Beyond Ma Nishtana: Four Digital Tools to Encourage Student Questions
For many students, the core of the Passover experience is the family seder. Over the centuries the seder has developed a question and answer structure that keeps children excited and engaged. As the holiday approaches, teachers have a great opportunity to focus on the value of questioning and critical thinking, and encourage their students to develop questions about Passover beyond the basic four from Ma Nishtana. We’ve gathered together a collection of digital tools that you can use to get your students thinking more deeply about Passover (as well as other subjects throughout the year.)
A backchannel is an online conversation that happens concurrently with a lesson or activity. This tool gives your students an easy place to engage in conversation with both you and their peers when learning a topic. The online platform can also make it more comfortable for students to ask questions and get involved in conversations, especially if they might need more time to formulate their questions. The backchannel tool could be used in both a traditional “frontal” lesson as well as in rotation groups (in which it would be helpful for the class to be 1:1 with devices). Teachers could then encourage students to submit their questions during the entire duration of the lesson, regardless of which station they might be in. Backchannel Chat is also a great option for blended learning classrooms because the app integrates with both Edmodo and Schoology. (Another backchannel tool option is TodaysMeet, but it’s available only in a web version.)
This website is a way to get fast, brief feedback from your students. Teachers can share a question with their students, and then the students type in short responses. For instance, if you wanted to gauge students’ understanding of the Passover story, you could ask your students “What are your questions about Passover?” or “What questions do you have about the Haggadah?” Then, they would type in and submit their answers, which would appear all together in the “answer garden” space. Another way to use this tool is to put students in control, work with them on creating a good question, and then have them ask their peers using the tool. This method validates the importance of their questions and encourages everyone to think critically about the topic at hand.
If you have students in your classroom who are less likely to speak up with their questions, then this is the tool for you. It’s specifically designed with those students in mind and features an online platform where students can ask questions in real-time anonymously. Another wonderful feature in this tool is the Confusion Barometer. Throughout a lesson, students can toggle back and forth between buttons that say “I am getting it” or “I am confused”. The teacher will be able to see how many students are confused, in both numerical and graphical representation, on the teacher dashboard, and then can slow down or modify the lesson accordingly. This feature is another way for students to get more comfortable with being unsure and having questions. Since you’ll be able to see when confusion is spiking, you can then encourage students to submit even more questions anonymously through the platform.
Using this tool, both you and your students can create fun multiplayer game-like quizzes. To really unleash your students’ question-asking potential, you can ask them to think thoroughly about a certain topic and then create their own quizzes for their peers. Students can even “ignore” the actual quiz function and simply input all of their questions into a format that their peers could then discuss in small groups or as a class instead of just quickly clicking answers on their devices. Students can also try to stump or challenge their teacher by creating a quiz with difficult and thought-provoking questions.
Learn more about educational technology and blended learning from the DigitalJLearning Network.
Yonah Kirschner, former Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications at The Jewish Education Project.