Jerusalem — Megan Harris-Linton, who heads the science department at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Washington Heights, took time out of her summer vacation this year to learn how to teach an award-winning Israeli science program to American day school students.
Students at seven New York area day schools will take part in the program, which, starting next month, will provide high-level courses in biotechnology and scientific engineering to 165 students in grades 9 and 10.
Developed by the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network (ISTS), the curriculum is being brought to the U.S by the Manhattan-based Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE), which is funding the program.
In early July, ISTS educators flew to New York, where they provided hands-on training to around 20 area high school teachers from YU High, Solomon Schechter High School of Westchester, North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, the Yeshivah of Flatbush, the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, the Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., and the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett, L.I.
The day school teachers will travel to Israel in February to continue their training and meet with their Israeli counterparts.
Judy Lebovits, director of CIJE, said her organization’s mission is to raise the level of secular education in Jewish day schools, which, because of their dual mandate, must devote less time than non-Jewish schools to secular studies like science.
Most of the participating schools already have modern science laboratories; all have highly motivated teachers and students.
“Talk to anyone in education and you hear that STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — will be the most employable fields in the future,” Lebovits, said, explaining why CIJE chose to sponsor the American version of the Sci-Tech program.
A former science teacher and principal, Lebovtis said students who enjoy their science classes “will consider it as a career in the future.”
Many Israeli graduates of the Israeli Sci-Tech program have gone on to win science competitions and have landed good jobs, Lebovits said, adding that its staff and curriculum are “very professional.”
“Its educators are experienced and have so much material for us.”
Edith Everett, a New York philanthropist and chair of the U.S.-based Friends of Israel Sci-Tech Schools, agreed.
This collaboration “is infusing excellence and quality into our classrooms. Effective curricula that has been so successful in Israel can and should be imported here to empower our teachers and students and equip them for the future,” Everett said.
Ran Soffer, the head of science and technology education studies at Sci-Tech/Israel, said the day school teachers are clearly excited by the program.
“Often, in day schools, there is limited time for science, and teachers are constantly rushing to cover material.” By necessity, much of the teaching involves lecturing or demonstrating a concept, but there is relatively little hands-on work in the laboratory.
In contrast, Soffer said, Sci-Tech encourages students to interact, explore and construct their own understanding of how science works.
During the three-day seminar, Matthew Breig, a physics teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, described how he and the other teachers were taught how to measure the voltage and amps in an electrical system, and how to make an electronic controller communicate with a computer in order to turn a light bulb on and off.
Breig said he could already imagine teaching this exercise to his students, and how much fun they would have in the process of learning.
“The course is almost entirely discovery-based, instead of me going up and lecturing the students for 45 minutes with just occasional labs. Hands-on will be the norm, and that’s different from any other science course being offered. It’s giving students a unique opportunity.”
Harris-Linton was equally impressed.
“We’ve really wanted to find a strong program to get the students excited about science,” she said, noting that the participating students will be incoming high school freshman.
“That’s a key time for getting students interested in science. If they find it boning, they won’t choose to take higher electives and they won’t choose science as a career.”
Although her school, the YU High School for Boys, has a new laboratory, Harris-Linton said that until CIJE decided to introduce the Sci-Tech program, the educators weren’t able to fully utilize it due to the lack of training and supplies.
“What’s so exciting about this program is that it’s providing a curriculum, training and all the lab equipment, so we can actually bring science to life.”