Shira Soffer

PhD in Education
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dissertation Topic: Achievement goals, argumentation
and conceptual learning in science.

Shira completed her PhD in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.                                                                              
Her pioneering research examined how achievement goals affect conceptual learning of science in students invited to participate in dyadic argumentation. Argumentation plays a central role in the construction of knowledge and learning. By understanding how achievement goals affect collective argumentation, Shira's research provides important insights and ways of maximizing the conceptual gains and the learning processes via argumentative activities.
Shira is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the I-CORE program (The Israeli Centers for Research Excellence), in the Department of Education, Ben Gurion University.
She is also an academic advisor for learning processes in science teaching at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and adjunct lecturer at the Hebrew University.

Her educational vision is to improve learning and teaching processes via implementation of innovative learning methods.

A personal perspective:
"I was privileged to be an Azrieli Fellow from 2008 to 2011. The Program gave me much more than financial support.  It was an intellectual adventure for me, in which I had the honor to meet the brightest scientists in Israel and abroad. I was also privileged to give back to the community by volunteering in the Azrieli Foundation's Institute for Educational Empowerment. I am grateful to all the kind people working at the Foundation for their encouragement and constant support."

Soffer. S. & Kareev, Y. "The effects of problem content and scientific background on information search and the assessment and valuation of correlations". Memory and Cognition 39 (2011): 107-116.
Activity for youth at the Azrieli Institute of Empowerment in Akko – Focusing on encouraging argumentation, judgmental and dialectic thinking and raising the student's motivation

The vision which has lead me in this voluntary activity was the idea of attempting to implement the primary concepts of my research on a practical level,  with the teachers working at the Azrieli Institute. These concepts include the following: small learning groups - whose purpose is to encourage argumentation, as well as judgmental and dialectic thinking - raising the student's motivation through challenging assignments, methods for conducting class discussions in a way which enables the students a more thorough approach, and challenging themselves as well as their classmates with intriguing questions (for further deepening).

One of the school subjects, on  which it became a challenge for me to implement these concepts, was mathematics. Math is a subject in which students - mainly those who find it difficult - often take the approach of "avoiding failure". The first thing I did was to organize a training program for teachers in the town of Acre ("Akko"). There, using a pre-organized lesson plan I had developed, I presented the teachers with possible methods to implement the concepts of my doctoral thesis. Afterwards, alongside the teachers – who showed much enthusiasm - I developed specific lesson plans, which included some of the topics they teach in class as part of their required curriculum.. I also held a meeting with math teachers from Acre and together we developed lesson plans in different topics. For example, a lesson plan dealing with the Pythagorian theorem. At the beginning of the lesson, the students were not told what topic was being taught. They were asked to divide themselves into groups of four, and every student had to choose a different field of expertise (in this case: leader, geographer, cipher investigator or a mathematician). The focus of the learning process was inter-disciplinary, meaning - during the lesson the children study the subject through related aspects taken from the fields of geography and history. The students received a copy of an ancient Egyptian papyrus until gradually they discovered the Pythagorian theorem by themselves through learning the history of its discovery. The grade nine students said they enjoyed this unique way of learning, in which they also gained knowledge about the history of the Pythagorian theorem and the way it was discovered. However, they had trouble adapting to this teaching method, being so different from the traditional one. Later down the road I would like to try and implement the ideas and insights I got from my doctoral thesis in other study fields.

In the second part of my volunteer activity, I am currently in charge of a learning center in an elementary school where I assist students with difficulties in understanding and comprehension of various subjects by challenging them through conversation, raising critical and dialectic questions in the process.