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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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3rd Time High School Graduate

Funny. One of my very first posts on this blog told the story of my youngest son, Yonatan, starting first grade. All the hope, dreams and questions marks that came along his first steps in school, my 3rd time doing these first step with my child.

Well, he graduated! It’s crazy how time flies and I am quite amazed at the fact that this blog exists for so long (even though I haven’t written in it too frequently lately)’.

Yonatan has always been a unique self-learner. For the second half of his last year in high school, he got the COVID closure, which was the best thing that could have happened to him at this timing. Back to the roots. Back to self-teaching.

He definitely didn’t like every topic in school. However, when he got 95 for one of the topics that traditionally was a weak point for him, I couldn’t help but wonder. He had a perfectly good explanation: I found really good and quite interesting summaries online. As for math, for years he got help from a private tutor trying to keep up with the class. Once released from the classroom, he flew into the material, using methods he got from his tutor, and simply expanded and deepened his knowledge, achieving a score of 100.

It’s that freedom from the constraints of the classroom that gave him the greatest boost throughout high school. It makes me wonder how many more students can do it. How many more can benefit from being set free from the 4 walls of the school? What are “we”, as a school-classroom-based education system are doing wrong and how can we make it better?

Engaging Through Global Communications

Towards the end of the summer vacation, as I was rounding up my plans for my teachings in the coming school year I have decided to dedicate the first month of the year with both my gifted classes to participating in a global project: The Global Goals project.

The month of September is always hectic. The kids are back from vacation with unexpected energy. There are multiple holidays that won’t really let you gather your students to learning, as every day you think about the next vacation. So rather than starting a serious literary unit, I thought that an active project, which requires active research and creative doing, is the best way to start. Now, as we finished this project, I am afraid I won’t live up to expectations for the rest of the year.

The journey of 1_000 miles starts with one single step.-3

A quick background. I teach English as a foreign language to these 2 classes of gifted students. They are in 8th grade, on average 13-14 years old. We live in Tel-Aviv. The Goals Project is an international project aiming to increase awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “17 Classrooms working on 17 Goals.​ Together.” They from groups of 17 classes, sorted into age groups. Within each group, each class gets a goal to research and do a project on. The project starts with introductions by the participating classes and ends with sharing the projects prepared by each class.

At first, when I explained the project to the classes they seemed unsure. But then, we went on Flipboard and browsed together through introductions of classes of all ages, from all over the world. At this point – they got hooked. Their enthusiasm rose as they started to plan and prepare their own video introductions. You can watch them on Flipgrid here and here. This was our Week#1 assignment.

In the second week, the students accepted their goal and started to get to know it. I can’t say there was any English teaching going on. But, oh, so much English learning. The self-driven character of the project was a fantastic hook. They delved into the net to read about it and further their research. They learned many new words, they were exposed to a variety of international topics and found out how these goals are relevant to their lives. They became passionate about this.

The last 2 weeks of the project were dedicated to each class planning and creating their own project, to demonstrate what they learned and share their knowledge, help spread the word and increase awareness. These were the most creative and enthusiastic students you can imagine. I was impressed by how seriously they grasped their assumed responsibility for raising awareness. This did not stop at making a nice project. It had to be perfect. They rechecked their English writing and double-checked each other even before submitting for my inspection. It is international and so has to be respectable.

Each class worked on its own goal, but both classes considered two similar options of a website and a game. In the end I encouraged them to do both, so half the class developed a game, a serious game, and half of the class developed the website.

It was exhilarating for me to see how engaged they were in the work. They skipped recess to continue working and meet the deadlines. They shared their work with me through the holidays just to make sure it is done correctly and in time. And oh! What project! What a learning experience!

I am so proud to present both projects here.

The #SDG17 project is a website and a card game. The card game is based on Quartets. Since the goal is titled “partnerships for the goals” the students designed a quartet game in which you can only win if all goals-sets are achieved, and you can only get there by sharing resource cards. Here is the link to the website. A link to the game is in the website (for download and printing).

