be a great answerer of questions, but we need to be the ones to ask the questions. And they need to be the right questions. 

We shouldn’t be teaching five-paragraph essays. We should be teaching effective prompt creation.

We shouldn’t be guiding students to take notes from a textbook. We should be guiding students to thoroughly and effectively vet sources for credibility and bias.

We shouldn’t be confined to a traditional schedule with separate subjects in classrooms. We should be utilizing authentic learning and assessment, with the world as the classroom.

We shouldn’t be focusing on content. We should be focusing on skills and mindsets and emphasizing (even more) emotional intelligence.

We shouldn’t be scouring the internet for the latest AI-checker. We should be creating assignments and lessons that go beyond the capabilities of AI and speak to what only humans can do.  

We shouldn’t be fighting the rise of AI. We should be harnessing it to the benefit of our students’ future.

This is not a time for us to simply be encouraging teachers to use AI in one lesson each term or to mention the word “creativity” on a rubric in passing. This is a time to be asking real questions and making real change. This is a time for embracing radical creativity, rethinking suppositions and stepping into the pivotal role Jewish day schools can have in truly preparing our students. 

  • What is the point of education?
  • What do our students need to be successful 20 years from now (not 200 years ago), and how do we get them there?
  • How can we foster and maximize humanity and human intelligence in our students in a time when “artificial” intelligence is on the rise?

While much of this can feel abstract and overwhelming, what matters is that we get started…somewhere. Here are some ideas.

Rethink assessment. Rather than concern ourselves with what is “cheating” or “plagiarism” in the age of AI, really think about what skills and knowledge we are assessing and what is the most effective way to do that. An essay, for example, is a vehicle for students to articulate an idea, research and provide evidence, and communicate their thoughts in an organized fashion. If ChatGPT can also write an essay, is there another was to assess these skills?

Emphasize the “human.” Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, talks about using AI to enhance HI (human intelligence). What makes us and our students uniquely human, and how can we maximize dispositions like empathy, grit and creativity to differentiate ourselves from AI? How can we lean into these “human” characteristics while taking advantage of what AI has to offer to be more effective? Now is a great time to be leaning into emotional intelligence in our schools.

Reconsider literacy. Beyond traditional skills like reading and writing, we are seeing an increasing need for students to be AI-literate, and it is our responsibility to make sure they have those skills. Crafting effective prompts for ChatGPT is just as important now as effective search prompts for a web browser was 10 years ago. Also, while bias and misinformation existed before generative AI, it’s imperative that we are training our students to check all sources for reliability and accuracy, as the proliferation of AI can provide added challenges to finding trustworthy sources. 

Whether considering a total curricular overhaul or starting with one class and continuing from there, we need to be thinking in terms of a systematic shift.

Our students are counting on us. Now is the time.

Responsible Use: A Form of Prayer

Rachel Lebwohl
AI and Tech

Given the current and quickly changing digital landscape, every school should review its responsible use policy to ensure that the language is still applicable. As our school reflected on the updates we needed to apply to ours, we began to see the document less as a policy and more as something like a prayer, though it took us a while to come to this understanding.

In November of last year, our school kicked off a digital wellbeing initiative with the mission of optimizing our technology policies and platforms, aligning our official and unofficial digital wellbeing curriculum across divisions, and delivering adult education on digital wellbeing to faculty and families. The initiative’s steering committee is composed of classroom teachers, technology integrators, social-emotional leadership and administrators from all grade levels, as well as parents and members of our communications team.

Our first deliverable, by popular demand, was a set of workshops on how to implement a family media agreement, based on the framework offered by Common Sense Education. As we prepared for the workshops, we found that we needed to make clear distinctions between “guidance for families” and “school policy,” and so we initiated a parallel effort to update our student-facing responsible use policy.


Listening to Students

Meanwhile, our entire steering committee read Behind Their Screens: What Kids are Facing and Adults are Missing, by Carrie James and Emily Weinstein, and our eyes opened to so much about the experiences of teens as they navigate lives mediated by digital platforms. James and Weinstein surveyed over 3,500 teens about their experiences and relationships with social media and other digital technologies, and when sifting through the results, they found that the teens’ experience was so vastly different from their own that they needed help interpreting the data. They created a Youth Advisory Council, composed of a diverse collection of teens who informed their analysis generally, and specifically influenced the insightful “What Teens Wish Adults Knew” sections at the end of each chapter of their book. After our committee discussed Behind their Screens, we knew we had to add student voices to our policy development work.

Our high school student government’s student experience subcommittee met to read and respond to the first draft of our new responsible use agreement, note any language that is unclear or points that might be missing. The agreement was full of “I will…” and “I won’t…” statements, and organized around Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship curriculum topics, such as privacy and security, digital footprints and identity, and relationships and communication.

The students read the agreement and asked a few questions, including whether the way some of the statements were worded implied that they applied to the use of their personal social media accounts when not on school property. This sparked a robust discussion about all behavior, online and off, reflecting on them as a member of the community.

And then they opened up a bit. One pair of students, and then another, and another, began to admit, tentatively at first but then more openly: They, or their friends, engaged in almost all of the practices that the agreement stated they would not do. “Who hasn’t said something, jokingly, in a post, that might be construed as a little bit mean?” “We all forward pictures and screenshots without asking permission.” “I know people share passwords…” “It doesn’t feel like true misconduct, or actually harmful...but…”

When I looked at the list again through this lens, I saw what they saw. “Okay,” I said, the proverbial drawing board looming in my mind’s eye, “One more exercise.”

I asked them to go back through the “I will…” and “I will not…” statements and circle each one that they—or their friends—“sometimes” or “lightly” violated. “Be honest,” I said. “No judgment here. I came here to learn from you.”

No pair circled every point, but among the four pairs, every single point was circled. It was clear that we had a complete set.

I brought the problem back to my team, demoralized. “What if you focus on the why?” someone asked. “Instead of ‘will/won’t,’ focus on the consequences. The harms to themselves and others.”


Patient and Forgiving Use

So a new version of the agreement began to take shape, with statements such as, “Because I know how painful it can be to have sensitive information revealed about me…” and “Because my conduct on digital platforms is a reflection of who I am and what I stand for…” Although the section that specifies cybersecurity safety practices retained its “I will…” and “I will not…” structure, the digital citizenship statements now begin, “I should…” and “I should not…,” a nod to the difficulty of always being our best selves online.

The new version of the agreement is also informed by a key lesson of the “why” of it all that we learned from Behind Their Screens. They show how our children are growing up in a world where the most private, precious work of identity formation—defining who they are and who they want to be—is being done on a stage that is very public, very permanent and very unforgiving. It is hard for the adult members of our digital wellbeing initiative’s steering committee to relate, because our adolescent stupidities and unkindnesses were not documented for the permanent record in quite the way our students’ are now: public by default, infinitely replicable, searchable, algorithmically reinforced and with an absence of the physical cues that attend real-life communication. 

James and Weinstein show how these affordances of digital platforms deeply influence and constrain how teens develop their sense of self. With teen mental health in steep decline, the stakes have never been higher for teens to find a way toward not just responsible but socially and emotionally healthy use of the technologies that pervade their lives. The authors helped us to see that, perhaps even more than the responsibility to pause before they post—to remember to keep sensitive information private, to seek consent when required—we need to encourage teens to be patient and forgiving of themselves and of each other. And we have to somehow teach ourselves this lesson, too.


The Leffell School 2023-24 Responsible Use Agreement


Students read this new version of the Responsible Use Agreement as part of a text study during opening days and signed it as one of their very first assignments. The agreement is framed by the famous episode in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, in which an impatient convert approaches Hillel and demands that he teach him the entire Torah while he stands on one foot. Unlike the other sages, Hillel responds patiently, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. The rest is interpretation. Go study.” Digital citizenship as not doing to others that which is hateful to us. Cybersecurity on one foot. Academic integrity under the exhortation to go study.

And because this is the age of AI, many of the points about academic integrity clarify expectations around the use of AI-based systems. A few days before school began, I started a letter to the high school faculty in which I initially intended to supplement the expectations within the “Go Study” section of the agreement with a brief rule of thumb (or, technically, pinky-and-fourth-finger): Even if their use is specifically permitted on a given assignment, “don’t cut and paste from AI-based systems.” As I tried to explain the reasoning behind this policy, I found myself working backwards from the idea that copying any text verbatim hinders the ability to develop one’s own voice, and that there is an art to taking an idea and adapting it, making it stronger, and making it one’s own. Our faculty are experts at teaching that art, and are committed to providing all the tools and strategies and motivations to help our students, by defining who they are and what they want to be, become the best versions of themselves. 

What started as a policy statement quickly became a prayer for our students, that they not short-circuit their learning and squander their opportunity to develop this sense of self, and that our faculty continue to have the patience to support our students as they do this difficult and important work.

The responsible use agreement’s conclusion quotes the final line of Shabbat 31, “Hillel’s patience brought us beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.” It is my great hope that the example of Hillel’s patience and forgiveness will inspire our faculty, students, families and our whole community to work our way to genuinely responsible use of the digital technologies that pervade our lives. Will the current version of the agreement do the work we so dearly need it to do? We will have to muster the patience to wait and see.

Leadership Lessons from Covid to AI

Smita Kolhatkar
Carol Piraino
AI and Tech

March 2020 will be forever etched in history as a time when educators had to reimagine and redefine what was known as school. As school leaders, we had to rapidly draw up plans for the foreseeable future in completely unknown and unexplored territory. All we knew for certain was that we had to do our best to provide an education to the students we were serving, stretching every resource we had. There was no choice but to adapt to an unfamiliar technology tool in order to succeed.

As we look at the next big technological challenge that lies ahead, generative AI, we are trying to apply much of what we learned during the pandemic to new technologies. Here are some of the key lessons we’ve employed.


Lead by example.

As leaders, we need to constantly model what we would like to see from our staff and students, and technology is no exception. We may feel intimidated, we may feel overwhelmed, we may feel defeated, but still have to overcome all of those challenges to lead by example. During the pandemic, we led by example by learning and leading alongside our staff and students.


In the case of generative AI, we have started using AI in practical aspects of our educational journey, whether designing for our in-service days, creating sample comments for conferences and report cards, or demonstrating the use in teaching and learning. When staff and students see us leading by example, we bridge the divide between administration and teaching staff, as well as prove that what we ask them to do we will be doing ourselves.


Take the plunge.

As educators, this can be a harsh reality to accept. We never know for certain how everything will turn out when we try something new, and must summon our courage, tap into all available resources, keep our students’ and staff’s best interest in mind and accept that we may fail or that we may not achieve the exact outcome we intended.

As we contemplate the role generative AI can play in our school, we must help our teachers recognize that exploring all that this technology offers is critical. We have heard educators express concerns that students will use generative AI to do their work for them. They are fearful that if they “allow the use of the tool,” it will encourage students to take shortcuts in their work.

As leaders, we need to help our teachers keep an open mind and develop creative ideas for using AI as a tool for learning, not a crutch or substitute for doing their own work. We also need to help teachers come to grips with the fact that AI is here to stay, like it or not, and students are using these tools and will continue to use these tools in ways that are out of our direct control. We have done our best to shift the dialogue from whether or not students will use these tools to how we would most like our students to use them.

When asked the “how” question, our teachers have suggested using generative AI to help students get started on their work. For example, students can ask AI to prepare an outline of an essay or write an opening paragraph for them. Teachers have designed lessons that help students both compose good questions and critically evaluate the product AI produces. Some of what they are trying now is different from how they originally imagined using the tool, but because they have kept an open mind, they are developing useful and interesting ideas. As leaders, we have helped provide space for exploration as well as encouragement to communicate successes and failures all along the way.


It helps to be in the same boat.

When we try something new, it is always a comfort to know we are not alone. We can support and learn from one another. We can become resources for each other and celebrate our collective progress together. Rather than competing, we are truly collaborating, and our progress as individuals benefits our whole community. This was true during the pandemic when the whole world, and certainly the educational community, had to adapt to all new circumstances. It’s true now as well.

We have encouraged our teachers to interact with their professional peers, read about how others are using AI and have open dialogues with their students. We are all in this together, and we can learn from each other. Many of our teachers spent the summer reading about applications for AI and have held both formal and informal discussion groups to share what they have learned. Many are also involved in online teacher groups and with peers from other schools.

We are continuously exploring ways to connect our teachers with other educators across the nation and beyond, and have ourselves connected with other educational leaders. With all of the emerging research and discussions, it is imperative that we keep learning what this tool can offer. At this stage, no one is truly an expert on educational uses of AI, and we all need to contribute to establishing banks of best practices.

As the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said:

          Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
          Where knowledge is free
          Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
          By narrow domestic walls
          Where words come out from the depth of truth
          Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
          Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
          Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit…


Transparent communication with all stakeholders is essential to success.

As we were upending all of the ways we labeled as school during the pandemic, it was clear to us that every stakeholder, including parents, staff, teachers, board members and students, needed to know what was happening, why we were doing what we were doing, and how we would adjust as new information became available.

The same is true with generative AI. There is so much information and misinformation about these tools that it is incumbent on us as leaders to keep our community informed about our practices and also engaged in helping create our strategies.

We have involved students from the start in conversations about appropriate and inappropriate use of generative AI and have also looked to them to help develop our practices. Rather than shut them out from our planning, we recognize that understanding these tools and applying them in sensible and effective ways will be important to their growth and development.

We started a small elective class last spring and charged the sixth through eighth graders in the class with exploring the uses and applications of AI. This “think tank” of students has helped inform classroom usage of AI tools. Similar to the staff involved in research and discussions, this group of students have served as our early adopters who are helping us generate policies and practices.

As we begin using these tools in the classroom, we also must explain our approaches and rationale to parents. It is important that they recognize that we are taking a thoughtful approach to applying these tools to learning. Our parents continue to be sensitive to our use and sometimes perceived overuse of technology in our classrooms, and we need to continue to earn and keep their trust by demonstrating thoughtful, balanced use of technology.

We want and need our school to leverage what we learned during the pandemic as we explore the biggest disruptive technology we have encountered ever, generative AI. We need to remind our colleagues that falling back into our old habits of resisting growth and change in technology will deprive our students of real opportunities to use these powerful tools to enhance their learning.

By modeling effective, meaningful uses of these tools in our work, we have started the process of integrating AI into our daily practices. We are introducing research, examples of best practices and practical applications, through open dialogue, workshops and summer reading assignments. We are designing courses for our students, encouraging teachers to incorporate AI in their planning, and educating our parent community, just as we did with online learning in March 2020.

We can and must empower our teachers and our students to embrace rather than fear or, worse, misuse these tools. Reflecting upon the lessons we learned about the infinite possibilities of growth and change, together we will march forward using generative AI to create mensches who will exert a positive impact in the world.

