Rabbi Melissa Buyer, director of The Stephen S. Wise Temple Religious School in Los Angeles, has been implementing an innovative pilot education program in the school's fourth grade class during the present school year. The iLearn program , developed in collaboration with the Union for Reform Judaism, is a daring attempt to bring religious school into the 21st century. iLearn integrates technology into every area of the learning community, including teaching instruction, student collaboration, student work, and evaluation. One day of the two day a week iLearn program is done online in a virtual classroom, while the second day is done in the school to maintain and develop the feeling of community.
In partnership with the URJ Press, The Wise School has developed a digital version of the CHAI curriculum for iLearn, to be used in the virtual classroom, as well as in each of the classrooms onsite, using SmartBoard technology.
In addition to the Judaic curriculum, students begin to solidify their Hebrew decoding and reading skills, as well. The Sunday classroom and weekday virtual classroom integrate technology, using a fully interactive online workbook that reinforces their learning of the Hebrew letters and vowels.
The Sunday morning program is instrumental to the School. It gives the students the face-to-face interaction necessary to developing relationships and community. In addition, they have the opportunity to be with other Religious School students (younger and older), participate in 'huggim' (activities), and pray in services led by the song leader and Rabbi.
The Wednesday afternoon program takes place at home, school, or anywhere the students can log on to the iLearn dedicated virtual classroom to interact with other students and their regular classroom teacher. The interactive learning activities motivate the students to solve problems, answer questions and acquire skills in an environment they enjoy and are familiar with.
Rabbi Buyer sees many benefits from the program already: students' assessment results are equal to or better than the regular program; special needs students do better in the virtual classroom; students enjoy the accessibility to the virtual classroom from home; other family members participate in virtual lessons. iLearn also seems to promote teacher creativity and autonomy in structuring virtual learning activities.
In view of this year's success, the Wise school plans to extend the iLearn program to include next year's fourth and fifth grade classes.