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Learning Together: Chapter III - Programs for the Gifted,  Talented & Very Able

Identifying and nurturing talent potential is the focus of many efforts in the United States. Both Israel and the United States have numerous school-centered programs. The programs described below differ in that they are outside the normal school structures — a residential high school for gifted and talented students, after-school programs designed to identify and nurture talent potential among disadvantaged students, involvement of specialists and material resources from communities, use of programs for able children as a strategy for community-building, a school for gifted Russian immigrants and the design of computer programs for stimulating academic growth. Each of these has possibilities for improving the opportunities America provides for its able students.


Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA)


Raphi Amram, Director
The Society for Excellence through Education
Kiryat Yovel
P.O. Box 9603
Jerusalem 91096, Israel
Tel. (02) 755111/755100, Fax. (02) 423686


To create a unique educational environment for the nurture of exceptional talent potential in science, mathematics, music and the graphic arts.

To nourish cognitive, affective, social and creative excellence.

To learn about curriculum, teaching, creating a learning environment and other elements of nurturing excellence.

Target Population:

Youth from the entire State who have shown exceptional talent potential.

Program and Activities:

The Israel Arts and Science Academy is a unique three-year residential high school (grades 10-12) for students gifted in the arts, science and mathematics, or both. The Academy selects students from all over Israel and provides them with a general education consistent with their unusual abilities, nurtures their unique talent potentials and cultivates their values and commitment to serving Israeli society.

The force that motivated the creation of IASA was the belief that if Israel is to survive, she must encourage youth to achieve excellence in their areas of talent potential and as human beings by nurturing a deep moral, social and civic community.

In June 1994, the Academy had 182 students from 70 Israeli communities and included, among others, 28 Russian immigrants, 14 Arab-Israelis, and youths from kibbutzim and moshavim. The student body has been described as a "majority of minorities," one that is completely diverse with respect to ethnic background, socioeconomic class and religious commitment (Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze). This diversity reflects the Academy's success in identifying talent potential in Israel's multicultural population and provides for living and learning in a microcosm of that diverse society.

IASA opened in September 1990 after five years of intensive planning both in Israel and abroad. Since there are other secondary schools and other program for the gifted in Israel, the planning began with conceptualizing what goals and objectives a residential high school might achieve in nurturing giftedness and talent that go beyond or differ from those of a day school. Unquestionably, a residential school makes possible the creation of a "total learning community." Moreover, the mix of youngsters in the arts, science and mathematics, from diverse cultures and backgrounds in a "residential 24-hour setting," opens learning opportunities not otherwise possible.

There are four elements that comprise the IASA program:

1. First-class education in specific fields of talent. This element aims at nurturing students to become extraordinary performers and/or producers of ideas in their chosen field of specialization.

2. General core studies and interdisciplinary studies. This element aims at broadening the cultural perspectives of students and enhancing mutual sensitivity and appreciation between science students and art students by providing ample opportunities for cross-fertilization across these disciplines.

3. Opportunities to serve the community. This element pertains to the relationships between the students, the school and the community. It is designed to enhance a sense of responsibility and commitment to the community. In addition, the community provides a laboratory and resources for out-of-school enrichment.

4. Nurturing of values. This element emphasizes a general humanistic orientation and commitment to Israel and to the Jewish people.

The staff and curriculum development are ongoing and perceived as major commitments for all staff members. There are three kinds of "teachers" at the Academy: (1) a cadre of full-time teachers for the core disciplines, (2) a cadre of guides/counselors with prime responsibility for the residential and informal components of the program and (3) a cadre of part-time instructors who are specialists in their fields, usually performers, producers, university professors or doctoral students, some of whom teach only a few hours per week.

Guiding the design of the program is the concept that learning opportunities exist round-the-clock. Every student, even residents of Jerusalem, must live on campus in one the four dormitory buildings. Developing the best possible atmosphere for the students to grow academically, creatively, emotionally and socially is a function of the dormitory program. Living away from home leads students to develop different relationships with their families and friends at home and establishing new friends and relationships at the Academy. Dormitory life means new freedoms and new constraints, new governance patterns and social interaction — all of which have inherent learning possibilities.

On Saturday nights, there is usually an activity for the entire student body initiated by one class or another. In addition to student recitals and presentations, there are lectures and recitals by outside performers and experts, readings and dramatic performances, videos, debates, etc. A balance is sought between organized, structured group activities and opportunities for more leisure-type, unstructured time. Students are encouraged and enabled to take advantage of the rich cultural life of Jerusalem — its theaters, concerts, films, lectures, exhibitions and conferences.