Sustainable Teacher Development in the Age of Technology

Tziri Lamm
AI and Tech

We live in exciting times. The advent of AI and its integration into nearly every corner of educational technology means automation of simple tasks so I can be free to do the work that matters to me the most. Now I have a built-in thought partner and a place to brainstorm ideas and fine-tune implementation strategies. I can worry more about content and skills, and less about formatting and refining.

We live in terrifying times. The advent of AI and its integration into nearly every corner of educational technology means that people think a robot can do my work. Now students and teachers can take shortcuts, cheating the system and getting away with doing even less than they were before. I have to worry about my job security and redesign every lesson so that they’re all on paper and in class.

We live at a crucial turning point in education. AI is just getting started, and as educational leaders, we can be either Netflix or Blockbuster. We can take a measured approach to innovation, scaling our growth through sustained, incremental change, or we can dig our heels in and march our own way into irrelevance. There’s a lot of information on the internet about the best ways to approach AI in the classroom, and much of it is flashy but shallow. AI is really just the latest, though arguably most disruptive, example of technology that is impacting classroom instruction. What we really need to think about is how we build teacher capacity and openness to new technologies in a sustainable way.


Teaching Teachers A New Tech

One of the greatest paradoxes in education lies in the stark contrast between the commitment to rigorous, sustained learning for students and the resistance, at times bordering on hostility, toward the same learning for teachers. Teachers are often hesitant to adopt new initiatives, skeptical of new technologies and unenthusiastic about new pedagogies. And their concerns are not unfounded. 

Professional development around technology is often focused on particular tools, delivered in one-off sessions that try to generalize to all subject areas. Presenters navigate dense slides laden with countless bullet points or screenshots as they attempt to hurriedly address every aspect of the website or app.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that teachers find it challenging to translate such experiences into meaningful, student-centered, interactive learning strategies. When this inertia collides with a constant stream of new initiatives, often introduced with minimal transparency and communication, it creates a breeding ground for frustration and disengagement.

This is not a problem of the post-AI world. In 2017, Digital Promise, a global nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for learners, launched a three-year pilot of the Dynamic Learning Project. Their initiative aimed to support meaningful use of instructional technology by collaborating with coaches and principals in over 100 schools across the United States. The outcome was striking: Not only did teachers become more confident and capable in integrating technology to enhance student learning, but over 90% of educators reported substantial growth in core instructional areas, spanning classroom management, pedagogy, assessment and differentiation. Following the pilot, Google launched its Certified Coach program based on the DLP’s approach. 

These findings point toward the power of embedding technology integration into a broader coaching model. By moving away from singular tech sessions and embedding impactful technology use into the context of professional growth, technology becomes the process through which students develop 21st century skills in the support of other learning outcomes.

To be sure, there are a number of Jewish organizations doing important work in this field. Touro University ran two cohorts of a Certificate of Educational Technology Coaching program; Lomdei coaches teachers and trains coaches in blended and personalized learning. Though they don’t focus specifically on technology, Jewish New Teacher Project has a well-deserved reputation in the area of instructional coaching and new teacher support. (I personally have learned from or worked for all of these programs.) Each of these organizations, in its own way, trains teachers and administrators and then sends them back into their own buildings equipped with skills, protocols and systems. But somewhere along the way, something is still falling through the cracks. 

Digital Promise’s five-step Coaching Cycle is similar to Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey’s approach to teacher inquiry and Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle, and it even overlaps in some meaningful ways with design thinking. In all the approaches, teachers select an area of focus, either a problem or passion, and work with a coach to select strategies to implement in the classroom and then measure their impact. Successful strategies and process reflections are then shared with the rest of the school community, creating an atmosphere of learning and growth in the building. The primary innovation of the DLP model is the focus on using tech-based or tech-supported learning strategies. For schools with a limited budget, the additional benefit of the Google Certified Coach program is that it is free for teachers who are already Google Certified Educators.


Choosing the Right Goal

In my experience, the most challenging stage in a coaching cycle is choosing the right focus for growth. Despite our assumptions, teachers are not any better at crafting meaningful goals than students are. This step, which is often glossed over or assigned as “homework,” is crucial to a successful program. Without robust, personally meaningful goals, it is nearly impossible for a teacher to fully commit themselves to the work of personal and professional growth. 

A meaningful approach to better goal selection is the development of teacher competencies. Instead of creating another evaluation tool, a competency framework is developed for self-assessment, goal-setting, coaching and feedback. It gives the entire faculty shared language to talk about and measure growth. Building21, a leader in competency-based education, has a set of five teacher competencies that can function as an excellent jumping-off point. For schools leaning toward more traditional goals, any of the well-known teacher evaluation frameworks, like Danielson or Marshall, can be adapted into a teacher-friendly framework. 

In the work of personalizing the framework for their schools, administrators need to ask themselves, What do we need teachers to focus on in their own personal and professional growth and development to support the changes we want them to make in teaching and learning for our students? Once they’ve answered the question, they can work backward to develop the competencies that will set their faculty up for success.

I used this process a short time ago to develop the Barkai Yeshivah High School Teacher Competencies. I began with Building21’s framework and adapted it using the Danielson and Marshall rubrics, our student competencies and our mission-driven priorities. The language is teacher-facing, action-oriented and specific. The work of the teacher then focuses on the “how” rather than the “what.”

After a teacher selects a goal, they work with a coach or supervisor to research and select a technology-supported strategy to implement in the classroom that will allow them to make progress toward that goal. Then, observations become specifically about monitoring and refining that one specific strategy. The teacher gathers evidence in a portfolio—anecdotes, assessment data, photos of students working, personal reflections—which becomes the primary means of tracking growth. 

At key points in the year, teachers share their progress with their peers, crowdsourcing support, encouragement and advice. Teachers learn to analyze their data, to draw more formalized conclusions from their work. At this stage, the integration of tech tools becomes extra powerful, as most have advanced data reporting features. In this way, we transform the teacher into a tech-savvy, professional practitioner whose expertise is valued and respected. At the end of a school year, the outcomes of these studies can be published or shared into the community. 

School leaders might be tempted to have teachers choose multiple goals or to assess teacher growth and development along their goal and other objectives. However, both of these approaches diminish teacher agency and make the tracking of growth and progress much more difficult. Teachers are already juggling so many things, and nearly all are committed to doing their best work every day. Professional growth needs to be approached in a sustainable manner that can be meaningfully integrated into their already heavy workload.


Cultivating Motivation and Efficacy

A coaching model grounded by internally developed teacher competencies meets all three criteria for intrinsic motivation. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink explains that people do their best work when they have autonomy, control over what and how they complete a task; mastery, confidence that they can improve; and purpose, belief that the work is meaningful. In this vision of professional development, teachers are given choice over their area of growth. They get to decide what they will work on and which strategies to implement. Regular meetings with a coach and meaningful self-assessment give the teacher the feedback and focus to hone their craft. Finally, when the halls of the school building resonate with learning and growth, teachers are empowered to develop collective teacher efficacy. 

Identified by John Hattie as the single most significant factor in student achievement and growth, collective teacher efficacy refers to the extent to which the whole faculty believes in their capacity to positively impact students. The most inspiring and hopeful finding in education, collective teacher efficacy is not a particular classroom practice or technology. It’s not a few master teachers or specific student interventions. Rather, it is the generalized belief among all the teachers in the school that they have the tools, capacity and support to improve student outcomes. Multiple studies have shown that improving teacher confidence has the most potential to drive student growth. 

We may not all have budgets for external presenters or expensive professional development courses. But we all have the power to inspire our teachers. We need to believe in them so that they can believe in themselves. We need to support their growth with empathy and understanding so that they can do the same with students.

We cannot achieve this collaborative transformation through top-down, information-heavy meetings alone. It must unfold within the intimate dynamics of coaching relationships and through the gradual, incremental progress of growth.

In these revolutionary times where technology’s role in education is evolving at an unprecedented pace, we stand at a crossroads. The choices we make today will determine whether our institutions thrive as centers of learning or risk becoming relics of a bygone era. While we understand that time is a precious commodity in Jewish day schools, it cannot be an excuse. Committing to the professional development of our staff is essential to shaping our students’ futures. Ultimately, this transformative approach isn’t just about technology; it’s about embracing lifelong learning, improving our craft and believing in our ability to positively impact our students. It’s about creating a culture of growth that permeates our institutions.


Over-Networked and Under-Connected: Jewish Education in an Age of Limited Connectivity

Eli Gottlieb
AI and Tech

When school leaders or board presidents discuss the challenges of new tech, the issues they raise first tend to be about academics: how to cope with the distractions of smartphones in class, or what to do about plagiarism in the age of ChatGPT. If they talk a little longer, the conversation soon turns to social and emotional issues: growing loneliness and anxiety among students and teacher burnout from continuous parental access.

Rarely raised in these discussions, however, is what might be Jewish education's greatest challenge in the digital age: secularization. I don’t mean just a general decline in religious belief and practice, but also the marginalizing of religious priorities and considerations in how we think and act in our everyday lives. As many scholars and social commentators have argued, the ways we use the internet and social media—even in the most closed communities—undermine the very foundations of religious belief, practice and community.

Technology itself isn’t the enemy; in some cases, it strengthens religious commitments and connections, especially for geographically dispersed religious minorities and spiritually curious adolescents in secular homes. However, overwhelmingly the online traffic is in the opposite direction.

Secularization isn’t new, but it has accelerated since the arrival of the smartphone. According to sociologist Jean Twenge, between 2004 and 2016, religious belief among young adults “fell off a cliff.” More recent studies indicate not only that Gen Z is significantly less religious than any preceding generation, but also that their religiosity is inversely proportional to how much time they spend online.

Various theories have been offered to explain connections between social media and secularization. The most compelling of them cite tectonic shifts in how we form identities and belong to groups more generally. In a recent Atlantic article, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argued that social media have “dissolved the mortar of society” by eroding three pillars on which successful societies are based: social capital, strong institutions and shared stories. 

Haidt’s diagnosis echoes Shimon Hatzaddik’s statement in Pirkei Avot (1:2): 

עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַתּוֹרָה וְעַל הָעֲבוֹדָה וְעַל גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים

On three things the world stands: on Torah, on service and on acts of lovingkindness.

With a little hermeneutical agility, we can apply these categories to our current predicament. Torah refers to what Haidt calls “shared stories,” a shared narrative about who we are; a sense of mission and shared destiny. Avodah refers to strong institutions, service through communal rituals and respect for traditional sources of authority. Gemilut chasadim refers to social capital, social networks of mutual care and concern, with high levels of trust and a sense of shared community. In the digital age, each of these pillars is under attack.



It may not be an exaggeration to say that Jews are more divided today than at any time since the fall of the Second Temple. Just as in politics, social media amplify divisions between liberals and conservatives, so too are they amplifying divisions among Jewish communities. The Pew Research Center’s 2020 study of American Jews found that about half of Orthodox Jews in the United States say they have “not much” (23%) or “nothing at all” (26%) in common with Jews in the Reform movement. The feeling is mutual: 6 in 10 Reform Jews say they have not much (39%) or nothing at all (21%) in common with the Orthodox. And that’s just in the United States. When you factor in the growing rift between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, and between opposed political factions in Israel, the picture looks even more grim. 

These global trends play out locally, too. The world of day schools and synagogues is becoming increasingly fragmented, as formerly big-tent institutions splinter under pressure to cater more exclusively to particular segments of the Jewish population and their versions of committed Jewishness. In 2023, Jews are very far indeed from having a shared narrative about who we are or a sense of collective mission and shared destiny.



One of the first casualties of the digital age was trust—trust in general, and trust in institutions in particular. In the age of “deepfake,” it is almost impossible for the untrained to distinguish fabricated documents, photos and videos from genuine ones. Worse still, research indicates that fake stories travel six times faster and further on social media than do factual stories. The net effect is general pollution of the information environment, to which many respond in one of two ways. Some become generally distrustful, presuming all incoming information to be fake until proven credible. Others trust too much in the credibility of sources whose views echo their own.

Religious belief and practice appear to be especially sensitive to these shifts. Twenge cites evidence that Gen Z’s low level of religious affiliation is due in part to their association of religion with views they consider rigid and intolerant. Another recent study identified distrust of religious institutions as a significant factor in Gen Z’s unprecedentedly low levels of religiosity.

Here too, global trends have local corollaries. In my work with school and synagogue boards, heads of school and rabbis, I’ve noticed a dramatic downturn in mutual trust since Covid. This expresses itself in various ways, from micromanagement and reduced transparency to growing impatience, in which trigger-happy boards are readier to fire and frustrated professionals readier to quit. It’s as if Jewish professionals who used to be seen as trusted authority figures are increasingly treated as disposable commodities that you can order online and return to vendor if unhappy with your purchase.


Gemilut Chasadim

While some effects of social media on young users are still contested, their detrimental effects on mental health have been confirmed by study after study. And young people’s risk of such mental illness rises in proportion to the amount of time they spend on social media.

These effects have been exacerbated by two years of lockdown, in which almost all communication with peers was conducted online. And it’s not just kids’ internal emotional life that has been affected; their ability to interact socially with others has similarly declined. They are more withdrawn, more prone to aggression and frustrated outbursts when faced with needs or points of view counter to their own. The US Surgeon General has declared a “loneliness epidemic” and recently issued an advisory that included a call to schools to teach social skills as part of a national effort to address it.

Giving and volunteering to ensure the upkeep of community institutions are also in decline. Boards struggle to recruit younger members. Families with a degree of financial security that led their parents’ generation to contribute beyond the cost of tuition to fund scholarships for families of lesser means are increasingly comfortable seeking financial aid themselves. 

We live, in short, in an age of limited connectivity. We’re trying to educate for belief, belonging and commitment in an environment that’s increasingly inhospitable to them.


What Can We Do?

The first thing we can do is to bring to the fore the religious challenges of the digital age. It’s tempting to focus on generic problems such as smartphones in class or anxious students. Not just because they’re easier to address but also because the adjustments they entail are tactical and don’t require us to fundamentally rethink our vision and strategy. This temptation must be resisted.

Second, instead of focusing on how to limit intrusions by new tech on existing educational goals and practices, we can flip the script and ask ourselves the much tougher question: What do we want kids to be doing instead of being on their smartphones? And even more importantly, why? What kinds of Jews are we trying to raise here? And how are we preparing them for lives of religious meaning while also carrying smartphones in their pockets?

Third, in the spirit of middah keneged middah, measure for measure, we can work to rebuild each of Shimon Hatzaddik’s pillars, without which religious life cannot thrive. With a little creativity, we can even do so in ways that strengthen more than one pillar at a time.

