Hillel Academy has been exploring options to increase student learning and operate in a more cost effective and environmentally responsible manner. Some of these measures involve the use of technology, while others involve a more traditional approach. By incorporating SMART Boards in a number of classrooms, Hillel Academy has taken steps to use a new technology to increase student leaning.
According to Donald Garwood, a teacher in Hillel’s science department, “SMART Boards have become the most important interface between teacher and students, after direct discussion. SMART Boards add flexibility in visual presentations that’s not there in any other media we use; and it’s recallable for students to review and reflect upon.”
Hillel also uses technology to communicate and collaborate in a more efficient, cost effective and environmentally responsible manner through Google Docs. With Google Docs, you can type an essay or an article such as this and share it with everyone without using paper or a printer. Google Docs works the same way as a word processor, but you can access the documents anywhere. An essay written on Google Docs can be opened wherever there is an Internet connection, regardless of computer type and without purchasing any software.
Google Docs can do much of what Microsoft Office can do. You can create a text document, Excel-type spreadsheet, a PowerPoint-type presentation or drawings. When you want to share a Microsoft Word document, you save the file, attach it to an e-mail and send it to the recipient. This creates a second copy of the file. If the recipient makes changes to the file, a new copy must be created and then sent back to the original sender. This process could create three or four copies of the same file. But if you use Google Docs, the same document gets shared and there is only one copy. Even if you delete or change text in the document, Google Docs saves every change so that the document can always be restored.
The Google Apps for Education system used at Hillel also features the Google calendar, which combines with the other Google Doc functions. For example, meetings can be scheduled in Gmail, which sends out invitations that show up on everyone’s calendar.
Rabbi Dov Nimchinsky, Judaic studies coordinator and director of student programs elementary/middle school, explained how Google Docs can be used in combination for project planning. Checking his e-mail, Rabbi Nimchinsky, saw an e-mail from his Google calendar stating a meeting was on his schedule for the following day. He was able to view the time, agenda, who was invited and who confirmed their attendance. When Rabbi Nimchinsky went to the meeting, he took notes on Google Docs. When he was done taking notes, he was able to share the document with everyone that was present at the meeting by attaching them to the calendar. He then shared some other documents with several other colleagues. Everyone who received the document was able to add or edit the document simultaneously.
“It’s pretty cool to watch a ghostly cursor type on your screen while you are working on another part of the document,” Rabbi Nimchinsky said. When asked about how he feels about Google Docs, Rabbi Nimchinsky said, “It really increases my productivity and streamlines collaboration with my colleagues. When we are all working on a project together we can share and compare our notes while creating a central document.”
One other feature that Rabbi Nimchinsky likes is the revision history feature. This feature allows tracking of everyone’s contributions to a document, and if the document is badly edited or altered, it can be restored to an earlier version.
Remember working on a school paper for hours and something happens and the computer crashes or is turned off before you have chance to save, and you are stuck having to redo the entire paper? One of the coolest features of Google Docs is that you never have to save a file. Google Docs automatically saves every few seconds so you never will lose more than a few seconds of work.
In addition to SMART Boards and Google Docs, other environmentally friendly additions to Hillel Academy are the new recycling bins and copiers. The copy machines are not just for copies: they scan and send images by e-mail to whoever wants them. This is a paper saving measure because printing can be eliminated. But, when we do print paper, there are recycling bins throughout the school. There is almost one bin in every classroom. Also, there is a drop-off bin outside of the school. People come from all over to drop off their recyclable paper.
Through technological changes, and a focus on recycling, Hillel Academy has become a more environmentally conscientious school.
(Sara Nimchinsky is in the 10th grade at Hillel Academy Girls High School.)