Tag Archives: Education

Learning from the Tech Journey

Flickr_-_Nicholas_T_-_Open_RoadHave you ever just gone for a drive with no specific destination in mind? Have you ever wandered around a mall or a small town just to see what’s there? Or, have you ever been traveling to some place and been sidetracked?

Most of our lives are directed to a destination–work, school, home, a vacation spot, the store, etc.. When the distance is short or routine, we take our arrival for granted. When we wander, though, the journey changes our arrival and it changes us.

PrintThis Sunday is the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Elementary schools are encouraged to learn about Abraham (known as Abram in the material) and his journey from his homeland to a land that God would show him. Rashi, the great French medieval commentator, notes about Genesis 12:2 that “God did not reveal to him (Abraham) the land immediately in order to make it dear in his (Abraham’s) eyes.” That is a lesson in itself, arriving at a previously undisclosed location can make that arrival more sweet.

As Albert Einstein Academy (AEA) journey’s into the future of education, I want to add another lesson from Abraham’s experience to our learning: Abraham’s journey brought many others along with him and with his wife Sarah because their values led the way. It is true that Abraham and Sarah answered God’s call to go forth to a place that God would show them. We also read that they took with them “the soul of those they made in Haran” (Gen. 12:5). It was in Haran that Abraham supposedly broke the idols in his father’s shop (the story is not actually in the Torah; it is midrash, or rabbinic myth). As he and Sarah established themselves and shared their values, others joined their cause.

aea new admission logoWe are on a journey based on values. At AEA, we value each individual as an image of God and a unique gift. We aim to foster inquisitive learners, critical thinkers, and dynamic leaders, which requires us to seek the educational development of students’ academic, emotional, and moral capacities. I am so grateful to our families for joining us on the journey because of our values.

Technology is just a tool to accomplish our goals. While new computers may seem like the destination, the real arrival place is success in life. We have opened doors to new possible ways of fulfilling our mission by incorporating technology into our teaching. More is to come. With new tools, we are already developing inquiry, critical thinking, and leadership skills through collaborative work, especially in Google Docs. With new tools (like Ariot CAL for Hebrew already in our school and Everyday Math 4, hopefully coming soon), we can work on individualizing student gains in fun, engaging ways that will give us specific data by which to measure progress. The tools are not the goal; they help us achieve our goals.

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via edutechdebate.org

 

As our technology journey advances, we may not know the end point (especially since technology changes so much). We do know why we are using this path. We do know that our students need to understand how to make the journey work for them (that’s why we also teach coding). Most of all, we know that for our current families and for anyone else to join us on the journey, the real destination is the fulfillment of our values. Thanks  again to those wandering with us.

 

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Would My Mother Be Proud?

via avichai.org

via avichai.org

I finally did it. I got into Harvard! Seriously. I have been selected to attend Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education Principals’ Center program “Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership” as part of a cohort of Jewish day school leaders who will have additional reflection and mentoring at Harvard with a year-long project afterward, fully-funded by the AVI CHAI Foundation. My mother would be so proud!

Or would she? Yes, it is true that my teen summers in the Boston area led to the purchase of some Harvard gear, and that I fancied I might go to Harvard for college. I remember my mother encouraging my enthusiasm and exhibiting a quiet patience. I think she knew that I did not yet know myself well enough to choose the right college campus for me. In the end, I went to Swarthmore College. My mother’s charge to me as I left for Swarthmore was to take four years to learn how to think.

via starlight-tower.com

via starlight-tower.com

Now, I think she would not be proud of me getting into Harvard. She might be happy for me, but she would also wonder what going there would do for my soul. The name Harvard and even the promise of great learning would provoke a stale, “good for you” or “how exciting.” To fire her up, I would need to give a deeper reason for the value of the program.

Thankfully, AVI CHAI is providing that deeper reason: I am going to Harvard “to enhance or advance the Judaic mission of” Albert Einstein Academy (AEA). The classes will give me tools for being a better principal; and the mentoring and reflection will push me to become a better person and thereby a better leader. I am going to Harvard not just to learn how to do but also to learn how to be. Of that, my mother would be proud.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I miss my mother dearly. In her absence, I have come to appreciate how mothers (not exclusively, yet still significantly) are the grounding presence in children’s lives. Children learn from mothers that our origins, our history, our family, our roots, and our values are key to understanding who we are. We need this foundation and to recognize it.