For example, by building consensus among parents and teachers around tough, thoughtful policies about smartphone use and backing each other to implement them, we can both strengthen our institutions (Avodah) and build trust and social capital (Gemilut chasadim). Compelling arguments have been made for eliminating smartphones completely from schools, and restricting children to “dumb phones” until high school. But more important than which smartphone policy is adopted is that the community be united in formulating and implementing it. Because of the immense peer pressure with which any such policy must contend, no one family or educator can do this on their own.

To strengthen the pillar of Torah, we have to do a better job of articulating our own “Why?” In the face of kids’ alienation from religious commitments and spiritual purpose, we need a compelling articulation of why these matter to us now, more than ever.

To strengthen the pillar of Avodah, we need to invest in rebuilding trust between educators, administrators, lay leaders and parents. Educational leaders need to assert their own authority more boldly, while also bolstering the authority of others. Communities would benefit from backing their board presidents and heads of school to acquire the tools needed to face these growing challenges and to protect them from mob justice online. 

To strengthen the pillar of Gemilut chasadim, we need to give kids opportunities to experience with us habits of social interaction that previous generations acquired naturally at home, in strong community institutions and on the street. In the face of increasing self-obsession, we need to draw kids out of themselves by getting them to help those whose needs differ from their own. Studies show that the interventions that reduce loneliness most effectively are those in which the lonely help others. Instead of treating children as if their individual wellbeing comes above all other considerations, we can expand opportunities for peer-led activities in which they take greater collective responsibility. 

Such actions might not sound as if they have the power to draw kids away from TikTok or infuse them with spiritual purpose. But studies indicate that the same kinds of boundary-setting, warmth and high demands that characterize authoritative parenting (and, for that matter, strong religious communities) and which reduce risk of antisocial and addictive behavior offline similarly mitigate such behavior online. 

More generally, however, the approaches outlined above offer initial, practical ways to reconceive the challenges posed to Jewish education by an increasingly individualized and secularized digital world. As with all challenges, the disconnections of our age are also an opportunity to rethink our goals and pursue them with new energy. To paraphrase another mishnah in Pirkei Avot, if we won’t do it, who will? And if not now, when?

Since this article was written, tragic events in Israel have highlighted additional challenges posed to Jewish educators by our over-networked and under-connected age. To address them in depth would require a different article entirely, or even a series of articles. However, as Rabbi Tarfon insisted (Pirkei Avot, 2:16), our duty to act is independent of our ability to complete the task. Below, therefore, are some preliminary thoughts about specific challenges of social media during wartime and ways we might address them.

Among the first casualties of any war is truth. Propaganda and disinformation are weapons of psychological warfare, deployed deliberately to confuse, terrorize and dishearten. The volume of disinformation and the speed with which it is being disseminated online in the current war is beyond anything experienced in any previous conflict. 

I am referring here not only to outright liesmisrepresentations and mealy-mouthed “contextualizing” by Israel’s enemies but also to materials that, regardless of the intentions of those who share them, foment panic and despair. These include gory Go-Pro videos shared proudly by Hamas terrorists on TikTok and Facebook of murdered, captured and abused Jews; clips on YouTube of Jewish students on American campuses being attacked by pro-Palestinian demonstrators; and rumors spread on WhatsApp of an international day of Jihad targetting Jewish schools.

Some argue that it is our duty not only to view such materials ourselves but also to share them as widely as possible. I understand the rationale: Evil cannot be fought by ignoring it and we should not turn away from distressing truths. But I could not disagree more with the practical advice, especially as it applies to students, teachers and parents at Jewish day schools. Our primary concern at this time should be to strengthen the resolve and resilience of our communities and to shield our children not only from threats to their physical security but also to their psychological wellbeing and cultural identity. 

In practice, this requires educators and parents to take even more seriously than usual their gatekeeper role with respect to social media. Whatever your school or community policies were regarding smartphones and social media prior to the war, now is the time to review them and tighten their implementation. In particular, administrators should consider introducing tougher standards of moderation on staff and parent WhatsApp groups to minimize scaremongering via the spread of baseless rumors or shocking video clips. Jewish day schools that shut down on Friday 13 October because of one such rumor contributed unintentionally to Hamas’s goal of terrorizing Jewish communities worldwide. This could have been prevented by administrators better-informed about how to assess online information.

Like any crisis, this war is also a source of opportunity. On the face of it, day school students have more reasons to feel anxious and lonely today than they did just a few short weeks ago. Indeed, exposure to the world’s indifference to Jewish suffering may well have increased their sense of social isolation. 

However, as I argued earlier, one of the most effective ways to combat such feelings is to provide young people with opportunities to take responsibility for helping those in greater need than themselves. Whether it is raising money for orphaned children, campaigning for the release of hostages, writing personal letters of support to soldiers and displaced families, there are now - tragically - endless opportunities for day school students to set their personal worries aside and focus on boosting the morale of Jews on the frontline and helping to rebuild shattered families and communities. 

In short, these are not times to indulge our or our children’s anxieties, but rather to combat them directly by taking more responsibility for ourselves and others.

From Scrolls to Screens: Jewish EdTech Through the Ages

Sara Wolkenfeld
AI and Tech

Developments in digital technology are moving faster today than ever before. Teachers who want to keep up to date need to follow a steep learning curve, as new tools are invented or improved every few months. As a Talmud teacher in a yeshiva high school, I was constantly aware of new developments, each one raising questions about whether, how and when to integrate them into the study of ancient texts. Fortunately, a rich literature documenting past approaches to technological change can serve as guideposts as we consider how to shape the Jewish studies classrooms of the future.


A Talmudic Take on Tech

Abaye asks the following question: May one write just one or two parashot from the Torah, rather than the conventional full Torah scroll, so that a child can learn from it? (Gittin 60a).

Like all good educators, the rabbis of the Talmud wonder whether to take a chance on something new. The Talmud gives careful consideration to arguments against creating an excerpted text to aid students in their learning. This question remains valid, argues the Gemara, regardless of whether you believe that the Torah was originally received as a whole or in parts.

The Gemara considers two ways that the Torah may have been given to the Jewish people: Some believe that the Torah was given one scroll at a time, while others believe it was transmitted as a complete five-volume set. If it was given one scroll at a time, perhaps that means that one is permitted to approach it one scroll at a time throughout history. Alternatively, perhaps the fact that the individual scrolls were eventually bound together into one means that the initial acceptability of individual scrolls has been superseded, and one is no longer permitted to divide the book into sections.

On the other hand, the Gemara suggests, even if the Torah was originally handed down as one single book, that does not necessarily preclude the use of a new methodology. Perhaps, posits the Talmud, “if it is not possible” to teach without breaking Torah into smaller pieces, it may be permissible to do so even if this was not the Torah’s original form.

In other words, the Talmud asserts that neither the oldest and most authentic technology nor the newest and most flexible technology necessarily dictate the way that students should learn. No matter how we perceive the contents of the Torah, the way that we received it was not necessarily the way best designed for children to learn.

Technology—in the Talmud’s case, the ability to write texts on scrolls in smaller chunks—provides students with more easily digestible pieces of texts. Shorter passages are easier to carry around and easier to use with less of the ancient kind of scrolling. On the other hand, dividing the Torah into smaller pieces inevitably means a loss of context. 

Rabbah rules definitively in response to Abaye’s question and says that one is not permitted to break up a Torah into smaller texts, even for the benefit of schoolchildren. The Talmud attempts to overturn his argument, but ultimately each counterproof fails. The Chatam Sofer defends Rabbah’s position, arguing that whenever you take Torah out of context, you inevitably erase some of the meaning. Every word in the Torah, he asserts, is linked to what comes before, and removing that link removes the possibility of discovering the deeper meaning of that connection. The desire to simplify, to isolate specific excerpts and help students focus, is a need frequently expressed by educators. Nonetheless, the Talmud resists this educational technology and presents a robust argument for keeping Torah in its original context.


Tech Enables Contexts

One consequence of digital technology is the ease with which words are lifted from their original context. None of us, and none of our students, learns from a Torah scroll on a regular basis. The “traditional” option for teachers today is a printed book, which may be a single volume of the Torah, or, indeed, a single parashah or set of parashot. Furthermore, these sources, whether Tanakh, Mishnah or Gemara, are often presented in a new context. We live in the age of the sourcesheet, or worksheet, where the educator pre-selects the texts, and students read only what is on the sheet and answer the questions or perform the tasks that the teacher sets out for them.

Both of these methods are highly valued by many of the teachers I have met in the past 10 years of providing professional development workshops for Sefaria. Books are often considered to be better for students’ brains, and many believe they represent a fuller and more genuine learning experience. Worksheets allow students to focus only on the material that is assigned, and provide teachers with full control in moving students through the narrative arc that they have determined in our lesson planning. As one teacher said to me in response to my enthusiasm about the availability of a large library of Jewish books online: “I don’t want my students learning whatever interests them. I want them to learn the material I put in front of them.”

As a former high school Talmud teacher, working to anchor students’ attention in a sea of distractions, both Talmudic and otherwise, I find this view highly relatable. I am also aware that it severely limits the horizons of what my students might learn and even how they consider the activity of learning.

Advances in digital technology provide options that the rabbis of the Talmud could never have imagined, including searchable text with the option to zoom in on one piece of a pasuk or daf while remaining fully connected to the larger context. In fact, rather than removing context, the advent of hyperlinking citations means that words of Torah are more intricately contextualized, and in a more accessible way, than at any time in Jewish history. These new developments provide us with the chance to use the technology of the future to engage more deeply with sources from the past.

Educators now can model authentic learning by presenting a text on a screen and demonstrating how to find commentaries or related texts. Within the confines of a well-defined lesson plan, teachers can show students in real time how to generate questions and pursue answers. A 21st century learning toolbox includes the ability to find and research Torah online. This need not be to the exclusion of that other groundbreaking modern technology, the printed book. History tells us that many scholars and laypeople, Jewish and gentile alike, resisted adopting printed texts, just as we struggle today to determine the best course of action around digital learning. But we would be remiss to not include online tools in our teaching. Not only are digital tools ubiquitous in our students lives, but there are real educational advantages to deploying them in the classroom.


Navigating Focus and Freedom

The challenge—and the promise—of current digital technology is for teachers to move away from sourcesheets and to consider ways that digital libraries might complement books in the classroom as well as in the course of assignments. Worksheets may well remain a technique for drilling students on particular skills, but learning directly from sources, interwoven with additional sources, will help students develop an inquiry mindset. Educators can empower students to read texts, ask questions and develop the skills to discover the answers on their own, with age-appropriate scaffolding.

For example, a teacher can open any chapter and verse in Tanakh and ask students to read it. Access to digital libraries make it easy for students to see what came before and what comes after, even if the full book isn’t on their desk. Alternatively, the teacher may be the only one reading a text digitally, while students follow along in books. Regardless, a question such as “What do you notice about this verse?” or “What questions do you have about this sentence?” can lead to a conversation about commentaries and other types of sources, easily displayed on screen. The teacher may choose to retain control of where to click and when, in order to keep a class focused. However, empowering students to navigate texts within the larger beit midrash ecosystem demonstrates the depth of our tradition and shows that there are always multiple ways to seek more information and gain new perspectives.

Speaking of scaffolding, students deserve to know that dictionaries and other learning aids exist both in print and online; a robust 21st century education will include both technologies. Tanakh, Mishnah, Talmud, Halakhah and more—each discipline can be enriched through judicious balancing of the available technologies on the part of the teacher. Learning to use multiple tools will help develop adaptable, flexible learners, ready to bring Torah into the next age of technology, whenever that might come about.


Continuing the Talmudic Approach Today

This kind of experimentation can be frightening for educators whose expertise in learning and teaching comes from a different technological era. However, in resisting changing our methodologies, we risk becoming obsolete. Students will discover new tools with or without us; we remain relevant and helpful guides by engaging and learning with our students how best to use these tools.

Most importantly, resisting new tools doesn’t open up a thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of new technologies. Rabbinic literature is full of debates about the best media for learning Torah. Embracing shiny fresh technologies simply because they are new and cutting edge is also a repudiation of the careful weighing of new strategies that the Talmud models for us. Today’s educators have the opportunity to open up a rich conversation with our students and our communities. The quick pace of digital development affords opportunities for today’s Torah leaders to weigh in on the future of Jewish learning.

Digital tools allow students to learn sources anchored in context, interwoven with the rest of the Jewish canon, and in concert with other tools, old and new. Instead of rejecting new technologies because they are unknown and threatening, educators need to engage with these tools and bring our students and communities into the modern equivalent of the back-and-forth of the Talmud in Gittin: a discussion about what we hope our students gain from their learning and how best to accomplish those goals. It is a conversation that goes all the way back to the Talmudic arguments about Jewish educational technology.

Rethinking the Digital Revolution in Education

Yuval Chomski
AI and Tech

“But the king is naked!” The promised digital revolution has left our schools shortchanged. Let’s delve right into the heart of the matter: the detrimental impact of early computer use on crucial childhood development.

At the turn of the millennium, there was boundless optimism surrounding the internet’s exponential growth. We envisioned the internet superhighway, coupled with emerging cellular technology, transforming every facet of our lives for the better. To a large extent, it did. Industries like retail succumbed to the allure of online shopping, and entertainment became accessible on-demand, catering to our on-the-go lifestyles. By now, remote work has become the norm for many, thanks to the convenience of email and virtual conferencing.


Today’s Edtech Classroom

In this climate of rapid technological advancement, it was only natural to expect that the digital revolution would disrupt our education system, just as it had in the workplace. After all, the internet was a vast repository of knowledge, accessible at our fingertips. All we needed to do was connect our students to this vast trove of information, and the era of knowledge downloading would commence.


Fast forward two decades, and we find ourselves in the present day, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars poured into realizing the digital revolution in our schools. By the time students reach third or fourth grade, most have access to an internet-connected computer. Yet the grim reality persists—most teachers still opt for traditional tools such as books, pens and paper worksheets over computers. A cursory glance into a student’s school bag tells the tale, with its weight reflecting the dominance of physical materials. Even the most optimistic statistics concede that computers are used for a mere 15% of the school day.

The competition among schools fueled investments in tablets and computers, and the “one-to-one school” badge became a mark of prestige. Inertia has kept schools replacing old computers with new ones and purchasing licenses for interactive software, all in a bid to engage students, who are perceived as uninterested without gamified teaching.


Dangers to Students’ Minds on Chromebooks

It’s time for a sobering realization: The digital revolution in our schools has unequivocally failed. It’s an irrefutable fact—the Chromebook stands exposed, metaphorically naked.

Now, let’s discuss Chromebooks and their strategic role in education technology. While Chromebooks earned their moment of recognition during the Covid pandemic by facilitating remote learning, their introduction wasn’t solely about accessibility. Google recognized that the education sector presented the ideal battleground. By providing an affordable, user-friendly, cloud-centric experience with Chromebooks, Google aimed to create lifelong users among students. This early exposure was designed to make Google’s platform the preferred choice for educators and students, laying the groundwork for future dominance.

