The new iScience initiative
Q&A with Prof. Daniel Zajfman
Weizmann Institute of Science President Prof. Daniel Zajfman sits down with WeizmannDirect to talk about the Institute’s new initiative to enrich science education and literacy through modern technology, called iScience.
The program is run by the Weizmann Institute’s Davidson Institute of Science Education.
Q Why the ‘i’ in iScience?
A Just like the ‘i’ in iPhone is there to emphasize the personal nature of each cell phone, iScience aims to make science personal by making it more accessible to students, teachers, and the public. It’s all about giving people the tools to take ownership of their own science education. And the emphasis is on leveraging modern technology - the Internet, teleconferencing, and more - which are the tools we all use in our daily lives.
Q The Davidson Institute offers more than 70 programs for schoolchildren and teachers. What’s different about this?
A iScience builds on the expertise of the Davidson Institute, Israel’s leading nonprofit in advancing science education in schools and in the public - and takes it into the digital realm. The program has five components: iTeacher, which provides formal online professional development courses for teachers; iLab, a digital resource from which teachers can access high-quality material, especially videos, via the Internet; iScientist, which brings Weizmann Institute scientists, alumni, postdocs, and students ‘into’ the classroom via videoconferencing; and iStudent, which provides curricular and extra-curricular material for school students.
The fifth component, iPublic, will proactively seek media coverage of science news for the purpose of enhancing scientific literacy among the public - because in-school learning is just one piece of ensuring all of society has basic scientific knowledge. Given the rapid advances in technology, medical sciences, alternative energy and more, it is essential to be scientifically educated enough to make our own informed decisions that affect our lives.
Q It’s still early, but has the program been successful so far?
A We have run successful pilots in each of the areas. In iPublic, for instance, in the last year, the Davidson Institute has been cited 64 times on Israeli TV, compared to 16 times over the preceding two-year period. It has been cited 126 times in the last year on major news websites - more than five times as much as the previous two-year period. I can already see from the iScientist pilots that there will be great demand for that, and we have known for a long time that teachers are in need of a comprehensive, sophisticated database of information for their classrooms.
Q You have personally championed this program. Why?
A Because I deeply believe that as a leading scientific research institution, we have a role to play in nourishing the science education of the community - and the country - we live in. Science literacy isn’t just about teaching science in a classroom. It’s about science being just as much part of our lives as art or sports or culture. We’re not trying to turn everyone into a scientist, but we are saying that we must be literate. In the end, society thrives.
The iScience program is supported by Merle A. & Miriam Hinrich and Yehuda Bronicki