One of the gifts of a Jewish day school education in the elementary years, like that of AEA, is precisely the time spent teaching those origins, history, family, roots, and values. A school is not a parent; it cannot be. A school can, however, teach more than tools; it can teach the soul paths towards flourishing. I am going to Harvard to advance that Judaic mission: teaching our students’ souls to develop journeys that lead their whole being to thrive.

I thank my mother for getting me on that path. I thank all mothers for giving their children the groundwork for purpose. I hope your children make you proud, and I hope that AEA will help them do it.

via contactnumbers.co.in

via contactnumbers.co.in

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Learning to be Together

ChailitesEach week, I write for my school’s newsletter, Chailites. This week, my address to the Albert Einstein Academy community appeared to be about social media, togetherness, and learning.  Behind it all, though, was my awareness of the 9th of Adar and a project of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution to commemorate this date on the Jewish calendar, when historically the two major houses of rabbinic thought clashed violently over 18 matters of law.  The houses of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai disputed each other’s positions hundreds of times, including on issues of marriage and divorce; despite these differences, they got along well enough that they even married across house lines. They got along that is, except on one 9th of Adar about 2000 years ago.

My article started with this:

Late last week, I encouraged Ms. Creed, our 2nd and 3rd grade language arts teacher, to try #Grammar911 on Twitter to help her students learn grammar. She started a Twitter account, @MsCreedsClass, using #aeajds2 and #aeajds3 to distinguish her classes; and then, she had her students see (by writing on the whiteboard) a grammatically incorrect sentence sent by a school in Canada, fix it, and send back the proper version. Her students were excited and engaged in learning grammar, ready to make up sentences of their own for correction.

On its surface, this paragraph is simply about a new educational tool being used in classes. In the context of the 9th of Adar, though, this paragraph is an example of constructive conflict. One school’s class tweets a grammatically incorrect sentence for another class to correct. The second class offers its correction in the spirit of learning and sharing. In the language of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai’s better days, the classes disagree l’shem shamayim [for the sake of Heaven].

I went on to note how sharing the news of this venture caused conflict for parents:

Then, I shared a sample of this experience on Facebook. In our AEA Current Families Facebook group, an excellent conversation started right away. Social media are challenging, scary, and ubiquitous. Schools must be careful in their introduction of these media when used for learning. AEA is careful—our Parent Handbook has extensive language outlining social media offenses—and we also need to articulate meaningful guidelines for how to use social media properly (and in keeping with parents’ boundaries for their children). Significantly, there was a point in which the conversation was a turning point for our school: instead of addressing parent concerns directly as an authority, the school encouraged further discussion. That discussion is a key component of the value of social media for an institution; members of our community felt each other’s presence in meaningful conversation. More than status updates or photo-ops, social media is meant to be social.

Here, for me as Head of School, conflict needed to be constructive. Rather than assert authority, the school used the power of discussion. That discussion brought a special kind of peace–in Hebrew shalom–a kind of wholeness, incorporating many perspectives in one space, rather than merely the lack of discord. At its best, social media avoids broadcasting in favor of engagement between people.

I went on in my article to share my joy that we also have social gatherings so that we have a context in which our disagreements take place. When we are walled off from each other, it is all too easy to become siloed, territorial, and consequently selfish. When we have social bonds, we have the chance to see beyond ourselves, a lesson I noted that I felt acutely this time of year:

How wonderful then, that we had a parent/board social last Saturday night! While not everyone could attend, the fact that we gathered in my home was a reminder of the value of community and, I hope, a chance to tighten bonds and form new ones. We will have many community gatherings for school events over the next few months; I hope, too, that members will gather socially to strengthen ties to each other.

