HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Virtual Learning: An Opportunity for Student Collaboration

by Lauren Dolinka and Danielle Heyde Issue: Remodeling San Diego Jewish Academy

Students learn best when they’re learning with each other rather than from teacher- delivered content, especially when learning online. In our fifth-grade classes, we accomplish this through real-time collaboration, by creating opportunities for an authentic audience, and by keeping students’ social-emotional wellness at the heart of our teaching.


During our daily live Zoom sessions, we strive for students to collaborate in breakout rooms for the majority of the meeting. Working with their peers, students solve challenging math problems, collaboratively analyze poetry, co-create original writing, provide feedback to one another, and even work in teams on virtual escape rooms. We utilize Google docs so that students can work together on assignments in real-time despite being distanced from each other. Prioritizing real-time collaboration during virtual learning ensures that our students stay engaged with the curriculum and continue to develop the social skills needed for academic success.


Our students regularly complete work independently as part of a larger project, which is then shared with a wider community audience. Last spring, they used Padlet to create an interactive Revolutionary War Museum, allowing them to teach their peers about different events and historical figures of the Revolution. Each student curated their own exhibit and then all students had an opportunity to “visit” the museum virtually.

This was one of the many opportunities where parents, teachers, and members of the community were welcomed into our “classroom” to learn from our students. We frequently showcase student writing through community events when we are physically together on campus, and we have found making these events virtual has made them accessible to a wider audience. Virtual learning has broken down the walls of the classroom and extended the opportunity for students to receive feedback from members of the school community at large.


Knowing that our students are missing the social interaction that is inherent on campus, we regularly create non-academic spaces that foster peer-to-peer interaction. Last spring, we created a digital yearbook so that students had the opportunity to sign one another’s autograph pages, send well wishes and share memories from the school year. We make sure to celebrate all student milestones, and our fifth-grade leaders even collaborate to create personalized birthday videos for every student in our school who celebrates their birthday while we’re distanced. These rites of passage, which are important to students when we are on campus, become even more essential to re-create when students are distanced from one another.

Virtual learning has empowered us to look closely at our school values and ensure that they are prioritized even as we redesign our curriculum for this learning environment. With student collaboration at the heart of our decisions, we have been able to create learning experiences that are highly engaging and memorable for our students.

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This issue examines how schools are adapting to the challenging circumstances of conducting business during the Covid-19 pandemic. Articles explore ways that school leaders are managing to organize stakeholders in a crisis; that schools are collaborating with each other and internally as a community to strengthen all systems; that educators are reinventing Jewish education through these exigencies by using online tools and shifting their pedagogies. Authors seek to find changes in the present that may have lasting value for a future, post-Covid reality.

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