New technology, hands-on approach get middle schoolers excited about science

Teachers are using blogs, computer labs and hands-on research in efforts to raise pupils' enthusiasm.

HP laptop computer 224.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
HP laptop computer 224.8
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Middle school science teachers are using blogs, computer labs and hands-on research in efforts to raise pupils' enthusiasm, and the pupils are responding positively. Scientific findings by 300 pupils from 65 middle schools in central Israel were on display Thursday at the Education Ministry's Central District Science and Technology Conference, held at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Pupils, who were chosen by teachers for the conference after similar events at their schools, could create PowerPoint presentations, posters, demonstrate their experiments or lecture on the topic of their choice. "Schools are developing. We're always going to the computer lab, doing projects, and there are a lot of different options," ninth-grader Shay Cohen from Ben-Tzvi Middle School in Petah Tikva, said. Cohen and his partner, ninth-grader Shelly Gury, used a lecture and PowerPoint presentation to explain their project on how hybrid cars affect air pollution. Cohen and Gury's science teacher followed pupils' progression through blogs. "We could look at projects similar to ours. The blogs were open to the public, and we heard that students from other schools were tracking our progress," Cohen said. "It was a lot more fun than just handing the teacher papers." Esther Ori, who trains science teachers in Ramle and Lod, said she was impressed with the discipline and enthusiasm pupils exhibited throughout the day. "When I sat in on one of the presentation sessions there was silence, pupils were listening, and the [presenters] relayed the information in a clear, concise way," Ori said. Upgrading the software and purchasing additional computers would help middle schoolers learn more effectively, but often, this is not financially feasible. "It all [hinges] on budget issues, and for the most part, there is not enough money," Ori said. According to an Education Ministry official, a classroom of 20 computers typically costs NIS 150,000, NIS 74,000 of which going towards the computers themselves. The rest of the sum is spent on furniture, software, anti-theft and tracking devices. The cost is distributed evenly between the Education Ministry, local authorities and the Mifal HaPais Lottery. Inbal Stavitsky-Hochman, a seventh-grade science teacher at Ben-Gurion Middle School in Rishon Lezion, said she tends not to bring students into the computer lab. "The computer lab in our school is not up-to-date, and we only have 12 computers for a 40-pupil class," she said. Three of her seventh graders - Eliya Abarbanel, Sigal Mocha and Opal Yehezkel - researched natural methods for purifying streams by going to the Yarkon River and testing the water both visually and using litmus strips. "Instead of reading and looking a pictures, we went out and experimented," Yehezkel said, and all three agreed that a hands-on approach was more interesting and productive. After conducting their experiments, pupils came up with ways to use their findings and better their communities. Hodaya Saada and Amit Kalaman, ninth-grade students from Shay Agnon Middle School in Netanya, researched awareness of recycling among teenagers and are now working with school and city administrators to put recycling bins in their school. "We're holding a competition between classes to see who can recycle the most, so students get excited," Saada said. Saada and Kalaman conducted a survey among their peers, analyzed the results and found that high awareness of the need to recycle did not translate to more actual recycling. "This was not just another project. It was a project we enjoyed and learned a lot of useful skills from," Kalaman said. Nurit Bar-Yossef, supervisor of science and technology instruction in Israel's central district, said the pupils showed more enthusiasm when working with new methods. "We completely believe in this method to further their development," Bar-Yossef said. "The posters are very well-made, but it's the content of the projects that is excellent." "Pupils came in with such confidence today, and these are not just kids in advanced classes. There is an array of students, from those who excel to average ones to students with learning disabilities," Bar-Yossef said.