Meet the teacher who initiated an international multidisciplinary program and competition

The World ORT Jewish Animation Competition is a multidisciplinary project combining Jewish learning, creative design and technical animation.

The program began in the countries of the Former Soviet Union in 2007 and has since expanded to a second cohort in Latin America. Anna Michurina, the project lead in the FSU, tells us more about how this project began.

ORT works with Jewish schools to advance Jewish learning alongside Science and Technology education and one project in which I see these parallel aims aligning perfectly is the Jewish Animation Competition.

The program combines lessons from Judaism and history with technology and design. Groups in the project study Jewish texts through reading and discussion and the learning is then brought to life through handcraft and drawing and the creation of computer animation by special programs.

The competition has run in ORT FSU schools since 2007. From 2007 to 2015 the theme was Jewish holidays (Chanukah, Pesach and Purim) and students prepared greetings cards. Since 2015, participants were invited to create cartoons illustrating traditional Jewish stories, parables, tales and proverbs.

At the end of the project, each school submits films to be judged by a panel of external, expert judges. In the 2018/2019 academic year, 24 animations were submitted from eight schools.

Through leading this program I’ve become a specialist in animation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the Jewish stories chosen by students’ teams and understand that they deliver important moral messages and Jewish values.

There was no big challenge in starting the project because teachers and students supported the idea from the beginning. They were motivated to study Jewish topics, to express their knowledge of the theme and develop their animation skills.

As the project progressed, one challenge faced was in coordinating teamwork between teachers of the different disciplines involved. The best results were seen in teams where the IT and Hebrew teachers coordinate with one another and integrate their knowledge during the preparation stages.

As the coordinator, I had to support some of the teams to see the benefit of careful planning and preparation and of working together.

The target group is students of secondary schools and the ages range from pre-school students of five to six years old up to high school ones of 16-17. Each year more than 80 students and 20 teachers participate.

The project is geared toward group-work and collaboration. We’ve seen older students teaching younger students and teachers mentoring rather than leading. There are many opportunities for the project to grow and develop in different ways for different groups.

Some teams also needed support on the technical side of finding the right methodology and software for animation creation. For these teams, we used the wealth of expert knowledge available in the ORT network to share learning and best practices.

The international contest helps to increase motivation, to identify talented students and to develop their creative interest both in school and through after-school activities.

Greta Freilikhman, IT teacher and Jewish Animations competition coordinator in ORT Specialized School #41 in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, said: “Winning our first prize was a turning point in our attitude to participating in contests and in creating the cartoons. We started creating not because we were obliged to but because it brought pleasure. When something is done with pleasure a positive result is not long in coming and in 2017, our cartoon took the first place.”

All students’ animations are presented on ORT websites and YouTube channels and the teachers are pleased to promote the project and inspire the students through this medium. Students are also proud to see their work and the work of their friends online.

My recommendations to teachers interested in starting their own similar project, whether in animation, a competition or multidisciplinary project, is that it might be easier than you think if you have a topic that is interesting and useful for students.

More information about the international Jewish Animation competition, including playlists of previous submissions, can be found on the ORT website.

The FSU program website is here, in Russian.