Source: Smart Education
On Thursday March 30, 2009, The Shaar Hanegev Middle School hosted a conference for principals and edtech coordinators of the Southern Region of Israel. The conference, sponsored by Kadima Mada (Science Journey) and the Southern Region Executive of the Ministry of Education, aimed to acquaint the participants with Kadima Mada's Smart Classroom Pilot Project, which had been underway in 6 Israeli schools since 2008, in preparation for expansion of the project to tens of schools in the southern and northern regions of Israel during the next school year.
The key speakers, Roni Kalinsky, CEO of Kadima Mada, Aharon Rothstein, Principal of the Shaar Hanegev School and Dr. Osnat Dagan, pedagogic director of Kadima Mada, described various aspects of the Smart Classroom Pilot Project, its rationale, implementation and preliminary assessment.
The project was undertaken in 2008 after a preliminary review of the research literature indicated that the installing of interactive whiteboards, internet connected computers and data projectors in schools in Europe, the US and Australia had brought about improvements in student motivation and participation, integration of a wide range of learning resources in classroom learning, benefits for special needs students and other teaching and learning advantages.
The following principles were adopted by the project executive in anticipation of implementing the pilot:
- Between one fourth to one third of school classrooms would be equipped with interactive whiteboards; 10 boards in each school.
- The teachers would participate in a 112 hour professional development program spread over 2 school years administered by the Israel Ministry of Education which is an active partner in implementing the project.
- A formative assessment program carried out by the Henrietta Szold Institute would aid the implementation of the program at all stages.
- The pilot project would be carried out at 6 schools around the country with a variety of student populations, each school being outfitted with 10 Smart classrooms. This was meant to encourage peer learning with participating teachers in different schools and to investigate the feasibility of broadening the project to many schools around the country in the near future.
- The Smart classroom would include an interactive whiteboard, a main desktop computer, a wireless internet connection and 32 portable computers (for the whole school) which could be controlled with software from the teacher's machine.
The aim of the pilot project was to utilize the technological infrastructure to bring about an improvement in the school's teaching and learning culture. Installing the interactive whiteboards in the classrooms allowed the teachers to integrate rich content worlds into the classrooms and to build learning activities which encouraged the pupils to be active in the processes taking part in the classroom. They enabled the teachers to integrate diverse teaching strategies to fit the different learning styles of students in the heterogeneous classes. In the Shaar Hanegev Middle School, the Smart classes are installed in all the 7th and 8th grade homeroom classes, thus being used in studying many different subjects.
The conference presenters stressed the following:
- In order to bring about meaningful change in the school's educational culture, the project must be supported and directed by the principal and pedagogic staff and the teaching staff who are committed to innovation and renewal in the school.
- The integrative process must be accompanied by an ongoing pedagogic dialogue and an atmosphere of cooperation between the administration, the teaching staff and the students.
- It is important that the teachers share the learning activities which they have created with their colleagues to allow for reflection and constructive peer assessment which will result in constant improvement of outcomes and professional progress of the teaching staff.
- It is advisable to include students in planning and creating learning activities where feasible.
The conference participants also attended demonstrations by Shaar Hanegev teachers of lessons and learning activities which they had created and used during the school year in order to get an idea of the different ways the interactive whiteboards could enhance classroom teaching and learning.
One of the subject areas demonstrated was geography. The lessons contained interactive maps, simulations of weather and planetary movement, Youtube videos and various activities built around them.
Very impressive was an interdisciplinary unit built around the Story of Creation from the Biblical Book of Genesis created by Atar, a seventh grade classroom teacher and Jewish studies teacher.
The unit began by reading Chapter 1 of Genesis. The students summarized their reading by noting what was created on each day. The students approached the board and colored the things created on each day. They marked the words in the text that were difficult and needed to be explained further in a different color.
Other summary questions on the chapter were shown on the board and different students in their turn went up to write their answers. They then could "uncover" the correct answers to check themselves.
Atar also included various visual exercises such as dragging icons of the various things created to the proper place in a table of the days of creation in order to benefit those students whose visual learning was more dominant.
In summarizing the lesson, Atar showed on the board an artistic cartoon with an English song describing the Creation. The students observed the video and noted whether it followed the Biblical text and what interpretations it gave to the text.
The next activity presented the order of things created and aroused a discussion about the possible meanings of this order.A discussion about the significance of Man being the last creature created ensued with the students writing their opinions on the board. This was followed by Atar presenting a few Midrashic (Oral tradition) explanations offered by the Talmudic sages. These were compared to the answers written on the board by the students. This opened a discussion on man's duty and responsibility towards the world and all its content.
A reading of the Story of Creation in Chapter 2 of Genesis followed with a close comparison to the Creation account in Chapter 1. Here Man was commanded to "work and guard" the Garden.
Then a few activities related to guarding nature were introduced as an important role given to Man, limiting his domination over the created world as described in Chapter 1.
The unit also utilized a video illustrating the "Big Bang Theory" and a choice of artistic paintings of The Creation to present different approaches to the Creation Story.
Atar shared her story of creating the interdisciplinary learning activities, the increased motivation of her students in the lessons utilizing interactive boards and her successes with special needs students with interactive board learning.