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Monday, December 29, 2014

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Blended Learning reaps dividends at Talmud Torah|Herzliah

Tags: Jewish learning
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Grade 3 student Gail Rahamim enjoys working on a RAZ Kids reading program.

Blended learning, flipped classrooms and a cloud-based environment have become part of the daily lexicon at Talmud Torah|Herzliah, a private Jewish day school, where the media were recently treated to lively interactive presentations at both the elementary and high school levels.

Located on St. Kevin Avenue in  Snowdon, the complex accommodates kindergarten to Secondary 5. Courses are taught in Hebrew, French and English and teachers and pupils have embraced digital technology and recognize its potential in education and the world of business.

“We have only 181 days of school to cover a vast amount of material,” said Laurence Kutler,  head of school, alluding to blended learning as a game-changer. Now teachers can communicate with students online. 

Blended learning combines face-to-face online and digital learning in a cloud-based environment. The flipped classroom reverses the teacher-driven lecture in class followed up with homework. Conversely, students absorb the material online with the assistance of technology. Subsequently, they apply the knowledge at school working in tandem with peers, having teachers as facilitators. They brainstorm, hone critical thinking skills, and share findings. Cloud-based technology dispenses with the need to save data because the latter is stored on cloud servers when ever and where ever it’s needed.

“We use technology to support academics,” Iris Campbell, director of technology, said. “It’s a move away from lecture-frontal learning and one that ensures student engagement. We are using analytics to observe how students are learning and how they interact with materials at a specific level. A teacher may have three groups in one class and they are each reading at a different level.”

Kindergarten teacher Robert Cardinal, fondly referred to by pupils as “Monsieur Robert”, demonstrated the program he conducts in French. He explained how the children collaborate to build robots (Lego Education). They created dancing ducks that turned, and each child contributed to a portion of the project. They learned to think, conceptualize, listen, and communicate effectively, he said. They also master the French terminology for coding and programming.

“As early as kindergarten and first grade, our students are taught to be good digital citizens and communicate responsibly,” Talmud Torah Elementary School principal Michelle Toledano says.  “The collaborative effort is important. It makes learning fun and practical.”

Educational director Ellie Grumberg concurs. “The skills these students acquire are ones students will use in daily life.”

Sheri Nudel and Judi Freedman teach English and math at the elementary level. They each delivered online presentations elaborating on the advantages of blended learning through the programs that they are incorporating, namely RAZ Kids and Reflex Math.

The programs offer children the opportunity to progress at their own pace. The applications have built-in mechanisms that enable students to reinforce concepts they acquired as well as review lessons. Furthermore, teachers are able to closely monitor student development and to provide one-on-one support.

“The data that accompanies this technology enables teachers to differentiate individual levels,” Toledano said. “Teachers have to access everything students do at home and at school. Gamification [using game-thinking to solve problems] is part of blended learning and children are self-motivated because they want to achieve points.”

Media teacher Michel Chaput served as animator for Herzliah High’s Secondary 5 class French podcast presentation. Chaput guided the students, who developed and  produced diverse presentations on Quebec musicians representing a range of genres and covering different periods in provincial history.

“Everyone has access to information but how it’s used makes the difference,” he noted, adding it was the group’s first attempt.  Benjamin Hayot, a Secondary 5 student, presented an enlightening podcast.

Secondary 5 student Lauren Port related how Hayot and other classmates recorded voices, studied biographies, wrote and recorded scripts. The students had tracked down media interviews with musicians from past decades as well as contemporary stars. “I had a lot of fun working on this project,” she said, while peers seated nearby nodded in agreement.

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