Seminars and other activities are also aimed at establishing and implementing a code of behavior — teaching students to respect each other, to value the property and resources of the school, and to involve themselves in the issues confronting society as well as that of the school. Sometimes, these very bright and talented youth seem to be self-centered and individualistic, academic competition becomes heated and other personal and social problems arise. This is recognized and is dealt with by counselors with individuals and groups.

The "Knowing Israel" program provides trips to biblical and archeological sites, nature preserves and historical sites tied to Israel's nationhood, as well as particularly interesting neighborhoods and centers in and around Jerusalem. As Israel's capital, Jerusalem contains government and other official buildings that students visit.

All Israeli secondary students are required to take the bagrut, the national secondary school achievement tests. The Ministry of Education makes it possible, however, to substitute alternative curricular procedures for the tests. The Academy has taken full advantage of these available options, based on the belief that its students need a different curriculum, not simply an accelerated curriculum. A major ongoing effort has been focused on designing curricula in each discipline that are appropriate for the gifted student population. When the alternative curriculum, which includes procedures for evaluation, is approved by the Ministry of Education it can then be implemented. In some curricular areas, it is also possible to substitute a supervised research project for the bagrut test.

There is a Curriculum Development Unit that does unusually creative work with computer software and multi-media programs, much of the programming being done by the students. Some examples of the CDU's production include: Nitsan, a unit designed to improve self-expression and reading comprehension; software for Listening Comprehension for Music Students and a multimedia program titled Sumaria and Acadia. Seven of the 1994 graduates worked in the CDU and transferred their knowledge and expertise to 12 new CDU participants. Using new math software with graphics, through tutoring, practice and problem solving, students can improve their math skills exponentially.

Another thrust has focused on the interdisciplinary aspects of curriculum — experiences aimed at broadening the perspectives and enhancing the mutual understandings between the science and arts students. The Academy does not provide watered-down science courses for its arts students or low-level "appreciation courses" for science students. Rather, its curricular efforts focus on providing opportunities for high-level interdisciplinary experiences that bring out the basic, integral relationships of science and arts in non-contrived ways. In addition, the Humanities curriculum provides opportunities for intensive study and discussion of important moral, ethical and aesthetic issues.


The Discovery Program


Raphi Amram, Director
The Society for Excellence through Education
Kiryat Yovel
P.O. Box 9603
Jerusalem 91096, Israel
Tel. (02) 755111/755100, Fax. (02) 423686


To create enriched environments in disadvantaged communities that will provide opportunities for the discovery and nurturing of talent potential that otherwise might not surface.

To identify and nurture educationally students from disadvantaged communities who have potential for giftedness and leadership but have not had the cultural or educational advantages needed to develop their abilities.

To make the striving for excellence a goal of local educational systems.

To increase the pool of applicants for the Israel Arts and Science Academy.

Target Population:

Seventh, eighth and ninth graders in schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods who have indicated that they might have above-average talent potential.

Program and Activities:

Initiated in 1988 by the Israel Arts and Science Academy, a three-year residential high school for Israeli gifted and talented youth, the Discovery Program provides opportunities to discover potential among students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in programs for the gifted, and for students to discover their own potential talents. Operating initially in nine communities, by 1993-1994, the Discovery Program was functioning in 26 communities — Jewish, Arab-Christian, Druze and Bedouin.

The Discovery Program is based on the concept that highly able children are to be found in each segment of society, and in every community, but that the conditions and facilities available for disadvantaged youngsters to satisfy their educational needs often do not meet the challenge presented by their innate abilities. Disadvantaged children share the natural curiosity that leads others of their age group in more advantaged surroundings to involve themselves in activities such as science clubs, music studies and visual arts lessons. Some very able children from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot get support from their parents, their schools or their communities for answers to their questions about science and technology, the arts or lifestyles. The Discovery Program was initiated to provide some answers to this problem of underdevelopment of talent potential.

In each of the communities, highly able seventh graders are identified by teachers and principals using criteria developed during the first years of the project — teacher nominations, standardized test data, academic performance, or other relevant evidence concerning the child's performance. Those seventh graders invited to participate continue through the eighth and ninth grades at which time they may compete for admission to the Academy on the same basis as other students. By making a concentrated effort at the local level, using local teachers with the guidance and supervision of outside experts, the community itself learns to identify youngsters who excel and to take pride in their development.

The Discovery Program takes place in the afternoons in informal groups of no more than 12-16 students. This format enables considerable discussion, investigation and hands-on experience in the laboratory or studio.

