2:30a.m. and Jewish Learning is On the Move
Laurie Rappeport, JETS Instructor
|Sun rising over Tzfat, where I live. |
Students connect from Deerfield, IL.
A friend pointed out the JETS ad last year -- an Israeli company that was developing online learning programs for English-speaking students was looking for teachers. I have a degree in education and have done some classroom teaching over the years, but hadn't really thought about getting back into the teaching mode. Yet I remembered my own sketchy Hebrew school education from (gulp) 40 years ago. It hadn't been a great experience and I embraced the idea of joining a program that was convinced that Jewish education could be compelling, engaging and...dare I say it...fun.
JETS offers a serious course for fledgling educators who are just getting their feet wet in exploring the options that exist for online education. There are a vast number of online tools that create an interactive classroom and I joined the No Teacher Left Behind course where I joined educators from around the world in experimenting with different web tools that would allow us to create a dynamic and vibrant classrooms devoted to making Jewish education attractive to students and teachers alike.
I joined the course and as it progressed. I found myself wondering whether online learning could offer the personalized instruction that students want and need, especially regarding Jewish education. I had previously participated in various webinars about other subjects, and enjoyed the experience, but didn't know whether web-based learning could translate to the Jewish classroom.
After I completed the class I was assigned to a group of Hebrew school adolescents in Illinois. The courses were scheduled for the winter/spring 2013 and we met bi-weekly, connecting the holidays to meaningful themes that concern today's young learners.
Tu B'shevat was connected to themes relating to Tikkun Olam and the Jewish emphasis on our responsibility to our ecology and the environment. We connected Purim to the theme of courage and miracles. We prepared for Passover with a deeper understanding of freedom and the responsibilities that true freedom imposes on each one of us. And for Holocaust Remembrance Day we discussed our duty, as Jews, to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and how to ensure that this goal is realized.
As the sessions progressed my confidence in my ability to use new web tools progressed as well and we began to make more use of audio-visual materials, chats, cloud materials, virtual blackboards and other interactive devices. I was surprised and pleased at how seriously the kids related to the questions that we posed, many of which involve philosophical questions that are discussed and debated by Jewish leaders worldwide.
Following the last class I received the following message from the school's principal: " I have also enjoyed the classes...........I would love to do something next year and begin earlier. I will be in touch!. Thanks for everything... I know the students enjoyed the class also."
So, for this "non-techie", pushing the technological envelope ended up being a tremendously rewarding experience. The online classroom has the potential to draw students into an environment that invites them to embrace and explore their Jewish heritage in unique ways that are not possible in a frontal classroom setting. I, for one, have become a believer.