Throughout the 2013-2014 school year, JETS has been facilitating a unique program of online classrooms in which American and Israeli students collaborate on shared projects as a means of "meeting" their peers virtually "Across the Sea."
The TALI Shutafut project twins classrooms in North America with classes in Israel to enable the 5th and 6th grade students to share projects and review each other's thoughts, outlooks and opinions. The program is based on the TALI system's "Friend Across the Sea" curriculum which JETS has adapted for online asynchronous classwork.
Every week the Israeli and American students review the new assignments on the shared Learning Management System. All assignments are posted in English and in Hebrew. Each assignment sends the students on tasks such as participating in polls, adding information to discussion groups, creating online social posters and bulletin boards and sharing their opinions and knowledge with their peers via numerous interactive activities.
The fast-moving curriculum covers multiple topics which range from explorations of each student's genealogy and country of ancestral origin, unique aspects of Jewish life in Diaspora communities as seen through a look at Jewish journalism, and unique aspects of Jewish life in Israel and what makes Israel a Jewish state.
During the course of the year the curriculum propels the students from explorations of their own lives to the lives of their families, neighborhoods and -- eventually -- to the larger community. Lessons place significant emphasis on soliciting the students' thoughts on relevant issues – e.g. Is it important to know what's happening in the world? Is it important to know what's happening in the Jewish world? What can be done to help Jewish youth remain part of the Jewish community? What are good reasons for Diaspora Jews to make aliyah, and what are good reasons for them to remain in the Diaspora?
From there, the students are presented with a variety of activities. During one recent lesson on "Seeing the World through Jewish Lenses", the Wiki Project sent the students to research a headline that presents a news story that is important to Jews throughout the world. The students then shared their headlines and described why they feel that these particular news stories are important. Polls surveyed the students about their news-gathering habits as well as their parents' habits. These activities then led into the next lesson which centered on "Responding to Challenges in the Jewish Community."
The "Friends across the Sea" shutafut curriculum not only helps students meet their "Across the Sea", but also to better understand their common concerns and their different contexts.