Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



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 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!

Happiness in the Classroom

I love it that my students are happy in the classroom. I think when they are happy their receptors work better. I teach 12-14 year old students, and I must say, it is rare to find one thing that will make all of them happy. But there is one thing that will always bring in negative feelings: tests.

I don’t like that we base the grades of our students mainly on tests. As a teacher, when I see a student disturbing his classmates, behaving in a disrespectful way, doesn’t do his homework, mocking his friends, and at the end of the day achieves an “A” in the exam, I think that basing his grade on the exam is wrong in every educational aspect possible. 20161204_172148

At the same time, I see another student, working hard, listening, doing all her duties and more, being all around positive, team player – and gets a “B” in her test, I am asking myself what sort of message would I be sending by basing the grade on her test.

But more than that – I see how at least 80% of the students become super stressful in the test, because it means so much in term of final grade, and that stress makes me sad.

Some of them make “stress mistakes” which are really obvious. But I think that all around the system is relying too much on the tests as if this is what defines the student. Is it?

I want my students to be happy as they learn. Celebrate the joy of discovery and illumination. The darkness that comes with the tests, in their current meaning, is distracting and distressing. Not to mention, when you prepare students for tests, you do not necessarily teach them.

There are many alternative ways of assessment today. We do not need to rely so much on tests. It is obvious that if my grades would be based on a portfolio – than the hardworking student wouldn’t get a lower grade than the student who doesn’t work at all. I also would have loved to let the students check their own tests. Perhaps not call it a test at all. Use it as the tool it is: a way to better understand what we know and what we should learn better. That student who sent me a presentation he created on the topic of the test should be awarded for the great learning work, even if he gets panicked during tests.

Building a Better Dinosaur, or: Trying too Hard

I might be over enthusiastic about my entry ticket into the classroom. I could hold really simple and predictable lessons using the text book, work book and teacher’s guide book. Go from page to page, give homework from the workbook and play around everybody’s comfort zone.
It’s either I am a “broken new teacher” or the system is much more broken than I had thought. dino

I want to innovate. I am there to teach English as a foreign language, but I insist on teaching my students the language of learning. A language that forces them to work with a variety of tools. All these 12-13 year old kids who think they know it all if they have an Instagram account, but are having trouble composing an email, copying a URL, exercising log in. Am I trying too hard when I demand they use more than their notebooks to learn?

I know my fellow innovative teachers around the world might be wondering what is this all about. But the truth is, if these students get to middle school knowing only one kind of learning, and their parents know only one kind of learning, and most of the teachers in the middle school continue expertly in this one type of learning – then dragging my single class into “more than the text book” – is considered a harassment. An annoyance.

I need to ask myself am I trying too hard for my own good. If I only need to survive this year than I’d better stick with the simple tools. These lessons go very well. They are not confusing. They are not even boring. And I know I should master walking before starting to run, right? But, my main concern is that they don’t develop a learner. But perhaps this isn’t my job – to turn my students into learners. I am only expected and required to teach English.

I’ve been spending hours per week on maintaining a WIKI to support my ESL class. I add a class summary after every day I teach, and detailed homework assignments, with supporting links and files. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to stick with the regular stuff?

I am also a great believer in the power of games in the classroom. Should I even bother with it? If all environment, including the students themselves and their parents, want to stick to the simple conventions, where is the place for innovation? Should I fight for the future of education, or let the past and present win?

First Steps in the Classroom

Bringing TONS of knowledge into the classroom the feeling I have today, after I have been teaching my middle schoolers for 2 weeks is of gratitude. I am grateful for the dialog created between me and my students. Needless to say I am grateful to the Principal for taking a chance on me. After all, teaching teachers isn’t the same as teaching kids.
Those are now “my kids”. I have 10 8th graders in a special educational needs group, and almost 40 7th graders in a regular heterogenic classroom.
These past 2 weeks, formally known as 16 periods per class, were dedicated to getting to know the students and developing what I consider the basis for further learning – their online communications skills.
I decided I need to make sure that every student has an email address first of all. There’s a general feeling among these young kids that they know everything about technology, and that they certainly know better, and that anything we teachers bring in – must be out dated. Well sorry: Whatsapp cannot replace email. Na ah.
And then – WIKIS – a class portal for them to catch up and follow on homework and never ever say that they didn’t have time to copy from the board or other lame excuses.
And opening a PDF in your mobile phone.
And registering to a service (well, the WIKI) and know how to confirm your registration.
Sure, when you go out your adult life you might go into a reality where all you have to do to access anything is scan your iris, but until then – know your environment and know how to learn to work with your environment, whatever it may be.
Learning how to learn is the core business of education. Or at least it should be.14-09-2016-20-08-12

But back to saying thanks today: Two of my quietest students in the special class shined today. They became involved and felt comfortable. Acceptance was in the air. And it felt great. And there’s no other way to describe this feeling: just that I think being a teacher is by far the most amazing job possible.

