Paradigm Shift: Catching Up with Creative Teachers

I have been writing about change recently, and how change is needed in the science curriculum, and the pedagogy that we use to help students learn science.  Indeed, I’ve suggested we suspend high-risk testing until we can show that this type of assessment model tells us what students know, and how well teachers are teaching.  Right now we don’t know.

But we do know that there is a need for change in our approach to curriculum and to teaching.  The change that is needed is to catch up with the work of creative teachers.

Years ago, I was serving as a member of Rachel Michel’s dissertation committee for her work on her doctoral degree in science education at LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia.  Her work focused on environmental education and how it was influenced and informed by the concepts of environmentalism.  In her study she did an analysis of environmental science curriculum that compared and contrasted two very different approaches or paradigms.  

Paradigm one might be summarized as education about the environment.  Paradigm two is summarized as education for the environment.  The chart below compares the two paradigms.

Paradigm One: Education about the Environment

Paradigm Two: Education for the Environment

• Reproductive curriculum

• Predominately an emphasis on the sciences

• Employment of “traditional” teaching methods (lecture, recall, worksheets)

• Emphasis on cognitive skills

• Operates within the existing hierarchical, subject specific school organization

• Reconstructive curriculum

• Predominately an emphasis on social science

• Advocation of student-centered approach with emphasis on inquiry and problem solving.

• Emphasis on awareness, values, and attitudes as well as skills and knowledge. Advocation of practical action in the environment.

• Interdisciplinary approach

Paradigm one is what characterizes science teaching and curriculum in today’s schools.  Indeed, high-stakes tests that have been developed and are used to assess students learning have been constructed based on this model.  Here the traditional model, based on established science, is the dominant model used in just about every country in the world.  

However, within the context of schooling, there have been alternative models of teaching and curriculum that have existed alongside the traditional model, but because of political and social forces, these alternatives played minor roles in the overall picture of {science} teaching.  The alternative paradigm described by Michel summarizes the characteristics of paradigms that offer alternatives to the dominant paradigm.

Glen Aikenhead characterizes paradigm two in Michel’s analysis as “humanistic science,” and is the approach that we underscore in this Weblog, and in The Art of Teaching Science.  Aikenhead’s model is a student-centered model; it would replace the traditional, mechanized science curriculum with one that is innovative and flexible.  Two science curriculum examples come to mind as reflecting Aikenhead’s approach and Michel’s paradigm two.  They are:

The Global Lab Program:

Global lab was one of the first programs to utilize the Internet to support inquiry-based learning.
Global lab was one of the first programs to utilize the Internet to support inquiry-based learning.

Developed at TERC and now continued at the Concord Consortium.  Global Lab is now being re-introduced in Russia.  Global Lab is an online laboratory for students around the globe who want to perform shared investigations.  It is a workplace for those who are curious about how real science is undertaken, who enjoy investigating the world around them, and want to participate in experiments with students and teachers in different cultures.  Teachers will find resources at this site that they can use to experiment with their own students, and see an example of a humanistic science curriculum. 

The Global Thinking Project:

The GTP curriculum was published as Environmental Science on the Net
The GTP curriculum was published as Environmental Science on the Net

The GTP was based on a humanistic-constructivist model of teaching and was seen as a “hands across the globe” science education project.  The paradigm provided opportunities for students and teachers  to participate in environmental study and to use new technology tools with peers across the globe.  Developed in partnership with researchers at Georgia State University and Agnes Scott College, and teachers in Georgia with researchers and teachers in Russia, the GTP expanded to include educators and students from Australia, Czech Republic, Spain, and many other countries.

Creative teachers around the world have been involved in a paradigm shift, and have led the way in developing innovative and flexible curriculum examples, and implementing new pedagogies that are student-centered, and call for a humanistic approach to teaching science.

Science Curriculum—A Global Perspective

In this post I want to announce a new website entitled: Science Curriculum—A Global Perspective.

