26 Jan Digital Awareness: Core Skills and Values at the Center of our Students’ Learning

This week we have a special Guest Columnist, Gary Pretsfelder, Schechter Manhattan Principal.

A number of years ago, I got a call from a parent who reported that her babysitter had been receiving prank phone calls on her cell phone. When the mother finally traced the number, she found that it belonged to one of her daughter’s third grade classmates who had been making the calls. The girl did not realize that when she telephoned others her number showed up on the receiver’s phone. It was clear that despite owning a smart phone, this 8-year old did not understand the technicalities and etiquette of its use.

Similarly, a few years later, I heard from one of the teachers of older students that an argument had emerged in her classroom one Monday during lunch about text messages that had been shared between classmates over the weekend.  In their online dialogue, classmates engaged in the usual pre-adolescent chatter but at some point the conversation devolved and became heated and exclusionary.  There were a good number of students in this group chat and not one stepped forward to say anything. Only after the teacher explored further did she find that the conversation had also become inappropriate and hurtful.  These 11-year old students had ventured into social media but did not recognize that their conversations had been “recorded” for eternity.

Parents and schools are handing powerful digital tools to their young children. But how many are also taking the time to teach them how to use it?  This is a question that we at Schechter Manhattan have been pondering for a number of years.  As in everything else we do, we put our students at the center and take this challenge very seriously.

Last year, the Educational Leadership Team partnered with the Parents Association to host a day with digital educator, Liz Repking of Cyber Safety Consulting. Our goal was to have her help us prepare our students and families for the skills and strategies of 21st century digital usage and learning. Ms. Repking led workshops in digital and cyber awareness; she spent several hours during the day leading interactive workshops with students in grades 3-8, she worked with the faculty to help them understand their role in supporting students in their use of technology, and then finished the day with a presentation for parents. The workshops highlighted kids’ online presence, the positive and negative uses and implications of technology, and how we can help our students and children better understand and safely navigate a culture of technology.

For the educational team, those workshops were the kick-off for introducing a widened curriculum on digital learning and safety.  This year, we rolled out our expanded direct, formal teaching about digital awareness, which now includes more age groups.

Our approach to technology use, like everything we do, is founded on the principles of menschlichkeit that are at the core of our community.  Starting in Gan and extending across the school, teachers in every grade focus, in age-appropriate way, on helping students engage in safe and responsible interactions, and in respectful relationships.  These same themes are the foundation upon which we designed the formal digital curriculum that begins in third grade.

Our third/fourth grade students investigate how one responsibly uses digital resources.  Using a curriculum by CyberSmart, they look at how the internet works, the “language” of communicating online, appropriate and expected behavior when online, and the definition of, and defense against, cyber-bullying.

Our older elementary students use the Google curriculum Being Internet Awesome and review accepted online ‘netiquette’, investigate how to manage personal information on line, and learn how careful use of passwords and privacy settings can support that.  In addition, the class looks at ways to avoid falling victim to phishing, what constitutes cyber bullying, and what are the best ways to act when you see or experience it.

In middle school, our students use curriculum from Common Sense Media.  Our pre-adolescents are generally heavy users of smart phones and social media.  With their teachers they reflect on their own media usage and habits, identify the risks and benefits of how one presents him/herself online, investigate how their online presence creates an irreversible digital footprint, and learn about copyright issues and information literacy, among other topics.

Social media and technology usage are now an integral part of every student’s life in our part of New York City. Providing our students with the know-how and tools to create, connect, collaborate, communicate and think critically is central to what we do at Schechter Manhattan. With the right guidance and practice, we believe that our students will benefit from these productive internet tools, and do so safely, responsibly and with the menschlichkeit we see them display in school each day.


Shabbat Shalom


Gary Pretsfelder

Author’s Chair

Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop back next week and see what they are writing and thinking about.


Students used a free writing session as an opportunity to either use an idea from our idea bin, or write about anything on their minds.

“I am shotig a Baxietb”
(I am shooting a basketball).
–  Adam

“i hav a fon. iken kol. my fon is blak.”
(I have a phone. I can call. My phone is black).
–  Julian

“I Hav a PuPe and shes So So Coot”
(I have a puppy and she’s so so cute).
–  Danielle 



In theme, we explored the idea of a miracle and what we think are some of the miracles in Jewish history and in our personal lives. Students then wrote their personal definitions of miracles and examples of miracles in their personal experience.

Click here to view work by Aviya, Zac, Ayelet, Ava, Avner



The fifth graders learned about different types of essays and wrote five paragraph essays about the topic of their choice.

Picking the Right Sport For You

Have you ever been wondering what sport you should play? Did you ever regret playing a sport you don’t like? If you have, you are just one of many people who have been thinking about what sport to play. The right sport for you can be very hard to find, but luckily, sports have categories such as team sports, individual sports, and track and field sports. Knowing about different types of sports will make it easier for you to find your favorite.