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?

My T Club Membership

I’ve been accepted into this select club. I feel honored. This coming September I am officially one of the members of the Teachers’ Club. I felt like a guest over this past year, and just circled around before that. But this coming school year I am going to be the English teacher of 7th and 8th grade at a middle school in Herzlia. An official member.

It’s kind of hard to explain this to people from outside the education circle. Actually, some people who have been members of this club for years are not aware of how exclusive it is. How closed and powerful, or how empowering it can be.tclubt

I always thought that being a teacher is one of the most powerful jobs there are. But recently one of my business networking friend heard the news and commented: “What brought you down to teaching?”.

And I was shocked.

Brought me “down“?

Do you know how brave one should be to become a teacher? Do you realize how strong one should be to face a classroom full of students day after day? And for me, a long time entrepreneur, I will need all of my entrepreneurial skills to reach each and every student and help each one overcome their own challenge. So glad I am an entrepreneur.

But for my friend a “teacher” is scaled somewhere well below a manager or entrepreneur or a a business consultant or a journalist. All of these – I’ve done. And now, and only now, have I gathered enough confidence, bravery, experience and knowledge to dare step into a classroom.

Not going to be an easy journey. I still feel like my membership is pending. But am daily grateful for the new and exciting members I am connecting with in this club.

See you dare. And thank you, Taylor Mali, for putting it so eloquently!



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.

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.

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?

Real Want to Learn

After the great success with his presentation about whales, my 3rd grade son has decided that he is going to prepare a presentation about our solar system next. “Astronomy interests me” he announced.

While he is embarking on a new self teaching project I am thinking about his learning abilities and process. I feel that any kid can do it given the chance, and I ache for all those kids who are not given this chance.

My son’s chance? I work from home, and this year have decided to let him spend one day a week “homeschooling”. I don’t think I am the traditional homeschooling mom, in that I am not spending every minute of the day with him. Can’t afford to – have a startup to manage. So most of my contribution is by helping him choose his plan for the day during breakfast and being there if he has questions or need specific help.

Had an interesting conversation with my 11th grade daughter about her young brother’s joy of learning. She said to me: “His joy is clear to me. We, human beings, love to learn like we love to eat and breath. When a baby is born the first thing he does is breath, then eat, then learn. How else would we get to sit, stand, walk and talk??”. Then she went on to explain that schools actually kill this natural instinct by creating limits and frames and rules that disrupt the natural evolvement of learning abilities and skills.

My daughter thinks one of the reasons she survived 11 years of school and still loves to learn is because she has created, in her mind, a total separation between “learning” and “schooling”. And I think what I do with my young son might help him create this separation too.

I only started this homeschooling-day experiment because he expressed distress and frustration when going to school. On this particular day his class studies English (ESL) but he has advanced by himself way beyond his class and the teacher said he didn’t have anything for my son to do. Then there’s a music lesson – terribly boring according to my little violin player. And an arts class – where there’s no room for imagination nor learning of techniques, but rather draw what the teacher tells you to draw. Exactly. I could sympathize with his feeling of suffocation.

So, where are we today? Learning about the planets, choosing which the most important facts to present are and improving the models of the planets created at home.

Education Re-Form: Money Matters

I met some very cool teachers yesterday, when I went with my daughter to the parent-teacher day. It was after 8 in the evening. Those teachers have been teaching from 8 in the morning and I expected to witness some exhaustion. But I spoke with teachers who were totally energetic and enthusiastic about their jobs and their students. One teacher said she simply loved teaching. “I hate the compensation. It’s not proportional to the time I invest, but I love teaching and I love the students”.

When we left I said to my daughter that I am pretty impressed by the teachers’ love of teaching. Their enthusiasm certainly has a great effect on the students and the atmosphere of the school (Ohel-Shem High school in Ramat-Gan). She agreed with me. Even if, like many high schoolers her age, she would sometimes rather skip school, she certainly acknowledges the dedication of the teachers she meets.

