A+ in digital science education
Weizmann system uses AI to personalize remote classroom learning
With schools shuttered due to COVID-19, teachers all over the world are taking a crash course in digital learning—online technologies that allow educators to manage classrooms remotely, while reaching and teaching individual students. The challenge is significant, but thanks to research and development projects pioneered at the Weizmann Institute of Science, some science teachers are well ahead of the curve.
Experts from the Department of Science Teaching are the creators of a learning technology platform called PeTeL (short for Personalized Teaching and Learning). Used in hundreds of science classrooms in Israel’s Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking educational sectors, PeTeL gathers real-time data from individual students about what they know and do not know, analyzes student performance using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, then offers students targeted follow-up assignments, in accordance with teacher-defined goals.
Designed to improve both teaching and learning in the traditional classroom, PeTeL has taken on new significance during the coronavirus crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, PeTeL has served as the main distance-learning platform for over 9,000 Israeli high school students who are preparing for high-level matriculation examinations in physics. An additional 2,000 chemistry students, and 1,000 biology students, benefit from the system.
With over 500 teachers using PeTeL to manage their virtual classrooms, some 50,000 entries of Israeli students were recorded in the PeTeL system during the month of March.
Launched in 2016 as a limited pilot involving a small number of science teachers, PeTeL is a dynamically growing community in which master teachers share their knowledge, and where professional development is part of the plan. Discipline specific online summits, as well as meetings targeting teachers working with specific age groups, attract hundreds of participants.
The Department of Science Teaching operates four National Teacher Centers—devoted to physics, chemistry, biology, and science and technology—where its experts have found creative solutions for keeping classroom teachers connected and informed during the coronavirus crisis. A recent online conference hosted 500 physics teachers via the ZOOM teleconferencing platform, and an additional 200 teachers who attended the proceedings using Facebook Live. In addition, the Department hosts over 60 online Communities, where teachers gather to strategize responses to classroom challenges. These resources provide support for instructors who seek to make the best use of remote learning technologies and better serve their students isolated at home.
The sudden need to adopt social distancing has put remote learning to the test. Thanks to round-the-clock dedication of the techno-pedagogical support staff at the Department of Science teaching, as well as new coronavirus-specific content created and uploaded by the Department’s academic researchers, the PeTeL system has passed this test with flying colors.
The PeTeL program is supported by Gideon Hamburger, the Henri Gutwirth Fund for Research, and the Eddie and Jules Trump Family Foundation.