Intercontinental seminars bridge ancient and modern for Jewish Studies teachers


24 June 2009 Intercontinental seminars bridge ancient and modern for Jewish Studies teachers More than 75 educators from 15 countries are preparing to beat a modern path to the teaching of ancient wisdom at next weeks Terry and Jean de Gunzburg Jewish Education Seminars. Coordinated by World ORTs Education and Technology Department, the four-day seminars, which will be held concurrently in Buenos Aires, Rome and Kishinev, will provide Jewish Studies and Hebrew teachers with insights and skills to incorporate technology into their lessons. A highlight of this years seminars will be a videoconference link on Wednesday (July 1) between Shaar HaNegev High School in Israel which is supported by World ORT through its Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme with teachers in Rome and Buenos Aires. The videoconference will consist of a demonstration Interactive White Board (IWB) lesson by Shaar HaNegev teacher Atar Polak in which teachers in the other two countries can participate and ask questions. This is a very exciting project, said World ORTs Head of Jewish Education, Judah Harstein. There is a perception that Hebrew and Jewish Studies are the Cinderella subjects. These seminars, which are part of an on-going initiative with more already planned for the year ahead, are a way to raise the status of the subjects by bringing technology in and so making it more interesting and engaging for students. World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg said that ORTs responsibilities to its students extended beyond equipping them with practical and vocational skills which allow them to lead independent and productive lives. It is our obligation to make certain that they are given the ethical and moral tools that will help them to make principled choices in their lives, Dr de Gunzburg said. As Jews we understand that this sense of direction is derived from a value system that we have inherited from previous generations and that has been honed by experience and tested by time. We must, therefore, help our students to develop their sense of attachment to their people and to appreciate how they fit into the continuum of its history and culture. The leadership and material support provided by Dr de Gunzburg and his family will see dozens of teachers of Jewish tradition and culture moulded into a cadre of educators who will be able to advance the uptake of technology with the ORT network. Information Technology experts from within the ORT network will provide much of the expertise for the seminars. In Buenos Aires, for example, Professor Guillermo Lutzky will show educators from Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay as well as from across Argentina how ORT Argentinas pioneering Virtual Campus model can be used by Jewish Studies teachers. At the Kishinev ORT Technology Lyceum, the organisations own experts will bring colleagues and non-ORT teachers from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia and Estonia up to speed on, among other things, project-based learning, building lesson plans using software, preparing video materials for class, and the use of Web 2.0 technology. The Kishinev seminar is financially supported by ORT Moldova President Ilan Shor. ORT is the only organisation which is teaching ICT usage, said the organiser of the Kishinev seminar, Senior Expert of the Research and Development Department of ORT CIS and Baltic States, Dr Marina Buharkina. We are not planning to discuss content or what should be taught but to train participants to use ICT. We believe this will bring them to a higher level of proficiency. This is the main idea of teaching ICT: to raise the level of educational services we provide our students. But the seminar participants will also benefit from external sources of expertise, such as Rav Zvi Grumet, of Bar Ilan Universitys Lookstein Centre, which promotes Jewish education in the Diaspora. Like Dr Buharkina, he asserts that technology is not a substitute for good teaching but a tool to assist teachers. Technology does not have value in and of itself but it can help us to do good education better, said Rav Grumet, who will be guiding teachers from five Italian cities at the Rome seminar. It allows for experimentation which brings students into direct contact with the text; the text becomes theirs and not something foreign to them. Such tools make learning compelling and were living in an age where if its not compelling then many students will not be interested in it. With technology they become active participants in the process rather than passive recipients of knowledge. This will be the second de Gunzburg Seminar in Rome, a response to the demand created by teachers overwhelmingly positive experience at last years event a demonstration of the effectiveness of taking the seminars to the communities that need them so that the training can be delivered in the language, and with the cultural nuances, with which the teachers are familiar. Rav Roberto Della Rocca, Director of the Italian Jewish Communitys Department of Education and Culture, said: The profitable collaboration which has been realised between ORT and the Jewish Community on this project constitutes a sign that we can look to the future with optimism and with greater faith. This sense of optimism was shared by ORT Argentina President Dr Hector Rosenzvit. This is going to be a very important seminar, Dr Rosenzvit said. It will draw teachers not only from other Latin American countries but also from the provinces of Argentina. It will allow ORT Argentina to show what it is doing in the field of educational technology and let us see what others are doing. We think we have a lot to offer. With the de Gunzburg Seminar, World ORT has maintained its 130-year-old tradition of being at the forefront of technological training. The New York Board of Jewish Educations own research has confirmed that there are tremendous opportunities associated with the integration of technology into education, including Jewish learning. But at the heart of it all lies the commitment that World ORT and its teachers have for the children. In Proverbs, King Solomon tells us to train a child according to his way, Mr Harstein said. We have to take into account where children are at the moment and the direction in which they are headed. So with our students routinely using technology and the Internet for study and leisure we have to give our teachers the tools to make their subjects appear more relevant, engaging and appealing.