I need to stress that we do not look at things from a totally objective point of view. Shaii excels at her studies, she’s one of the top if not the top student of her class of gifted students. Still, the school has 11-12 classes of each grade, grades 9-12. And the classes are different from each other. With about 1,500 students learning there diversity is a given.

Still, something works there. However displeased the teachers are from their salaries – which includes probably everyone at the school, they still enjoy teaching and love what they do. They express devotion to their work and gain a lot of respect.

This was a very pleasant revelation for me. After I visited a few local teachers forums I was under the impression this can’t happen.
However, here is a warning:
With these salaries this ideal situation, even at the best of schools, can’t last.

One of the things they taught us in business management is that satisfaction is a requirement for the employee to do his job well. They also taught that money alone cannot guarantee satisfaction. However, money alone can guarantee dissatisfaction. In other words, even an employee that loves his job greatly might leave it if he is under paid.

I was talking to this teacher. All bright eyed, her face illuminating when she speaks about teaching and her students. She has a Masters degree in chemistry. Could probably earn about 4 times her teaching salary if she goes to work for a high-tech company. But she loves to teach. “Only problem is”, she admits, “that if the main income is brought home by the husband, and he is forced to leave work early so I can do my work well after school hours, then his work is hurt, and the family is not compensated.” So he is the one pushing her out of teaching. How long can she resist? At the end of the day it the bread that counts.

And I am worried. Because if such passionate quality teachers will be forced out of teaching I am afraid to ask what we’ll be left with?

Really, Seriously, it’s time policy makers start absorbing that without a total change of attitude to teachers’ salaries the whole future is at jeopardy. This teacher might have given up on her high-tech salary, but her students will be earning higher salaries before she reaches retirement. Someone has to come up with a way to reward those teachers, for getting their students those high salaries.

Education Re-Form: Small Steps

Recently an Israeli fresh teacher, who wanted to give teaching a try after a hi-tech career, published his experiences on a blog. Some of his posts where quite shocking. A few months into teaching at a middle school and this new teacher has decided to give up his teaching career altogether. A university professor who tried to teach math at a middle school also gave it up after a few months. Both complained about the lack of discipline or any interest in learning by the students. They also complained about the indifference of school management.

Observers of the education system in Israel are often expressing concern that Israel could be loosing its competitive stand in the global innovation market if the education here continues to deteriorate at this rate.

Factors mentioned in most reports relate to low salaries of teachers, too few teaching hours in the classroom, too many students per class, not enough computers, not enough classrooms.

No one complained that there are too few books… In fact, no report talked about the intensive production of new school books at all. Books are produced by masses and a school year looks in most cases like a race to complete text books and work books.

I am still looking for a single report that would actually relate to contents, curriculum, relevance, methods. To, well, the system. But all reports assume that this is the system, the system is untouchable and the only thing we can do is upgrade various factors of the system.

Click to Play vidoe on Youtube
Click to Play video on Youtube

I think it’s as if we took a 100 year old car and replaced its gear with a new automatic gear, and its engine with a new engine, or in rare cases, when there’s budget, with a totally new hybrid engine… but would it make it a new car?? Would this car run?

The change has to be total.

The whole system has to be different: Teachers should become learning enablers, guides, assistants. Kids should be encouraged to ask, question, discover and choose. Tests and grades should be abolished. Assessments could be accepted if their purpose is to guide the learners and help them, as a feedback system and evaluation of personal development and growth, and not as a ranking system . Some topics should be taught in classes that are formed on the basis of interest, and not on the basis of age. New subjects should be introduced as basic required knowledge. Those are not regular text book subjects but rather things like information farming, interpersonal skills on and off line, inventive thinking, entrepreneurship skills, self teaching skills. The learning environments should change. No more rows of students facing a teacher, but rather groups of students, working together, creating teams, learning the values of social learning, with the help of a teacher guiding through.

Technology alone can not and will not save our education system. Not in Israel nor any where in the world. It hasn’t done it before…

We should all recognize the fact that technology cannot be treated as a collection of tools anymore. It’s an environment. TV is here to stay. Mobile phones are spreading. The Internet is growing. Kids today cannot imagine a world with no web. Same as my generation cannot imagine living without telephones. Or my parents’ generation that cannot remember a time with no cinema.

So what’s next?

Even a total change has to begin with small steps. I’d start with creating more choices.

