05 September 2008 Recognising and encouraging excellence The extraordinary skill and commitment that ORT teachers around the world bring to bear in educating thousands of children have been recognised with this years Beatrice Wand-Polak award. A short list of 10 outstanding educators from Israel, Brazil, the USA, the CIS and Ukraine has been assessed by the Beatrice Wand-Polak Fund committee which is formed by the President of ORT America and the Director General of World ORT. Cash prizes of up to $2,000 are given to those whom the committee decides have distinguished themselves in designing educational materials, developing new teaching methods and/or improving educational technology. But, as Leonid Ganapolski, Principal of the ORT Jewish School at Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine where award winner Tatyana Ivashkova teaches, says, the impact of the Wand-Polak prize goes way beyond its monetary value. The real value lies in the preparation, Mr Ganapolski said. We organise forums where teachers meet and share their experiences. As they prepare for the competition they focus on their work which leads to a healthy self-evaluation. And by sharing experiences they learn from each other new ideas and techniques which they may then adapt to their own environment. This results in the adoption of the best practice. Ms Ivashkova has been teaching mathematics and calculus at Dnepropetrovsk for four years during which time more and more of her students have been winning local and regional prizes in these subjects. A great innovator, she is the author of 17 sets of instructional booklets including Project-based Learning: Theory and Practice and Pyramids and Regular Polygons in the 11th grade. Last year she won ORT CISs Teacher of the Year competition, impressing an international jury with the grasp of psychology, pedagogy, methodology and educational technology she displayed during an ICT-based lesson for 6th graders. Marina Bukharkina, Senior Expert in Research and Development at ORT Russia, said the main goal of such competitions and awards was to provide teachers with an opportunity to develop professionally. Such events are a stimulus to strive for excellence, Ms Bukharkina said. And the contenders for this award are truly excellent. Tatyana, for example, is an inspiration to her colleagues and her winning this award has generated a lot of excitement at her school. Her accomplishments are all the more remarkable because she is only 28. Two of the four nominees from Israel have received awards: Danny Ovadiah, a physics teacher at Misgav High School, and Yocheved Mikhailshvili, a chemistry teacher and laboratory technician at Shifman High School in Tirat HaCarmel. This is not the first time that Mr Ovadiahs excellence as a teacher has been recognised during his 20-year career: he has been repeatedly voted the best teacher by students at the ORT Braude College of Engineering, where he works with tertiary students, and by high school teachers whom he trains at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. Sometimes these awards involve a little money but the money is not the issue, Mr Ovadiah said. I and my colleagues teach physics for the love of it thats the main thing. However, awards such as this are recognition and I am honoured to receive it. Its nice to feel appreciated. In addition to overseeing science and technology teaching at Misgav, Mr Ovadiah has written four physics text books which are used throughout Israel and designed the exhibits at Misgavs science park which demonstrate various scientific and mechanical principles and attract children and even other teachers from across the country. He is also the director of the lottery-funded Eshkol Payis science, technology and arts facility at Misgav. The other Israeli winner, Yocheved Mikhailshvili, was nominated by Ruth Goren, the World ORT Innovation Leader at Shifman High School principally for the scores of workbooks that she has prepared to help students conduct science experiments and other class work. Yocheved has given us a higher level of teaching, Ms Goren said. And shes always learning more and more, going on courses, so she ends up teaching her colleagues. Everything new we get, shes the first to study it and show other teachers how to use it. And the books that shes prepared are particularly useful because they exactly meet our needs. The award is a particularly welcome recognition for Ms Mikhailshvili, who made aliyah from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 1991, leaving behind a career in advanced scientific research. It is this research background which inspired her to prepare the workbooks. When you have completed research you publish what you have done, she said. These booklets are like making small publications. I like to study and to teach others and I wanted to contribute my knowledge to the children and when I looked at the text books I started to think about how I could make them better visually and informationally. Ms Mikhailshvili is collecting students comments in order to revise and improve the workbooks. And she plans to team up with other teachers to prepare teaching programmes for the Nova 5000 data loggers which World ORT has supplied to the school as part of Kadima Madas programme to modernise science teaching. I feel this award is thanks for the work that I have done over the years; its a great recognition, she said. Mr Ovadiah said World ORTs support for his school through Kadima Mada including the upgrading of the science laboratory with data loggers and optical systems, the provision of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and installation of a fully equipped teachers centre (WOTEC World ORT Teachers Empowerment Centre) had made a great impact. The new equipment has stimulated the learning environment, he said. Teachers see that there are new ways to improve standards and they are working on it. Teamwork has improved as teachers of each subject sit together and discuss how best to use the new technology. And closer learning relationships have been created between teachers and students: the children love the new technology and sometimes learn how to use it more quickly than the teachers and so help the teachers in class. Mr Ganapolski in Dnepropetrovsk was also grateful for the positive effect of World ORTs support for his school. This support helps to attract teachers because of the opportunities there are to participate in seminars, contests and other projects, he said. Being part of the World ORT family also gives access to information resources and gives us a much higher technological levels than other schools, which is especially important in attracting younger teachers. The Beatrice Wand-Polak Award Fund was established by former Director of ORT Latin America Bernard Wand-Polak in memory of his wife, who was at one time President of the Chicago Region of Womens American ORT (now part of ORT America). The fund aims to recognise teachers within the ORT system who have been instrumental in improving ORTs educational programme.