Almost 9 years ago, in June of 2001, I created my first online class project, Rabbi Pittinsky's 9T2 Gemara Page. I was teaching a 9th grade Gemara class in The Frisch School in which my primary goal was helping students gain the skills to learn Gemara on their own. This is especially difficult since the Gemara or Talmud as it is also known is written in Aramaic with no punctuation and in a question and answer format more similar to online discussion forums than the standard textbooks that our students are familar with. As the culmination of a very succesful year, I asked my students to create a website for students just like them, 9th graders in a Yeshiva Day School, teaching them how to learn Gemara. I did not realize at the time that this would take over 6 weeks of my life.
This was before blogs and wikis so the only way to create a website was to find a hosting company and know HTML code. We decided to host our site on Geocities , a free service available at that time from Yahoo. I took a few books on HTML out from the library and started the project. The students designed every part of the site, deciding what should be included and where. The stronger students focused more on the site content while the weaker students concentrated on the equally important technical aspects of the website. They even got student volunteers from other classes, the "tech gods" who knew HTML well and could design the code for the main pages.
The project was a great success. After it was finished, I posted the project on the Jewish Education Discussion Forum, Lookjed and got thousands of hits and tremendously positive feedback. More importantly, I developed a special kesher (connection) with this class, keeping in touch with many of them until this day. One student has told me she is proud of the fact that when someone searches for her name on Google to check her out for a prospective shidduch or job opportunity the first hit that comes up is her participation in the How to Learn Gemara Webpage. (Obviously, this project was created way before we knew about privacy and security online. I would never create a website today which was not password protected containing student's pictures together with captions with their names.) Another student has become a rabbi himself. I recently saw him at a school dinner and his wife told me that he has taught a Daf Yomi Shiur for 4 years and credits me with teaching him how to learn Gemara.
If I deserve any credit (which I probably don't), I strongly believe it is because of this project which educationally accomplished 2 things:
- It summarized for my students all of the important Gemara texts, keywords, and syntax phrases that they learned throughout the year. By teaching them to others through the website, the students learned the material with a depth which any traditional assessment could never match.
- It was an excercise in metacognition. Students had to think about how to learn Gemara. They even each wrote essays on How to Learn a Page of Gemara. This gave the students the methodology to tackle a new page of Gemara on their own.
Last week, I received an email that my How to Learn Gemara Webpage had been archived. They even gave me the ability to edit the page so I could update my contact information (and the school address as we have moved). So here it is: http://geocities.ws/pittinsky/. The only thing changed on the site is my email address and the school address. Everything else is exactly as my students left it in June of 2001. Hopefully, this can be a service for new generations of students who wish to learn how to learn Gemara from their peers.
I highly recommend this type of class project in any subject area whether it is on how to learn Gemara or how to write a sonnet. As I have already seen, your students will appreciate all your time and effort and remember your class as a highlight of their school experience. The only thing I would change today is the venue to host the site. I would recommend wikis which allow for student collaboration requiring little knowledge of code. The wiki provider I use is wikispaces.com which provides free, password protected wikis for K-12 education. Give them a try and enjoy the project!