The #SDG3 project is a website and a digital game. The website includes an “ideas” section aimed at developing a conversation about the goal and how to help promote it. As they discussed the goal, “Health and well being”, they claimed it sounded utopic and unrealistic. But through research, they discovered so many ways each person can contribute to it and they became encouraged and curious about more ideas. Their serious game concentrated on the issue of vaccines. It takes a humoristic view on the topic but works well in sending a message about the topic. The students created all game elements and graphics on their own and one of the students assumed responsibility on the programming in Construct2.

Success for Struggling ELL Students

I made a conscious choice last year to teach the class for the struggling 7th grade ELL students. Normally, I was told earlier, if you get 1-2 students of the 10-12 students to advance to a higher level ability group – it is considered a success. I got 7 out of 15 to advance, and those who are left with me, are also nowhere near they were when they started the school year.

Working with this group of students was exhausting and demanding, yet the most important and satisfactory work I have ever done, not only in teaching. I chose this case study as my basis for investigating the factors contributing to success with struggling ELL students. This was my final research project in my studies for my Masters in Teaching degree at Levinsky College, Tel Aviv, one of the leading institutions for teacher education in Israel.

I think it is important to share my work, and even more important – to continue this research and expand it. I would like to have more teachers like me, and not just in Israel, contributing from their experiences of what works and what doesn’t and why – to generate a living breathing and useful database of actual solutions and real methods for this enormous collection of challenges. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining this initiative.

My project is in English and you can read it here.

 

Download here: 2019Factors_of_Success_ELL_Struggling_Or-Tal-Kiriati

Teaching to Learn!

The school year started a month ago, and already we’re counting almost 2 weeks of holiday time. It’s difficult enough to get them going after the summer vacation, but teaching a few days and going off to yet another vacation makes it even harder to start the learning engines, kick this school year off.

But this year is special for me. I got appointed as the school director of innovation and technology, and as such, I get full support for my innovative ideas, tech craze included.

So I started by building a google suite for my school. Single handed I am creating the users, organizational units, groups, team drives, resources with calendars and of course – the google classroom.

Here my students benefit first. I started this year teaching 2 classes of gifted students in 7th grade, and one 8th grade science-oriented classroom, which I also taught last year. All 3 classes received a google classroom right from the beginning of the year and it helped make this month a much more productive one, despite the holidays and traveling families and kids missing school.

So what do I do with the classroom? First of all, I upload all material and worksheets that I hand out in class. This benefits not only those students who have missed classes but also those scatter headed who keep misplacing them.
I add a paragraph or two about what we did in class. Do you know these students who come back from a holiday saying “but we asked, and our friends told us we didn’t miss a thing”. Well, now this line is out. What you have missed is online. Please catch up.
I already posted a few photographs of fantastic group work and class work. I think the students were so immersed in their work, they didn’t even notice I took the pictures. It’s important to reflect, privately within the classroom boundaries, that their English lesson can be a lot of fun and create this warm feeling of a unit working together.

And then, there are the assignments. So I have used several types. Before I go into the types of assignments I have created so far, let me tell you that one other thing I want to promote with my students is social learning. Taking them out of isolation when they work. So I actually suggested they consult with each other on the class stream (the front page). I also asked some students who submitted excellent work to link their work and share it with the classroom so that their peers can see and learn. I find it tremendously important to reduce their dependency on what the teacher is saying.

The first type of assignment is “prepare for our next lesson”. It’s not mandatory. I created vocabulary sets on Quizlet and shared them in the classroom page, offering that the students arrive to class prepared. I know some of them have used them. I hope in the future more students will be aware of their option to prepare for the next lesson. I am actually aiming at a situation in which students will ask me for a preparation task. That is when I know it’s working, and they are learning how to learn.

The second type of assignments is writing assignments. No more papers, please. All assignments are submitted on Google Docs, via the Google Classroom assignment page. I can give them comments and remarks for them to fix, and they can re-submit to get a better grade. The submission date is the deadline, after which they will not be able to improve their grades anymore. I can already see the impact of the re-submission process. My colleagues might think I am crazy for checking so many times the same papers. But it’s not. I use a google doc add-on called “grade proof” to help me quickly detect writing problems. In most cases, re-submit means they went over my comments and solved them. It doesn’t require too long to re-read. For me, not doing this process is the crazy thing. Over the past two weeks, of which more than one week has been a vacation, I can see actual growth and development with those students who keep aiming higher and higher. I actually don’t see the point in giving such assignments without the option to correct oneself and see how your writing improves.