However, there’s something inherently unsettling about the image of young students sitting in a classroom, wearing headphones to avoid disturbing one another, while the teacher stands at the front, and students fixate on screens, their fingers tirelessly typing on keyboards. Attempting to transplant the office environment into a fourth grade classroom is fundamentally misguided, and it’s hardly surprising that many teachers harbor animosity toward this approach. They cite numerous reasons for their discontent, including the loss of fundamental handwriting skills, which scientific research has linked to lower reading comprehension, memory retention and even creativity. 

Other concerns include the loss of eye contact with the teacher, which is a vital tool for educators to gauge student engagement. Furthermore, the everpresent temptation of endless distractions that not even the most disciplined students can resist adds to the list of grievances. The adverse effects of the blue light emitted by screens and the logistical nightmare of charging devices compound these issues. Amanda Strom’s research in The Negative Effects of Technology for Students and Educators highlights these concerns, emphasizing the adverse impact of excessive screen time on students’ physical and mental health. Additionally, educators face substantial stress and anxiety in keeping up with ever-changing technology. As technology continues to evolve, it’s crucial to strike a balance between its benefits and potential drawbacks.

In such a scenario, I’ll opt for the familiarity of a color-divider binder, thank you very much.


A Tech Solution to Tech: Paper Tablets


So, what’s the solution? It’s not as simple as reverting to pen and paper alone. In a world driven by digital technology, opting for pen and paper is not an option. Digital literacy and accessibility, coupled with environmental considerations, compel us to embrace both worlds for a harmonious future.

Rather, we need to find a way to marry the best aspects of traditional learning with the advantages that technology can offer. We must reflect on what makes the traditional approach effective and discover how to integrate it seamlessly with the right technology to harness the benefits that the internet and technology bring.

Fortunately, a ray of hope exists in the form of paper tablets—electronic notebooks that replicate the tactile experience of reading from and writing on paper. This emerging product category has gained traction recently, with major consumer electronics companies like Amazon, Lenovo, Sony, Xiaomi and Huawei joining the fray. Regrettably, until now, these products have been primarily tailored for business professionals rather than students.

My company, Jotit, is an Israeli software company that has crafted a learning environment expressly designed for paper tablets. This platform seamlessly integrates with Google Classroom, consolidating all paper-based materials and digital content onto a single device while prioritizing handwriting as the primary input method. Teachers can upload worksheets to Google Classroom, which students can complete using handwriting, even making use of scratch paper from their notebooks. Once finished, students submit their assignments electronically for teachers to review on Google Classroom, simplifying the educator’s workload and benefiting the environment.

Our digital revolution in education has fallen short, with laptops and Chromebooks proving to be inadequate solutions. It’s time to explore alternatives like paper tablets that seamlessly blend the best of both worlds, preparing students for a future where technology harmoniously complements traditional learning methods.

Igniting Sparks of Meaning with AI-Driven Technology

Sarah Palmer
AI and Tech

I was a student in a Jewish day school when the internet first entered homes and schools. With copies of encyclopedias Britannica and Judaica lining the shelves behind us, the school librarian introduced us to the World Wide Web on one computer in the library. Those were the days of and Netscape Navigator. In a matter of years, there were computers in every classroom and a class period dedicated to learning how to use them.

By the time I was a teacher myself, most classrooms had 1:1 devices. We had reached the Google age, and web browser capabilities were lightyears past Netscape Navigator. Wikipedia, a resource many educators were concerned with when it first came out, became a tool I taught students to use with discernment, but with frequency. More recently, students began turning to Siri and now ChatGPT for queries, rather than searching keywords. 

New technology certainly raises questions, but it also has the ability to open doors to information never accessible before. When books started to become household items some 500 years ago, the influx of information raised controversy; looking back, it is clear how important the printing press has been to the progress of civilization.


AI is driving a similar paradigm shift. AI certainly raises challenges in the classroom, but educators have a lot to look forward to in the coming years thanks to this fast-evolving technology. With more information digitized and easily searchable, teachers can more readily find the materials they need to inspire students and students are empowered to directly access materials relevant to their interests.


What is available to teachers and students that was not before?

Thanks to digitization, more primary source material and historic treasures are available to incorporate into our teaching. As Shuvi Hoffman, the National Library of Israel’s (NLI) global Jewish education manager, states, “Primary sources bring the past to life. They expose learners to the personal stories behind grand historic events and give an authentic glimpse into moments from the past. Once a source comes to life, it creates a spark of connection for our students.”

Take, for example, Naomi Shemer’s address book where she scribbled the last verse to “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” at the end of the Six Day War while on her way to perform for Israeli troops, or the hospital stationary where Naftali Imber scribbled the words to “Hatikvah” from his hospital bed in New York. Recent advances in digitization have made treasures like these more accessible. A librarian can certainly pull these up from the NLI’s online catalog. But for users like teachers and students, these materials not only appear online, but thanks to AI, they will be easily searchable. Using AI technology, the NLI is making materials like these easier to find and thereby putting the personal notes of history directly into the hands of our students.


AI is making these artifacts more searchable through visual recognition, geographic recognition and connections with other platforms like Wikipedia.

The National Library of Israel, an institution that opened in 1892 as a budding Jewish national library even before the State of Israel was formed, has become a depository of millions of books, periodicals, archives, photographs, personal diaries, music files and so much more. Thanks to digitization, the NLI has 200,000 books, nearly 10,000 manuscripts, 250 years’ worth of Jewish periodicals and millions of photographs viewable online—a growing segment of its total collection. But with so many artifacts online, how can teachers and students access and sift through these resources? Yaron Deutscher, head of the NLI’s digital department, described three ways the NLI is using AI to increase searchability of the Library’s collection: visual recognition, geographic recognition and connecting to outside platforms like Wikipedia.


Visual Recognition

According to Deutscher, “Visual recognition technology [much like Google Lens] is something that can scan the NLI’s entire photo collection (2.5 million photographs) and use image recognition to identify not just specific people or places, but everything in the image.” How an archivist labeled a photograph or document, often with well-known names of people, places or key dates, will no longer limit search results. 

Perhaps a student wants to research ice cream in Israel. Ice cream in the background of a photograph would not necessarily come up with a keyword search. However, with image recognition the ice cream will be identified, regardless of whether an archivist thought it was important to flag. The NLI’s digital team expects this advancement to be integrated within a year. This will open up materials for students in new ways and make otherwise inaccessible materials more reachable.


Geographic Recognition

Another technology the NLI is working to integrate is geographic recognition. This will allow teachers and students to search a geographic location, regardless of the names or keywords assigned to it, and get much more comprehensive search results. With political borders and location names changing throughout history, it can be hard to search primary sources and periodicals from a specific location. 

Geographic recognition technology resolves the current challenge of researching a place that has switched borders over time. Take, for example, a location that could be searched using a Russian, Polish or Yiddish name: It is easy to miss relevant materials that are cataloged or tagged differently. Yet when you search geographically, you get everything associated with that location. This opens up tremendous opportunities in the classroom when studying topics like immigration or family history. It also reveals the implications of changing borders as it relates to the history of an individual or community.


Wikipedia and Google Arts and Culture

The NLI is also working with AI technology to make its resources more easily searchable by partnering with platforms like Wikipedia and Google Arts and Culture, ultimately connecting the networks of data from which AI machines draw their information. Imagine a student researching Hannah Szenes. There is so much information available with a simple Google search, but how does a teacher convey to students her genuine character? How does a teacher help students find the information that will draw them in and spark personal connections to this historic figure?


Hannah Szenes' diary pages 54-55
Hannah Szenes' diary pages 54-55, Palestine, November 1942-February 1943, The National Library of Israel. Photography by Ardon Bar-Hama.


Among Szenes’ personal belongings housed at the NLI is her original, handwritten poem “Halichah L’Caesaria,” colloquially known as “Eli, Eli.” This is a poem whose words are easily searchable online, but it is not the same as reading them out of her own notebook and seeing them in her own handwriting. With the opportunity to view the original copy of this poem, students can easily identify a spelling mistake common among emerging Hebrew students: Szenes spells “olam” with an aleph rather than an ayin. 

Without this personal artifact, Szenes is a name among many other historic figures students encounter; someone who lived before their time, and even before their parents’ time, who was from a foreign country and spoke a foreign language. She was someone whose identity does not automatically resonate with American students. However, when given access to her personal items—her handwriting, report cards, her spelling mistakes—Szenes comes alive as a person who wrote this poem at an age not much older than our high school seniors. She becomes someone relatable and is brought to life as a young person who was learning Hebrew just like they are. With partnerships like those the NLI is working on with Wikipedia, Szenes’s personal archive will not only be accessible through the NLI’s online catalog as it is now, but it also will pop up within her Wikipedia page—often the top result in a student’s Google search.

Now consider a historic figure who is not associated with Jewish history: Sir Isaac Newton. Perhaps a STEM teacher is looking to integrate Jewish content into the math and science curriculum. Where would this teacher look for resources? A Google search of “Newton and Jewish” won’t bring you directly to the NLI’s catalog, but it will pull up a Google Arts and Culture exhibit featuring Newton’s theological papers—among them, a manuscript with Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto L'Olam Va’ed, written in Newton’s own hand in Hebrew characters. With this image, a teacher can illustrate that this historic figure, best known for his mathematical principles, not only read and wrote in Hebrew, but scribed the same words our students are taught to recite each day. 

NLI’s partnership with Google Arts and Culture already has made this resource readily accessible, a resource that not only expands students’ understanding of Isaac Newton, but also invites them to draw unique points of connection between calculus and tefillah. As AI technology continues to evolve, these points of connection will only become more frequent. Looking ahead, I anticipate that AI technology will “read” a handwritten manuscript like Newton’s theological papers, identify its liturgical references and suggest it as a resource for a student researching the Shema.


A World of Possibility

While AI raises challenges, and schools do need to think intentionally about how to approach them, AI is opening windows into the past and ultimately enabling the sparks of meaning and connections that teachers work so hard to foster in the classroom. With modern technology, the NLI is able to give access to so many treasures that 20 years ago were only accessible to a very small, scholarly group of learners within the confines of the library building. When considering AI technology, we must remember that “our job is not to compete with it, it is to complete it,” as the NLI’s head of the digital department reminded me. As educators, our job is not to work against AI, it is to work with it, helping our students use it responsibly and taking advantage of the world of possibility it presents.

AI and Torah Lishmah

David Zvi Kalman
AI and Tech

If Jewish educators know one thing, they know that Torah study isn’t going to make you rich. For most students, it will have little impact on their economic outcomes at all. When it comes to AI, this gives Jewish educators a distinct advantage.

When AI entered the general studies classroom, two concerns immediately popped up. The first one was about plagiarism and the need to reconfigure assignments. However, behind this concern was a deeper question: How do you teach the skills that students will need for the economy of the future? I sympathize with these concerns; they will surely take time to resolve, and many painful mistakes will be made along the way.


But the world by and large does not care how much Torah you know. The point of Torah learning is learning. Whereas their general studies counterparts must optimize their lessons so that their students can compete in an AI-boosted marketplace, Jewish educators have the freedom to optimize the experience of Torah study itself. Unlike most educators, Jewish educators can afford to ask: How can AI improve Torah lishmah, Torah study for its own sake? How can AI enhance learning when learning is an end in itself?

The answer comes down to fluency. Jewish education is about imparting particular pieces of information, but the real prize is giving students the critical mass of skills and confidence and a roadmap that they need to navigate the sources directly, allowing them to take ownership through exploration. This ability—knowing how to learn and what to learn—involves a combination of textual skills and a sense of the Torah corpus itself.

Thanks to translation and digitization, that critical mass is smaller than it used to be. To study a page of Talmud by oneself or in havruta once required a tremendous amount of knowledge. Today, with the entire Talmud elucidated and translated, it involves much less. Digitization has also made it much easier to navigate the corpus. Knowing which texts were available and where to find them was once a skill unto itself, and without a well-stocked beit midrash most people (and almost all women) had no chance to access any but the most important. Today, this has all changed. Not only is every major Jewish text freely available online (along with translations), but many digital Torah databases come pre-loaded with connections to commentaries, parallel texts and references. These tools help learners build their internal roadmaps of what Torah contains. They encourage people to explore.

Can AI lower the bar to entry for Torah lishmah even further? Well, not yet. Large language models like ChatGPT do indeed know quite a bit about Judaism and Jewish law, but their training data is not sufficiently focused on Hebrew or Torah; they can’t teach you how to read the Talmud, their Q&A interfaces don’t encourage wide exploration, and they don’t (yet) enhance the classroom.


AI Developments on the Horizon


But AI is moving fast, and these problems are solvable. Decades of building Torah databases have yielded exactly the data set needed to design an AI that could, indeed, be a tutor, classroom aid and textual guide all wrapped up in one. More than being convenient, these tools might imbue learners with the confidence to ask hard, direct questions.

All of these developments are stops on the way to a grander prize: the development of a conversational AI that embodies the entirety of Torah. Such a model, presented as a “person,” would have the ability to speak on behalf of the Jewish tradition as a whole, or whatever part of it happened to be of greatest interest. Imagine an AI embodiment of Deuteronomy, or Rabbi Meir, or Glikl of Hameln—and imagine having them speak to one another. AI as Torah personified would quickly make its way into the classroom and could be a valuable third partner in any havruta. Such an AI might spur a great deal of textual exploration and high-level understanding of different parts of the tradition. Add in analysis and use of sound and images, and the possibilities are almost limitless.

I have confidence that these AIs will be built; Jews have long been at the forefront of digitized religious learning, and I expect this to continue. The AIs I am describing have the ability to open up Torah lishmah to people who might otherwise never have been interested, and they will create new possibilities for those already invested.


Three Guiding Principles

That said, the devil is in the details. It is important to implement these AIs in a way that emphasizes that Torah study is not like other forms of study, does not leave users overly reliant on the AI as the font of all Torah knowledge, and inspires the creation of new ideas. To that end, here are some specific suggestions for how an AI programmed to enhance Torah lishmah might be productively designed.

Better to say too little than too much. The current cutting-edge AIs all suffer from “hallucinations,” which means they make up false information. Given that Torah study involves thinking carefully about each and every word and phrase, the stakes for making up new Torah are unusually high; in addition, the things not said are often as interesting as the things said. To that end, Torah AIs must be scrupulous not to fabricate information and to make the user aware of the limits of their knowledge. This also gives space for users to develop their own ideas without falsely believing that someone else has already had that same thought.


Center the sources. Some AIs show their work; others do not. A key concern for a Torah AI is that its answers may be so abstract that the source texts themselves seem unnecessary. This could alienate learners from the texts and leave them feeling like they know how to navigate the AI but not its underlying sources. To counter this, Torah AIs should be designed to provide a mixture of abstraction and direct textual analysis, so that learners are still regularly being exposed to the source material. The AIs must also be able to answer complex philological and grammatical questions, should the user be interested.

