Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shutafut, WIKIs and Friends Across the Sea

For many years, students in American Jewish day schools have learned Hebrew by memorizing words, completing grammar exercises, and reading contrived textbook stories. Israeli students study Hebrew in a similar fashion. Now however students in both locations can open classroom laptops or tablets and connect with their peers across the ocean in collaborative activities that allow them to use and expand their language skills in a more meaningful and authentic manner.

The JETS Shutafut program twins American and Israeli schools in a partnership program that strengthens the students' language skills as it allows the kids to "meet" their peers online and learn from them by collaboratively learning an online curriculum.

The Shutafut program is facilitated by the WIKIspaces platform. Using Wikispaces, each student focuses on a page of activities to which s/he contributes by joining in discussions, submitting original material, editing, and answering questions,. The activities and assignments are posted in both English and Hebrew to facilitate language acquisition of both English-speaking and Hebrew-speaking students. Every time a student signs in, s/he can see the comments that his/her peers "across the ocean" have submitted and comment on them and/or submit more material.

JETS teachers update the WIKIs weekly, adding more material and working with the classroom teachers to monitor each student's progress.

The partnership schools include Vancouver Talmud Torah partnered with Alai Giva (Kibbutz Kfar Giladi), Calgary partnered with Hagome (Kfar Blum, Birmingham (Jewish and public schools) partnered with Rosh HaAyin, and Edmonton Talmud Torah partnered with Emek HaHula.

Shutafut projects allow students to explore a wide range of topics including their own families' backgrounds and ethnicities, their respective communities, mutual responsibility, Jewish peoplehood and more. Each unit contains numerous activities that encourage the students to use available web tools to express themselves in various modes as they examine the subject matter and practice their language skills. Students are invited to post their thoughts in the WIKI's discussion sections, participate in polls, add note to the collaborative linoboards, comment on videos, create audio and visual presentations, use google docs to prepare interactive documents, and more.

The Shutafut project brings students together to learn about each other's lives and worlds.

Lior Lechner, English teacher, GVANIM School, Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel "7-grade pupils from GVANIM School, Rosh Ha’ayin, had the opportunity to interact with students from a different country and culture in the Shutafut School Partnership Program.  To my great joy, despite the distance and the language barrier, we discovered that the Internet is a wonderful tool which allows easy communication, and contacts were made between boys and girls who have never seen each other.
Students communicated regularly and continuously through the WIKI. They wrote about their hobbies, movies, computer games, family, heroes and even the Holocaust. They were enthusiastic to meet the students who came to visit from Birmingham, Alabama. My students said it was a unique experience for them. I was happy to guide this connection between the students and I have to say that it couldn't be done without the help and the guidance of Semadar Goldstein and Rabbi Yoel Cohen from JETS."
Alex P., 6th grade, NE Miles Jewish Day School, Birmingham, AL "I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to kids in Rosh Haayin. It is so much fun and I'm having a great time posting and messaging on it.  Thank you again."

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