Sunday, March 17, 2013

All good things come to an end

[audio mp3=""][/audio] Seven full days of traveling, lectures, discussions, and more came to an end with a certificate ceremony. Each participant was called to the front of the room and was presented with a "diploma", and of course also with a handshake and a hug.

And though the tour at that point was officially over, we still had one more activity waiting for us. We taxied to Yaffo where we toured the town along with Sharona whom we'd been with in Jerusalem. This was our opportunity for one last group photo.

And to finish the day, and the tour, we ate dinner at Na LaGa'at where we learned a bit of sign language, and also saw the Luna Park performance. When we got back to the hotel it was time for one last hug and goodbye.

But we have no doubt that we'll find ways to maintain contact.

So, what happens at Mofet?

Our final session of the day focused on our host - the Mofet Institute. Dr. Sarah Ziv presented us with an overview of the Institute, and of its International Channel. She described a variety of projects, ranging from webinars via Elluminate, to the Online Academy, and projects undertaken with the cooperation of educational institutions in other countries.

We then met with Ami Salant who reported on the Information Center of the Institute and its mission. In the past "information services" focused on bringing more and more information to those who needed it. Today, however, when we're inundated with information, a central objective of those same services is to reduce the quantity of information and to match specific information to the specific needs of those being served.

Reuven Werber and Penny Barsimantov showed us the English language portals of the Institute that attempt to realize the vision that Ami described a few moments earlier. They invited us to conduct a few searches within the portals to help us learn how function, and also outlined the ways in which they hope to continue to improve them.

A vision, some tools ... and a reason to use them

Our second session of the day opened with a presentation from Sarit Kitzony from the Ministry of Education who described the ministry's vision for 21st Century "learning". Sarit told us about the portal the ministry has built in order to present teachers with materials that can help them prepare the lessons they teach, and reported on the infrastructure that it views as necessary for effective teaching and learning.

The next presentation took a step away from the school and the tools that can be used in it. Instead, Sarah Schrire described a research/learning project of hers in which a group of "readers" formed a wiki-based learning community to read poems by William Blake. Sarah's presentation reminded us that we seek to use digital tools not simply "because they're there", but because they can enhance our cultural horizons.

We returned to the schools with the presentation of Ruthy Salomon, but this "return" was with an emphasis on how the adoption of Moodle, and the tools for collaborative learning that it contains, can promote a different sort of learning that what we see in the schools today. Ruthy showed us a number of examples that convinced us that it really is possible to make a change in education.

After a short break we moved to a computer room one floor above for a face-to-face presentation from Miri Schonfeld, along with participation from afar via Elluminate from Asmaa Ganayem and Elaine Hoter. For many of us this was our first exposure to Elluminate and we enjoyed the opportunity to use a tool for synchronous digital communication.

But much more than the tool, we were deeply impressed by the project that Miri, Asmaa and Elaine described. If digital tools can truly be used effectively to bring together divergent social and ethnic groups, there's worth in them well beyond the ability to help students achieve better grades.

Learning from our participants

The last day of our Study Tour was devoted to a "mini-conference". Instead of traveling around the country, we spent the day at the Mofet Institute and heard presentations from some guests, from a number of departments at Mofet, and perhaps most important, from some of the participants of the tour who came from abroad.

We opened with a greeting from Dr. Michal Golan, the head of the Mofet Institute who not only greeted us, but also asked our participants to tell a bit about themselves.

Our first presentation was by Jay Hurvitz who tried to examine some of the ways in which digital technologies are changing education, but also tried to show that there's a rich history of expecting technology to change education.

We then heard from Jenny Wing Yee and Catherine Yanyan Lin from the Hong Kong Institute of Education who reported on their experience using e-portfolios in their work as English teachers. We learned from them that it's still too early to know just how effective a tool this is, and perhaps more to the point, whether their students are learning to use it effectively.

After that, Ariellah Rosenberg described and demonstrated a few of the digital tools that can help us develop our Personal/Professional learning networks. Ariellah encouraged us to try these tools, promising us that we'd discover that they truly can serve us in our work.

And of course our Study Tour can serve as the basis for the continued development of a personal/professional network, so it's certainly worth our while trying out these tools so that we can maintain contact.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Go north!

After our visit to the Saint Joseph school we had some time to see a bit of Nazareth. We entered the courtyard, and the first floor, of the Church of the Annunciation, and received explanations of what we were seeing from Arik Friedman, our guide. We continued on to the market where we took a bit of time to wander around and buy some trinkets to bring back home.

Our next stop was at the north of the Sea of Galilee, at Capernaum, where we took our daily group photo.

And then we viewed the village (or its ruins), along with Arik, our guide. Arik explained to us that the site is considered to be the home of John the Baptist, and we saw the different levels of excavations, and both of the towns that originally were there.

We continued on to Kibbutz Ein Gev where we had a tasty lunch, and to a spot in the lower Golan Heights where we were able to see how Israel looked to Syria before the Six Day War, and the way the Yarmukh river divides between the Golan and the Gilead, and between Jordan, Israel, and Syria.

By then we were quite exhausted from a long day, but we kept enough strength for one more stop before heading home - we parked at the Baptism site of Yardenit and took in the atmosphere.

Some of us even had the strength for a walk along Dizengoff in the late evening before going to sleep.

They must be doing something right

On our sixth day, Shabbat, we got in our minibus and headed north to Nazareth. There we visited the  St. Joseph Nuns High School, and stepped into a tenth grade computer science course. The students were actively at work on their projects - primarily Access-based databases which they designed. Almost as soon as we entered the classroom we were invited to wander around and speak with the students, which is (of course) precisely what we did.

We were very impressed with what we saw (and heard). The students did a very good job of explaining themselves, and were very rightly proud of their work which was rich both in the "computer science" backbone, but also, because each student built a site/database around an issue that interested him or her, in personal expression.

After wandering around the classroom for a while, we sat down for a group discussion in which our host (and the teacher), Walid Khalifa, asked some of the students to show us, and explain, their work.

They did this well, and in excellent English. There wasn't much collaborative use of the computer in this class, but we certainly got the impression that there was lots of learning, and the atmosphere was open and very pleasant.

We then moved to the teachers room where we held a short discussion with Walid and other teachers about what we'd seen.

They informed us that the school has a reputation as one of the best schools in the country, and we responded that from what we saw in our short visit that reputation seems to be very well earned.

Friday, March 15, 2013

New and Old, and lots of walking

Lunch was a special treat. Each of us got money for lunch and we were let off the bus at the Machaneh Yehuda market - early Friday afternoon! We were invited to buy whatever we wanted for lunch, but even more important, to wander the market and take in the sights and the smells (and the sounds) and to get a feel for the market. Truly, a sensual experience!

And after we ate, we drove to King David's grave (well, we won't argue with tradition) and then walked from there to various (and numerous) sights of the Old City. We visited the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where we heard some monks making beautiful music) and wandered part of the market. There was a great deal to see ... and photograph.

We walked for over two and a half hours, and it was already getting late, and even a bit dark. But Jerusalem isn't only the Old City. So for our final stop of the day we drove to the Knesseth, where we learned about the "traditional" symbol of Judaism, the menorah.

Sharona described to us numerous points of interest on the bronze menorah by Beno Elkan, and in that way connected between the old and new - a fitting end to a full day.