Ra'anana School Has the 'Smartest' Classroom in Israel
For most schools in Israel, the concept of the “smart classroom” - a digitized hi-tech powerhouse where kids use computers to learn – is still a dream. But that dream is now a reality in the Amit Kfar Batya-Ra'anana High School, where kids have abandoned their textbooks – and are instead using tablets for all their schoolwork, inside and outside the classroom.
Beginning this year, some thirty 10th graders in the school are using tablets for all their study needs and classroom interactions. Books used in the classroom have been digitized, and are either loaded onto the students' tablet, or are accessible via the local network from the school's virtual library; all testing is done “on-line,” with students answering questions and uploading their papers to the teacher's computer; and students can interact with the whole class, individual students, or teachers in order to answer questions and make presentations to the class.
Students input data using a virtual keyboard or a stylus directly on the device's touchscreen, and they can upload homework, assignments, and test papers to teachers' devices. The system works in the other direction, as well: Teachers can play a presentation or slideshow on their devices, and it will show up on the students' devices, and teachers can also send individual messages to students. Of course, students can make use of the internet as well – and the school can ensure that students are using their devices for “educational purposes only” by whitelisting the sites they are allowed to surf to.
Smart classrooms are at the top of Israel's educational agenda. There are numerous projects going on around the country, with the most ambitious one organized by World ORT, which is spending NIS 100 million on setting up smart classrooms in the North and South. Already, dozens of schools have been set up with “smart whiteboards,” which let teachers and students interact with computers and the internet. And in Ariel, the municipality this year supplied all its teachers with laptops.
But the Amit program is so far the most ambitious – with students and teachers doing all their work on tablets, creating a totally digital environment. Amit Kfar Batya-Ra'anana principal Rabbi Eliezer Kurtsweil, a computer fan himself, is behind the initiative, following a computerized model he created for teaching Gemara. The program made Gemara studies more accessible, aided students with difficulties and challenged students who excel in this area.
Expanding on this idea, a company called No Chalk, led by the former MK Dedi Zuker, offered to download all the school's study materials onto computer tablets. Surprisingly, the system actually saves schools money; since textbooks cost about NIS 700 per student, computerizing learning materials will substantially decrease costs, the school says.
AMIT Director General, Dr. Amnon Eldar, praised the program, saying that “since computerizing the whole school system still needs to be examined, this one school of AMIT's 90 schools is a way to begin. This way we will be able to carefully evaluate the results of the computer revolution, taking into account such factors as students' critical thinking and problem solving skills, and overall success in school.”