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27 Jul 2012 14:09 Age: 3 yrs
Category: News Update

A class act – Israeli teachers team up to tackle technology using new World ORT website

As Israelis swelter through the summer vacation, a small band of devoted educationalists is putting the finishing touches to a new website that will help teachers at the country’s World ORT-affiliated schools to collaborate on boosting their classroom performance.

Screenshot of website with photo of Shelly Yona inset.

The new portal has been designed to be attractive to even the most hesitant users of technology. Inset: physics teacher Shelly Yona (photo: Stefan Bialoguski)

Due to be up and running in time for the new school year, the website is a simple and attractive on-line platform for sharing lessons that have been prepared for Smart classes, 1,000 of which World ORT is installing in schools throughout Israel’s poorer northern and southern regions.

The portal, which has been earmarked for teachers at the 30 schools which have affiliated to World ORT, uses Moodle e-learning software to enable them to share resources, learn from the accumulated expertise of their peers and so improve the quality of their lessons.

“It’s going to be a very busy summer,” said Naama Israeli, Curriculum Materials Developer at World ORT’s Kadima Mada office in Israel. “Our intention is to make it very friendly, very clear and very easy to use – it is another way we are helping teachers to adopt the technology and become adept at using it.”

World ORT has spearheaded the introduction of Interactive Whiteboards and associated classroom technology to Israel since 2007 but the speed with which it has been replacing the traditional talk’n’chalk blackboards has increased markedly over the past two years thanks to Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich and the partnership of the Ministries of Education and the Development of the Negev and the Galilee.

Even with the training that has been provided, it can take teachers some time to truly get to grips with the new equipment.

“We usually associate technology with making things quicker and easier but the fact is that, at least in the initial stage, creating good lessons for use on Interactive Whiteboards is a lot of work, although it is definitely worth it,” said Ms Israeli. “I would have loved to have had one when I was teaching but we only had pen and paper – a lot of paper!”

The portal, which has already been seven months in the making, will help by allowing teachers to upload the lessons they have prepared so that their peers can adapt it for their own use. Users will be able to give the lessons star ratings according to various practical criteria to not only steer colleagues towards the best material but also provide constructive feedback. In addition, World ORT is preparing a series of instructional videos for the site and will also place academic and practical articles to provide a broader understanding of the technology’s potential and tips on best practice.

World ORT has also commissioned teachers who are expert at using the Interactive Whiteboards to prepare lessons for sharing via the site. Among them is Shelly Yona, a highly experienced physics teacher at the Shifman High School in Tirat HaCarmel, near Haifa.

Ms Yona was among the first recipients of a World ORT Smart class and in the following five years has rapidly built a reputation as a skilled exponent of their use.

“It’s known in the teachers’ lounge that if someone needs advice on using an Interactive Whiteboard they come to me. Preparing material for the website is simply an extension of that,” she said. “A website like this would have made things much easier for me when I started.”

When she started using the new equipment, many of her colleagues – particularly older ones – were resistant to its charms. Now, having seen it in use over a lengthy period and, in particular, the effect it has had on students, they are ardent suitors.

“When World ORT gave us our first Smart classes it was a dream come true for me,” Ms Yona said. “Kids had seen me using the Interactive Whiteboard and started to explore whether they could study physics so they could be in a Smart class because they saw it as fun. Within two years the number of students in my physics class rose to 18 – before, the biggest class I’d had was 12. I had to start turning kids away who were not up to the rigours of the course. And while, at first, some teachers were resistant and wanted to keep doing things they way they’d always done them, now they are queuing up to use them.”

Avi Ganon, CEO of World ORT’s Kadima Mada programme in Israel, said the portal was a major tool that would help hundreds of teachers bring their skills up to date.

“The benefits of the technology which we’re providing schools in disadvantaged communities are there for all to see – but they don’t come without a lot of work by already hard-pressed teachers. I’m happy to say that this on-line platform will allow the teachers to share the burden of switching over to this new pedagogical approach. And, as they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.”