Soul Science

You are here

The still ave a desire to explore



Like other countries, Israel has its share of teenagers who have been expelled from school or have dropped out. Dr. Oved Kedem, of the Davidson Institute for Science Education at the Weizmann Institute of Science, refuses to turn his back on them: “If you’ve been disappointed by both your family and society you may not have the peace of mind to study Newton’s laws, but you may still have a natural curiosity and a desire to explore.” Kedem has devised an original program to advance these youths, who make up 7-10% of Israel’s teenagers. If it succeeds, the prototype might be applied in other countries as well.

Taking a hands-on approach to science, the program includes activities on such subjects as building and launching water missiles or the science of music. Its weekly 4-hour sessions are organized into consecutive 2-month-long workshops. At the end of each workshop, groups of students will present their own research projects.

Two counselors – from scientific and social work backgrounds – accompany each small group of teenagers. “When I introduced the idea to the social workers, I saw that some of them were tearful, while others were skeptical about the Weizmann Institute being able to interest these kids in science,” says Kedem. “So we tried out a session on them first.” The results were encouraging, though sad in a way: “The counselors, many of whom came from a background similar to that of the kids, were thrilled by the potential of the activities,” says Kedem, “but also asked, ‘Why wasn’t I taught science this way when I was in high school?’ ”

This strong response paved the way to the next stage of the project: About a hundred personal invitations to the opening session at the Davidson Institute were handed to teenagers by social workers in the cities of Rehovot, Ramle, Lod and Rishon Le-Zion. Of those, 60 attended. At the end of the day, 40 signed up for the program.

For over a month, the groups have been arriving at the Weizmann Institute’s Davidson Institute for Science Education to study the science of music through activities such as building microphones and loudspeakers, and sending sounds through light beams. Through these activities, the youngsters have become familiar with concepts such as waves, frequency and amplitude.

“Physics means something else here,” says one of the young participants. “It’s about how things work.” After presenting their research projects, the students will move on to the next 2-month-long workshop: “The Science of Toys.” Kedem hopes that eventually the spirit of a youth movement will develop, in the sense that the science activities group will also become a social support group for the teenagers.

“The kids are making great efforts to remain in the program and to make a good impression on us,” says Kedem. “There have hardly been any disciplinary problems – and any time one of the kids gets a little out of line, the others immediately try to calm him down. It is very impressive. Any outsider would most likely have no idea that these kids have had an extremely hard life.”

The goal of the program, says Kedem, isn’t to bring up the next generation of scientists and engineers, but to develop well functioning citizens. Of course, whoever shows scientific inclinations will be encouraged. The program derives its originality from viewing science education not necessarily as an end in itself but as a means to advance troubled youth in all aspects of life.