From Galileo to the Galilee: A Druse school looks to space

Hezki Arieli, director-general of the Society for Excellence through Education: This is about creating the adventure of education.

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Eighth-and ninth-graders in the Druse village of Daliyat al-Carmel near Haifa will be watching the skies a lot more after the inauguration of a new space club at the city's Koptan Halabi Junior High School on Thursday. The space lab will include not only such common elements as solar system models and books, but also computerized telescopes, interactive learning software, movies and demonstrations, along with study curricula developed with NASA's assistance. "This is about creating the adventure of education," said Hezki Arieli, director-general of the Society for Excellence through Education, a nonprofit organization that promotes education for the gifted in the arts and sciences and is paying tens of thousands of shekels for the lab. "The kids are fascinated by space," Arieli said. "They raise their faces to the heavens and ask deep questions. They want to know everything, from simple concepts such as light-years to complicated questions about the expansion of the cosmos. You move forward with their curiosity." Koptan Halabi Junior High's new lab, the first to open in a Druse school, will be the ninth opened by the Society. But the school won't be receiving it out of charity. As an excelling member of the Ilan Ramon Space Club - a nationwide network of schools that, through the Society and with the help of students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, have added space science to their curriculum - the school earned the lab "honestly, through excellent educational performance, experiments and achievements" in space education, Arieli said. The society builds labs only in schools "that reach a certain level of seriousness in the studies" that makes the investment "a step forward," rather than a wasted opportunity, he said. "The point is to create an educational infrastructure. This lab doesn't come out of nowhere. It's not a gimmick. These kids studied for years, stargazing outside of school hours, at night," to earn the new lab. Koptan Halabi's Space Club has been studying astrophysics, astronomy and space engineering for four years. Pupils in the program have participated in nationwide club activities such as designing a viable space habitat. The new lab will allow pupils to stargaze through advanced telescopes, expand the available study material and allow them more options for experiments. According to Arieli, the Space Club fills an educational gap. "Part of the problem with teaching about space in Israel is that although it's a vast and attractive topic for the kids, few people can teach it." The Society pairs up each space science class and teacher with a student from the Technion's Asher Space Research Institute and study materials developed with NASA's help. In the process, Arieli said, "we've trained the teacher, too." The program is part of the Society's Excellence 2000 project, which networks some 200 schools in sophisticated science and art programs for gifted pupils. Alongside the Space Club, Excellence 2000 operates the Science Investigator Club, which brings Israel Police forensic investigators into classrooms, where they present real-life cases and use them to teach kids about DNA, encryption, the physics behind traffic accident investigation and the like. As demonstrated most recently in Monday's launch of the Ofek 7 intelligence satellite from the Palmahim Air Force Base, for nearly two decades, Israel has been a member of another Space Club - the group of just eight countries that possess indigenous space construction and launch capability. As the Society enthused in an announcement ahead of Thursday's event, the Junior High Space Club - which includes religious, secular, Jewish, Arab and Druse schools - is "the future generation of Israel's space sector."