"We have been using it for five months, taking the students out of school to investigate the effects of a new by-pass in an interdisciplinary way, encompassing geography, civic studies and environmental studies," said Ms Benyamin, who among her duties at Rogozin High School in the Galilee heads the programme. "They can do everything using the one piece of equipment: take photos, record interviews, write notes. They conduct research and it's wonderful because their learning is no longer confined to the classroom and they accomplish so much."
The Hatter Prize is presented annually in a range of categories and is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary skills and commitment of staff at the schools working with World ORT in Israel.
Sir Maurice, who is World ORT Emeritus President, presented the awards personally for the first time at a ceremony at the Hilton Hotel, Tel Aviv where he was staying with his wife, Irene.
He was so moved by the stories of professional commitment that he gave $5,000 to the school of each winner. The actual prizes, which are given by World ORT in Sir Maurice’s honour, carry with them a maximum $2,000.
“All my life I’ve been fascinated by technology and it is clear to me that technology is fundamental to the development of a successful, modern society,” Sir Maurice said. “That is why I support World ORT and why I am delighted to meet the people who are doing so much to foster the use of technology in education and nurture an interest in the subject among young people. The future is in their hands.”
Ms Benyamin modestly sidestepped the praise for the quality and commitment of her contribution to Rogozin and instead recounted the benefits she, her colleagues and students have enjoyed as a result of World ORT's support over the past three years.
"We have experienced a change since World ORT has been supporting us. Computers are now integral to our work. And, of course, there has been an improvement in the quality of science and technology at the school. All the learning, all the evaluation of the processes in class, are better now thanks to World ORT."
The Assessment in your Palm programme is just one example of how World ORT has helped. There is also the new, high-tech electronics laboratory, the World ORT Teacher Empowerment Center (WOTEC) (a fully-equipped staff preparation facility), vouchers to help disadvantaged students meet basic social needs, and a programme to provide a laptop computer for every child.
"I have been a teacher for 20 years and these three years I can tell you I feel excited, I feel very good, because I'm learning, because it's an opportunity. And the children like to work with e-Scape and computers – it's wonderful. I couldn't have imagined 20 years ago what I would be doing with technology now. I was afraid of technology! But this technology is so user-friendly. I didn't think I could teach in a different way but I'm doing it. And next year will be even better because I will be better," Ms Benyamin said.
The Principal of Rogozin Junior High School, Lily Gabrieli, praised Ms Benyamin as a motivational teacher who created a flexible, interactive, challenging and enhancing learning environment for students.
"As Physics Coordinator, Simcha invests tremendous effort integrating the staff and training new teachers and is very active in new pedagogical initiatives such as international science day," Mr Gabrieli said.
Each school collaborating with World ORT has an Innovation Leader who encourages and facilitates the adoption of the goals of increased use of educational technology and interactive learning. This year's Hatter Prize for the best Innovation Leader went to Vera Daoud, a chemistry teacher at Abu Snan Comprehensive.
As Innovation Leader at the school, which serves a relatively poor Arab town in the Galilee, Ms Daoud has overseen World ORT's introduction of a modern Information Communications Laboratory and a WOTEC as well as the setting up of the highly successful MABAT programme, which encourages the study of science through technology, namely the design and construction of robots.
"Most importantly, she has succeeded in bringing teachers together to use Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) as standard," said the Director of Abu Snan's Senior High School, Sheridan Zianatti.
World ORT all but introduced Smart Classes, which comprise IWBs, laptops for students, wireless internet connectivity and other equipment, to Israel through its Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme. Their successful implementation has attracted Government support, expanding what is now called the World ORT Schulich Canada Smart Classroom Initiative into a NIS 100 million ($27.5 million) roll-out of 1,000 interactive classes to schools in peripheral communities.
The Hatter Prize for team work was awarded to Yehoshua Altman and Sami Asraf, who together teach Computer Aided Design at Megiddo Regional High School.
Riki Mizrahi won the Hatter Prize in the school administration category for her outstanding work as a lab technician and for developing teaching and learning materials at the Nesher Comprehensive High School. Among her achievements have been the preparation of learning units accompanying World ORT's Mada-Na mobile science museum, the writing of a booklet of experiments using the Nova 5000 digital data loggers introduced by World ORT, and the construction of three science-related websites.
Another winner in the school administration category was Haled Mashraga, who oversees the operation of three audio-visual rooms at the Kadoorie High School.
"If teachers don't have technical assistance when using this equipment its value won't be fully realized," Principal Hillel Hillman said. "In addition, the equipment must be serviced, catalogued and maintained. This could be a very drab position but Haled expanded his responsibilities above and beyond his job description. He has put in countless hours of work without remuneration, all on his own initiative."