Bring The Moon Into Your Classroom With Augmented Reality

This blog was written by Rabbi Eliram Elgrably

Have you ever wished you could bring the moon into your classroom? Augmented reality (AR) is a buzzword now in education. AR is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike its sister, virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.

This is why I was so excited to take part in The Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program, a program that brings this fascinating technology and engages students with immersive lessons, enabling them to learn about topics together, observe digital objects right in front of them and explore new and fascinating worlds.

As a Judaic Studies teacher, I invest a lot of time teaching the Jewish life cycle, including holidays and other special events. The Jewish calendar is rooted in the cycles of the moon. Each month of the year is a lunar month, beginning on the new moon and ending when the moon is dark and not visible. In fact, all Jewish holidays were determined according to the lunar cycle. In light of this, I was thrilled to use the virtual expedition “To The Moon with the Google Lunar XPRIZE” – and take my classrooms on virtual field trip on the moon.

The first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar – Rosh Chodesh – is marked by the birth of a new moon. On the first sighting of the new moon, the Jewish tradition is to bless the moon. It is customary to recite the following praise, once a month: “and He directed the moon to renew herself as a crown of glory, for those who likewise are destined to be renewed like her.” This explains why we are so heartened by Rosh Chodesh.

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Google Expeditions is a complete kit with everything I needed to take my students up to the moon. That means phones for each student with selfie sticks, and a tablet for the teacher to run the field trip. Using my tablet, I control the experience and all the devices are synced with my tablet so I can monitor student progress. The Augmented Reality experience starts with “placing” the 3D objects, so I placed 2 “moons” in my classroom so everyone can “experience” the moon calmly.  The students started walking around the moon, examining how the moon looks at different times of the month, and tried to associate dates with each phase. I asked them what it would be like flying to the moon, and what they would feel as they left the beautiful Earth behind.

Next, we talked about the phases of the moon and percentage of the moon illumination. The students noticed that when the moon is completely illuminated – a full moon – it always occurs in the middle of the Jewish month, the 15th day. Not by chance, in 6 out of 12 Jewish months we mark a holiday on the 15th day of the month –  Sukkot, Tu Bishvat, Shushan Purim, Pesach (which is also celebrated in certain cases on Iyar 15th) and Tu B’Av. The students suggested beautiful ideas why Sukkot, when the Jews are commanded to sit outside their homes (in the sukkah), is celebrated on the 15th of the month, as the moon is full, round and beautifully illuminating.

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The expedition inspired the students to take a journey to the moon and investigate first-hand the Jewish calendar. I split the class into two groups, and assigned one moon for each group. They were asked to make a “calendar team” and create a lunar calendar that will help everyone understand how the calendar is structured and how the moon relates to our holidays.

The “calendar team” consisted of several experts:

  1. The astronomer will investigate and describe the state of the moon every day of the month.
  2. The researcher of Jewish sources will investigate the Torah and other Jewish sources when the Jewish holidays are celebrated. This student’s task is to prepare an orderly table with the name of the holiday and the Hebrew date in which it is celebrated.
  3. The linguist will learn about Hebrew concepts related to the research (מַחְזוֹר הַלְּבָנָה, רֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, מוֹלָד, עִבּוּר הַשָּׁנָה, עֵדוּת-רְאִיָּה, יָרֵחַ מָלֵא, קִדּוּשׁ הַחֹדֶשׁ).
  4. The graphic designer is responsible for the calendar and its design.

The next step was the hearing the experts. Each group had to share, using the AR technology, their conclusions about the Jewish calendar, and find a connection between the shape of the moon and the celebrated holiday.

Finally, I shared with the students that the “Shulchan Aruch,” one of the great Jewish law books, dedicated a full chapter in his monumental book to only five words (this is the shortest chapter): “It is a mitzvah to enhance the meal of Rosh Chodesh” in order to make a special joy. Through this unit, the students were able to see the beauty of the moon, what this renewal signifies every month, and how our life cycle is reflected through the cyclical nature of the moon.

It was clear after this unit that the technology we used created a more dynamic and engaging atmosphere for our students, which allowed them to understand complex materials in simplified ways.

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