Students participate in three types of activities throughout the school year:

— Two weekly one-and-a-half hours sessions — one on mathematic thinking skills and the second dealing with a variety of subjects in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and technology.

— Five to seven special activities in art and music throughout the school year.

— Two full-day activities that include visits to museums, art exhibits, concerts, etc. These field trips are usually conducted with Discovery Program participants from other communities to add an important social dimension and to make a clear statement of unity of purpose.

The activities are selected because they are neither commonly accessible to youngsters in disadvantaged communities nor do the home or community regularly provide them. The activities include meetings with artists, writers and musicians; creativity workshops; theater and cinema performances; and inter-community gatherings designed to expose youngsters to other cultures prevalent in Israel.

In all activities, the underlying strategy is to develop the ability to think in the field being studied and to develop a way of approaching the subject rather than simply giving more information. All activities are aimed at teaching the participants to learn how to learn. In a world of changing knowledge, it is more important to develop such abilities as creative and inventive thinking than to simply pass on information.

With respect to the science curriculum, the Israel Arts and Science Academy and the Youth Division of the Weizmann Institute developed a series of courses that explain and demonstrate important scientific principles through the use of very simple and inexpensive means. This stimulates hands-on experimentation in any community or setting while obviating the need for costly laboratories.

The classes are taught by local teachers who receive guidance, in-service training and continuous supervision from "national experts." Combined with the fact that classes take place in the home community, teaching by local teachers provides an important psychological advantage for all the participants — children, teachers and community. It brings home the conviction that they can, through their own efforts, in their own surroundings, move forward, expand their knowledge and develop their talents in accordance with their personal hopes, desires and needs.


Young Persons’ Institute for
the Promotion of Excellence and Creativity


Dr. Erika Landau
Tel Aviv University, Technical College
P.O.B. 17074
Tel Aviv 61170, Israel
Tel: (03) 427014, (03) 415776


To provide educational enrichment opportunities that augment the regular school program. The aim is to provide a framework within which the child learns to enjoy the personal search for knowledge.

Target Population:

Gifted children between the ages of 5 and 15.

Program and Activities:

About 2600 gifted children participate in each semester in 180 after-school courses in the exact and life sciences, the humanities and social sciences and the arts. Children come from all levels of the Jewish and Arab population and are referred to the Institute by psychological services, teachers or parents.

The Institute program uses an enrichment approach, providing afternoon classes designed to augment the regular school program with experiences of special interest to the individual. During the morning hours, children are with their chronological peers; in the afternoon, the children are with their intellectual peers at the Institute. Children are challenged intellectually by being provided with an enriched environment in which he/she has a wide choice of subjects at a level commensurate with his talent potential. The Institute tries to unlock both the manifest and latent talent potential by providing opportunities for children to discover and develop their capabilities.

The courses are intended to stimulate children to think and to create, to actualize their need for belonging and acceptance, to quench their thirst for knowledge and its applications and to involve them in the problems of society so they will formulate an individual, personal value system. The Institute gives particular attention to nurturing a creative attitude.

In addition to its activity on the Tel Aviv University Campus, the Institute deals with about 800 children each year from disadvantaged environments in the Tel Aviv area. From among the children selected as being gifted relative to their environment, the Institute discovers and develops some 35-40 young people each year with outstanding talent potential judged by general standards. Without this special program, it is highly unlikely that many of these youngsters would have realized their talent potential and some, out of frustration, may have even directed their potential in negative ways. The Institute's credo is: "Children, if not encouraged and channeled toward constructive values may use their intelligence for destructive-delinquent goals."

Most of the teachers are lecturers or assistants at Tel Aviv University or the Academy of Art. They work in accordance with the principles set forth by an Advisory Committee and meet regularly to discuss pupils and teaching methods. Psychologists follow the student development and assist with problems encountered.

During the summer holidays, the Institute sponsors a "Creative Activity Month" during which children work in the fields of arts and sciences through educational games, constructions and discussions. They visit various research institutes, meet scientists doing their research. Symposia are organized to study problems faced by Israeli society — e.g., Israel-Arab relations, pollution, etc.

During school holidays in-service training is provided teachers on the nature of giftedness and creativity and how to identify and nurture it in their regular classrooms. About six workshops are provided each year for parents, aimed at helping them understand and support their gifted children. Lectures and seminars on creativity and giftedness are provided for educational psychologists and counselors. Counseling is also provided for gifted children, their parents and their teachers, who are not enrolled in the Institute program.

The Institute is supported by a sliding scale of fees and contributions.