Make all Jewish knowledge freely accessible. A major problem of AI development is bias; skewed data sets can lead to skewed results. For Jewish wisdom, this means that far too much contemporary Jewish studies research is locked away in places where AIs cannot find them. If AI becomes the main entry point for Torah knowledge, it is crucial that this portal not have arbitrary gaps in its knowledge. To that end, researchers should think about publishing in places where their ideas can be consumed by AIs, and existing publishers should consider giving AIs access to their publications. For users, this knowledge will also hint at the kinds of ideas that no AI could assist them in developing. Some users may become intrigued and want to study more.

AI is like water: It is seeping into everything. Jewish educators, with their unusual religious incentives, have a particular opportunity to develop AIs that inspires students and encourages them to expand Torah further.

Embracing the Synergy of Technology, Jewish Values and 21st Century Learning

Jonathan Fass
AI and Tech

Beware the Book

In Phaedrus, Plato laments the creation of books, which he suggests will “implant forgetfulness” in the souls of students, allowing them to seek “remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” He suggests that reliance on books is the “conceit of wisdom.” It will allow students to feign knowledge on topics they do not really understand. While we might chuckle at Plato’s fear of books today, imagine what he might think about the internet, artificial intelligence or social media.

This article suggests that educators diminish technology’s value if they equate it to the book in Plato’s Phaedrus, a tool solely for transmitting content knowledge. Rather, educators should use technology for the development of 21st century learning skills, commonly known as the 4 Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Additionally, regardless of the subject, teachers should explore these skills as part of a broader connection to Jewish values. 

Through this synergy, teachers can optimize the use of technology for broader educational goals, assess the value of employing an edtech tool, and foster a holistic learning environment that supports Jewish values, tech literacy and lifelong learning.


Critical Thinking: Excellent Questions are Key

Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics, was once asked what encouraged him to become a scientist. Rabi explained that upon returning from school each day, his mother would not ask, “Izzy, what did you learn today,” but rather “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?” Emphasizing the importance of inquiry over the information, Rabi’s mother planted the seeds for a lifetime of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is the ability for learners to analyze, synthesize and evaluate information in a discerning way. It demands weighing the credibility of sources, understanding the distinction between fact and opinion, recognizing bias, contextualizing knowledge and using prior learning as the basis for new inquiry. While not every learner will become a world-renowned physicist, developing critical thinking skills is vital for lifelong learning.

Judaism’s appreciation of critical thinking is evident in its approach to Talmud study. Rabbis across generations pull apart the arguments of their thought partners to clarify, uphold or dispute another’s interpretation. The Babylonian Talmud understands this process as vital to sharpening the thinking of both scholars, leading to deeper understanding (Ta’anit 7a):

Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17)? This verse comes to tell you that just as with these iron implements, one sharpens the other when they are rubbed against each other, so too, when Torah scholars study together, they sharpen one another in halakhah.


Through student-centered, inquiry-based learning, technology can expose learners to a wealth of information and encourage new ways of thinking. Collaborative platforms can provide a forum for meaningful debate, personalized feedback and scaffolding from teachers. Applications that offer multiple modalities, often with gamified interactions and newly powered by AI, promote problem solving, build resilience and encourage patience through the learning process. Multimedia, interactive and gamified learning opportunities, through platforms such as Genially, Wordwall and H5P, can help teachers to create their own online activities, targeted specifically at developing critical-thinking skills.

However, technology is a double-edged sword in the development of critical-thinking skills. Easy access to information, literally in the palm of your hand, encourages students to accept information without questioning its validity. To push back against this influence, teachers must incorporate digital literacy into their curriculum, particularly the ability to identify reliable sources. Resources on digital literacy are available on the ISTE website.


Creativity: Exploring New Ways of Demonstrating Understanding

Often a learner is recognized as “creative” because of their ability in the arts. In the context of 21st century learning skills, creativity focuses on original thinking and innovative problem solving rather than artistic expression. Developing these skills has broad application in every moment of inquiry, at school, at home and in a professional context. While it has been suggested that creativity is something you either have or you do not, through the work of Dr. Keith Sawyer and others it is now widely accepted that creativity can be learned or re-learned. 

Rabbinic tradition supports the idea that all learning is a creative process. The Talmud shares the following story (Chagigah 3a): 

The Sages taught: There was an incident involving Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar ben Ḥisma, when they went to greet Rabbi Yehoshua in Peki’in. Rabbi Yehoshua said to them: What novel idea was taught today in the study hall? They said to him: We are your students and we drink from your water, [i.e., all of our Torah knowledge comes from you, and therefore how can we tell you something you have not already learned?] He said to them: Even so, there cannot be a study hall without a novelty.

In the article “Creativity as a Spiritual Practice,” Rabbi Adina Allen, co-founder of the Jewish Studio Project, suggests that the creative process is “an engagement with what is in order to bring about what will be,” and requires “a willingness to venture into the unknown, the ability to be present in the moment, an openness to our intuition and allowing ourselves to follow where it leads us.”

Extending Rabbi Allen’s thinking to learning, technology allows learners to move beyond the four walls of the classroom, providing students a road by which to “venture into the unknown.” While we do not want students following every internet rabbit hole, a limitless, hyperlinked exploration of our world provides each of us with a different learning journey and a unique way to share our understanding with others. In a world where information is easily retrieved from the internet but often not contextualized, students should be encouraged to demonstrate their understanding in creative ways.

The edtech landscape is awash with tools that both encourage and guide creative thinking. Platforms such as Popplet and Google’s Jamboard are designed for mapping ideas and collective brainstorming. Book Creator, Adobe Express and Wixie encourage learners to share their ideas through text, voice, image and video. In developing a student’s creative muscles, teachers should focus on guiding students through a process, worrying less about a product or outcome. Ideally, these platforms also support reflective and collaborative learning experiences.


Collaboration: Recognizing the Value of Partnered Learning


While some students prefer to work alone, educational experiences that are social and student-led result in deeper learning experiences. In addition, collaboration supports the ability to compromise and reach mutually accepted results, preparing students for real-life social and professional situations. 

The paired learning experience, hevruta, is the traditional method of Jewish study. The importance of partnered learning is found throughout our rabbinic texts (Pirkei Avot 1:6 and Avot DeRabbi Natan 22). The danger of solitary learning is reflected in an interpretation of Jeremiah found in the Talmud (Ta’anit 7a):

And this is what Rabbi Yosei bar Ḥanina said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “A sword is upon the boasters [habaddim], and they shall become fools [noalu]” (Jeremiah 50:36)? This verse can be interpreted homiletically: There is a sword upon the enemies of Torah scholars, a euphemism for Torah scholars themselves, who sit alone [bad bevad] and study Torah. And not only that, but those who study by themselves grow foolish from their solitary Torah study, as it is stated: “And they shall become fools.”

Technology exponentially broadens the possibility for collaboration, as most edtech tools are designed with collaboration as a core feature. While sharing documents is likely the best-known example in this space, consider other platforms which facilitate multimedia collaboration, such as Wakelet and Floop

In choosing a platform, also consider how its moderation features support both digital citizenship and Jewish values. Teach a framework within which students can offer a respectful critique of peers, evaluate their own contribution and recognize the strengths they bring to a shared process. 


Communication: Sharing Learning with Others

A person’s ability to effectively communicate is the glue that binds together all 21st century learning skills. It is what makes collaboration, creativity and critical thinking come alive.

Judaism recognizes the positive power of words. God uses this power and gifts it to humanity in the Book of Genesis. The Babylonian Talmud, cautions us to the dangers of poor communication (Arakhin 15b):

Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: What is the meaning of that which is written: “What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done for you, you deceitful tongue” (Psalms 120:3)? The Holy One, Blessed be He said to the tongue: All the other limbs of a person are upright, but you are lying horizontally. All the other limbs of a person are external, but you are internal. And moreover, I have surrounded you with two walls, one of bone, i.e., the teeth, and one of flesh, the lips. What shall be given to you and what more shall be done for you, to prevent you from speaking in a deceitful manner, tongue?

The Digital Age offers us an ever-growing and complex web of multimedia communication platforms. While these can be employed to make communication more effective and learning more enjoyable, the perceived anonymity of the internet and democratization of content creation requires that everyone be more discerning in their acceptance of what they see and hear.

Platforms such as Flip, Vocaroo and Padlet can be used to record student presentations, conversations or other communication activities. Video conferencing allows students to practice face-to-face communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. Practicing social media etiquette can help students learn how to communicate respectfully and ethically online. Gaming platforms are an engaging way for students to practice communication skills. Students can play games that require them to work together to solve problems or communicate effectively with each other.


Teaching with Three Sources: Edtech, the 4 Cs and Jewish Values

The Jewish classroom offers a unique learning environment, where technology, 21st century learning skills and Jewish values can be brought together in shared exploration. Leveraging all three creates a more engaging and relevant learning experience while supporting learners in developing skills for lifelong success. Consider the following to bring this approach to the classroom: 

  • Choose technology that equally supports the development of 21st century learning skills and Jewish values.
  • Provide learners with clear instructions and expectations both in how to use technology and the learning goals for its use.
  • Offer moments for reflection and feedback, which allow students to use technology in support of an evolving learning process.
  • Model the intersection of 21st century learning goals and Jewish values in pedagogy.

Through this approach, the connected classroom becomes an incubator of Jewish values, a laboratory for exploring technology and fertile ground for students to build the learning skills they need in the classroom and beyond.

The Tech Frontier: What Parents Can Look for at Their Child’s School

Holly Seidenfeld
AI and Tech

Any time a school proclaims that one of its new initiatives for the year includes some technological overhaul (“Smart boards in every classroom!”; “All students will have their own personal devices this year!”), my antennae go up and my skepticism sets in. 

Twenty years ago, it was innovative and useful that every elementary school included a class on computers in its curriculum. Students learned Microsoft PowerPoint and how to create a pie chart on Microsoft Excel. As technology evolved, the educational system responded to a real and urgent need to adapt and integrate technology into students’ learning. But the rapid change within the technological world has outpaced our schools, and not every approach reflects best practices for our children. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating the educational approach to technology at your child’s school. 


Flashy doesn’t always mean better.

There are many times that a school will invest in significant technological equipment, including but not limited to Apple TVs, smart boards, iPads or 3D printers. Each is a powerful tool, but the purchase of those items does not indicate if the education of our students will be improved. These items should be mediums used toward a broader educational goal. 

Let’s take a hypothetical example. A school invests in 30 VR (virtual reality) headsets and invites parents to experience what the Beit Hamikdash looked like in a 3D reality. Many parents walk away excited, but have they really learned what the school’s educational goal is? If the VR headsets are part of a larger effort to make learning more experiential and relevant, then wonderful; but if the school is unable to identify any other pathways to support that same outcome, then it is a misleading presentation.

Or take the hiring of an educational technologist. If the school has identified a larger educational goal, then an educational technologist can help facilitate school growth and student learning to achieve that goal. However, if no larger educational goal has been identified, then this position might entail an individual introducing random apps to teachers who may or may not use them, or giving one-off presentations to students about computer programs that they may or may not remember.

That’s why flashy doesn’t always mean better. When a school presents new equipment to parents, it’s important to ask the followup questions: What is the broader goal, and how will the use of this equipment lead to achieving that goal? If the school lacks answers, then the tool is not as impressive as it may have initially appeared.

One important note: Schools may receive funds (such as state grants) earmarked for certain technological devices. In those cases, even if the school cannot yet identify the broader implications of the technology, they should of course maximize the resources that students have access to and incorporate those tools when possible and appropriate. 


Access to technology should be limited.

I recently finished my doctorate at New York University. The program primarily consisted of synchronous classes online in the evenings. During the 90-minute sessions, I would listen… while sending a WhatsApp to my friend in the cohort, ordering my Walmart groceries, and scrolling Pinterest to decide where I should go on yeshiva break.

Research is mixed on the best practices in terms of notetaking. Some argue that handwritten notes help information to be more cemented in long-term memory. Accordingly, there are some schools, like the notorious one in Silicon Valley, in which students are allowed no devices in the classroom. I tend to agree with that line of thinking, but I’m not certain. There are other researchers who argue that typing allows students to engage with the material instead of being rushed to get the information down on paper. Truthfully, different people learn best in different ways, so it’s probably not a one-size-fits-all, as with most learning practices.

Here’s what we do know though: Internet or cellphone access during class or learning is distracting. I know very few adults who can focus when they have a device in front of them, and children have even less self-control. If a school allows students to have devices on them during class with no restrictions, speak up.

An extension of this principle is what homework looks like. Hopefully all parents have restrictions on technology at home, but these limitations are often undermined by the expectations of school. Here are a few case studies to demonstrate the appropriate and inappropriate usage of technology for homework assignments:

—A tenth grade student needs to write a five-page paper on Death of a Salesman. This is a summative assignment that cannot be completed within the designated class time. At home, the student will need to use their personal device to write their paper because handwriting this assignment would be onerous and inhibit the student’s ability to edit.

—A sixth grade student is asked to turn in a math paper on Google Classroom. A family should be given the option of turning in this paper the old-fashioned way. While having an electronic record and place for submissions helps the teacher (and sometimes the student) organizationally, the usage of technology may undermine the family’s ability to limit access to a device. It is easy for a middle school student to begin on Google Classroom and then get distracted.

—A third grade student is assigned to watch a video on YouTube. Schools should not do this. There is no control over YouTube commercials, suggested videos on the side or the comments. And homework for third graders on a device should be rarely or never mandated.

Parents should request that their child’s school is thinking deeply and critically about when technology is mandated at home. Not every educator or family will agree on when the usage of technology at home is appropriate, but if a school is not even having the conversation, it’s a red flag.


No school has the answer.

Most schools have engaged in some version of this professional development session over the past six months: “How should schools respond to ChatGPT and AI?” There’s only one wrong answer to this question, and it is if a school answers, “We know what to do.”

Overnight, students were able to input specific questions into ChatGPT and have an original essay produced almost immediately. One of my students demonstrated how ChatGPT gave him a well-formulated answer to a specific question on an esoteric topic concerning rabbinical thought during the Gaonic era. And since its release, the technology has improved, and it will continue to develop as more users engage with it. The number of students who turned in work that they had not written has increased exponentially. Educators correctly began to worry about the impact of this technology on student learning.

There are some rich conversations happening, and education is on the brink of a revolution. One of the first responses by many educators was to evaluate what work should be completed at home versus in the classroom. Since students have access to ChatGPT on their personal devices, many teachers began mandating written assignments be finished in class and in front of the instructor. Other educators embraced ChatGPT and proclaimed that there is no way to fight it. They thought of creative ways to incorporate the technology into their assessments. Students were asked to take a high-level question and weave information generated by ChatGPT into their responses.

