Screen-grab from israelscaventures.com
By Tali Kaplinski Tarlow
As a teenager I was a youth movement leader, and over the next twenty-five years, I taught, lead workshops, guided, trained and developed curricula for tens of thousands of students and clients over four continents. After returning to Israel from shlichut, I worked with a tour guide. In this capacity, I created an interactive neighborhood discovery game, a scavenger hunt, in which participants learn the story of Jerusalem. This game was a huge success from the outcome and based on this, I scaled the activity from one neighborhood game into our current 20+ routes that are run on a daily basis by a team of 20+ trained guides in Jerusalem (Old City, Nachlaot, Shuk and more), Masada, Zichron Yaakov, Tzfat, Jaffa, Tel Aviv and even abroad. Over the past eight years, more than 25 000 Israel ScaVentures participants have learned about Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, and have connected to a meaningful Jewish story by their feet, with their brains and in their hearts. The aim of this post is to highlight the experiential components of the game that educators should keep in mind when creating great educational activities, and to demonstrate by use of examples how we have done that.
In our early days, when we were known as Jerusalem Scavenger Hunts, our tag line was “Find yourself on a Jerusalem Scavenger Hunt”. I believe that herein lies the remarkable success of our activities: participants are invited to FIND themselves and to explore how they are connected to the story of area. The classic example of this is at the end of the Old City Scavenger Hunt, the participants need to find “writing on the wall”. They eventually find a verse from the prophet Zecharia (8,5) That ends with the powerful imagery of the rebuilt Jerusalem – “and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in her streets”. This verse is inscribed in a courtyard that lies between three schools and children can always been seen playing there. However, during the conclusion of the game, Israel ScaVentures staff lead participants to understand that THEY are the children playing in the streets of Jerusalem. Participants are fulfilling a prophecy dating back thousands of years and their experience is referred to by the prophet – they have “found themselves” in this meaningful way, on the streets of Jerusalem. People of all ages are searching for meaning and inspiration, and finding the soft spot that will move them is great way to draw our students into the material that they are learning.
Active engagement with the story
Our Scavenger Hunts take place in sites in Israel. We divide the sites into stations, and at each station there are missions. Some of the missions are environmental based (count the trees), some are pure fun and a bit silly (selfies/raps etc.), some are engaging with the people in the area (interviews) but the magic happens in what I consider the team-thinking missions. For example, on the Masada Scavenger Hunt participants are told “imagine you are Jewish rebels here on Masada. What are your options? When the Romans get closer, what will you decide to do? Film a team member explaining your answer”. Israel ScaVenture missions are active experiences, and participants need to interact with the story and each other. This, coupled with the fact that each team member has a specific role to play in the game (detective, navigator, historian etc.), means that participants cannot be passive, they are constantly engaging with the story of the location. It is a great educational tool to keep our students engaged in a constant, direct and active way.
The Human Connection
Today everyone wants apps. However, I have heard from tour leaders that many tour apps inadvertently create the situation that participants are always looking at their phones or iPads, and not at their surroundings. Call us retro if you want, but we are not rushing to embrace app technology for all our games. Currently some of our routes have integrated technology (for example the Shuk Dash is run from a tablet), however our game missions specifically call on participants to interact with their environment. Participants must find pictures, interview people, read site information and navigate from maps. The experience is not about the app, rather it’s about the story and the people. In addition to this, our game leaders are personable, educated and passionate. They are selected, in part, by their ability to ‘read’ a team and to understand what the team needs. Perhaps the team will be inspired by an extra story or anecdote along the route? Or are the teams highly competitive and will feel that extra info is sabotaging their game? Our staff are encouraged to chat with the participants, find out about them and to share general and personal anecdotes about the site. In a day and age when more and more educational tools are going hi-tech, there is still no replacement for real time interaction with students, and for enabling real time interaction between students and other people in their environment.
In conclusion, Israel ScaVenture’s tremendous success as an educational venture is based on the meaningful, engaging and human aspects of the game. Thought and discussion provoking missions, a situation in which participants interact with each other, their environment and the game leaders creates a warm sociable experience. This is how on an almost daily basis we fulfill our mission: To Educate. To Engage. To Inspire.
Tali Kaplinski Tarlow is Founder and Director of Israel ScaVentures, a company in the educational tourism niche. She is an experienced teacher, informal educator and developer of curriculum.
Cross-posted from Mofet/JTEC: The Jewish Portal for Education