The third type of assignments I tested is reading comprehension – known as “the unseen”. I use readworks.org to assign chosen reading material to the google classroom of my choice. It took me just a bit to get the hang of it. Basically, the students get the passage. I looked for material with “step reading”, meaning they can either read the original article or a simpler version that will make it easier for them. Then they answer questions, some of them are multiple choice and some are written answers. I only have to manually check the written replies to complete their grade for the unseen. I already planned the 2 next assignments on this website. I think it is going to be one of the most useful sites I use.

What else? As always, I used google forms to create a “getting to know you” questionnaire. In the past, I used it for quizzes too, and I have recently learned this feature is even better this year, through google classroom.

I am going to start teaching another class after this holiday. It’s a 7th grade group that has some catching up to do. Most of the students in this class are challenged with ADHD or learning difficulties of sorts, each presents a different challenge. I am planning on creating tiny-groups for them, in Edmodo, because this is a feature not supported by Google classroom. To avoid the hassle of student registration and login I already received excellent help from Edmodo allowing me to bulk import users from our school’s domain. Let’s see how this is going to work. I am also considering using a more gamified environment for this group like Classdojo. I will have to check if it suits them. Some students in 7th grade might consider it childish. It’s a decent platform for badges and rewards, but it will not allow the small group work as Edmodo and I do not want to overload the students with too many platforms. I have tried ClassCraft in the past and I love it. However, to make it work there must be a strong enough WiFi connection in school, and right now, there is none. It’s a totally new building.

And a brand new era for us all.

1st Teaching Year Ends

I had no idea I would feel this way. My first year as a teacher ended and I had to say goodbye to my students, my beloved students, because next year I will be teaching in another school. I waited until the very last day to tell them. Their reaction took me by surprise. Boys and girls, 7th grade who came to hug me, or at least shake my hand. Kids telling me they are sorry I won’t teach them next year, and students saying “thank you, you really helped me this year”. One of my students said to me: “Or-Tal, I can tell you this much: if you succeeded in teaching me, you will succeed in teaching anyone”. Which was really moving. I didn’t expect that.
Over the last couple of weeks of the school year it was getting harder and mostly pointless teaching regularly. So, like most teacher I used movies and games during class.

On the last lesson I decided to go for a “BreakoutEdu” concept.

I prepared my box, with 6 locks, with a “treasure” hidden inside, and the riddles and puzzles were a revision on a year’s learning. The students were thrilled to do it. I had them run for clues around the school and school yard and busy solving grammar exercises on their very last lesson of the year.
The treasure chest held mock “flight tickets”, from 7th grade to 8th grade, and a personal “what to pack” list I prepared for each of the students. Ranging from “your sense of humor” to “patience” and more.
I gave the students my email, saying they can always contact me for help, and I am happy to say that about 15% already did that. I just love my students!

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.

 

Baby steps towards the classroom

In 2 weeks I will begin a new career as an English teacher at a middle school in Hertzliya. That is ESL or English as a Second Language teaching. I am going to teach 7th and 8th grade and I’ve spent the past weeks and probably the coming 2 also in planning and preparing for this school year.

I started just collecting resources and recommendations into my bookmarks. As I received the books chosen by the school for these classes I started to study them hoping to get a better idea of what is expected of me: what am I supposed to achieve with my students.

The books, by the leading ESL publishing house in Israel, ECB, are designed well for teachers. I received the student’s practice book and the teacher’s guide and a CD with tests.

The books are divided in 6 units. Each unit provides reading segments, listening exercises, writing tasks, vocabulary enrichment and so on. The teacher’s guide is actually telling teachers what to do around the contents of the text books. Most teachers just love it. Why re-invent an original lesson plan when the book lays it out for free?

But I am actually struggling. This structural thinking simply doesn’t sit well with my entrepreneurial history, which goes back to my own days at school. I need to know what is the purpose, what is the goal, what is the knowledge we’re trying to gain here, skills and habits. And let me build the contents and class exercises according to the individuals I will meet in my class.