Each of these approaches should be applauded, but they do not solve the problem. Schools cannot only mandate in-class assignments. How are long research papers supposed to be completed? Educators cannot accept ChatGPT with open arms. If they do, when are students supposed to learn fundamental writing skills and creative thought?

Some also criticize ChatGPT and correctly identify mistakes in the generated answers or the formulaic responses the program creates. While this criticism is valid, this is a technology that will continue to improve and is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And that is why every school should have the same answer right now: “We don’t know what to do, but we are thinking of new ways to respond.” If a school’s administration responds any other way, they are either dishonest or naïve. Parents should subsequently not expect schools to know the answers to this problem and should recognize this is a developing conversation.

One of my fundamental beliefs about education is that parents and schools are in partnership. Technology is a hot topic and one that we should all be thinking about in order to help our students and children learn best.

​​How to Avoid Digital Distractions in the Classroom and Deliver High-Impact Teaching

Laura Tierney
AI and Tech

It is undeniable that social media and technology are a part of students’ lives. Research from Common Sense Media tells us that students spend an average of 8.3 hours daily on screen media. Pew Research Center found that 95% of US teens have access to a smartphone or a computer, and more than half of teens say that it would be difficult for them to give up social media. 

As students transition back into the classroom this fall from the long, unstructured days of summer where they likely had more free time to scroll through TikTok, watch Netflix with their families, and game on Fortnite with their friends, educators are asking themselves how to empower their students to strike a balance with their social media and technology and navigate the digital distractions that are a part of students’ everyday lives. 

It’s a good question, especially since these digital distractions are not just coming from students’ personal devices, but also school-issued technology. In fact, students have more access to devices within class than ever before, with 96% of teachers reporting a 1:1 ratio of computers to students in the classroom.

In our work at The Social Institute, it has become clear that when educators understand how social media and technology affect students’ lives, it’s easier to create an effective game plan for empowering students to strike a balance with their social media and technology and manage digital distractions in class.


The role of social media and technology in students’ lives

Not all screen time is created equal. For example, FaceTiming a loved one or building a world in Minecraft is very different from scrolling through TikTok videos for an hour. To help visualize this, we created the Screen Time Pyramid, with active and shared experiences taking up the larger blocks at the bottom of the pyramid and the more passive activities taking up the smaller spaces at the top. As with the traditional food pyramid, we want to aim for more of the shared experiences at the bottom and limit the more passive ones at the top.  




It’s also important to note the benefits of social media and tech within the classroom. Social media isn’t just for students. It’s a platform for everyone to connect, learn, share and inspire. Educators are using apps like Pinterest, X (formerly Twitter) and even TikTok to level up their classrooms and improve students’ learning experiences. In fact, 80% of K-12 teachers who integrated social media into their classrooms recognized its positive impact. Take high school science teacher Winnie Sloane. She uses students’ favorite apps, like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to post lessons. She reaches students who are on different platforms and ensures her lessons are accessible to all of her students through Google Docs.

With the use of educational technology increasing by 99% since 2020, educators often integrate collaborative learning solutions like #WinAtSocial to increase student engagement. After all, students with high engagement, the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism and passion students show while being taught, perform 21.9% higher in all subjects, as compared to students who are not engaged.

Still, the challenges of screen addiction or “doom scrolling” that many students face are real. Equipping students and teachers to build strong relationships, foster healthy classrooms and set standards for how they want to use technology is essential. Otherwise, we have simply given students the keys to the car with no driver’s education. Schools can establish clear guidelines in the classroom; agreeing on technology and phone policies and determining how to navigate social media in the school is important. But where do we start? 


Inspiring engaged classrooms

Considering how positive social media and tech use can elevate students’ learning, we suggest these strategies for managing digital distractions in your classrooms. These will empower you to implement social media and tech in your classrooms with confidence.  

Collaborative Learning

Individualized learning during which students stare at a screen can be exhausting for them and disengaging for teachers. Some software encourages students to stare at a screen with almost no interaction with peers or teachers. This approach often removes teachers from the learning, while students can become distracted due to long periods of time spent on their devices. Similarly, when students attempt to perform multiple online tasks during a specified time, it can interfere with students’ attention and working memory

Some tech, however, encourages breaks. Through a combination of “tech break” and collaborative learning solutions, teachers can balance tech and conversation. Technology like #WinAtSocial encourages students to take a break from tech and engage in peer-to-peer discussion, facilitated by a teacher. This occurs while the technology is being used, supporting a healthy balance of tech-enabled lessons and discussion.

The 45-Degree Rule 

While using laptops in class can be an engaging way to promote high-character decision-making in students as they navigate technology, it can also be tempting for students to get off-task and begin Googling something not class-related, check their email or even attempt to log in to the desktop versions of their favorite apps. Implement the 45-degree rule in your classroom that encourages students to tilt their laptop screens down while you’re teaching. This rule is a simple way to recenter your students’ attention back to you and away from their screens.

Walk Around Your Classroom 

It’s normal to assign individual work that students will complete on their devices, whether they’re working on a Google Doc or building a presentation. To ensure they stay on task, walk around the classroom to keep your students accountable. This way, you can see what they’re navigating on their screen, and it’s harder for them to get distracted by other tabs.


Using Tech to Control Tech

Educators have shared that having a well-defined plan for empowering students is the most effective approach to minimizing digital distractions in the classroom. Explore these concentration apps, endorsed by both students and educators, to assist students in maintaining focus during class.

Focus Mode. Students can create their own focus options based on what time of the day it is or what they want to accomplish. Encourage your students to set up a “School” focus mode, where only certain apps related to school can send notifications during school hours. 

Forest App. In this app, students will virtually plant a tree and watch it grow while working. The catch? Their plant won’t grow if they’re using their device. The longer you stay off your device, the more your tree grows. 

Flora App. This app will let you choose when you want to block certain apps during a set schedule. If your students have difficulty not checking their devices for Snapchat notifications or messages, this app can help them temporarily restrict apps like Snapchat or messaging. 

Freedom. Similar to Flora, this software blocks your favorite websites and apps on all of your synced-up devices for a schedule you can set up. Incorporating this software into your daily schedule as students log in to their devices frees them from distractions as they complete their schoolwork.

If your students struggle to strike a balance with social media and tech this year, share these apps and features with them. You can also have them coach up and share tips that work for them with their classmates, because, after all, students are often the social media experts.

Huddling with your students on a game plan for managing screen time

To foster open discussions and build trust between you and your students, consider huddling with your students to collaboratively agree on the standards you will have for technology in your classroom. Huddling as a class encourages an engaging learning environment and for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to how you will navigate social media and tech positively as a group.



At The Social Institute, we created the Classroom Technology Policy that empowers you to huddle with your students and brainstorm the standards you will have for technology in your classroom, empower students to manage their relationships with social media and technology and help your students strike a balance and create engaging learning environments.

Implementing standards your students help create gives them a sense of ownership over these strategies and encourages them to live up to them. Teachers can use this school year to empower students to navigate daily decisions in healthy ways, to fuel academic and long-term success. 

Together with your students, you can create a culture that embraces the positive aspects of students’ social worlds, both online and offline, and equips them with the resilience and skills they need all year long.

Empowering Teen Change by Studying Technology Law and Policy

Rebecca Cohen Skulnick
AI and Tech
Initial Attempts

Educators, parents and teens themselves know that teenage girls are drowning in social media. Our Orthodox Jewish day school engaged students in discussions about technology by offering two large group assemblies, with fascinating guest speakers and post-reflective small group discussions. The girls were aware that engaging with social media was not in line with the explicit mission of “commitment to high standards of Torah observance and personal conduct.” Girls’ use of social media, from watching promiscuous dances wearing immodest clothing to bullying others in a Snapchat group chat or watching gratuitous violence, is not in line with either of these values. 

The second time the school told the girls they were going to go to an assembly to listen to an expert about technology, the girls complained that they were uninterested in hearing “another adult tell us why social media is the worst—we’ve heard you—we get it.” After this assembly (alongside ensuing small group discussions), the students revealed that they were surprisingly intrigued with the speaker’s position and found it “super interesting.” Two days later, I asked them whether they decided to put away their phones after they listened to the speaker, and they said no. 

During this same time, when introducing the concept of “point of view,” I gave the students the short story “Likes” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. The story artfully reveals the heartbreaking third-person perspective of a father trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out how to talk to his daughter while he watches her checking her phone to see how many “likes” are showing up on her posts. The students told me it was the best story they read that year, speaking to them far more than works by Nobel Prize winners. 

The story’s accessibility effectively taught how perspective shapes a narrative, but I wondered if they (like me) had been moved to think about the relationship between our focus on our phones and our relationships with our family. One week after reading this story, I casually asked the students at the beginning of the class, “Hey, did reading that story change how you use your phone?” The response was, “I did think about it.” The answer was no. This was just another example that did not apply to them. They were not going to change their behavior by reading a story, another “expert” disparaging technology.

Pedagogically, John Dewey first inspired the notion that children learn by experiencing learning rather than having it dictated to them. He inspired Allison King’s phrase “sage on the stage,” “the one who has the knowledge and transmits that knowledge to the students, who simply memorize the information and later reproduce it on an exam—often without even thinking about it.” 

If the goal is for students to change the way they think or apply knowledge to their lives, learning cannot end with “new knowledge” and must ask students to synthesize and apply all expert knowledge to understand the material in a meaningful way. The contrast between students’ reactions to large group assemblies or reading short stories and the case described below reveals that teens do change their behavior regarding social media usage when they are asked to determine the benefits and drawbacks of social media interactions rather than being told that social media is disastrous. 

Some might say that teenagers are too young to synthesize the deeply complex evidence surrounding the corporate, psychological and ethical effects of contemporary technology. This may be true: Teenagers’ frontal lobes are not developed before they graduate high school, and therefore they cannot truly understand the effects technology might have on their generation in a long-term way. However, teenagers are not too young to practice synthesizing complex primary source documents or try to understand where they think boundaries should be made around the laws that inform citizens’ “freedom of technology,” specifically the First Amendment, the Child Online Protection Act and Section 230 of the Communications Act. Only when students participated in evaluating how technology affected their lives did they come away with new understandings about social media that affected their future usage.


The Assignment: Policy and Technology

The students at our high school have been preoccupied with who uses technology, how they should use technology and whether/how adults instruct them on technology use. For this reason, I focused the nonfiction unit on the most recent Senate Judiciary Hearing on Social Media. 

The 2022 Congress Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law focused on how to create “transparency” in the monetization of social media to determine how terrorists use social media to communicate with each other and attract new members. The 2023 Subcommittee focused on the effects of social media on teenage depression. Opposing and conflicting witness testimonies, as well as articles that helped define terms and laws, served as complex nonfiction articles for students to try to summarize and ask questions about. The ultimate goal was for the students to synthesize their findings in an argumentative essay. 

Articles and testimonies elaborated on whether social media companies should be forced to limit their content, the relevance of revenue to the company’s willingness to limit content, how/whether terrorist activities are enabled in social media, and finally who is responsible for “policing” these limitations. After reading these essays, the students were baffled. “Why wasn’t the social media group who let the people organize the Tree of Life attack punished?” “Why aren’t they held accountable?” “What would it take for them to be held accountable?” 

I responded to their questions with more articles ranging from Germany’s recent fine on Facebook due to its allowance of anti-Semitic content to articles on the United States Supreme Court ruling against Gonzales and the freedom of speech in the United States. Students were allowed to direct the course of questioning and take more ownership of their determination of whether or not restrictions are permissible, and who should impose them. The argumentative essay was graded on how they contextualized and analyzed specific evidence to make their argument. 

To make sense of the information, students determined how to focus their analysis through their argument. Some argued that Germany’s decision to fine Facebook for terrorist activities should serve as a model for the United States. Others argued that social media’s intention for allowing terrorist activities was based on monetary gain: Incendiary posts draw more attention and ad revenue. The writing was difficult for the students, as they were tasked to rely on expert testimony to support their arguments, rather than insights from their own experiences.



The students left the unit congratulating themselves on finishing the synthesis essay and happy to read a novel. However, two weeks later, multiple students said that the exercise changed the way that they approach social media. One wrote, “I do sometimes watch those cringe videos. I didn’t realize that YouTube was social media before.” Two months later, at the end of the year, students gave me multiple thank you letters, writing that the unit “exposed me to the outside world by reading all of the primary source articles. This helped me make wise decisions regarding the technology I will have.” 

The principal and director of social activities both told me that students remarked about how influential the unit was on their actual usage of technology. While the unit asked students to organize complex ideas and articles in writing, the unit became even more meaningful because students were forced to make sense of the contradictions inherent in protecting the freedom of speech and business that provide such speech, while simultaneously protecting the victims that fall prey to everything from terrorist plots organized in the dark web to the recently disclosed social media related mental health concerns for teenage girls.

Last week, a new school madricha (college student employee) who had studied this unit with me three years prior pulled me aside to say, “Dr. Cohen, I just want you to know what an impact our technology unit had on me. While I was in seminary in Israel, everyone was talking about social media, and I was so informed with actual evidence. I knew so much.” 


Taking Responsibility for Their Social Media Use

When I started the unit three years ago, after the very first Senate Judiciary Hearing focused on social media, my goal was to engage the girls in a nonfiction unit that was relevant to their lives in order to improve their reading fluency. As an English teacher, it was not my job to teach technology safety skills or religious values, and because of this, I did not provide a morality lesson on social media. I tried not to tell the students that social media was “bad” or why it could be harmful, save for the recently revealed data about teenage mental health. 

Instead, I gave them the tools to understand why the adults around them were (and still are) in such a panic. By thoroughly understanding that they cannot look to most social media platforms to police their own content and that the government was not yet ready to infringe on First Amendment rights, the teens in my class realized that they (and their parents) needed to protect themselves. After finishing the unit, my students were asked to take leadership roles in the next social media schoolwide lecture/break-out session and were ready to listen. 

It was only after providing the girls with the primary sources, large group lectures and small group discussions that my students were willing to reconsider their mindset on social media and act as leaders to the school at large. Students need to understand not only what is at stake in participating in social media platforms but also their exposure to predators. Ultimately, my students recognized that in order to remain healthy, they needed to stay informed and adhere to internet boundaries for themselves by relying on information and safety mechanisms put in place by their school and parents.

How AI Will Truly Transform Schools

Sandra Nagy
AI and Tech

Earlier this year, Jewish day school leaders across North America, alongside their colleagues in other educational systems, found themselves needing to react to the sudden emergence of an accessible AI tool—which, for an education world still feeling the long-tail effects of the pandemic, had all the appearances of another major hurdle to overcome.

