Back to the Future

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( — April 29, 2020) —

The 21st century has exposed teachers to a reality they did not know before: a growing competition for attention in the face of smartphones, students exposed to endless databases and content, minds accustomed to receiving sharp and fast visual messages – all of which present the teaching of history and heritage to new challenges. Yaron Meiri, the owner of Orpan Group, which is responsible for dozens of projects in the history of heritage in Israel and around the world, explains why today, more than ever, it is important to emphasize the heritage and values, and how to catch the attention that has become so rare

The battle for attention

Attention – probably the most expensive and coveted commodity among school teaching staff around the world. In the 20th century, a charismatic teacher could focus the attention of many students and engage them with meaningful messages and meaningful discussions. But what are the odds that in the 21st century, a teacher will catch a student’s attention through a frontal lecture? Can chalkboard be an effective learning tool for a student who is used to being exposed every minute to dozens and even hundreds of visual messages that have been punished by the best minds of advertisers? Is it relevant to keep asking students to learn and remember dates and events in an age when information is always in our hands?

The information revolution, which has greatly altered the means we carve up our attention, does not lose the younger generation either: Fingers are skipping swiftly, almost mechanically, between the Facebook Feed, Story on Instagram and another session on Fortnight. Fast browsing becomes a habit that gives every issue a moment of impermanence. All of these present the history teaching staff with a complex challenge, which raises the dilemma of what means, and methods should be selected to win the fight for the student’s short attention. And as happens many times, the answer lies in the body of the question. Does technology rob your attention? Guess under what Flashlight it would be worth looking for? …


Picture: Yaron Meiri, Chief creative officer

Edutainment: Talk to the students in their own language

“Edutainment is a hybrid creature, a compounding of two concepts that were previously perceived as having nothing in common: Education and Entertainment. “The same muscle that is needed while playing to activate creativity, initiative and thinking outside the box,” explains Yaron Meiri, owner of Orpan Group.

Of course, the intention is not to recreate those games that are familiar to students, but to bring into the learning experience the same elements that are most often used to play. Under this principle, the “Cinema Park” Project was produced by Orpan Group. In this context, complexes of cinemas (“Cinema City” in Israel) were converted into a theme park with experiential halls during the day, where students were exposed to a variety of topics (environment, road safety, organizational consulting, drugs and alcohol, the human body and more). Pupils were introduced to the various content worlds through interactive and sensory experiential means, including films, trivia games, theatrical podcasts, dance videos, music shows, inspirational pictures and more. Common to all – they required students to demonstrate creativity, initiative and thinking outside the box, so that the way to process and internalize information was shorter.



There were times…

In Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning movie “Midnight in Paris,” the main character comes in a cab late at night, afterwards spending a night in the City of Lights, and finds himself back to the outset of the 20th C. With this technique, the viewer is sucked into mixing the dimension of time: the past becomes present, and both times become relevant to the viewer equated.

This exercise can also be expressed through educational means: The Time Capsule initiative, an initiative of Orpan group that has won many performances around the globe, including in Jerusalem, invites visitors to roam the layers of time, on a journey that integrates a technology program for smart dynamic seats and other sensory incentives. Thus, for example, in Jerusalem – the multisensory experience and the visitor’s journey, make the city’s historical story a relevant and contemporary experience for him. The reality of the journey, which includes, for example, describing typical situations from the Second Temple period and conversing with people from the same period, creates an impression in the student that can be translated into internalization and learning insight.

This is similar to the story of the early “Notrim” police forces set up by Orpan Group in the Nahalal (north of Israel). In a movie that is screened as part of the performance, the “mixing time” technique is used when two young people get stuck in a vehicle in the area and with the help of a mysterious local person who tells them his experiences. Later it turns out that that soul is a Jewish police officer from the British Mandate in Israel just before it acquired its independence. At the end of the film, the students leave with the feeling that they envisioned a living history, An experience that can certainly “revive” the current history and implications of their lives here and now.


Realty program format

In a world where information flows faster than ever, we all want to feel that the information we consume is relevant. The sense of relevance is a powerful force that ensures that learning does indeed take root in the student’s consciousness. Relevance brings together and synchronizes the external content that is absorbed by the student to his or her personality. But for the content to become relevant, the visitor or student must feel involved in the processes and events that took place hundreds and thousands of years ago. Confused? You will recall the concept of the reality shows. Who picks out the depositors? And the winners? To what extent does the sense of influence during the plot cause the viewer to follow and be involved in its details?

From the “Big Brother” show – we move on to the story of “Masada”. The same fortress in which they fought to survive the last Jewish opponents in the Roman uprising (73 A.C), who eventually committed suicide before the arrival of Roman power. How does this historic and forgotten event become relevant and encourage visitor engagement?

In Orpan group, we chose to illustrate the events of the past by tackling the existential question – whether to fight, surrender or commit suicide. A panel of all political streams, then comes out in a format familiar to us from news broadcasts, Roman talkbacks breaking into broadcasting and giving their angle… and from this moment on, visitors become active, and are asked to evaluate the state of affairs and determine how to play. They are asked to vote by electronic means. Once the critics vote, the majority decision dictates the continuation of the plot. Therefore, the critic becomes part of the narrative, and the emotional involvement in the details of the historical plot produces not only the desirable listening, but also understanding and incorporation.

Likewise, the “Glass House” exhibition, planned and produced by Orpan, in the Museum of the testimony (Israel), exponentially tells and senses the courageous rescue story of some of the Jews of Hungary (1944).

The performance is projected on the reconstruction of the “glass house” Facade by an advanced Video Mapping technology, creating an inherent sense of “here and now”. During the screening, the actors share with the audience the difficult dilemmas that accompanied them during that period of fear, hiding, and a survivalist desire to continue to survive and preserve lives. The questions addressed to the audience are of a moral and weighty nature: Is it better to fake certificates to a small number of people, thus ensuring their salvation, or to falsify a larger amount and thus endanger all certificate holders? Passing the baton to the viewer, along with the accompanying sense of risk associated with each decision, may burrow into the visitor’s memory and bring him into self-discussion regarding existential questions, as well as gain proportions on his personal life.



Historical standup comedy

But not only can anxiety provoke identification, but also good humor! That’s why comedian Guri Alfie was chosen to tell the story of “Mikve Israel” agricultural school. Alfie, who traverses the various historical stations of “Mikve Israel” from its founding from the mid-19th century to the present, combines a value atmosphere of Zionist history, but cannot help but knock the audience off the chair with its anecdotes. Then, with the right laughter and atmosphere, the doorway opens to infuse historical insights and hope.


If you look at the different experiential means of imparting knowledge in the field of heritage and history, they have a common denominator – they turn the learning space into a creative space that encourages curiosity, participation and identification. The field of significant learning in this way is gaining momentum in museums and visitor centers and is also beginning to enter the heart of the education system – into the classrooms.

Written with the help of Hila Pnini and Elchai Fristhik