AMUTA Jerusalem School of Physics and Mathematics


Dr. Nina Lapina
Jerusalem, Israel
Tel. (02) 231311


To help gifted children-repatriates (i.e., immigrants from the former Soviet Union) adjust to the Israeli system of education and, at the same time, to enable teachers from Russia to use their unique knowledge, skills and experience.

Target Population:

High school age immigrants from Russia who have been identified as gifted in mathematics and science. Eventually, it will include children from 4 to 18.

Program and Activities:

A large number of experts with unusual experience in teaching mathematics, natural sciences and technology at the specialized schools of the former Soviet Union are now available to introduce and adapt their skills and insights to Israeli schools. The Jerusalem School for Physics and Mathematics builds on the unique experiences of these teachers.

The "morning department" of the school is organized on the basis of joint teaching by Hebrew speaking teachers of "host schools" and Russian speaking teachers at the School for Mathematics. Subjects connected with the culture and history of Israel are taught in Hebrew by the teachers of host schools, while technical and natural disciplines are taught by Russian-speaking teachers with the presentation of all the necessary corresponding Hebrew terms. This approach allows students who are not yet fluent in Hebrew to comprehend the technical material as they learn the new language.

The school's curriculum is based on modern concepts that consider the development of creative abilities to be of primary importance compared with the acquisition of concrete knowledge and skills. Methods used in the school are based on the ideas of such scientists as Vygotsky, Brunner, Feuerstein and others. Sets of tasks have been specifically developed for mathematics, physics and biology.

Students are provided complex tasks that challenge them to work out scientific concepts by themselves. Younger students participate in quasi-experimental activity while older children

are involved in real research work in cooperation with university researchers. There is a large component of independent work. In addition to compulsory school tasks, each student is required to solve about 100-150 additional complex tasks and take 3 to 5 tests per term. The course of studies in mathematics, physics and technology corresponds to the highest levels of Israeli schools.

Teachers provide many examples of interdisciplinary links, as well as the practical and theoretical value of the material being studied. They constantly make connections with the history of science and the general cultural background.

The program aims at confronting the personal problems encountered by Russian children as they are absorbed into Israeli society. By providing a combination of study in their native language and the normal conditions of an Israeli school, it aims at building self-esteem, confidence and motivation.

It differs from the more usual practice of organizing "Russian classes" in high schools in that the aim is not only to overcome problems of insufficient language knowledge but at creating a unified system for the integration of these children and youth into Israeli society. The project includes students of all age groups, thus helping younger children avoid psychological trauma.

A next stage of the development is aimed at bringing together gifted children — repatriates and sabrim (native-born Israelis) — in common activity such as joint lessons and laboratory studies, olympiads, special games and projects in which the intellectual commonalities are more important than prior experiences. The aim is to incorporate newcomers into Israeli society and reduce the danger of future alienation.


A Fostering Program of “Doctoral Students for Math”


Gad Abecassis
Education and Welfare Services Division
Ministry of Education and Culture
2 Devora Hanevia Street
Jerusalem 91191, Israel
Tel. (02) 293770, Fax. (02) 293775


To build leadership in math among youth in development towns and suburbs who excel in their high school studies by accelerating them toward their university studies in the sciences and mathematics.

Target Population:

Students tested at the end of seventh grade who have scored high on a special examination that tests mathematical thinking and basic skills.

Program and Activities:

During grades 8-10 studies take place under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University in special centers located in areas such as Netanya, Ramlah and Ashkelon. Thirty meetings take place annually, each three hours in duration. The curriculum provides for mathematical enrichment and instruction toward the math matriculation examination.

The program provides several routes: (a) Matriculation examination at the end of the tenth grade and continuation of studies at Bar-Ilan University; (b) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue studying math with the matriculation in mathematics determined by the marks received in the two core courses at the university — "Linear Algebra" and "Infinitismal Arithmetic"; (c) admission to Bar-Ilan University to continue study in math with the matriculation exam coming during the 11th or 12th grade or (d) return to school to take the math matriculation exam at the end of the 11th year and continuing studies at Bar-Ilan in the 12th year.

"Infinitismal Arithmetic" is a one-year course made up of four hours of lecture and two hours of drill weekly. Between 11th and 12th grades, students may participate in a special concentrated four hours daily, five-week course, an "Introduction to Grouping Theory and Analysis." This course is the equivalent of a full-year's work. Students can then complete the baccalaureate degree in mathematics as a primary subject (24 annual hours of lecturing and 10 hours of drilling), meeting all the requirements in two years and, in some instances, even less time.