The skill, knowledge and enthusiasm shown by the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students is a far cry from the situation four years ago when World ORT introduced MABAT: Learning Science through Technology to eight schools.
“Everyone wants to study technology now – I have to turn children away. Four years ago no-one knew anything about it,” said Shifman School’s science and technology teacher Iris Lisichki. “It’s a huge change, and not just in the school – everyone in the community knows what I’m doing with the students and they’re excited by what we’re doing. It gives me a lot of naches.”
Other schools have reported similarly impressive progress. At World ORT-affiliated Horfesh High School, for example, MABAT was initially offered as an option for top students. It quickly became so popular that the school had to expand the program and institute a new technology track. The whole academic atmosphere of the school changed as students worked furiously to improve their grades so that they could qualify for the course.
The MABAT program is designed to help young students to fully understand scientific principles and technological concepts through the interactive, practical, hands?on use of technological equipment and study programs – in particular the design, construction and programming of robots using special Lego kits.
And it’s not just the children who benefit: a critical part of the program is the provision of training to familiarize teachers with the principles, study materials, on-line tools and the physical/educational environment needed to teach technology studies at their schools.
“The training has been excellent. I have made huge advances thanks to Oded Reichsfeld and Adi Shmorak,” said Ms Lisichki.
Adi Shmorak is the Marketing Manager of Robotec Technologies, the company which supplies the robotics kits and sponsored last week’s open day, and Oded Reichsfeld is his former high school teacher whom he persuaded to design the MABAT curriculum.
“In Israel, technology education had become diminished and devalued; parents didn’t want their children to do it,” Mr Shmorak said. “But MABAT reverses this attitude completely: students not only want to do it, they are encouraged by their parents. World ORT, through Kadima Mada, is doing something which is empowering teachers and whole schools.”
His enthusiasm for the program goes far beyond mere business interests.
“I don’t consider myself much of a businessman; education is not something which is big business,” he said. “I am a graduate of a technological education and this kind of education is something I deeply believe in because it has a lot to offer in terms of personal development. Robotics is just a tool for children to manifest their problem solving skills and to sharpen them. This is the best thing you can offer students.”
He is a witness to MABAT’s extraordinary impact over just four years, in which time it has directly benefited more than 1,200 children. The rate of impact is set to increase with several World ORT-affiliated schools showing an interest in adopting MABAT through the new High Five program.
“It’s very exciting to see students who started with no knowledge or understanding and can now build amazing, cool robots. You see a lot of different solutions for any given problem. I get a lot of satisfaction from what I do – educating the people who are going to lead this country in the future.”
At the Shifman School open day, the MABAT students were put through their paces with three competitions: 7th grade students gave PowerPoint presentations on their work and quizzed on their understanding, while 8th graders demonstrated equipment they had made. The 9th graders competed in a soccer-style penalty shoot-out for which they had built robots to try to score and others to act as goalies.
“It was very difficult because they were not allowed to fit their robots with wheels,” said Shmuel Cohen, Pedagogical Co-ordinator at World ORT’s Kadima Mada program. “The children displayed wonderful imagination and used very different strategies to score, and prevent, goals.”
Not surprisingly, Misgav School, which has a history of world-beating entries in international robotics competitions, won two of the three contests; Shaked School’s 8th graders took the trophy for their contest.