By Avi Muchnick
The year is 2023. Hashem has blessed you with a 4-year-old child and you’re planning to enroll him in yeshiva. What does that classroom look like?
The world can change drastically in a decade. Ten years ago, the average consumer did not have a smartphone; today, smartphones dominate Western society, with 1 in 7 people around the world owning one.
From the automobile to the airplane to the Internet to health care, when world-changing innovations are introduced, that change will quickly permeate through the world. Yet when you think about the classroom ten years from now, you’re probably imagining it to be very similar to what you know today. That won’t be the case.
Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder and general proponent of educational reform, said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Bill is a smart man. He’s right. And when we assume that not much will change in the yeshiva classroom of the future, we’re doing exactly what he warns about.
So what changes will be coming to the classroom? I can tell you some of my predictions, many of which we are piloting within Tiferet Academy (www.Tiferet.org), a new yeshiva opening in the Five Towns in September 2013.
Personalized lesson plans. No two children are the same, so the yeshiva classroom of the future will not force all children to learn in exactly the same way. If a child needs more time in math and less time in English studies, should the child be forced to spend the same amount of time in each? Of course not. The future will bring a more personalized lesson plan for each child, even when part of a larger class. Technology can help us categorize a child’s strengths and gaps in different areas, and then group children based on their level in different topics. Group A might spend 30 minutes learning arithmetic a day, while Group B might spend 45 minutes. As children master old topics or have trouble with new ones, they can easily be moved between in-class groups at their own pace. Of course, this kind of grouping can only be accomplished with the next point:
Real-Time assessment. In every classroom, children will have a small amount of time every day when they interact directly with technology (tablets or computers) for the purposes of evaluation. This technology will give their teachers (and parents) an ever-improving understanding of where children’s strengths and knowledge gaps are through real-time testing on the fly as a child works.
Parent–Educator partnership in teaching. You as a parent will finally have a transparent window into your child’s progress on a daily basis. Testing through technology has the added benefit of offering easy instantaneous reporting. You will be able to access your parent report directly from your mobile phone at work and see the exact areas that your child needs to work on, along with some relevant links that you can use to assist the child master those areas. The idea of waiting for a year-end report card or PTA meeting to find out how your child is performing will be an anachronism, heading the way of the rotary phone.
Even more amazing is the level of detail we will be able to “drill down” to. Instead of getting a report card with an ambiguous “95% in Math” accompanied by a short handwritten “Doing great!!” you will learn the specific details of the 5% subject matter that the child still needs to improve on.
Instead of having to jump through hoops to find out exactly how your child is doing, you will always know. And this means you as a parent can be a true partner in your child’s education, ensuring that they receive exactly the help they need before they get too far behind or that they aren’t moving at too slow a pace and getting bored instead of learning at their own level.
Expertise beyond the classroom. Live, interactive lessons from experts in non-traditional subjects will become a common treat for the classroom of the future. Imagine if children studying how tectonic plate movement inside the Earth causes volcanic activity could receive a live-stream video lesson from a geologist at the site of an active volcano! The teacher in the classroom becomes a facilitator in that special conversation, and the classroom becomes exposed to an incredible educator thousands of miles away that can answer questions in an authoritative and educational way that is sure to stay with them for years.
Additionally, the wealth of recorded general studies video tutorials available on safe educational sites like Khan Academy and Torah studies sites like AlephBeta.org will help the child extend their learning capabilities to their home.
Better teaching tools and classroom control. With a set of master controls, the teacher can instantly see what each child is working on. There’s no possibility of a child getting distracting by playing with something they are not supposed to be focusing on. With a smaller student-teacher ratio (since the classroom will be divided into smaller groups), the teachers will be able to maintain better discipline and facilitate closer social interactions between students.
The rotational classroom. The classroom will no longer be set up for lectures, but instead will be an interactive set of learning stations that children will rotate among. There can be any number of stations, including common areas for teaching to a small group, individual study-time areas, collaborative areas, play areas, and a technology learning lab where students work directly with technology.
More direct interactions with teachers. Will computers ever truly replace teachers? No. Teachers aren’t just important as information providers: They are mentors and facilitators. That requires a direct human-to-human interaction. They are a safe face that a child needs to feel receptive and confident in learning new information. Bringing technology and a more structured approach to the classroom will allow teachers to have greater individualized face time with every student, helping to build a bond and better understand each child. Additionally, because teachers will have to do less rote work after hours (i.e., grading papers), they will be able to spend more high-quality time thinking about ways to best excite and engage their students.
More social interaction with classmates. One of the most important aspects of schooling is socialization. Yet children in modern schools are generally discouraged from talking to each other and rarely encouraged to work together on group projects. The yeshiva classroom of the future will correct this, making collaboration through group projects a regular part of every school day.
Focus on real-world skills. The classroom of the future will place an emphasis on life-management skills from an early age. Critical often-overlooked skills like money management, entrepreneurism, healthy lifestyles, socializing, and creative thinking will be core objectives to be taught in the classroom. These are the unquantifiable skills that will be carried by your child forever and help your child actually succeed in life.
Better mastery of Hebrew language and Torah studies. The yeshiva classroom of the future will be at a tremendous advantage in terms of teaching Hebrew. Advances in technology will help create an environment ideal for new language mastery and Torah. The wealth of content being developed by third parties in Israel will be instantly at the fingertips of teachers in the U.S. to use inside their classroom. When these are used in conjunction with mastery-assessment technology, teachers will be able to offer a far more powerful environment for learning Hebrew language and Torah studies than has ever existed before.
Greater focus on individual specialty skills. With more of a tailored lesson plan available to all, the next logical step is identifying a child’s special talents and areas of interest and helping to really nurture them. Playing a musical instrument, joining athletic teams, painting, debating, and building robotics are all examples of areas a child might wish to pursue during their specialty time. The discipline involved in practicing and growing a special skill will have tremendous benefits for every child. This will no longer be relegated to afterschool programs and Sunday-morning activities, but a vital part of every child’s personal curriculum.
More curiosity, less drudgery. Students will be encouraged to play, discover, and learn. The classroom will be an exciting place full of interactive tablets with movable 3D models, colorful animated graphics, and simple interfaces that turn learning into a “game” that students enjoy playing and come home raving about. While exploring the construction of the Beit HaMikdash, the child can virtually walk through a 3D-constructed model of it to try and understand how it must have felt to be alive in the time of our ancestors. The child will no longer need to carry around books in a massive laden knapsack between home and school. The tablet in the classroom will have everything they need, digitally at their fingertips. They will learn with excitement and enthusiasm, as the words seem to come to life in front of them.
And more . . . This is just a small taste of what’s to come. The future of the yeshiva classroom is already within reach. The board and staff of Tiferet Academy are excited to push innovation and bridge the gap so that we can start bringing many of these innovations to the yeshiva classroom, beginning in 2013. For more information or to learn how to register your child, please visit www.Tiferet.org or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org. v
Avi Muchnick of Woodmere is a technology entrepreneur and passionate parent of four children. He is a volunteer spokesperson for the board of directors at Tiferet Academy.