In the last two posts I alluded to science teaching from a global perspective.  In the first of these two posts, entitled Infusing Global Thinking into science teaching, I discussed some examples of how educators have developed programs that infuse global thinking into science, in particular the Global Lab program, which is being revitalized in Russia and the Global Thinking Project, which engaged thousands of students during the period 1991 – 2002.  In the second post, which announced a science education conference in Istanbul, I introduced to readers of this weblog, DR. M. Fatih Tasar, professor of science education at Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.  In my introduction of Dr. Tasar, I explained that he authored an essay on Science Education in Turkey which was published in The Art of Teaching Science: Inquiry and Innovation in Middle School and High School.  I also mentioned that there were six additional essays written by various authors on science education from Australia, Chile, China, Ghana, Japan, and Russia.

Science education is a worldwide community of teachers and researchers, and is an active force in the socio-political, educational and economic dynamics of most countries.  Researchers have documented that science education reform is a worldwide trend, and have identified several forces that have impacted these improvement efforts. Reform has been influenced by: constructivist views on learning, cross-national studies of student learning, globalization, and advances in science, technology and information technology.  Social constructivism, perhaps more than any other construct, has influenced the development and design of curriculum experiences in most countries over the past several decades.

I have developed a website that includes the original compelling essays written by seven science educators about science teaching in their own nation.  The website includes science education in:

  • Australia by Roger Cross
  • Chile by Claudia Rose
  • China by Ronald Price
  • Ghana by Charles Hutchison
  • Japan by Shigehiko Tsukahara
  • Russia by Sergei Tolstikov
  • Turkey by M. Fatih Tasar

I hope you you will visit the new site and explore science education as seen through the lenses of these outstanding educators.  I’ve added photos, videos, maps, and links to help you delve further into science education in these countries.

Infusing Global ‘Thinking’ into Science Teaching

Some 15 years ago I met Boris Berenfeld, a scientist and researcher working at TERC (he is now a principal researcher at the Concord Consortium) on the Global Lab project, which was developed during the time I was working with colleagues in the US and Russia on the Global Thinking Project (GTP).   Berenfeld was a physicst who emigrated from the Soviet Union to Massachusetts, and was one of the principal researchers on TERC’s Global Lab.  In 1993, The Global Thinking Project sponsored a three-day conference for middle and high school students from Georgia (USA), Russia and Australia at the Simpsonwood Conference Center in Norcross, Georgia.  The keynote speaker for the students (and their teachers) at the conference was Dr. Boris Berenfeld.  He talked about the importance of global envirnomental projects, but one thing I remember him saying about the GTP was the word “thinking.”  He liked the fact that we used the word “thinking” in the GTP.

Berenfeld, being a constructivist science educator, indicated it was the word “thinking” that was significant to him in the title of our project, and he talked how important it was to help students learn to think and construct their own ideas.  Not only was it important to engage students in global awareness, as he was doing in the Global Lab project, and we were doing in the GTP, but that underlying this global thrust was the importance of thinking from the standpoint of social constructivist theory.

Global thinking is one of the four perspectives that we used in The Art of Teaching Science to explain the notion of “science for all,” (the other three perspectives: multicultural , gender, and the exceptional student.  To us, global thinking involves helping students develop perspective consciousness (appreciating difference in people in other cultures), planetary awareness (coming to terms with important issues, planetary in nature), systemic awareness (understanding how systems work, and being engaged in global reaching projects) and thinking and acting as a citizen-scientist (being able to integrate science with public decision-making.

Infusing global thinking into science teaching is crucial in today’s environment, especially if we are to attain the goal of “science for all.”

There are many ways of infusing this kind of thinking into science teaching.  Surely, engaging students in global projects such as GLOBE (, or participating in projects developed and hosted by IEARN ( One project at IEARN is (OF)2 YouthCalculator developed as part of a project
“Our Footprints, Our Future.”  Students can measure and reduce their carbon footprint as a part of a global community.

Follow the link to the YouthCalculator to measure and reduce your cabon footprint.  You'll also find a link to an adult calculator.
Follow the link to the YouthCalculator to measure and reduce your cabon footprint. You'll also find a link to an adult calculator.

