Junior High mathematics and science classes are large, students have varied knowledge and abilities, and the curriculum is packed and fast-paced. As a result, it is difficult for teachers to diagnose each individual student’s capabilities and difficulties in real-time and adapt teaching methods accordingly. A consequence of this is that many teachers teach to the ability of the average student, and cannot dedicate the necessary attention to students who excel, nor to those who are struggling. This is another reason why small numbers of students choose to study mathematics and the sciences at five-unit level. Despite many students’ high capability, their classroom learning experience means they are less likely to choose these subjects at the end of junior high, and for those who do, the dropout rate is high.In other professions such as medicine, law, and university teaching, this problem of ensuring individual attention is partly addressed by integrating paraprofessional assistance. Over the years there have been attempts to integrate teaching assistants into schools in Israel as well; several programs with external funding have brought university students, pensioners, volunteers and business employees into schools. These programs typically provide supplementary enrichment and opportunistic help, but none are intended to assist the teacher in teaching the class, and therefore their contribution is limited.
Following a thorough search for a suitable organization to develop a program which will integrate paraprofessional help for teachers of science and mathematics, the foundation approached Shiur Acher. Shiur Acher was founded in 2002 and operates a network of over 2,600 volunteers from 200 businesses and public organizations, who volunteer to teach enrichment courses in Israeli schools each year. Shiur Acher specializes in recruiting volunteers, placing them in schools, creating relationships with schools and businesses, and preserving long-term volunteer commitment. However, they lack experience in science education and in placing and supporting suitable volunteers to assist teachers in their curricular assignment. Therefore, in 2012 the foundation approved a planning grant to Shiur Acher to allow it to work together with the ORT school network in order to research successful examples of teaching assistants around the world, to define the role of the teaching assistant, and to start developing a training course and recruitment plan in Israel.
As a result of this learning and planning process, Shiur Acher are setting out to integrate volunteer teaching assistants into schools in order to support mathematics and science teachers in grades 9-12, by enabling them to dedicate time to individual students, or small groups. Teaching assistants from hi-tech and industry will volunteer once a week in schools, in coordination with the class teacher and in alignment with the curriculum. They will help the teacher give more individual attention to each student, ascertain different student abilities, adapt content and teaching methods to suit them, and follow their progress in real time, in order to expand the circle of students who choose to study advanced mathematics and sciences in high school.
The program will operate in cooperation with a number of educational organizations, including the ORT network, a large and experienced school operator, which specializes in science and technology education. These organizations will help integrate the teaching assistants into schools as part of the school’s pedagogical staff and will be responsible for the subject-based and pedagogical training of the volunteers. In its first three years the program will have up to 100 volunteers in 20 schools in order to assess and improve the operative model as needed. It is expected that the teaching assistants will help create a 20% rise in the number of students choosing a scientific matriculation track and a 15% decrease in dropout rates from these subjects. The program is expected to produce pedagogical and operative models which will be vital if it is to be replicated or scaled-up in the future.
* The text above shows the grant as approved by the Foundation’s Board of Directors / Grant 65