Friday, February 19, 2010

Visiting Savyon School

I had the opportunity to visit Savyon School this week. Savyon is a residential neighborhood just east of Tel Aviv. Quiet, tree-lined streets led us (took Jay with me) to the school, one of the largest I have seen in Israel. OK, full disclosure, Savyon has been described as the "Beverly Hills" of Israel. After negotiating the usual school-gate security (the guard lets you talk to the office and the office buzzes you in), we found our way to Ruth Ben-Yishai, our host for the day. We observed a dynamic math lesson with Dana who began with an entertaining computer activity. After warm-up, Dana had kids working individually. Kids could choose to use manipulatives (more should have), or work the problems out in their math tablets. One thing that struck me was that the problems were presented and solved horizontally. I always thought it was more helpful for visual learners if problems were presented vertically to reinforce the concept of keeping like units together. Perhaps Israeli tests display horizontal problems? The third graders clearly enjoyed working on math problems and it was fun to observe their interactions with each other and their teacher.

After third grade, we observed sixth and eighth grade classes. Sixth graders purchase laptops, many of which are then decorated to match the personalities of their owners, through the school and are supposed to bring them everyday....but some forget power chargers, CD drives, etc. They then share with classmates. Rooms have been retrofitted with power and network cables. The effect of this added infrastructure is that furniture is locked in place (literally) Kids were extremely comfortable using laptops. We even had to kick them out of class during a break to enjoy the sun. After a brief introduction from Ruthy, kids went straight to work using HighLearn to get their assignment, complete it in pairs, and post it back to a forum. Yes, there was lots of time spent formatting the page, choosing colors, fonts, etc, but kids completed the assignments in the allotted time. In the eighth grade class, kids were learning about how mountains were formed. Again, they were adept at using the laptops. They closed them to listen to Ruthy, helped each other, rebooted when all else failed, and used HighLearn, sort of a version of BlackBoard, to access digital textbooks, Wikipedia, etc. Thanks to their laptops, kids could finish the assignment at home. Some kids chose Word to present information, others chose Powerpoint. Kids were empowered to make the choice on their own.

Talking with Ruthy afterwards raised some interesting questions. There are teachers in this 1:1 school who do not teach with the laptops the kids have. Why not? Too much uncompensated effort is required to either keep up with student work/create new lessons. 9th graders often move into high schools which are not 1:1. What happens to their skills/interest in school/learning? Mofet might consider sponsoring a study to follow kids who move from 1:1 schools to "traditional" ones. Lots of pictures and video can be found at the links below.....Savyon is clearly well-supported by its community, loved by its students, and a great place to teach....I can't wait to go back!
Savyon pictures
Savyon videos

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