Countries that are world leaders in educational achievements all have one thing in common: the high value they place on teaching as a profession. Teachers in these countries are viewed as having an important and prominent profession and they also usually have a degree of autonomy. In Israel, unfortunately, this is far from the case.
Math and science are subjects that are incredibly important springboards for future achievements and employment. They are also the subjects most likely to elicit extreme emotional responses of success or failure among both teachers and students. One of the greatest challenges the system faces is in the shift of the teacher’s role in class. In an era when information is constantly available and increases at an exponential rate, teachers long ago ceased to be the main source of information, especially when it comes to constantly evolving disciplines like science.
A graduate of a traditional education system which relies predominantly on teachers as the source for information will almost certainly be at a disadvantage when they start higher education or enter the workforce, even if their results were very impressive. The teacher’s role today is mostly to teach students how to study – skills such as collecting and analyzing data, critical thinking, asking questions, problem solving and even dealing with frustrations and failures, which are part of life. Teachers need to have an in-depth understanding in both the areas of knowledge and in education – to understand how they go together, the challenges and the opportunities they present. At the Davidson Institute we believe in teachers’ professional ability and regard them as partners in one of the most critical challenges we face; to educate our children in order to ensure an equal, pluralistic and just society.
Over the years, we have developed dynamic, adaptable and evolving models that match the needs of the system and work with teachers who wish to advance their abilities in teaching math and science. Here are just a few :
Comet and Tangram: These are companion programs for the schools’ own math and science excellence programs. Teachers receive training and lead the groups with full support from the Davidson team. The programs include workbooks that are developed with constant feedback from teachers, digital supports, equipment for experiments and games and challenges which help create an active and meaningful learning experience.
Scientific VOD – an online platform on the Davidson Institute’s website offering a database of hundreds of science videos that are engaging, fascinating and available to all, especially teachers. The videos are tagged according to the subjects in the science and math curricula. A range of activities have been added to the videos themselves which complement the topics, offering teachers and students an active learning experience that enables them to work on skills such as teamwork and critical thinking, as well as showing the relevance of science in our daily lives.
iScientist: A few years ago, The Davidson Institute joined up with the Lirot Olam (See the World) initiative to create iScientist. This program goes beyond the classroom boundaries to enable science and math teachers to invite scientists to take part in video conferences with students from all over the country. The conversations are based around questions that the students prepare in advance. The teacher, with the support and backing of the Davidson team, leads the link between the students and scientists at the cutting-edge of their fields. For both the teachers and students, the opportunity to ask questions, engage in a direct and open conversation with scientists and get direct insight into their field of research provides an unforgettable experience, leaving a lasting impression of the students and their futures.
The author is the director of the Professional Development Unit at the Davidson Institute, the educational arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science.