Monday, August 12, 2013

Shutafut blog

When I was growing up in the pre-Internet days our Hebrew school assemblies were full of movies about Israel. We saw plenty of movies about Israel's achievements and military struggles but the movies that made the most impression on me were those that depicted the lives of every day Israelis. Our teachers tried to explain how Israeli kids lived, what their homes looked like, what they did at school and on vacations and, in general, how their lives differed from ours but the descriptions were vague and I never really felt a connection.

Today the Internet has brought us the ability to learn about each other more easily.  Jewish American youngsters are still fascinated by Israelis and Israeli kids are just as curious about the lives of their North American peers.

A unique Shutafut -- Partnership -- program is being run by JETS,Jerusalem EdTech Solutions, in which North American classrooms are twinned with Israeli ones. The program connects Jewish Day Schools and public schools with Israeli peers to allow them to "meet" each other virtually and explore each other's cultures in an atmosphere of mutual collaboration.

Once two classrooms have been twinned,  heterogeneous groups are created between the two schools, , with equal numbers of Israeli students and North American students in each group. The small groups facilitate better communication between the students who can more easily express themselves within "their" group and begin to develop relationships with each other.

Assignments are presented on an LMS – Learning Management System such as wikispaces or Haiku LMS and the students are encouraged to work asynchronously to investigate, research and express ideas on their group's platform. After the students introduce themselves to each other they respond to in depth projects, answering questions, discussing issues and reviewing each other's submissions. Teachers from both schools brainstorm with JETS to choose a meaningful topic. ,

The Israeli studentsare encouraged to post in English to strengthen their English language skills and, as appropriate, the North American studentsare encouraged to post in Hebrew to encourage their Hebrew skills.

Topicscovered include
·         Holiday celebrations
·         Tikkun Olam, Volunteerism
·         Environmentalism
·         Cultural issues
·         Jewish Demographics
·         Jewish life in Israel and in the Diaspora
·         Israel achievements
·         Building unity

To date, JETS has facilitated over 15 school partnership twinning programs, including cities such as Birmingham, Rosh Haayin, Vancouver, Edmonton, Emek Hahula, and Metulla. Due to popular demand, the program has expanded to include new classrooms, both in Israel and in North America. The program is expected to expand to the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the near future.

Throughout my high school years, I reveled in pen-pal relationships with Israeli teens. In many ways the Shutafut program also functions as a high tech pen-pal arrangement. Students build relationships, learn about each other and have a chance to strengthen their language skills as they study about each other's day-to-day lives and cultures, all as part of their school experience. 

Please email JETS Israel if you'd like to peruse the Partnership LMS's. 

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