Obviously, being a brand new teacher (who’s only starting to study for her teaching degree) I am taking a huge risk by not following the safe path. Could a rebellious me be a teacher? Can I actually take the one less traveled by?

Back in a Classroom

Last week I went into a classroom as a student for the first time in 20 years. Very important for an education innovator who isn’t a teacher. I am very proud of the fact that motherhood dragged me into the education innovation, but experiencing a classroom as a student isn’t experiencing it as a mother of a student, not even similar to experiencing it as a teacher, I am sure.

You can’t really comprehend the enormousness of the education crisis before you are sitting behind a desk totally dependent on someone else for the pearls of wisdom you’re supposed to get, without any say about how you’re going to get them or when, and then you’re graded for your grasp. Hmmm.

classroom I am an old fashioned schooled one. I grew up without any digital mobile instruments around me, not even a PC. I think that even a walkman was too much of a luxury, had to work and save before I could get one. And I started my journalistic career with my dad’s Hermes typewriter and working in the print house with lead letters.

So the technicality of sitting behind a desk, writing a summary of the class, doing exercises, performing to the rhythm of the conductor – all this should be well imprinted in me.

But it’s not. I’m was slowly and gradually spoiled by various forms of computers. I think it started in the early 90’s with a DOS computer, and grew exponentially until today I spend about 14 hours a day online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I rarely get disconnected. In fact I can say I am pretty addicted. Can’t go through a day with no connectivity at all. Can’t watch a movie without playing something on my iPhone\iPad at the same time. Ahmm. Yep, in the movies too.

Reading a book is one of the toughest tasks for me. When I was 14, 8th grade, I got the school’s annual award for reading the largest number of books which I borrowed from the school’s library. 400 books. Some days I finished 2+. I couldn’t get enough. Nowadays, give them to me in 140 characters chunks. I am sure if I’ll do the math I’m reading much more today than I have ever – in characters count. But I’m down from 400 books in 10 months, to 1 book in 800 days and the sad thing, I miss the relaxed experience.

This rhythm my life has adjusted to is an immediate rhythm. I’m at The State of Now.

Now think about the generation born into this reality and this rhythm. About the toddlers trying to swipe the photo in the frame on their grandparents’ mantle. How are they expected to take a break for 5-9 hours a day and go back from rockets to horse-and-carriage?

People, when talking about the education crisis, worldwide, know that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and think Titanic.

Test All Mathematicians in Music Performance First

My boy is 15 years old, going on 10th grade next year, and he is one of those lucky people who have that mix of ADHD and Giftedness. So up to a certain point his giftedness got him through without drugs. Lately it’s not working that well.

He studies at the Jazz department of the lucrative National High School For the Arts here in Israel, plays the trumpet. Only unlike most accepted players, he joined with a little less experience… well, a lot less. One year less than the minimum usually required and no orchestra experience. He only decided he is into Jazz about 2-3 months before the audition. His trumpet teacher nearly had a fit when the kid announced he needed 2 pieces for the audition. Yet, somehow he got in.

High school is a lot different than what he had experienced before. Especially since he moved from the incubator called “a class for gifted” to a “high school for excellence in arts”. Those are the top of the top of young artists in Israel and the school has a reputation to maintain.

Now think ADHD.

It’s a struggle, and with drugs or without them, it’s still a struggle. Too many topics, too many demands, too many expectations. And, in a recent talk with the school the topic of Math came up. And I was asked what I think is the worst case scenario in terms of my son and his matriculation exams… hint hint … Math. I said, well matriculations exams don’t matter to me. Least of all math.

This is a reply that puzzles school officials. The school is first and foremost to provide the kids with the matriculation certificate, sort of a Baccalaureate, SATs or similar and parallels. This school throws in exams in arts topics too. And here I am saying all I really care about is that my kid gets to experience his arts, learn and develop with his chosen form of arts – Jazz music, and have fun with his friends – and really, honestly, I swear, I do not care one bit about his success in math.mathtrumpet

In fact, I care about math being removed from high school obligatory topics for matriculation. Remove it from high school graduation certificate altogether. I think math, in the level they require here (yes, I am talking about the minimal level) is just too much. I really don’t believe that solving equations is that important for the life of my son, whether he chooses to be a jazz musician, an illustrator, a chef, a game designer or any other profession he might be fantasizing on now or in the future when this profession will pop up. You know why?