I am particularly focused on this idea of community around learning because this week marked the 18th yahrzeit of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Ducker (z”l). Matthew and Sara were killed in a terrorist bombing of the #18 bus in Jerusalem the year before I started rabbinical school. When Matthew’s classmates returned to New York for their studies, they created a community that profoundly affected me. Our beit midrash (study hall) was dedicated in Matthew and Sara’s names; that class seemed to live there. Rather than insulating themselves, however, that class expanded their learning outward. To this day, I count many of them as my teachers and friends. For them, the Jewish way to be together was to learn together.

The terrorist bombing that killed Matthew and Sara and many others is part of a terrible political conflict. What strikes me about Matthew’s classmates is that they did not let that conflict define them. Somehow, they found the Jewish tradition’s texts of holy conflict as a source of peace. They taught me that arguments for the sake of Heaven are arguments that bind us together rather than tear us apart. In the spirit of that constructive experience of conflict, I concluded:

I believe the same is true for AEA: the way to be together is to learn together. Whether through our discussions online, through expanding our students’ horizons beyond a classroom, through social or school gatherings—when we learn, we strengthen our ties.  To that end, I am excited to announce that AEA will be looking for new adult learning opportunities to start next fall.  We were lucky to have much learning under the Kohelet Foundation programs. This week has reminded me that it is time we start again. In offering learning, we offer a deeper community, a community I hope will expand outward to affect lives throughout the Brandywine Valley.  I hope you will join me!

I pray that the 9th of Adar be a day of commemoration that inspires us to spend time socially, to share our differences, and to learn to be together in the wholeness of constructive conflict not just in the cessation of argument.9Adar_LoRezEng_180

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Why our Whole School Gets on Stage

Star of Judah WarsDuring the performance, we—the audience—are amazed by what our students accomplish.  What we only vaguely realize is how much our students have learned along the way.  In the educational setting of a school (even an elementary school), the stage serves as a microcosm where so many of the skills needed in our contemporary society are used, and therefore taught.  It is because of these skills that we, at Albert Einstein Academy, have the whole school on stage.

What are the skills taught in drama?  There are the obvious ones we see in action on stage, the more subtle ones developed in preparation, and then there are the skills that come from repeated experiences with dramatic production.

The obvious skills are the ones we kvell over, feeling pride and joy.  Lead actors speak publically to the audience with or without a microphone, projecting their voice, enunciating their words, and demonstrating a level of self-confidence we often do not see elsewhere (drama is not just for the extrovert).  Additionally, we witness their zest as they take on characters and smile at their successes.  In the best tradition of school plays, we usually get a taste of flexibility and resilience as one or more glitches are taken in stride.

Children_Succeed_hiMore subtly, the weeks of work from the auditions to the dress rehearsal build what we might deem the academic lessons.  Practicing lines means improving fluency in reading and memorization.  Familiarity with the show and significant time with it help students understand the messages of the story more deeply and, often, personally.  In 21st Century educational terms, equally important are the skills learned by failing:  grit and perseverance as errors occur, changes are made, rehearsals run long, or many wait while a few iron out a scene; teamwork as groups share the stage, cast members learn their places and movement, supporting roles wait quietly, and everyone helps each other; and the skills built on both, contributing to successful problem solving and failing forward (seeing failure as important to higher achievement).

Why include students who can barely stay awake for a night performance, though? We include the Gan and First Grades because of the trajectory that early involvement establishes as a foundation.  Our stars in this week’s show did not start out school ready to sing solos or take on lengthy passages; the grew into their abilities.  Thus, we include the whole school to teach optimism, a growth mindset (to borrow from Carol Dweck).  Other emotional learning includes: social intelligence to know how to deal with specific peers on stage and empathize with their struggles, how to take theater cues and personal cues, how to concentrate on one’s part and relax into the flow of muscle-memory, and gratitude as modeled by others at the end of every performance.  Great job, everyone!

When I say the whole school, I mean it.  There is a reason we include teachers in the production as well.  Throughout the rehearsal process, teachers model many of the skills associated with teamwork and failing forward.  The teachers work together to improve blocking, staging, and costumes.  They do this work publically so students see how we solve problems together.

