The use of games in education is not a new phenomenon, but in recent years it has caught fire. A 2016 survey found that the number of teachers using games and online apps in their classrooms had doubled in six years. Games are taking off in Jewish day schools, too. To proponents, the advantages are manifold, from promoting collaboration and problem-solving skills to reducing fear of failure, as students learn organically from their own mistakes much as they improve at video games with repeated play.
But Jewish educators say games have been slower to catch on in Jewish studies. “The Judaic classroom is further behind,” said Alanna Kotler, who oversees the game-based learning initiative for JDS Collaborative. “My general sense is that games are somewhat more accessible to the general studies teachers. There’s more openness in general. Judaic studies teachers say, ‘It’s all text based, we can’t do this.’”
That’s hardly the case in Moshe Rosenberg’s classroom at SAR Academy in Riverdale, New York. Rosenberg has gained a reputation among other Jewish gaming enthusiasts as a pioneer in the field. He relies heavily on technological tools to use gaming in the classroom.
One game Rosenberg has found extremely effective is a scavenger hunt inspired by Pokemon Go, a popular augmented reality game in which players encounter images on a screen as if they existed in the real world. Rosenberg’s version was designed to teach students about the Jewish value of chesed, or kindness, by leading them to various locations around the school where acts of kindness could be performed. At each location, students scan QR codes to bring up characters on a screen that present them with clues that lead them to the next location. “Kids are excited about games,” Rosenberg said. “Kids aren’t afraid of them. Failure is not an issue because every time you mess up a level of the game you are just a step closer to mastering it.”
Yaakov Nadler, who teaches fourth grade at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, New Jersey, uses games extensively in his classroom and shares many of his ideas on his blog. He has had his students play basketball in Hebrew, the card game War in Hebrew and Uno in Hebrew — the latter with a special modification to help students learn different tenses. He has made up games of his own, including one in which students have to act out the feelings of biblical characters in Hebrew while their partners guess the emotions.
“I’ve been using games to encourage dialogue so that my students don’t just learn the language as the material I’m giving to them, but they have to use the language with each other,” Nadler said. “Games give them a defined space to practice the language. If they’re learning Bible, they’re able to take the material and play a game with it.”
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