Bringing Israel Education into the World of Online Learning

18 Apr

by Laurie Rappeport

JETS online Israel education classes most certainly do not look like this. (Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/)

JETS online Israel education classes most certainly do not look like this!
(Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/)

Throughout my thirty years in Israel I have had a wide variety of experiences in Israel and Zionist education involving both informal and formal formats. I have also done some classroom instruction but mostly I have been involved in programs that include experiential activities — exploring the country, volunteering, creating meetings between Israelis and visitors, and engaging in hands-on pursuits.

So I was surprised and excited when I found out that different types of learning could be combined to create a dynamic educational environment that would enable students to really understand more about Israel’s history and achievements as well as the issues and complexities with which the country must grapple day in and day out. This online instruction is relatively new in Jewish circles but is quickly becoming a popular vehicle for bringing Israel and Jewish instruction to students of all ages and backgrounds.

I became involved with the world of online Israel/Zionist education when I signed up for the Jerusalem EdTech Solutions (JETS) No Teacher Left Behind course. This 10-week course left me reeling with the incredible array of online tools that teachers have at their fingertips to bring any aspect of Israel or Jewish learning to students in an interactive environment that meets 21st century educational paradigms.

As a confirmed “non-techie” I was nervous that my low level of computer skills would quash the entire project, but the course took me through the tools slowly, step by step, to the point that I can now engage students with virtual blackboards, shared online materials, an array of audio-visual data and other fun activities that make Israel and Jewish subject matter relevant and exciting.

After I finished my course I began to teach students from an afternoon school in Illinois. I was further stunned by the possibilities that online teaching engenders. My students — pre-teens — were fascinated by the correlations that we were able to develop as we delved into the meaning of Tu B’shevat as it relates to the environment and the Land of Israel, connections between Purim and courage, and between Passover and freedom, and our individual abilities to fulfill responsibilities to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust. Suddenly Judaism and Israel were “cool” concepts which the students could explore as they grappled with many of the philosophical questions which are debated by Jews of all streams throughout the world.

In addition to an array of teacher training professional development (PD) courses, JETS offers a wide range of online courses which are applicable to many different learning situations, including Jewish day and afternoon schools, public schools, homeschoolers, and even adult learners and seniors groups. The JETS programs are non-denominational and geared to a pluralistic approach which ensures that students of all backgrounds will feel comfortable and involved.

JETS offers courses on Ancient Israel, Israel Today, Israel Culture and Society, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Contemporary Jewish Issues, Tikkun Olam and Ethiopian Jewry. In addition, there are Hebrew language instruction courses, including “Hip Hop Hebraics” for kids and a PD course called “Otiyot Medabrot” that provides ideas for teachers of how to teach Hebrew reading and writing in an environment of engaging and interactive fun.

Laurie Rappeport is a JETS teacher. For more information visit http://jetsisrael.com/

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