Israel's Math Initiative


After a decade of very troubling decline in Israel, the negative trajectory is now changing course as many more high school students choose to major in mathematics and physics. This is a result of tremendous efforts by teachers and students, due to policy and resources by government, and support from many relevant players in civic society, the research community, the business sector, and many others.

For many teachers this effort involves a transformational change of both practice and perception. They now need to turn their eyes away from the blackboard, from teaching the textbook or the mathematical concept, to teaching the students, understanding their thinking and addressing their difficulties.

A couple of days ago we had met with a group of 50 excellent mathematics teachers from across the country. On the one hand, they said, they are accustomed to identifying the most capable students, and allowing,  practically encouraging the others to drop down. The indicator for success is measured against a very high level of final grades. On the other hand, as educators, committed to every student, they feel more than ever before the deep duty to support as many of their students.

Soon enough several teachers raised to the podium and declared that, although very difficult, they are actually succeeding with almost all of their students, without compromising pace and depth of teaching and learning. So we all asked them how are you able to do that?

They pointed to the same similar components:

Professional learning communities of teachers that are now widespread across the country, becoming an intimate environment in which they jointly develop practice based on evidence from classrooms;

Understanding student thinking by using various techniques , such as diagnostics assessments and and research on typical errors and misconceptions;

Vital importance of individual response and feedback to every students; and

Backing and support from the education system and the public.

I believe, I think we all believe here , that a smart use of classroom based video, could also be an important element in addressing this need of teachers. Not only because it allows bringing learning and practice of teachers closer to each other, which is very important; and not only because it allows to open the classroom door and to turn teaching to become more public and less discreet, which is important as well; but mostly because it may assist the teachers develop their student-centered practice, which is now so crucial for the whole endeavor.

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I salute Abraham and Ronnie, and the Adasha, Video-LM project, the flagship enterprise of harnessing classroom based videos for math teachers in Israel. I congratulate the Weizmann Institute for playing a pivotal role in nurturing math and science teaching in Israel for so many years, and for recently developing the PLCs, the diagnostics, and the video components that now needs to integrate and intertwine. And finally to thank our guests who arrived especially for this occasion to help us learn and improve.

opening remarks at the third international conference on the use of classroom-based videos for professional development of mathematics teachers, The Weizmann Institute of Science, June 1st, 2016.

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