The initial reaction to ChatGPT in many schools was to blacklist it, and though this remains the policy in some places, my colleagues and I at Future Design School—who have been working with school leaders across North America on strategies to embed AI—are starting to see a promising shift on two important fronts. First, forward-thinking school leaders are recognizing that yes, AI does change everything, but they’re using this moment of transformation to reexamine the very essence of education. As a result, teaching and learning itself is adapting to and adopting AI—and rightly so, since the rapid evolution of machine learning is disrupting every employment and economic sector, and making it clear that many of the skills today’s students are developing in schools are dangerously out of date.


While this revolution is well on its way, it’s the second shift that is particularly exciting. Though still in its very early stages, some school leaders are now implementing AI and machine learning tools to automate back-office tasks and, more importantly, enable personalized and adaptive learning opportunities for their students. To that end, as part of Stronger Together, Prizmah’s pilot initiative to drive collaboration across Boston-area Jewish day schools, 330 educators from 10 schools gathered in August for their first-ever community-wide professional development day. 

They chose the topic of AI in Jewish education because it was a timely topic that could engage teachers of all grades and subject areas. The program, both in terms of registration and level of engagement, was an overwhelming success, says Stronger Together Director Aimee Close. “We heard from several participants that as a result of this professional development program, they now look at artificial intelligence completely differently,” she says. ”They came in seeing it as a threat, and now see it as a useful tool that they want to continue to learn to harness for their teaching.”

With that in mind, here are some of the innovations we’re seeing (and championing) in education today, which together represent the deepest and most meaningful transformative impact of AI in our schools.


Holistic Data Analysis and Trend Identification


School systems collect massive amounts of data, from assessment results and attendance records to graduation pathway streams and click rates on shared resources. Sometimes, individual streams of data are put to good use, in the service of student success and teacher empowerment. But all of this information is highly siloed, and as a result, it is rarely analyzed holistically to identify important trends. For example, individual student and cohort engagement across Hebrew and general studies classes often operate in separate realms within our schools, with the result that the same kids appear very differently.

In addition, our schools often work without the technology resources they need in order to identify and take action on trends that data could reveal. But AI tools (combined with robust, zero-trust privacy frameworks) present a golden opportunity to provide the fulsome support our students and teachers deserve. AI can perform the initial analysis work on huge sets of data and flag predetermined trends for school leaders to act upon. 

For example, AI could automatically identify the need in a school for a parent engagement and communication initiative, based on analysis of click-through data in the parent portal of a school’s learning management system. Additionally, individual teachers (or entire schools) can import comments and other formative feedback into an AI engine, and engineer a prompt that provides overall or segmented sentiment analysis—think report card comments generated by pulling together every comment a teacher has provided on a student’s work throughout the school year.


Personalized and Adaptive Learning


Personalized learning is an established education trend, but its rollout is often hampered by that one resource that all teachers want but few (if any) have to spare: time. Here again, AI tools present an exciting potential solution. For example, one US school that we are working with is developing an AI system that allows students and their parents to explore potential opportunities and pathways based on what their assignment submissions and diagnostic responses reveal about their passions, interests, aptitudes and skills. Meanwhile, Google Classroom and other leading learning management platforms are deploying AI tools that instantly adapt teaching materials into personalized, interactive student assignments, with data collection through ongoing, formative feedback opportunities baked right in.

Even more exciting, this school is working to align the recommendations the system generates to state standards and identified workforce needs in their region. It’s important to note that a tool like this does not replace the need for teacher feedback and guidance—far from it. The tool provides the roadmap; it’s up to the teacher and student (with support from parents/guardians, guidance counselors and other members of the student’s support network) to turn these personalized insights into results.


Automating Thankless Tasks


There are few sectors that retain as many manual and analog processes as education (with apologies to law clerks and hospital administrators). The front office of a school is a bastion of thankless, repetitive tasks that are ripe for automation. The technological investment cost is negligible; what’s most essential is the fostering of the growth mindset necessary to see the benefit of this transformation.

Adaptation can be a tough pill to swallow, but when it comes to using AI to digitize burdensome administrative tasks, the results speak for themselves. I’ve seen schools using AI to triage parent emails, generate permission forms, disentangle course-scheduling mishegas and even send triggered reminders to students and staff. For example, an AI engine can see that a student has not turned in any work in the past two weeks and her parents have not opened the last two emails home; it will send a note to the teacher that a phone call may be warranted. What’s more, change begets change; as more front offices adopt AI, the tipping point gets closer and closer.

We are at the very beginning of unpacking the potential of AI and machine learning to transform education, and not a moment too soon. Job providers are calling out for graduates equipped with the skills to navigate an increasingly complex world, and society itself is transforming at the speed of light. As schools race to adapt and respond, they need to use every available tool in their toolkit. It’s time for school leaders to take the courageous path when it comes to deploying emerging technologies—in classrooms, and beyond.

Wrestling With the Future, With Curiosity and Empathy

Ariel Raz
Dan Glass
AI and Tech

The Brandeis School of San Francisco is an inclusive and creative 60-year-old K-8 Jewish day school of 350 students, steeped in the progressive values and inventive approaches to Jewish practice that define San Francisco. In the school’s last strategic plan, the community articulated a vision of being a “future-focused” school. Today, with the process of writing a new strategic plan on the horizon, Dan, a ninth-year head of school, found himself wondering if his leadership team and board of trustees would benefit from learning how to think about the future, rather than simply assuming it was something we all know how to do.


Luckily, the Bay Area is a place where wrestling with the future is a daily practice as commonplace as the self-driving cars on our streets. Dan reached out to Ariel, who works at the K12 Lab at the Hasso Plattner School of Design ( at Stanford University. Ariel was part of the team offering a keynote address at this year’s Prizmah Conference, about educators as futurists. He and Dan had connected as part of Brandeis’s Ethical Creativity Institute, where he helped design and teach a program on ethics and design to Jewish day school educators from around the world. Given Ariel’s experience building frameworks to help schools confront the future, Dan was inspired to reach out to engage Ariel in working with the Brandeis community.

The question Dan had for Ariel was simple: As Brandeis prepares to lay the groundwork for its next 60 years, can you teach our leaders what it takes to imagine new futures?

Ariel and his team at the had developed a project to equip schools with the methodology and mindsets of futurism, a disparate field that brings together art, music and science fiction with mathematical modeling. Drawing from the work of their colleague Lisa Kay Solomon, the team developed a framework called Five Approaches for Futures Thinking to assist schools in navigating uncertainty with their communities. Influenced by the project, Ariel worked with Dan to design and develop new tools for which Brandeis, a unique Jewish school in a unique context, could engage with its community and imagine new futures.

In this article, we will share a selection of futures-thinking strategies, all of which were brought to bear during two retreats that we co-designed and ran in summer 2023: one with the Brandeis senior leadership team, and one with the school’s board of trustees.

To paraphrase Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, pondering the future is a uniquely human activity. But one need not look far back in history to notice the limitation of our capacity to ward off existential threats. By using strategies from futurism, we can improve our capacity to imagine, anticipate and react to downstream changes, creating resilient and bold organizations.


Thinking in Images

At Brandeis, we began by introducing the concept of an Image of the Future. Such images are all around us—think of dystopian films like The Matrix or Terminator series, novels like The Giver by Lois Lowry, or the techno-optimistic billboards lining the freeways of San Francisco. Humans shape these images, and in turn these images shape us, reflecting our expectations, hopes and anxieties back to us in a coherent narrative. 

The pull toward images can be of great service to leaders. Note that a common organizational tendency is to think of the future in abstract rhetoric and phrases (“aiming for student belonging”) that are amorphous and unlikely to translate into real-life action. Management research suggests that using images instead (“a smile on every student’s face”) can provide motivation as well as organizational clarity (for more, see How Can Leaders Overcome the Blurry Vision Bias?). When examined under these terms, the ultimate task of the strategic plan is to craft a compelling image of the future that includes and inspires our community.

As part of a retreat focused on futures thinking, we made space with the senior leadership team at Brandeis to look through specific images of the future (from The Jetsons to Gattaca) and discuss what they might have to say about our own practices around teaching and learning, or building community. The practical matter is to first learn to recognize and decode visions from the future, and later generate images for your school. You’ll begin to spot these in your everyday life—including those that influence education—and chart a course for your school with its own compelling vision.


Exploring Before Deciding

For most of us, the future holds a heavy burden, the place where we dump our fears or aspirations. As such, it can be difficult to explore with curiosity or dispassion. Yet if we are to accept the fact that the future is uncertain, we must equip our minds with a certain openness to explore a multitude of possibilities. Note how this can run afoul of more traditional strategic-planning processes, which require school leadership to think technically in three- to five-year increments. 

The first question Ariel posed to the board came from future forecaster Jane McGonigal: “If the future is a time when many or most things in your life will be different from what they are today, how long from now does that future start?” While answers vary, the debrief pointed us to a simple lesson: If we want to move beyond the preconceived notions baked into the present moment, we need to think far ahead, typically 10 years away. 

This concept that McGonigal describes as time spaciousness points to a tension at the heart of strategic planning itself: Where strategy requires spaciousness to explore a broad landscape, planning is often practical and detail-oriented. With Brandeis, we chose to start with a wider time horizon before committing to the technical project of preparing the strategic plan.

To imagine and explore possible futures, we use a deceptively simple 2 x 2 grid where we chart uncertainties on two axes to create four scenarios. Using this tool, we can account for variables outside of education, like the effect of Artificial Intelligence on the job market, and explore its impact on our sphere of education from the outside-in.



Here too there is a strong human tendency to navigate to pre-conceived narratives. The trick is to defer any selection about which possibilities we prefer, believe are likely, would like to avoid or otherwise react strongly to on first impression. Heeding the plural in Futures Thinking, Ariel reminds participants to allow ourselves to remain open to many outcomes. More importantly, each possibility offers a speculative perspective from which school leadership teams and boards can evaluate risks, rehearse adaptations and in so doing create a state of readiness.

In one instance, a group of trustees charted a 2 x 2 with “AI in Employment” against “Personalized Learning.” The group decided that the top-right quadrant, with both of those uncertainties becoming stronger, was a scenario in which AI fluency had become a basic requirement for employment (much like, say, email in the present), and all learning had become individualized. Suddenly, rather than worrying over the fate of the essay in assessment, for example, this group was wrestling in detail with big questions about what the future of school could be.


Empathy for the Future

A final tool we have to break against the abstraction of the future is empathy. Said simply, the future will have people in it, individuals that we care about—including our own potential descendants. By projecting our empathy across time, we can better connect with all those in future generations, and imagine how our actions today can influence and improve the lives of their present(s).

Ariel invited the Brandeis community to practice this unique strategy by imagining a child three generations from today. What would they look like? How would they dress? Where would they live? What would they care about? How would they relate to Judaism? As the details came into focus, participants were invited to realize that person by constructing a picture.

This tool invites both school leaders and trustees to think about the future of their own families or communities and center on their aspirations for those future beings. Both of us being former classroom teachers, we also appreciate the change in modalities it offers, inviting participants to “think with their hands” as they craft and collage. 


Schools are fundamentally concerned with the future, believing as we do that the efforts we take with young people today can help them imagine new possibilities for the world they will later inhabit as workers, community members, parents and leaders. Despite that orientation toward optimism, we often engage in the work of envisioning what’s to come without taking the time to learn tools to build our own proficiency as future thinkers.

These retreats have launched the leadership—lay and professional—at The Brandeis School of San Francisco into its upcoming strategic planning work with a new sense of agency. Engaging with these tools has allowed us to think beyond the prescribed units determined by the school day, week, semester and year—beyond ourselves, in fact. 

Rather than engaging with the future as a singular extension of the present or as an undefined threat, we are thinking in detail and with our fuller faculties (empathy, curiosity) about the many possible futures ahead and how Brandeis will continue to thrive in a multitude of scenarios. This has taken the form of broadening the scope of Jewish identities and Jewish-adjacent communities we imagine being part of those futures in enrollment planning, considering the role of remote schooling in the context of wildfires and other climate crises in risk-management work, and a hevrutah pair on AI in education between the director of technology and making at Brandeis and the head of school—which included pushing all leadership team members to figure out how generative AI can help them do their work.

Multimedia: A Way to Increase Inclusivity in Diverse Classrooms

Eliene Augenbraun
AI and Tech

Picture a classroom full of diverse learners and teachers. Imagine if teachers had and were trained to teach with videos and other multimedia so they could create a truly inclusive and engaging place to learn. Students who learn best visually or through audio will benefit just as much as those with low vision, poor hearing or reduced motor functions, or who are struggling with the language of instruction. A broader array of learners could all be served in the same space. 

Even better, all the students will become adept with multiple ways to communicate, including video, the dominant communication form of our day. Over half of all American adults aged 18 to 34 watch videos on their phones or tablets daily. Twenty-eight percent of Generation Z, born 1997 to 2012, consider themselves to be content creators; 11% consider themselves to be influencers, with thousands or even millions of followers. Fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds don’t like books or newspapers; they spend only nine minutes a day reading for pleasure. Suffice it to say, people younger than 23 are engaged by videos.

With broad access to digital platforms, this inclusive vision is within reach from a technology standpoint. But there is a large training gap for teachers and administrators. In the past, educators generally were not taught how to make or teach with videos and audiobooks. Teaching how to write a five-paragraph persuasive essay is very different than teaching how to persuade through video. Furthermore, much of our religious curriculum is not available in video form at the different levels students need to engage with it. Teachers do not need to be Steven Spielberg, but if they want to appeal to their students where they are, they need to use smartboards, tablets and phones to channel just a little movie magic.


Differentiation Through Video and Audio

Videos can provide rich and memorable learning opportunities. Following some best practices, studies have shown videos are effective in teaching biology, engineering, and foreign languages. Many education colleges teach “multimedia design theory” to future curriculum developers. The underlying principle is that short-term memories have limited working capacity and start to fade after 10 minutes, but video can enhance memory. Learners are more likely to remember new information if it fits into something they already know or if it is emotionally salient to them. Videos offer far more than written words to hang a memory on: a familiar setting, color, voice or piece of music can offer a scaffold upon which to build new information. Making a point with video and audio all at once reinforces the information. 

Expanding the utility and purpose of multimedia in a classroom, “differentiated curricula” are designed to serve people with varying levels of skill or disabilities. Teachers help students find the medium and level of instruction that serves them best, choosing from or creating text, videos, images, animations and audio books. These materials work especially well in flipped classrooms, in which students are expected to engage with learning materials as homework before class, then come to class to ask questions and work through problems. 

Today’s students expect two-way video communication. Video is their native language. You can increase engagement by assigning a video or a multimedia class presentation, instead of a book report.


Lights, Camera, Action!


Eliene Augenbraun

Want to become more of a multimedia maven? Here are some skills and information that will help.

