Maintenance of Noah’s Ark during the Flood isn’t mentioned in much detail in the Torah. But using dung levels as a timer in a game to teach young children about the story made perfect sense to the eight preteen kids who helped design and create ArkEscape, the free app launched last week in a partnership between Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., and the high-tech Jewish educational company G-dcast.
“The poop timer was all their idea,” said Sarah Lefton, G-dcast’s executive director. “Everything there was done by the kids.”
The partnership that eventually led to ArkEscape began several months ago when Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, director of Lifelong Learning at the synagogue, first reached out to G-dcast about collaborating as part of the programming plans at the synagogue’s newly built Beit Midrash (House of Study). G-dcast is most famous for its short educational videos for kids about Torah, and that was initially what Holtzblatt had in mind when she contacted the California-based company to involve them in “Torah Study Month” programming at the Beit Midrash.
“The innovative ideas at G-dcast are exactly what we’re trying to do,” Holtzblatt said.
Coincidentally, it was around this time G-dcast’s team was thinking about new ideas to combine its growing number of educational games such as Leviticus! with some of the Torah-teaching they used in their videos. When Holtzblatt contacted them about using Adas Israel families to make a G-dcast video, it made sense to in turn suggest they help make an app instead.
“The timing was perfect,” Lefton said.
In early October, some of the G-dcast team came to the synagogue to meet with the eight kids and their parents chosen for the day of app creation and Torah Study.
“It was about a six-hour day,” Lefton said. “We spent the whole day learning the story and how to turn it into a game.”
ArkEscape is essentially a card picture matching game, but beyond that basic concept, everything was decided upon by the kids, and they helped create not only the rules of the game, but the art, music, sound effects and more.
“The entire process of making a game was condensed into one day,” Lefton said.
Along with learning the story in the Torah, the day included teaching and discussing related midrashim and commentary from rabbis over the centuries.
“It was an intense text study,” Holtzblatt said. “We focused on Noah as a caretaker specifically.”
Despite the difficulty often inherent with teaching children about the Torah in a way that engages and excites them, the combination of the learning with game-making struck a chord.
“The technology really brightened them up,” Holtzblatt said. “I thought that here was a way of speaking to them in their own language.”
The interactivity of both making and playing the games could provide a way forward for new teaching Jewish subjects, a goal Lefton and Holtzblatt share.
“It’s our dream to have games for every parsha in the Torah like this,” Lefton said.