Team sports are sports that have two teams competing against each other to win the game. Soccer, basketball, and hockey are all team sports. These sports are favored by most sports fans around the world because they are the most competitive. Playing a team sport requires patience. If you are not patient with other people, the whole system of the team will collapse. It is really important for people to work together. In soccer, for example, you have to pass the ball to teammates. If you don’t pass the ball, it will get taken away from you. The same concept goes for basketball, hockey, and other team sports. Team sports are very fun because you get to play with friends or you can even play professionally.

Another type of sport is individual sports. Individual sports are usually played by only two people per match. However, there are some specific individual sports that don’t do this, such as golf. In tennis, there are two people with rackets on either side of a net. The goal of the game is to hit a small ball with your racket at the other side of the net without the other person doing the same thing. Individual sports require self confidence. If you do not have self confidence you would want to rely on someone else, but you are on your own, so you do not have someone to rely on. If you like working by yourself you should play individual sports. No one will give you advice that you do not like unless you are being trained by a coach. Individual sports are very cool because you only need to trust yourself.

A final type of sport is track and field. Track and field sports are very unique because they can be played individually or with a team. The one hundred meter sprint is a track and field sport. In Track and field sports you try to get the fastest time, highest jump, or longest distance. Track and field sports require a lot of physical strength. Track and field sports require less thinking and more doing. You do not really need to think too much if you are sprinting around a track or jumping over hurdles. Of course, you do need to think a little when you are playing track and field. You should be thinking about how to run faster or how to jump higher. The reason track and field sports are very exhilarating is because the athletes are playing for respect in their hometown or even their home country.

In conclusion, everyone who likes to play sports should have a sport they like. Understanding the different sports categories, such as team sports, individual sports, and track and field sports will help you to choose the right one that fits you. A lot of people play sports professionally, and if you enjoy sports, you should play them too.

– Yhonatan 


Twisty Puzzles

In 1974, Ernő Rubik created his Magic Cube. Once he messed it up, he spent three months of trying before he finally figured out how to solve it. Engineers have loved Rubik’s cube so much that hundreds of variations have been built off the 3×3. Bigger and smaller cubes have been made, along with oddly shaped puzzles and cubes with unusual turning.

Rubik’s Cubes have expanded over the years. The smallest Rubik’s cubes are 2×2. These can be easily found at puzzle stores, such as Barnes and Noble. They only require two algorithms; one to put corners in the right spot and one to orient them correctly. The 33×33 Rubik’s cube is the biggest ever made; it took more than 24 hours of assembly! If you wanted one, you’d have to 3-D print the 6,000+ parts, dye them, sticker them, and finally assemble it. Although there are more than 104600 ways to mess it up, it can be solved relatively easily using reduction. This is solving the centers and edges and pretending it’s a 3×3. There is a Guinness World Record for biggest Rubik’s cube and it is 5’ 1” tall but it is only a 3×3 model. On the other end of the scale, there is a Rubik’s cube smaller than your fingernail, again, 3×3. All of these cubes, from 4×4 to 33×33 can be solved similarly but as they get bigger, they become more tedious.

Rubik’s cube puzzles, despite the name, are not always cubes. The Pyraminx is a tetrahedral puzzle that is much easier than any normal Rubik’s cube. It requires no algorithms, just simple placement. They have been made in 7×7 versions but the smallest is still the 3×3 original. A Megaminx is a dodecahedral puzzle, one of the few in that shape. Some puzzles like it allow jumbling, which is having symmetry to let it become other shapes. They not only need the colors to line up, but the shape also has to be right. Jumbling also lets certain twists become impossible. There is also a rhombic triacontahedral puzzle. It has 3 types of jumbling moves that make many normal moves become impossible. A rhombic triacontahedron is a solid made from five rhombi joined at the sharp vertices and three at the duller ones. The challenge in these puzzles can range from the shape to the jumbling.

Even the 3×3 design can have variations. The Bandaged cube is almost a normal 3×3 except some of the cubes have been melted together to make rectangular prisms. This allows some of the normally possible twists to be impossible. This is not jumbling because there are no weird half twists to change the shape. It is one of the hardest 3×3 mods in existence. The Mirror, or Bump cube is exactly like a 3×3 except it has no stickers or colors. To compensate, all the parts that would be cubes on a Rubik’s cube are differently shaped. When you twist it, the cubes are not in alignment and it becomes misshapen. The hardest part is identifying which part is which. If you can do that it is a 3×3 (or 11×11, if you have it). The Two Face cube is probably the hardest unbandaged 3×3 modification. It has lenticular stickers so you can’t tell if the color of the sticker is one color or another. Because they are lenticular the lenses are raised so you can try to use that to your advantage. One other 3×3 mod is the Latch Cube. When solved, each side has a ring with two arrows, both pointing counter-clockwise. When you twist a layer, there might be three arrows on one face: one clockwise and two counter-clockwise. If this happens, you can’t turn that side. A final 3×3 variation is the Mix-up Cube. It just looks like a slightly mis-sized 3×3 but with one important difference: if you twist the middle 45°, you can still make all normal turns. This causes the centers and edges to switch places. These cubes show how far you can expand on one basic toy.