Google.
You can solve your equations on Google. Or this app or the other. And if you want to test my son’s skills in coping with the demands of the real world, let him take the test at home, with Google access and a 24 hour time limit. That’s the only way to convince me there’s any point in testing this or any connection between the test and the real world these kids are growing into.
No? So leave him alone. If you can’t force the mathematicians to take tests in Trumpet playing, you shouldn’t force the trumpet players to test in math.

Say “Passion” instead of “Engagement”

“Engagement” seems to be the key word, the major buzz word, where educational technology is concerned. Ask an Edtech entrepreneur what their app or software is doing, and at least 90% of the time the word “engagement” pops up. The other 10% are administrative apps that do not presume to change any classroom or student experience.

Last week I attended several events, one of them was the Demo Day of the first wave of graduate startups from the MindCET incubator. MindCET is the first and currently only incubator for educational technology startups in Israel. Obviously, there wasn’t a single startup that skipped the word “engagement”. And there’s nothing unusual about it: Dozens of edtech startups I met during SXSWedu and SXSW also made sure they slip “engagement” into every pitch or presentation. At one moment during last week’s presentations I found myself trying to build an image to go along with “engagement”. That promise of engagement seems to be the main attractions teachers feel towards educational technology: something to keep their students wide-eyed, open-mouths, hung on the teacher’s every word. Something like hypnotized. With built-in recorders in their heads.engagedclass

And then today I read this wonderful blog post by Angela Maiers, “an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media”. “The Passion Gap” is the title, and she tells that “As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.”

She doesn’t mention the word “engagement”, but points out that in Education conferences “you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”…” And let me add, as an edtech entrepreneur, that I am much more likely to hear the word “engagement” in tech solutions for the classroom, and I don’t think I heard the word “passion”.

So what is passion? I love her quote: “Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it”. I should know, I experience passion in what I do and it is costing me every day. Because at some point I decided pursuing my passion is more important than getting a salary. Silly me?

Angela Maiers refers to the human teachers, not the tech they might use or not use, as the first circle needed for students to find their passion. Sir Ken Robinson is devoting his messages and books to this topic too; The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life has just been published.” The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and achieve at their highest levels”, is the introduction to his first book.

Yet, Edtech startups are still mostly concerned about engagement of students in the classroom. How does this contribute to helping students find their passion? Or element?

Education systems are so hung on educational technology to reform, change and modify. But obviously, no real revolution can be achieved without striking the personal passion fuse of each and every student.

Touching kids’ passion is what I’m doing with my new startup. More to come.

Schoolyear: A Good Start

Two whole months into the school year and I must say something. So here it comes. I have two boys in school this year, as my daughter has graduated high school last year. Now I have one son who has started high school this year (9th grade), and my youngest son, who is now in 5th grade.

The new high school is so different from the one I encountered with my daughter! There are some obvious reasons, but some are really a matter of choice. A management choice.

My 14 year old son is going to Thelma Yellin High National School of the Arts. By the looks of it you could not suspect that this is one of the most lucrative schools in Israel, or that it is private. It’s an old building with crumbling trailers as classrooms. But who cares? Certainly not the people who go there. The creative atmosphere is strongly felt through sounds and sights. But it’s also felt through the teachers, staff and management attitude.

The grading system is different. Grades will go up, for instance. Not something you see every day when they’re all doing average. “We want the students to be happy”, said to me one of the consultants, not a slogan. Really meant it. For a change I don’t feel like I am forced into a combat for my kid’s survival or dignity. It’s built into the system. There’s still a long way to go. I know. But at least it’s a good start.

My youngest is into his second year at the Waldorf Education school. It’s 5th grade and I am terribly impressed by the way they chose to introduce one of the more important learning skills. They have started this year with stories the teacher is telling from the mythologies of India, Persia & Babylon. He has been telling the story and the kids are to write the story in their notebooks and decorate them with illustrations. They can add descriptions and scenes that they come up with to enrich the stories, if they wish. But they have to listen, memorize, summarize, write and visualize. Not easy or simple. But the skill is so valuable and so well developed through these tasks.

