The classrooms that Adam Jerozolim visits each week don’t have neat rows of desks and chairs. There are no teachers standing at the front.
Instead, he said, they each “look like a mad scientist’s lab”: computer chips everywhere; a mass of light bulbs, Legos and circuit boards strewn about. The students are huddled around tables, staring into laptops, as they discuss their latest creations. The teachers move around, coaching them and answering questions.
They are all participating in a new program run by the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, designed to adapt Israel’s highly successful model of high school engineering education to Jewish schools in the United States. While President Obama and others have decried the slippage of American students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math — STEM for short — it is rare to find a full-fledged engineering classroom outside higher education.
Begun in 2011, the two-year program currently operates in 27 schools, in areas ranging from California to North Carolina. Jerozolim, a professional engineer who once designed hydraulic systems for nuclear submarines, serves as a mentor to teachers in 12 schools in the New York City area that participate in the program.
“We’re definitely ahead of the curve,” he told the Forward in a telephone interview. “We’re a full-fledged, 100% STEM integration.”
The approach is practically unheard of in the United States, where advanced placement courses in STEM are just beginning at the high school level. Engineering — the “E” part of the acronym — often gets short shrift.
Discussing engineering, a 2009 report by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council said that “few people even think of it as a K–12 subject.” The report called engineering “almost invisible” in schools. That is changing slowly. The College Board is exploring an advanced placement engineering course; also, pre-collegiate engineering programs, like Project Lead the Way’s Pathway to Engineering and Engineering is Elementary, have grown in recent years.
The advantage of the CIJE-Tech Engineering and Bio-medical Technology program is that it builds on one of Israel’s most successful educational experiments. CIJE’s program is adapted and licensed from the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network, also known as ORT Israel. Founded in 1949, shortly after Israel’s founding, Sci-Tech is the largest nongovernmental school system in the country, enrolling one out of every 10 high school students and producing the largest number of practical engineers in Israel.
The CIJE program contains scant traditional front-of-the room teaching. Instead, classes revolve around solving practical problems that students work on in teams. As such, the program reflects a growing movement in education to reflect a world where the knowledge that teachers and textbooks once transmitted is now instantly accessible by smartphone.
“I don’t think I teach anymore, so much as coach,” said Danny Aviv, a teacher at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, in Hartsdale, N.Y. “I teach rudimentary concepts in programming, electronics and physics, and then say to students, ‘Let’s think of an idea and do it.’”