Schoolyard Gadgets Bring Physics to the Periphery

Sixth-graders pouring out of the Misgav regional school for a break last Thursday crowded around several exhibits in the courtyard.

The installations, which demonstrate how the laws of physics work, were initiated and developed by Danny Ovadia, the Eshkol Payis Science and Arts Center director in Misgav.

He explained the various installations to the students, such as a demonstration of water pressure "when we dive in the sea."

At the end of the break, the students - many of whom may have been cutting science class - refused to return to their lessons and were granted a three-minute extension.

Ovadia has developed 75 installations for five different exhibitions demonstrating basic concepts in physics - mechanics, waves, optics, electricity, gas and liquid magnets - over the past year. The exhibits are mounted in peripheral towns such as Nesher, Kiryat Yam, Tirat Hacarmel and Misgav for six months at a time.

Ten years ago, when Ovadia was appointed director of Eshkol Payis in Misgav, he set up a "science park" in the regional school yard. Later, the Kadima Science non-profit organization, dedicated to advancing scientific and technological education in Israel, decided to finance a project to boost science studies.

"I proposed a sort of mini science museum in Eshkol Payis centers in peripheral towns, to enable students to receive science instruction without having to travel far or pay for it," says Ovadia.

The exhibits are intended to demonstrate physics laws and attract students to this unglamorous field, he says.

"I myself was attracted to physics only after experiencing it, because it's hard to get excited over theories," says Ovadia. "As a young teacher I used to take my children's toys and build models to prove to students that the laws work," he says.

The exhibits in Eshkol Payis centers are open to the community at large.

Ovadia, 51, has a master's degree in science education. He has been teaching physics for 23 years, and has co-authored physics textbooks. To his regret, physics instruction has become "extinct in some places."

"The youth are attracted to the arts, cinema and media, and look for subjects with glamour. Physics requires investment and effort, so people recoil from it," he says.

Only 8 to 10 percent of 120,000 students nationwide choose to study physics in school, and an even smaller percentage continue studying it at university. "In some places principals don't even open a physics class because the matriculation exam average is low, equipment costs are high and few students enroll. Principals prefer to social science classes, which apart from a teacher, demand no investment," says Ovadia.

He blames the cuts to the Education Ministry's budget, which have reduced the funds available for physics instruction and laboratories.

"Once there's no budget, there are no labs, the equipment wears down and there's no money to visit the Science Museum. That's why I wanted to bring the exhibitions to the periphery, to expose students and attract them to study physics. It's the heart of science," he says.