Saturday, March 10, 2007

What is "Service Learning?"

Heard the buzzword, but not sure what it means? Having difficulty explaining how service learning is different from community service or volunteering?

Thanks to Lev Metz and Sulam: The Center for Jewish Service Learning, a project of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, here are two links to help you out: A short video by the Corporation for National & Community Service, and a PowerPoint presentation courtesy of NSLC, the National Service Learning Clearinghouse.

Here is a one-sentence definition from this second organization (as part of a longer article):

" Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities."

They offer this example:

"...if school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning. In the service-learning example, the students are providing an important service to the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents. They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service-learning combines SERVICE with LEARNING in intentional ways."

Sulam (apparently an acronym for "Sherut la'Am," although I didn't actually see this said explicitly anywhere on the site), provides a searchable database of service opportunities in the greater LA area - you enter the type of volunteering in which you are interested and your availability and the website finds all appropriate matches. Based on the number of hours you complete and whether or not you write a reflective paper, you receive a Spotlight award from the BJE and are eligible for various sorts of public recognition. Perfect if you are looking to do a Bar/Bat Mitzvah "mitzvah project." Another organization, Areyvut, also provides a long list of project ideas, volunteer opportunities and a growing, searchable database of bnai mitzvah project ideas (largely in the NY area).

For those who'd like to get into the subject in a little more depth, a detailed and theoretically grounded approach to service learning (from which the above picture is taken) can be found at the Joint Educational Project of the University of Southern California.

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