Technology. Schools are generally doing a good job of adopting technology and training teachers and students to use laptops, tablets and smart boards. Many schools also are teaching teachers to use cameras. You probably already know how to use your smartphone camera; most of your students probably will know as well. Other equipment like microphones, tripods or gimbals can help, but they are not necessary. A computer, tablet or smartphone with a video editing app is required, as well as a place to store and play completed videos. A private YouTube channel could work.

Engagement strategy. Videos are stories and need a beginning, a middle and an end. Like text-only stories, every video story should include one theme or big idea, plus must answer what, why, who, where, when, how and how many. If you are not sure how these underlying story-making rules translate to videos, grab your smartphone and practice. Your goal? Viewers expect to be hooked on a story in the first five seconds. (How many colors are in a rainbow?) In the early middle, you want to make the viewer curious about what happens next. (It depends on who’s looking, because humans cannot see all the colors; if you really want to know, ask a shrimp.) End with a worthwhile payoff. (Humans see with the three types of color cones in our eyes. But the mantis shrimp has 16 types of color cones in their eyes, so they see at least 10 times more color than we do.) Make your characters and situations relatable to your audience. 

Scenes and shots. A “scene” is a place, usually depicted in a sequence of “shots.” Different types of shots convey different kinds of information. For example, you might want to use a “wide” shot to set the scene and show where an action is taking place. A “medium” shot shows what the action is and who is doing it, and a “cutaway” shows details of the action. 

Useful techniques. Lighting should illuminate the subject well enough to see what you need the audience to see. For a person’s face, it is best when you see a twinkle in their eye. Voice-overs and interviews should be recorded so you can hear the voice clearly over background noise.

Accessibility and clarity. Everybody has some learning difference they may not even be able to identify themselves. Material should be made accessible to all. It is not only a way to make the material more engaging and understandable to everyone, but it is also the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act ( outlines requirements. The standards for digital media accessibility are described in the Web Content Accessibility Guide

In brief, every image needs alt text describing what you mean the viewer to see in the image. Every video needs closed captions, the text on the bottom of the screen that reports the words said. Every podcast needs a transcript. Generative AI products can help make a first draft of alt texts, closed captions and transcripts.

Legal requirements. The bottom line for school leaders and teachers to keep in mind: You cannot use someone else’s likeness or intellectual property without their written permission. School leaders should be aware of what intellectual property, privacy and other rights are involved in filming students, who are likely to be minors. Schools may have parents or students sign media releases, which can be written so the school can use the student’s likeness, voice, photographs or creative work product in some way described in the release. Media releases need to be reviewed every year, as media law and legal risks change frequently.

Eliene Augenbraun

The Torah says (Leviticus 19:14): “You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind.” Adding video, audio and other digital elements to your teaching toolkit will help you remove obstacles to learning for many students. Accessible instruction is not a shiny object you’ll find behind a building at the end of a rainbow; rather, it is a promise to find ways to educate the whole rainbow of learners in our community. Jewish day schools can lead the way.

A Double-Edged Sword: Keeping Technology for Children with Disabilities Both Safe and Beneficial

Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs
AI and Tech

Technology, we’ve learned, is a double-edged sword that must be wielded carefully. Although it affords incredible access to information and communication, it is also a tool that can be misused and abused by individuals of all ages. For children with disabilities, technology can be even more complicated and fraught with challenges, yet technology also has the potential to greatly benefit these children.


Benefits: Personalization and Social Connection


One of the most significant advantages of technology for children with special needs is its potential to facilitate personalized learning experiences. Various educational apps and software can be tailored to cater to individual learning styles and abilities, empowering children to learn at their own pace. Interactive technologies can engage children with sensory impairments, providing them with alternative means of communication and expression. Virtual reality and augmented reality applications offer immersive and multisensory experiences that promote active learning and skill development. 

Social skills development apps can assist children with autism spectrum disorder in recognizing emotions and understanding social cues, facilitating more meaningful and inclusive interactions with others. Additionally, children with communication and/or anxiety disorders can benefit from many forms of technology use. While the output of verbal communication is a challenge for these students, they have a sea of thoughts and emotions that they want to but are unable to share. For these students, access to social media and gaming can be a social life raft, through which they can create meaningful connections to others out of the face-to-face sphere, mitigating the loneliness that often overwhelms them.

Students with these challenges may prefer to stay at the periphery of the social scene both in and out of school, and resist the encouragement of their teachers and mental health professionals to take steps toward more connection. I have had students who were debilitated by the effects of anxiety. Others saw them as shy or even anti-social whereas, in truth, they were innately and deeply thirsty for social connectedness. Their desire to connect with others, while masked in traditional face-to-face forums, can shine in the digital world. They chat with others via texting and WhatsApp, and stay connected via other online forums. Through these media, they have the opportunity to share of themselves with others and develop genuine friendships.


Dangers: Gaming Addiction and Exposure to Online Predators


However, these children are also more likely to be vulnerable to the dangers associated with the very social media that allowed them to experience connection. Children with disabilities may be more prone to misunderstand the nuanced and ever-evolving language that is native to these platforms. They are more likely to fall prey to bad actors who specifically seek naiveté and vulnerability. 

We know that even for neurotypical children, prolonged exposure to screens may adversely affect attention spans, cognitive development and overall wellbeing; these negative effects are amplified in a population that already struggles in these arenas. Moreover, research has demonstrated that excessive use of certain apps or games might lead to addictive behaviors, hindering children’s ability to engage in other essential activities, such as physical exercise and face-to-face interactions.


Collaborating with Parents on Policies and Goals

While digital citizenship and safety campaigns are often provided for parents, it is equally critical for schools to look inward and consider the amount of technology consumed during school hours and evaluate its efficacy. Parents and educators must work together to instill digital literacy and responsible technology usage in children with special needs. The first step is a clear understanding and partnership on goals, expectations and limitations set both at school and at home. 

For students with special needs, the school should take the lead in teaching the children, each at his/her level, how to discern between appropriate and inappropriate content, understand online risks and develop critical-thinking skills. As children with special needs may require more explicit instruction and reinforcement, educators should integrate digital literacy lessons into their curricula, while parents can monitor and reinforce these concepts at home. Additionally, creating a technology contract between the school and the parents (and often the students themselves) outlining expectations, rules and consequences for inappropriate use can be a helpful tool in promoting responsible online behavior.


Balancing screen time with real-world experiences is crucial for the overall wellbeing of children with special needs. Parents and educators should cooperate in actively promoting offline activities, such as engaging in sports, arts and crafts, outdoor exploration and social gatherings. Educators should foster social interaction among peers by incorporating group activities into the school schedule. Encouraging offline interactions helps reduce the risk of social isolation and gaming addiction while promoting essential life skills and healthy habits.


Open Communication and Professional Guidance

It is vital to establish safe spaces where children with special needs feel comfortable discussing their experiences with technology, both positive and negative. Parents and educators should work together to create an atmosphere of trust and support, assuring the children that they can share their concerns without fear of judgment or punishment. By fostering open communication, children are more likely to report any instances of cyberbullying, online harassment or discomfort with certain online interactions. Addressing these issues promptly can help prevent further harm and support the child’s emotional health.

Parents and educators should seek professional guidance and training to better understand the challenges that children with special needs face in the digital world. Workshops, seminars and educational resources tailored to these specific needs can provide valuable insights and practical strategies. Knowledgeable professionals, such as special education teachers, therapists and technology experts, can offer guidance on creating individualized plans for children with special needs to navigate the digital landscape safely.

In the face of rapidly advancing technology, parents and educators must collaboratively protect children with special needs from the potential dangers of social media, gaming addiction and other ills of technology. By fostering digital literacy, employing parental controls, encouraging offline activities, creating safe spaces for communication and seeking professional guidance, these vulnerable individuals can thrive in the digital age while remaining shielded from harm. Together, we can create a safe and supportive environment that empowers children with special needs to use technology responsibly and enjoy the benefits it offers while safeguarding their overall wellbeing.

Embrace the Change: AI is Ours to Own

Mark Shpall
Glenn A. Sonnenberg
AI and Tech

As the head of school at de Toledo High School in West Hills, California, and a member of that school’s board of directors, we have been ruminating about the impact of AI and the role of educational institutions in addressing new technologies. We used our different professional and personal experiences to examine the impact of the still-nascent technology and what it may mean from the ground and balcony levels.


Meet the Challenge Head On

In 1494, Abbot Johannes Trithemius, a scholar of some renown, declared the “mass” printed Gutenberg Bible “the Devil’s work.” (Ironically, he had this concern copied and distributed by the printing press.) H.M. Warner (one of the Warner brothers) famously declared in 1927, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Needless to say, these two gentlemen misread the value of innovation. History is littered with examples of “experts” like these, dismissing or fearing the latest technological innovations.

In recent times, we have dealt with successive technological opportunities and challenges presented by the advent of personal computers, search engines and the seemingly endless amount of internet content ripe for plagiarism. We believe that schools cannot shy away from their responsibility to embrace technological and pedagogical advances and offer students access and understanding, coupled with ethical guidelines and other guardrails.


The Successful Embrace of Technology to Date

Secondary schools have embraced technology since the early days of personal computers in a way that is pedagogically sound and grounded in ethical behaviors. Secondary school curricula have evolved along with these technologies to encompass educational best practices on conducting research, evaluating the quality of sources, and developing the critical thinking required to parse masses of information and disinformation. 

Only a decade ago, with the advent of “term-paper mills,” many in our midst predicted that student research and writing would fall by the wayside, as responses to assignments could no longer be trusted. Websites like quickly sprang up, allowing educators to feed term papers into a database that would determine whether a paper was the student’s work or “borrowed” from another source. These sites have become increasingly sophisticated. Importantly, because students know that their teachers use these systems, most avoid falling into that trap. Plagiarism today isn’t any more prevalent than when students lifted pages from encyclopedias and National Geographic magazines in the 1950s.


Today’s Challenge

The situation today is not appreciably different from when any new technology emerged. Let us not be like the learned minds at Western Union who, in an internal memo in 1876, declared, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

We can say that students must be encouraged to unplug and encouraged to avoid using ChatGPT and other large language models, but that’s a fool’s errand. Instead, as educational leaders, it is our job to find ways of incorporating this technology into our lessons as well as teaching the ethics, values and morals of how to best use the technology. As Carl Sagan noted, “The world-altering powers that technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.”

The best example of the impact of technology on education in Sagan’s time was the invention and introduction of the calculator. The response was quick and definitive. We could no longer “see the work,” so all of a sudden, the impetus to learn multiplication tables and formulas had to take a back seat to learning to use these new contraptions. At first, teachers bristled at the use of the calculator, but over time, they learned how to incorporate the tool so that their students could have a deeper and broader understanding of mathematics. Today, the calculator’s successor, the Excel spreadsheet, is the primary teaching tool in business schools.

Sagan was writing late in the last century, but his observation is even more true with today’s technologies. We seem to have resolved the challenge of search engines and plagiarism, but AI poses even greater challenges. ChatGPT can create writings in mere seconds—writing that often seems, on the surface, quite human and well-researched. It truly is a great leap, and it poses serious ethical and educational questions. But instead of trying to reject, ban or block access to this and other emerging AI technologies (which our “digital native” students will quickly learn to circumvent), we need to learn how to use them not only for instructional purposes but to better prepare students  for the world and workplaces they eventually will inherit.


What This Is…and What It Is Not

It might be worth a sidebar here to acknowledge what ChatGPT is and what it is not. It is a “large language model (LLM).” It is not a sentient being capable of thought, analysis, novel insights or humor. LLMs piece together a collage of prior writings that they access from the Internet. Think of it as “Google on steroids.” How it “writes” an essay has as much to do with word frequency and word order models as it does with the actual subject matter. What it lacks is perspective, context and human emotion. Both of us write a lot, and one can ask ChatGPT for an essay “written in our voice.” What one receives in response is something that has some narrative flow and organization, even incorporating a writer’s verbal “tics” and typical usage. But it lacks a sense that there is a human behind the writing—real analysis of disparate texts, ideas or events, and conclusions that are anything beyond mechanical. In addition, there are already a multitude of examples where the information spit out by ChatGPT is just wrong or incomplete (see


A Prescription for Success

So what can be done? First, we all must get smarter about what this new technology is and what it could become. Schools need to bring their teachers the best information about the new technology and provide them the tools to use it, understanding its promise and its limitations. Second, we need to create lesson plans to educate students on the use of these models and the ethical issues their use presents. Third, we need to continue the road started by Google and concentrate our students’ focus on critical thinking and analytical writing, not the mere recitation of facts. Fourth, we need to identify the support mechanisms that undoubtedly will arise hand-in-hand with emerging technology. Before too long, and its ilk will be capable of identifying problematic text by utilizing the same algorithms and methodologies that ChatGPT and others employ. The technology will be harnessed to police the very abuses it may encourage. 

From a practical point of view, we must remember that we are in the early stages, the overture, of AI and LLM. Just as it took years for education to incorporate the calculator into its pedagogy, so will it take time for our approaches to this new reality to iterate and improve. But already, in the few short months after its introduction, there are numerous resources for educators to draw upon. Most importantly, teachers should open their classes discussing with students how AI can and cannot be used in class. Especially in our mission-driven independent schools, an ethical conversation is necessary.


Great Promise

ChatGPT can be used to help students create and revise their thesis statements and outlines. It can be used as a study guide to help students prepare for exams. And LLMs can help students imagine different ways of approaching assignments, allowing them to focus on the process and the learning, and less on the end product. In an era of “fake news” and questionable sources, ChatGPT can be used to help students learn to evaluate sources and information. And for the significant percentage of the population that deals with learning differences, AI and LLMs open up a host of new resources and approaches to help navigate these differences.

Human interactions and understandings between educator and student will be forced to improve. Increasingly, teachers will need to better “know” their students, their capabilities and their writing styles. They will learn to be better consumers of their students’ work product. And they will need to learn how better to differentiate between machine writing and the writing of their students. Combating AI within the context of high school essays might be as simple as identifying the failure to share personal anecdotes, the inability to compare and contrast different texts from different eras, or the lack of evidence of empathy or perspective in an analysis.



In the words of Pogo, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” The machine is not the adversary, any more than is a hammer, a calculator or a personal computer. The machine is, in the end, merely a tool. The real challenge is twofold. First, embracing and understanding how this new technology can benefit humankind. Second, understanding and outwitting how humans may misuse these miraculous new tools and working to redirect their use for mind- and education-expanding purposes.

AI can’t feel love, can’t experience loss, can’t apply ideas to lived experience, can’t get angry at injustice and can’t formulate ideas to improve the world. Research skills are important, and AI no doubt will help refine those skills. But it is these very human emotions that we should teach our students to feel and express through their writing. We should demand proficiency in humanity over recitation of facts and critical thinking over mere research. Isn’t this, after all, what our job always has been?