Benjamin Gross, a graduate student pursuing an EdD in Educational and Policy Leadership at Hofstra’s School of Education, has been honored with the Jewish Education Project’s 2015 Young Pioneers Award. As director of Educational Technology at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR), Gross works with teachers and students to incorporate technologies that enhance the classroom experience and the body of work that children add to their portfolios during their time at HAFTR.
In his position, Gross explains that a delicate balance that must be established between traditional classroom instruction and technology. “Our technology is in no way replacing the teacher at the front of the classroom,” he says. “We’re enhancing the curriculum they create. I feel strongly that education has to come before the glitz and glamour that technology can bring to the classroom.”
The Jewish Education Project’s 2015 Young Pioneers Award recognizes educators, clergy, principals and volunteers to create outstanding Jewish experiences in programs in Westchester, Long Island and New York City. Gross says, “Their vision is to make sure Jewish education works well and that there is continuity and an emphasis on ideals. The people who work for the Jewish Education Project are amazing.”
Gross’s work spans all the grades at HAFTR – from the school’s early childhood programs to 12th grade. He has found “it’s so much more rewarding to use technology for creativity,” and in this capacity he has introduced opportunities for students to develop age-appropriate skills, including computer programing, 3D printing, blogging, iPads, engineering, video editing and film production. For example, Gross implemented 3D printing in student projects to recreate symbols of Jewish history like the First Temple, melding ancient wisdom and modern technology.
Louise Chazen Banon, a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Education Project, said in her introduction of Gross, “Benny is working with faculty to help them actively use technology in their classrooms. But he is also using technology to enrich the connection between teachers and students. … He is enhancing the student learning experience for both secular and Jewish studies.”
It is not unusual for Gross to encounter some resistance from teachers to incorporating more technology into their instruction. “I don’t need to make teachers change how they’re teaching. It’s only if they want to learn how technology can benefit what they are already doing.” Gross has researched the sometimes uneasy relationship between educators and technology for a recent paper. “It was on barriers and the pressures teachers feel with regard to technology and instruction. Whether you work in education or not, technology is something we all have to keep up with. What’s key for teachers is that while they have to adapt, they feel pressure to match their students’ technical IQ, and they don’t have to. Technology is a great tool, but it’s just one of many tools that can help students learn and be successful.”
Gross expresses that he has been impressed with the EdD faculty at Hofstra, particularly the program director, Dr. Mónica Byrne-Jiménez. “She prepares us to be leaders,” he says. “She really cares that we do our jobs right. As educators, we actually have to look to beyond the 12th grade – what the future jobs are going to be and what skills our students need to develop. That is the substance of the program.”
Dr. Byrne-Jiménez shared, “Benjamin is a true innovative thinker. He sees technology as an extension – an enhancement – of leadership. I am not surprised that he is being recognized as an emerging 21st century leader.”
Gross, who has an undergraduate degree from Queens College and a masters from LIU-Post, is on track to complete the EdD program at Hofstra by 2018.