Tuesday, February 2, 2016

4 Reasons A Regional #STEM Lab Is Key - #VibeEdu @VibeIsrael Lessons Learned

This is just one in a series of ongoing posts on the educational innovations in Israel. You can see additional coverage here

Whether we call it STEM, (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math), STEAM (add Art), or STREAM
(add reading or research), countries across the globe are doing their best to develop students who are prepared to pursue careers and studies in the areas of Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math. Despite these efforts, few are accomplishing their goals. Efforts include creating STEM schools, AP classes, and virtual classes for schools where there are not enough students or qualified teachers for a class.  

What if there was a way to give students with the most interest and potential state-of-the-art opportunities with leading scientists and equipment in actual science labs?

In Israel, there is. It’s called HEMDA.

HEMDA is a regional center for science education that serves high school students in all of Tel Aviv. The HEMDA building ensures that all studies take place under lab conditions in industry-standard labs, with every single classroom a multipurpose space. This enables students to conduct experiments and use computers and teachers have access to the innovative and qualitative teaching strategies and methods.
Tehila Ben-Gai, Director of HEMDA explains the resource center.
Materials are stored in a central space and an be wheeled to classrooms on the periphery as needed.  
Students who show promise and interest in STEM education apply to participate in the program. Those who are selected spend two days a week (the other days are at their regular school) at the center surrounded by peers who share their interests. They are guided by teachers, most who are PhDs with experience and success as practicing scientists in the areas of chemistry, physics, engineering, and computational science.

As one of five bloggers invited to be a part of Vibe Israel's #VibeEdu tour, I spoke with Tehila Ben-Gai, Director of the HEMDA - Science Education Center. She explained that a regional center strategy provides four distinct advantages of alternatives.

  1. Most Qualified STEM Educators
    One center means you can attract the best educators in the area of STEM from all over the country and even internationally because they are compelled to work together in one space to collaborate and develop the best strategies for teaching, researching, and learning.
  2. State-of-the-Art Technology
    When there is one state-of-the art location, all energies and monies can be pooled in one location and proper updates and maintenance of technology can occur. It becomes a hub that can be visited and showcased with the best there is to offer students.
  3. Complete Autonomy
    With one location and a Director of the Center at the helm, the school has complete autonomy to educate students in the way that is not bogged down with school politics, school curriculum, etc. All the students still sit for the test required for matriculation, but the what and how they are taught is determined by leading scientists and educators that work at or with the Center.
  4. Professional Learning Network
    Every teacher and student has the opportunity to work with and among the best in the city. They are all brought together for two full days per week and spend four years learning and growing together. At the end of this time, they have developed a powerful learning network that will benefit them for life.  

HEMDA does not only serve students. Their doors are opened to the public, who are invited to evening programs as part of the “Science Culture at HEMDA” project. As shared in their program overview, the Science-Culture Project at HEMDA offers the public the opportunity to increase its involvement in contemporary scientific issues, which will intensify scientific discourse around the family table throughout the community, and create an atmosphere in the homes that encourage science studies. Parents, siblings and other relatives who have made the Science Culture evenings an integral part of their cultural activities have guided more students to become interested in science and perhaps even to select science as their major study track. The project name “Science Culture at HEMDA” was chosen to represent the idea that science is culture, in the same way as are films, concerts and theatre.

The concept behind the HEMDA science center does not end there. Tel Aviv has centers for students who choose other areas of focus such as The Arts. Imagine a city. A city with centers housing the best facilities and staff for student’s with an aptitude and love of various areas of study. Each becoming not only a shining examples of teaching and learning, but also, a center for the community to gather and learn? Is this possible in your city or district? If it was, what could this mean for your students, teachers, and community?

Interested in learning more about Vibe Israel’s #VibeEdu Tour? Check out the tour site here or follow their work at:

Photo credit: Amit Shemesh - www.amitshemesh.com

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