Twisty puzzles can come in all shapes, sizes, and variations. Because of this, all the puzzles have different difficulty levels. Although the Rubik’s Cube is hard, it is comparatively easy to other puzzles. One of the reasons it is so challenging is that there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 combinations. Keep an eye out for new puzzles at your local store; they come out quickly.

–  Benjamin


Why You Should Go To School

Did you know that you spend more awake hours in school than you do at home? Actually your teachers spend more time with you than your parents do. For some people, school is like their home and friends are like their family. School is important for kids so you can learn how to be a successful and smart adult. At school you can learn, see friends, and keep busy.

One major reason why you go to school is because you learn. One thing you study in school is math. You are going to use math for is for shopping to figure out how much you are spending. If you see that something is on sale, you can know how much less it is and see if it’s a good price. Another thing you learn in math is measurement. When you move into a house, you can figure out what size furniture will fit. Science is another subject you learn in school. You will use it to figure out more about the world. You might also learn about chemical reactions which will help you when you are cooking, so you know what ingredients not to put together. Yet another thing you learn in school is Hebrew. You will want to know Hebrew so that if you one day go to Israel on vacation or for fun, you can speak to people. You might want to go to Israel because it’s very entertaining. All of the prayers are in Hebrew so learning Hebrew will help you know how to pray and connect to Judaism. The things we learn in school can help us later in life.

Another reason you go to school is because you want to see friends. Friends are important because they support you. You might want to talk to friends about the weekend and what you did. You could have gone to a museum or gone to see a show. You might also want to play with friends. You could talk to them about a cool game you got or you could play a game you already know and play a lot. Yet another thing you might want to do is show them the present you got. It could be for Hanukkah for your birthday or just for fun. You might also want to do what you got with a friend. One last reason you might want to see friends is because you only see them in school because they live far away. Also if you don’t have any friends you might get picked on or be lonely. Friends are important because you can trust them and they can make you feel better.

Yet another reason you might go to school is to keep busy. You wouldn’t have anything to do besides watch T.V. if you did not go to school. You could also play solitaire but that gets boring after a few rounds. Another reason is that everyone is at school so you can’t have a playdate. The only way you could have a playdate is if another person stayed home from school which is very unlikely. One last reason is that it can be scary to stay home alone.You might hear creaking or a door might slam because of the wind and you would think it was a ghost. School keeps people occupied and entertained.

As you know you, should go to school. So even if your dad or mom wakes you up very early and you hate it, you should go to school. And even if the bus smells bad and it makes you bus sick you should go to school. Also if you get homeschooled you will learn a lot but you will never learn as much as you do in school. So even if you wake up early or you get bus sick, go to school, it’s worth it.

–  Maya

Why Kids Shouldn’t Get Homework

Why should kids be torchered by homework? I don’t know. No matter which school your from I bet you think this all the time. I know, we shouldn’t get homework.

We shouldn’t have homework because its is not important, it takes time away from other things, and no one likes it.

One reason we shouldn’t get homework is doing homework takes a lot of time away from other things. One thing it takes time away from is having time with your family. In the morning you don’t have as much time to spend with your family so you should have some time with your family in the night. Also you don’t have time to play stuff you can’t do at school. One thing people like to do is play video games but you will have less time to play if you have homework. One last thing it takes time away from is time to relax. Some people like to just read something and relax and you can’t do that at school. If we stop getting homework we will have more time to do these things.

Another reason we shouldn’t get homework is most people don’t like to do homework so it’s not fair. One reason is people don’t like to do it is people think it is boring. It’s boring because your just sitting there and doing work you don’t like, like math, reading, writing, hebrew and social studies. Another reason is people don’t like to do it so it takes a long time. One last reason is people sometimes don’t finish it at home, so they do it in school but that takes time away from the things they have to do at school. Then they have more homework so then it keeps on happening again. If there was no homework it would be fair and it wouldn’t happen at all.

Another reason we shouldn’t have homework is a lot of the homework you have is not important. It’s not important because some of it is not useful in your life like Torah. Torah is not useful because no job except a rabi uses torah. If your not going to use it in your life we shouldn’t have it for homework. Also some homework is not important because you have time to do it at school and then you have nothing to do at that time. If you have nothing to do at that time you read but you could just read at home. Another reason is you’re just reviewing what you learned in school. Since a lot of homework is not important we shouldn’t have it at all.

Homework takes time away from some activities, is not all important, and people hate it. In fact over 70% of kids in the USA hate homework according to EJ insight survey . It’s not fair, how much longer will kids keep being torchered by homework?

–   Rafi



The seventh-graders wrote about their thoughts on a Stuart Chase Quote (“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”)