I cannot forget the parents.  As one parent noted, parents volunteer behind the scenes and on stage “to teach our kids that making time for community involvement doesn’t have to only mean sports or tzedakah.  [It shows] them that skills and talents exists outside of careers and throughout their lives.”

“The Star (of Judah) Wars” was not just a successful production for our school, nor was it “just” a Chanukah show; this production was an affirmation of our educational aims and of the best our school offers its students.  No wonder our graduates are ready for the world they enter!

via Ben Weitz

via Ben Weitz

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Aligning Hearts

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I have read leadership and management literature for more than a decade.  Along the way, I have applied many of the lessons I learned from books, articles, seminars, mentors, coaches, and colleagues.  This past week was a defining moment for me as a leader.

I am the new Head of School of Albert Einstein Academy Jewish Day School (AEA) in Wilmington, DE.  While I started the job many weeks ago, last week included our first meeting of the Board of Trustees and the crucial teacher in-service days meant to launch the school year.  By focusing on aligning hearts, I believe my leadership made a positive impact.

How did I do it in a way consistent with my roles as rabbi and educator?  I reminded each group of the wisdom of chazal (the ancient Sages of blessed memory).  The ancient wisdom I shared served as a frame for the issues of the day.

In my many years working in Jewish organizational life, I have sat in board meetings.  Some meetings are run better than others; some boards are better than others.  Without question, this past week’s meeting was the best I have seen.  The president ably oriented the board members to their responsibilities, with a matching charge from a rabbinic representative; and the board members introduced themselves with a spirit of investment in the past, present, and future of the school.  In the middle of all that, I gave a report in which I sought to indicate the many issues I faced and am facing as Head of School, issues I see as challenges, not problems.  In the spirit of the Sage Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, whose beard turned white when he was appointed patriarch of the rabbinical academy at a young age, I taught that facing challenges can be about flourishing, not just fixing.  Through choice words and tone, I aligned the board’s future responsibility with my own professionalism and their warm feelings of connection with my own openness.

via todaysengineer.org

via todaysengineer.org

Why am I focusing on alignment?  Because it works.  I saw it in action the day after that meeting when the faculty was hard at work.  Alignment is enabling.  Whether through the guidance of vision, through the trust of deep relationships, or the charge to follow one’s passions, being able to align oneself with an institution and/or its leaders enables one to act with purpose.  As Thomas J. Sergiovanni writes in Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools, “The key to making things better is to enable teachers–to give them the discretion, the support, the preparation, and the guidance necessary to get the job done” (page 9).  By aligning hearts, we not only enable teachers (and other stakeholders) “to get the job done,” we enable them to reach new heights.

The key experiences of our first faculty in-service day were designed to develop ownership of our mission and to pass that sense of ownership on to our students.  [I thank my dean in the RAVSAK Head of School Professional Excellence Program, Dr. Elliot Spiegel, for his suggestion to speak with Dr. Renee Holtz (an alumna of AEA and now a key administrator at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester) about ways to look at our mission.  I also owe tremendous thanks to the faculty for engaging seriously with the material that day.]  What did we do?  We walked around the room where key words or ideas from our philosophy statement were written on easel paper.  Each of us had to write three ways to measure whether we do what we say we do.  From those benchmarks, we turned back to the Babylonian Talmud to see how important it is to live by one’s philosophy.  The following passage is from Tractate Avodah Zarah 19a:

אמר רבא: לעולם ילמוד אדם תורה במקום שלבו חפץ, שנאמר: כי אם בתורת ה’ חפצו. ואמר רבא: בתחילה נקראת על שמו של הקב”ה ולבסוף נקראת על שמו, שנאמר: בתורת ה’ חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה 

Raba said: “A person should always learn Instruction (Torah) from the part that his heart desires, as it is said, ‘but in the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH is his delight‘ (Psalm 1:2). Raba also said: “At the start [of the verse] it [the Instruction (Torah)] is read assigned to the Holy One Blessed be God and at the end [of the verse] it is read assigned to the person, as it is said, ‘in the Instruction (Torah) of YHWH is his delight and in the Instruction (Torah) of his [own] he should meditate day and night’ (Psalm 1:2).” 