Look at this scene several times. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”, a movie from 1995, where she plays an ex-marine who becomes a high school teacher. In this scene she talks about choices. The choice to learn or not to learn. The choice to go to school or not. She claims that students who are in the classroom actually made a choice to be there. And yes, we sometimes choose what seems to be least damaging – not necessarily the best – option. “It may not be a choice you like, but it is a choice”, she says. I tend to agree. Sending my kids to school is a choice I make. I might be doing it only because I don’t like the other options – but it is still a choice.

Even though education until the age of 15 is mandatory in Israel, people are still permitted to home-school. Very few do. I chose to send my kids to school. When my daughter was disappointed with high school I told her that she is not obligated by law any more to go to school. If she rather complete her final exams out of school she is free to do so. But it was her choice to stay at school, excusing it with the social life, that is as important as contents, if not more.

So next action item is to create more options. To encourage diversity of schools and methods of teaching and learning. To take little steps out of the box titled “education system” and look for alternatives to methods which don’t work any more. The other corner stone to these new steps is to acknowledge and remember that what is a good system and can work for one person, won’t necessarily work for the other.

It’s time to realize this system can’t continue to send fresh teachers into scary classes of kids who aren’t willing to learn, and think this is the god given unchangeable education system. It is not only changeable, it has to change.

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Education Re-Form, For the Sake of the Future

After a couple of years of intense and on-going research into education world wide, trends, fashions, innovation, methods, approaches, doctrines, special education, unique education, religious education, private education, public education, with technology, without technology, with money or without – I need to put in writing just a few of my observations and conclusions, to date.

The future of education lies with the recognition of each student as a unique individual.

The acceptance of uniqueness and diversity is the key to a better future for all and greater success in education achievements.

Old news: Some kids are good in Math and lousy in literature. Some are great in Lit and lousy and Math. One kid can excel in Math and Lit, but he sucks in Physics and Art. There are kids who suck at all topics, but are social stars. There are those who excel at everything, but are still unhappy. Oh, there are so many types of kids, and yet there are no types – because every child is his own special one and an only package of can-do and can’t-do, of wants and non’s. Still the teachers get a classroom filled with many different kids. Usually the things that bind those kids together in one classroom is their age and sometimes where they live or the financial background of their families. That’s a very artificial binder. Look around your adulthood friends and make your own deductions.

So this classroom, turns into a class, a group of kids, now has to study fractions. Great. But while some kids get it in a blink, others may find it difficult, or maybe not difficult, but simply boring, so boring they can’t concentrate or get what the teacher is talking about. And at the end of the day they have homework or exams and behold, some kids get less then a perfect score. Fractioning this group titled a classroom into mini groups….

Greg Whitby, the Executive Director leading a system of approximately 80 Catholic schools in greater Western Sydney Australia, talks about uniformity Vs. diversity here:

One of my own eye openers is my youngest son. A second grader he told me that he loves to learn, but only when he chooses and what he chooses. While the professional educators around him criticize his independent thinking and work constantly to turn him into a uniformed student in his classroom, who does everything the same as the rest of the class, I am observing and here are my findings:

He hates his Arithmetic class and homework. It drives him nuts. Yet, when his father went abroad he produced an amazing shopping list – listing the prices of the toys, after he converted them from US dollars to Israeli Shekels. He can also Arithmetic percentage of time, to know exactly when his eggplants will be ready for harvesting on FarmVille.

How important is it, for a kid like that, to go through a methodical, framed, graded system of teaching him Arithmetic? To be honest – there is no simple answer. As we are in an education system – the education is systematic, automatic, and cannot be adjusted to individual persons. Or can it?

In an education system that is based solely on the transference of knowledge or information from a single teacher to a class of kids – there is indeed no room for recognition of the individual.

So, what’s the purpose of the education? Have we forgotten about it?

I think if a child knows how to calculate foreign exchange rates and percentage (on time!) – he is well beyond simple Arithmetic. So what’s the point of insisting on teaching him one booklet after the other of things he is way passed? Is the purpose of the education here is to transfer the specific books into the child, or is the purpose is that the student actually gets a knowledge in the particular subject and knows how to use it?

Well, neither is enough. The major declared goal of education has always been about preparing the young students to their adult life, to acquiring professions and making a living. Arithmetic was important to learn, and very methodically, in a time where trades men managed their own little businesses and they didn’t have computers or even calculators.

But what does today’s education system do to prepare today’s students to tomorrow’s professions? Those professions which have not yet been born? What did yesterday’s education system did to turn me into an internet communications specialist? Or a multi player online game designer? Or my neighbor to a genome researcher or my friend to a researcher of the structure and function of the ribosome? Answer: nothing. Those are individuals who are born with an important quality or two: curiosity and the ability to ask and to teach themselves.