Now to end this hard work the class has went on a 3 days field trip. Slept in tents, walked tens of kilometers, met with elders who shared their stories about the history of the country and the region. Learned discipline, nature, history and fraternity. Aren’t these skills as important to any child’s future?

Want or Don’t? That is the Question (To Learn or Not)

Last week I drove up to Jerusalem for the closing ceremony of the National Competition for Young Scientists in Israel, where my daughter was one of the finalists and winners. Her research paper dealt with some aspect of quantum computation. I think one of the reasons she chose this particular topic was because everybody kept telling her this is the most advanced and complicated topic in physics, and that at 16 she was too young to research it. Shaii Kiriati would only see such a phrase as a challenge.

Of the 3 topics she was offered, this field seemed to her the most exciting. Her research paper was a part of a doctorate work by Oded Zilberberg, a Weizmann Institute PhD student, who served as her guide and mentor. 11th-12th graders in Israel can choose to perform a research instead of taking a test in one of their expanded topics for the Bagrut (the Israeli Baccalaureate). Shaii’s choice was to do a research in physics instead of a test. Sure, she could have spit her physics books onto the test papers and get a perfect score, but that’s not learning, she explained to me. And learning is what she wanted to do.

During the year she worked on the research she learned and read and developed in a way not possible within the regular school walls. She has earned tools and abilities she wouldn’t have been able to get in a classroom.

~Research and the Program for the Gifted~
44 students reached the final stage at the Competition in Jerusalem. I was happy to discover not all research papers were pure science and math. Some papers dealt with history, anthropology, civics, sports, cinema and fashion. The one thing all participants have in common is their desire to learn.

My daughter has been studying in a special class for the gifted since the beginning of the program in 3rd grade. One of the things they told us when we were first introduced to it was that the kids who passed the tests and were invited to join all share a desire to learn and a high level of learning abilities and that the program aims to cultivate, support and encourage these qualities.

Yet of all students in the gifted program in our city only 1 reached the finals. Only 2 bothered to do a research. The rest of the kids couldn’t be bothered. Their main desire today is to be over and done with school. Learning? They couldn’t care less. I think from all finalists only one more student came from a special program for the gifted.

What does it mean? That even a special program for the gifted couldn’t rescue the desire to learn from being repressed in a school environment. On the other hand it takes some very unique students with their environments – school and home – to keep the learning fire on. There’s no stopping these learners now.

~The Education Revolution and the Learning Desire~
Yesterday I watched again a TED presentation by Sugata Mitra from 2010 where he presented the amazing learning abilities kids poses and how they can teach themselves. I also watch the lengthier and more detailed presentation here. One key phrase he repeats in both is actually a quote by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, saying “when learners have interest – education happens”.

It made me stop and reflect on all education reforms and revolutions and innovations I came across over the past several years I am so heavily into it. That is the key, isn’t it? The learners’ interest.

Sir Ken Robinson published an interview with teens about his dream school on his website and it hit me again – all these dreams are great for those who want to learn.

I went back to presentations I have watched before like the famous 2006 TED “Do Schools Kill Creativity” by Sir Ken Robinson, 2007 “21st century pedagogy” by Greg Whitby or the 2010 presentation by Jesse Schell “The Future is Beautiful”. Went  over conversations about technology, my own post about Waldorf education and the non-tech approach, it all comes down to one single assumption: that kids actually want to learn. That they have an interest.

~Learning: a Survival Instinct~
My daughter thinks learning is a survival instinct we are all born with. Very similar to our need to breath, eat and drink. “How else would a baby learn a language in 2 years?”, she wonders. And me, if I had to make a research, I would start with the young scientists and investigate what helped their learning crave survive 12 years of school. My guess is, that’s where the education revolution should start.