Some teachers regularly involve their students in discussions and debates of issues related to the content of their courses that have global, social and environmental implications.  A powerful site to find case students for your students is the Case Studies in Science at the State University of New York at Buffalo.   Another very good resource is the International Debate Education Association where you can search for topics in many science-related and global thinking domains.

Social Networking and Science Teaching

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web had a dream for the web and he put it this way: “When I proposed the Web in 1989, the driving force I had in mind was communication through shared knowledge, and the driving market for it was collaboration among people at work and at home.” Berners-Lee’s dream of the Web was to link people mind to mind, and it’s a powerful mantra for how the Web could be used in the classroom. Berners-Lee established the platform for Internet based social networking.

In recent years social networking has spread so rapidly on the Internet that the applications and Websites that have emerged have been subsumed by the term Web 2.0. The term does suggest a new version of the World Wide Web, yet there has not been any technical or fundamental change to the Web. It’s really the involvement of developers and users that have revamped the web.

Wikis, blogs and Websites such as You Tube, eBay, and Amazon underscore how social networking has rapidly involved millions of people in a variety of activities on the Web.

Science teachers have been at the forefront of using the Web as a social networking platform. Indeed some projects actually go back into the 1980s well before Berners-Lee invented the WWW. In those days, we used e-mail and electronic bulletin boards as the Internet technologies to form communities of practice among science learners and their teachers. These early projects not only formed communities among schools in the USA, but had a global reach connecting schools on all of the continents. One science project that led the way in this regard was TERC’s Global Lab; another was GSU’s Global Thinking Project. And there were many others.

In these projects students investigated real phenomena at the local level (air quality near their school, quality of water in a nearby stream), and used email and bulletin boards to share and discuss findings and conclusions. Over time, these projects made use of the rapid advance of the WWW, and developed Websites that enabled students around the world to post data, share ideas, and download the results of other students’ research.

Information and communication technologies that have emerged in recent years provide teachers and students the tools to create, collect, store, and use new knowledge and information. This has created the tools needed for the establishment of social networking which involves students in collaborative work in which they create and distribute knowledge, and benefit from the work of others in their social network.

You might find it very worthwhile to visit a blog of a teacher who embodies and has put into practice the networking capabilities of the Web in a way that is a powerful model for other teachers. Two projects that you will find very interesting are the Flat Classroom Project and the Horizon 2008 Project.

In this teacher’s classroom, students are involved in global projects, and make use of tools such as wikis, and blogs. Here is a YouTube production created by some of the Cool Cat Teacher’s students.

It’s Getting Hotter in Atlanta

Well, hot temperatures are arriving in the Atlanta area; but its been hot in Texas. What’s the fuss. It’s summer. Well last year, 2005, was the hottest year during a period of temperature measurements from 1860 to today. These measurements include combined annual land, air and sea surface temperatures. Take a look at the graph below.


High temperature records were set in Reno, Nevada (10 days >100 degrees F; Las Vegas, one day >117 degrees F; Tucson, AZ (39 days)>100 degrees F, and list goes on in the U.S. and around the world.

One of the issues that makes statements of global warming controversial is that people simply say that these high temperatures are just part of a larger cycle, where temperatures go up, and go down. That’s true. But when we look at the big picture with data, we see that the trend, since we started putting lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (around the beginning of the industrial revolution), temperatures around the world began to take off and rise.

There are several projects that have helped students learn how to monitor the environment and share data with students in other parts of the world. Historically, the Global Lab, the Global Thinking Project, and EnviroNet have done this. Currently, The Globe Program involves thousands of schools around the world in collecting data, not only on temperature, but many other variables as well including cloud cover, water vapor, air pressure, relative humidity, precipitation. The project also involves students in hydrology, soil and land cover/biology. In my experience working with middle and secondary school students with their teachers, especially in the U.S., Russia, and Spain, their dedication and involvement in collaborative environmental projects was amazing. They took the work they were doing seriously, and felt as if they were involved in important work. It’s that same level of dedication, and involvement that is needed to deal seriously with global warming.