Self teaching is indeed a quality some lucky people are born with, but eventually, all people are in need of this quality. The amounts of information are growing constantly. It is not possible to transfer all this knowledge to any individual. The diversity of occupation is increasing, allowing people to develop expertise in what really interests them. Turning some knowledge they acquired in school irrelevant.

Those who are afraid of the individualism of education often talk about the importance of wide education. But is it really necessary for a physicist to study how to analyze a poem? Or is it enough to assign reading assignments, to those who do not read enough on their own? And while you assign those books to read, how about some classic films? Classical music? Classical rock bands? Tours in various museums world wide and in archaeological sites around the world? If we are talking about expanding horizons let’s do it with pleasure – and not with pressure. Not every subject in school requires grading and marks.

And as individuals are encouraged to learn and expand their horizons let’s allow for one more thing to change in the classroom: let the kids express and teach – teach other kids, teach the teacher. Because only when the teacher becomes a learner, then he can become a learning enabler. A real 21st century educator.

Here Greg Whitby talks about the 21st century new teaching DNA:

School Sweat

3 kids at school. A new and promising school year. Some thoughts to start with.

Kid #1 will spend 38 hours at school, 5 days a week, an average of 7.6 hours per day, of those 8 breaks adding up to one hour recess time. She will be studying, if I am not mistaken, 12 or 13 topics. She goes on to study math in an afternoon program for additional 3.5 hours. She is 15 years old.

Kid #2 will spend 40 hours at school, spread on 6 days, of it an average of less than one hour per day recess time. He will be studying about 13 topics. He is 11 years old.

Kid #3 will spend 24 hours at school, spread on 6 days, with an average of 40 minutes recess time per day. He will study 8-9 topics. He is 7 years old.

Coming home from school they are pretty exhausted. So they eat, and rest, watch TV or play. They hope to squeeze in their afternoon time their choice of class – sports or arts, meeting with friends and playground time.

But they also have homework to prepare.

Kid #3 spends an average of 10-20 minutes, depending on how angry he is for the fact that he has to open his books at home.

The older kids spend anything between 20 minutes and 2 hours on their homework on a daily average.

Work Laws In Israel

In Israel the workers unions are very strong. There are very clear work laws, who relate to number of working hours per day and per week. Also specific rules exist for employing kids (ages 15 and up).

And the law specifies:

A work day will not be longer than 8 hours in a 45 hour working week (6 days) or more than 9 hours per day in a 43 hours working week (5 days). Kids can never be employed for more than 40 hours per week, and never longer than 9 hours per day. Kids under 16 can not be employed later than 20:00 unless with a special permission. In a 6 hour working day a teen is entitled to 45 minutes break, at least one break is of 30 minutes minimum.

School time is our kids’ working day. It’s what they do. Their occupation. If  I look at their week in light of the employment laws I can’t help wondering how much more can they bear.

My 15 year old spends 41 hours in the classroom and is required to spend an average of 10-20 additional hours on homework.

The 11 year old spends 40 hours in school, and I can understand his frustration when he is required to spend even 5 additional minutes on homework. He is only 11.

The 7 year old, a second grader, only 15 months ago spent most of his time playing at the nursery school. He is still shocked by the fact that most of his daytime is spent in a classroom, sitting at a desk. No need to describe what he feels about homework.

Last January a fifth grader from New York wrote an essay claiming homework is illegal slavery. His essay was published here and he got immense publicity such as this.

Still, homework seems here to stay in the crazy race to the top. Top of the class, best school, highest grades…

There are more topics taught today, so more class time is needed. Instead of using the growth of new topics to allow better personalization of learning by the students, there is less choice and schools are actually competing on giving more and more. Enrichment is a key word in the marketing of schools and if it’s not enough that we are drowning in a sea of information we are doing the same to the next generation, who find themselves skipping, skimming and unable to perform real research and exploration during their school years. We don’t use the accessibility of information to help fine-tune school experience and teach the kids to reach relevant information. We simply flood.

It’s a tough choice, really. Looking at my daughter’s list of school topics I see perhaps 3 or 4 she could do without. She wants to major in Physics, Chemistry  and biotechnology – so why does she need to do a final exam in literature or bible or grammar?

Obviously the repeated answer is that kids who graduate from school need to demonstrate a level of general knowledge and fine culture. But hey, how about leaving them some free time, so they can watch movies and read books and develop their taste and personal observation of culture, while actually enjoying it?

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