Flipping Jewish Learning in honor of Purim
Purim offers inspiration for many reasons. First, there is the example of Esther, whose brave intercession on behalf of her people presents a worthy model. Then, there is the absence of God’s name in the Megillah, reminding us that human action is necessary for receiving divine blessings. And, of course, there is the giving of gifts to our neighbors and to all those in need.
As a Jewish educator, I am especially drawn to the central theme in the Purim story, “venahafoch hu,” meaning “flipped around.” Indeed, the Megillah’s plotline is built upon numerous reversals, wherein nothing is as it seems. Esther changes her mind about interceding with the king; the mourner’s garments worn by Mordechai are later transformed into royal garb; and the tree intended for Mordechai’s gallows is used for Haman’s execution instead. This reversal theme is one reason we wear masks and invert the norm with costumes.
Given the prominence of this theme, it is fitting that many people can be seen on Purim using their phones in shul…as noisemakers during the reading of the Megillah. That’s right—instead of using a traditional grogger to drown out Haman’s name, you can download an app and do your “booing” via smartphone! This “inversion” represents just one of the ways technology has heightened Jewish engagement for many people.
While noisemaker apps are fun, there are certainly more serious ways that technology can be harnessed for educational purposes. An increasingly widespread technique for math courses, which is apropos our theme of “venahafoch hu,” is known as the “flipped classroom.” In this pedagogical method, teacher-made video lessons are viewed by students at home. The “homework” based on the video is then completed in the classroom— where teachers are available for guidance— thus “flipping” the traditional classroom model. At KBA, we have used the flipped model for Humash and Mishnah classes—students watch a lesson at home on their iPad, submit summary questions via Google forms, and come the next day prepared to do their “homework.” The technology allows for differentiated instruction and engages the students.
Inspired by the success of the flipped class model, I am eager to explore additional ways of making Jewish education increasingly engaging and accessible, both in and beyond the walls of KBA. For example, KBA hosts a Community Beit Midrash adult education program; perhaps we could live-stream sessions for participants who are homebound. Likewise, we are also administering the Gesher Hebrew High School program in our building; perhaps creating a Google Hangout for a course would remove logistical barriers of time and distance that some students face.
Thanks to today’s information technology, Jewish education is more accessible than ever. But like the case of Mordechai and Esther, our own concerted efforts are necessary for success. This Purim, join me in flipping how we view Jewish learning and engagement, and take your own next step. Remember, if there is a Jewish practice you want to learn about or take part in—whether counting the Omer, learning to read Torah, studying Talmud, or even booing Haman—there is probably an app for that. Happy learning, and happy Purim. .