I would have to say that it
was the light in her eyes, reflecting her burning desire to want to understand,
that changed my life so radically and has brought me to this place today. Yonat
came into my "c-level" mathematics class at a time when I was
contemplating leaving the teaching profession altogether. Years of unappreciated
sacrifice, coupled with ridiculously low wages, had all but choked out what was
left of the idealism that I had started with fifteen years earlier. Of course
she would tell you a completely different story, of a teacher who believed in
her enough to help her overcome nine years of being labeled a "special
learning student"; but then, this is my version of her story.
Yonat had been thoroughly tested by a battery of experts at her
kibbutz in Israel. The verdict, handed down by this jury of educators, was that
she did not have the mental capability to understand abstract mathematical
concepts. Of course that had to be the answer, because she had no problem in her
other subject areas, and had not yet achieved a passing grade in math since the
first grade. Summoned to a special conference concerning Yonat, I was told to
stop giving her false hope. She was a c-level, ninth grade student who would
never be able to take Israel's matriculation exam at the end of the eleventh
grade. This exam, called the "bagrut", is similar to the advanced
placement calculus exam given in the United States. It is a very tough,
three-hour examination, which determines whether a student graduates or only
receives a "certificate of completion" from high school. The stigma of
not passing the bagrut exam then haunts the student throughout his or her
mandatory years of military service after high school, and beyond.
We applied for and miraculously received a thousand dollar grant
from our school to purchase ten copies of a new software program that been
created by Dr. Joseph Dalin, called MathematiX. Without getting into too many
technicalities, this software transformed the learning functions for these
students, and suddenly math became a visual language.
trigonometric functions, differential and integral calculus became easily
comprehensible to Yonat and to her class, because they could view the subject
manipulate the parameters and zoom in on specific areas on each graph.
The Hula Valley Regional High School, where I taught, had recently purchased an elaborate
computer class network with twenty new computers. We literally begged
for every hour we could be allowed to work in that room.
Technology was a big key, but it was the change in heart and attitude, which
ultimately made the difference. We quickly learned how to enjoy learning.
Over the next three years, each student was required to maintain an
80 average to continue the following year. Students were allowed to talk to each
other quietly in class, but only about math. Students who didn't comprehend as
quickly were encouraged to work together with those who did. After so many years
of teaching, I had stopped requiring kids to sit still, be quiet and stop
learning. Our third year together as a group was the most exciting. I could
leave the classroom anytime and return without worry, finding everyone still
working diligently at the problems assigned. The students handled occasional
disciplinary problems themselves, with Yonat leading the tongue lashing at the
instigators of these disruptions. The students' parents and other teachers began
witnessing a transformation in many other areas of these students' lives. Their
enthusiasm and hype was contagious, and soon spread to other c-level classes in
At the end of the secondary school, sixteen of the original eighteen members of Yonat's class passed the bagrut examination. As
expected by all of us, Yonat had attained the highest grade.
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