The discussion we had surrounded this reading by Raba of Psalm 1:2 hammered home the point that we all learn best and work best when we are doing something we love.  Likewise, as the Talmud goes on to explain, sometimes we need to introduce material for it to become loved.  Either way, the more we encourage our students find their passions, to discover new ones, and to pursue them, the more we further our students education as a whole.  It is never about one piece of information; it is always about learning to learn.  We flourish as learners when we align our hearts with our responsibilities.  A few hours later, some teacher assignments in the school were reshuffled based emphatically on teachers’ passions.  I believe we enabled teachers to flourish in ways that will allow our students to flourish.  All by aligning hearts.

via 21centuryrelationships.blogspot.com/

via 21centuryrelationships.blogspot.com/

Many of the techniques I used over the past week are part of my training in leadership.  The strongest impact, though, came from learning with others, alongside others.  I intended to model being a learner.  In doing so, I found my heart’s desire.  This blog post is meant to keep in front of me that vision of aligning hearts, a vision of living education.

What vision aligns your learning or teaching with your heart, your passion?

As we start a new year, what will keep your heart aligned with your work?

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The Technology of Jewish Learning

aea new admission logoAlbert Einstein Academy (AEA), the premier Jewish Day School of the Brandywine Valley, was one of the first schools in the United States to be wired.  Since then, the development of internet and computing technology has moved well beyond creating the infrastructure to network a school.  As the new Head of School, it has been my challenge to determine a path forward to put AEA ahead of the curve again.Jewish Voice August 2013 cover

The August 2013 issue of our local Jewish community newspaper, The Jewish Voice, published a series of articles from JNS.org suggesting that 21st-Century Jewish Day Schools should be using tablets and any of a number of online learning tools.  These articles do a good job of creating excitement around the innovative use of technologies to support learning.  Less obvious is the undercurrent of concern about aligning the right hardware with new programs and programs yet to be developed.

In the spirit of the school’s namesake, we are going to experiment and to network.  Albert Einstein’s theories came as a result of thinking through options to find those ideas that conformed to science and physical reality.  He corresponded with fellow scientists around the world to test his ideas and to learn from others.  This year, faculty, staff, and some students and parents will test options for digital education tools.  The faculty and staff will be asked to use Google Apps for Education to see if its tools and privacy provide a vibrant space for teamwork, organization, and lesson plans that incorporate web-based resources.  After tapping my network at the University of Delaware and the JEDLAB Facebook group for advice, I registered to log into edmodocon on August 7th to check out EdModo.  During the year, willing teachers will be encouraged to try Kidblog and/or Schoology for individual classes or projects.  If we had older students, we would look at other systems like Haiku.  By year’s end, we ought to know better our reality–where to focus our attention for the school’s 45th year and whether we should be investing in Chromebooks, tablets, devices from home, or our current desktops.  I say year’s end because choosing the right hardware depends greatly on what programs one will use on it.

via blog.wowzers.com

via blog.wowzers.com

More to the point, these devices, learning management systems, and online tools matter much less than what we are trying to achieve—preparing our children to succeed in the world they will inhabit.  Given our quest to educate the whole child, today’s tech must be seen, not as the goal, but as a tool among others.

The real technology of a Jewish day school is lived Jewish learning.  Jewish learning is, at its roots, relational.  No student is a blank canvas onto which data is plotted.  Jewish learning asks students to partner with other students and to interact with generations of commentators.  The relationship is not merely temporal, it is active–active inquiry.  We ask questions: questions of our study partners, questions of our teachers, questions of the sages of the tradition, and questions of the texts themselves.  The network is assumed; Jewish learning activates it.  By learning how to activate the learning network, students learn who they are; they become grounded with roots that allow them to deal with all the information and all the experiences they will encounter as they grow into a world we can only imagine.