Toying with Words: Education, Learn, Teach, Hanukkah

A few months ago a young entrepreneur, as passionate as I am about education, approached me with an idea to create a TEDx conference or similar, dedicated to the education revolution, in Israel. I had just started to think of an education-revolution conference myself, but I didn’t think of doing it in Israel only. I want to create an event happening simultaneously around the world, in as many countries as possible. A revolution in education must happen globally and simultaneously to succeed. My friend had followed the TEDx education revolution conference in London. There were plenty of ideas worth spreading there, as usual, but not enough call for action in her view. I started to think of the “ignite” concept for our conference, since we want to ignite a change and let in many voices. But what is it that we want to change?

What the Words are Actually Saying

Being a professional namer I started to think about the words, the vocabulary of education. I don’t like the word “education”. I much prefer “learning”. Looking at it from the student’s point of view, education is something pushed to the students, while learning is something the students pull. With education students are passive, while in learning they are active. A mix is probably what we should be aiming at.

However, it is education we are referring to when we relate to the required “revolution”. These are “education systems” that are being criticized all over the world, and that are attempting reform one by one.
From Wikipedia: “Etymologically, the word education is derived from the Latin ēducātiō (“a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing) from ēdūcō (“I educate, I train”) which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”).”

Looking at it from today’s perspective – education is only a part of what schooling should be about. Yes, it is about transferring accumulated knowledge from older generations to younger generations but that’s not all; it is about taking the younger generations from the place of not knowing and leading them to a new knowledgeable place. But that’s not enough. Certainly not when education systems are actually clogging the natural learning abilities of younger generations. Schooling should aim at enhancing natural curiosity and learning abilities with accumulated knowledge of the society. Enhancing. Aggregating. Developing. And doing it all with the students, and their natural resources. Rather than take them “from” one point to another, build on what the students are, what they bring with them, including their natural learning skills. I feel like a new word should be coined: “coducation”? Etymologically combining “cum” (with) and “dūcō” (I lead, I conduct). One problem with this new word is that “ed” has become a short for “education”.

If education is about teaching and learning, let’s see what “learning” can tell us. From about the 13th till the 19th century the verb “learn” was used for “teach” as well. That’s a curious thing. In Hebrew “teach” is “LAMED” and “learn” is “LEMAD”, and they share the same root. Note that “education” isn’t related (grammatically) to neither, in Hebrew too. The word “education” translates to “HINUKH” in Hebrew, which derives from the root of “to initiate”, or “renew” or “rededicate”. What do you know? The holiday we’re celebrating now is called “Hanukkah”. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (the 2nd temple) during the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Do we want our kids “re”-anything? I don’t.

Into researching “learn” I ran across a wonderful word, cun, coming from the Old English word “cunnian”, which means “to learn to know, inquire into” and is said to belong to the same root as the word “can”. The word “can”, how wonderful, comes from the word “cunnan” in Old English, meaning “know, have power to, be able”. OH! Yes We Can!! That’s it! That’s what education is all about: Being Able. Now I feel like the new word should be “educan”. Etymology: education, learn, know, be able. What’s your new word for it?

The Future of Education is Rooted in The Past

My youngest son, who is now in 4th grade, joined a Waldorf Education school this year, after 3 years of suffering in a regular school. We just received the first school’s newsletter with updates and descriptions of the activity in the school and I wanted to share it. But I should probably start with how we went through these first 3 months.

For a 9 year old he started the schoolyear very skeptic. “There’s no school that can fit me”, he said. For such a young kid to passionately hate the idea of school – despite his many friendships there – is pretty shocking. So it took a while, the full 3 months, to be exact, and we got it! Last week he came home from school and for the first time ever when I asked him how his day was he said “Great”. I even teased him a bit, wanted to make sure I am hearing right, and he confirmed that he had a great day at school. Do you have any idea how it made me feel?

At this point I don’t particularly care about the academic results this school produces. Not that I doubt them. But the only result that really matters is that my boy is open to the possibilities now. He is awake. He is back. There are many misconceptions about Waldorf Education, when in fact there are many variations in a little over 1000 Waldorf schools around the world. Our school is located at the center of the city. It is unlike another Waldorf school in Israel, which is located in a rural environment in the Galilee. It embraces the city and city people. What I like about our school is that while its roots are in that 100 years old philosophy, it is in full sync with our environment and times.

Indeed, the first misconception about Waldorf education derives from the fact that the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany 93 years ago.