One of my favorite Jewish technologies is Shabbat, a time to cease from work and to re-soul.  When we stop working, we are able to look back and appreciate our progress.  We give value to our work by entering a space of appreciation for all we have.  This experience holds true for much of the year as the technology of the Jewish calendar forces us to note the seasons and our foundational histories.  Rituals for the Jewish lifecycle are the software that feeds our spirits as we celebrate milestones, mourn in community, and tap into our unique purposes.

If we are not focused on the Jewish technologies of how to learn and how to live, neither the latest gadget nor the best new app will educate our children.  We should seek the best tools for advancing our efforts to teach, but we must do so with our eyes on the prize, the prize of a self-motivated learner who has the moral empathy and inquisitive grit to gain wisdom.  If we do that, we will surely be ahead of the curve.

via wejews.com

via wejews.com

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Incidental Teaching

When I teach, I have a habit of throwing in a bit of extra information related to the topic, not quite a digression, and definitely tangential.  My favorite example is from my Biblical & Classical Literature class at the University of Delaware.  When we read Genesis 6, I pause just long enough before jumping into the Noah story to mention that some scholars think the “daughters of men” might have been early homo sapiens who were taken as wives by more Neanderthal-like “children of God,” producing “heroes of old, the men of renown.”  The Time KeeperWhile such a suggestion fits well into Mitch Albom’s newest book, The Time Keeper, it does little to demonstrate the literary aspect of the generational transition from Adam and Eve to Noah.  The possibility of pseudo-Darwinian evolution in Genesis 6 is incidental to the introduction of Noah; yet, I find myself compelled to teach it.

So why do I do it?  In short, I think I toss in extra information as a way of offering a door to students’ further connection with the material.  I don’t hold them accountable for the addition; I hold myself accountable for their further education or, at least, engagement with the material.

That being said, I was struck on Sunday by the effect of an incidental teaching in my radio broadcast for WDEL 1150AM‘s “The Rabbi Speaks.”  As part of a rotation of area rabbis, I recorded a nine-minute segment to be aired around 8:45am.  Later that day, I encountered a parent from my children’s school who, by chance, heard me speaking on the radio around 9:15am.  He shared with me that he was particularly struck by . . . an incidental piece of information.

My wife Ali's amazing chocolate challah next to a six-braided sesame challah.

My wife Ali’s amazing chocolate challah next to a six-braided sesame challah.

I was speaking about challah, what today is the Jewish ceremonial bread for Shabbat meals. After explaining the origins of the term from the olive size portion of dough given to the priests (or burned for God), I threw in a comment about how these loaves used to be called berches, a few hundred years ago.  Berches is reminiscent of the Hebrew word b’rachah, meaning blessing, as in the intentional blessing of bread at a Sabbath meal.  It was meant to be an interesting tidbit that I found in an article on www.myjewishlearning.com, nothing more.

There were two things about this encounter that jarred me into thinking more about incidental teaching:

  1. You never know what is going to stick with people.  My larger point was about the variety of types of bread used by Jews throughout the world and throughout history.  A braided egg bread is an appropriation from South Germany in the Middle Ages that spread worldwide until today when grocery store bakeries label the loaves as challah, regardless of whether the challah portion was taken from the batch of dough.
  2. There are nuggets in even our worst teaching.  I didn’t think highly of my recording.  I felt that I had done better in the past.  I remembered as soon as I finished that there were other points I really wanted to make; for example, that today students across the country, and at the University of Delaware Hillel, bake challah to improve the world through the organization Challah for Hunger.  Rather than re-record to provide an improved version, I let the original stand.  What was good but not great for me turned out to be really meaningful for someone else.
from thekosherchannel.com

from thekosherchannel.com

All of which makes me wonder:  Maybe the challah portion is symbolically about much more than a portion of dough belonging to God or God’s priests.

Maybe challah is a reminder that the throw-away material is precious.  In every batch of teaching material there is one ball that, if tossed gently, will be caught by the learner who needs it most.

What examples from your teaching were the extra portion that stuck?

What does thinking about that extra material as challah portions do for you and/or your teaching?

How can we be intentional with our incidental teaching to better engage our students?

I will be revisiting this idea of incidental teaching when my class starts up in February.  Stay tuned for more examples.  In the meantime, share your answers to the questions above.

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