If you have been following me you probably know that I am very passionate about the future of education. Having three extra-ordinary kids forced me into thinking deeply and widely about the state of education and learning and where we are heading. I got really excited by Greg Whitby’s “we have got to change the DNA of education” and by the famous TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson who stressed the same idea and explained we need a “revolution and not just evolution” in education. And while I totally agree with the spirit of change and futuristic ideas and would LOVE to break the walls of the classroom, here I am, equally ecstatic by this old method of education and the way it works.

Does innovation lie in the past after all?? Well this is the basis of the Waldorf Education: “Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. The approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny… Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.” Wait, this seems to correspond perfectly with one famous 21st century education revolutionist’s words, Sir Ken Robinson. Did you check out his TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. My son’s school doesn’t kill creativity. Through creativity it has re kindled his curiosity and learning. And surprise surprise, now he even enjoys the experience. The only question remains: what is so complicated in this method that prevents other schools from applying similar principles?

Back to the school’s newsletter, here’s a brief report of what various classes have been doing over the first 3 months since school year opened: 5thgrade finished a geography period. The geography period was dedicated to knowing our country and learning the map of the country. Obviously the period opened with a 3 day field trip, with lots of walking and climbing, amazing views and encounters with wildlife. Another weekend trip in a different area concluded the period with the students’ families.

1st graders are doing their first steps in creative. They made a bag, and prepared needles for knitting.

2nd graders are knitting animal dolls and preparing a knitted bag for their recorders (sort of a wooden flute). 3rd graders finished working with two needles and are doing a one-needle knitting work now. 4th graders are doing embroidery with Xs. 5th graders are knitting socks with 5 needles. 6th graders are stitching dolls and 7thgraders are learning how to work with a sewing machine. They will be making patch quilts later this year.

In class, 1stgraders have been drawing colored drawings leading up to forming letters. They are chanting, singing and ending each week with a short nature trail.6thgraders started the year with geometry period, creating drawings of various mandalas. The second period is “Rome” and they are concentrating on the foundations of the Roman Empire and laws. They also started the Bat Mitzvah-Bar Mitzvah two-year program.9thgraders already had 3 field trips since the beginning of the school year. They have concluded 3 periods: history, physics and civics. The “high school” compound, which is a brand new addition to the school, has a kitchenette and sofas to enable staying late for social activities and meeting with “interesting people” who visit often take place. There’s plenty of artistic work too, right now – ceramics.Most of the school kids are playing various musical instruments, in addition to the recorder which is built in the regular music lessons. Right now kids are playing violin, viola, cello, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and harmonica.Music is built in the curriculum. For example: 7thgraders are doing the maps and discoveries period now. So they heard and learned music related to ships, shipping and wandering. They are also learning songs in new languages such as Spanish and Swedish and getting to hear musical styles from around the world.

8th graders had a “revolutions” period. They learned spirituals and studied how music can be a driving force calling for liberation. They studied the hymn on the French revolution and poetry from the 60s calling for freedom and equality. They also discussed Jazz standards, rooted back in slavery… 8th graders took their revolutions studies one step further into the present when they visited the tents of the social protesters in Tel-Aviv (kind of the US “occupy”).  They studied about other revolutions too like the American revolution and the industrial revolution.
Our own 4th graders finished a calculus period and a bible period and are now into Nordic mythology, where they learn of stories parallel to those on our own Genesis book. They also had a fantastic 2-day field trip, spending the night in the gym of one kibbutz, walking almost 20 miles in the Jerusalem Mountains in two days.
Is this DNA so wrong for today’s kids? I suddenly have my doubts. From checking around it seems this school’s graduates are better equipped with learning abilities then their peers from other schools around. Since the teacher of the class goes with it from 1st grade till 8th grade – the teacher is learning with the students, while teaching them. Perhaps it is already a different DNA. But what’s preventing regular schools from applying such an approach?
For details about Waldorf Education, or the Anthroposophy, if you want to know more go to Wikipedia as a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education. You can read this post and discuss in on Firesidelearning too: http://firesidelearning.ning.com/profiles/blogs/future-of-education-in-the-past Join the conversation.

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

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