A Story of Global Inquiry in Action

Eighth Article in the Series, Artistry in Teaching

In this article I am going talk about a project that grew out of personal and professional relationships among teachers from different countries.  Through reciprocal exchanges among educators in U.S. (most of whom where from schools in Georgia) and Russia (most of whom were from Moscow, Pushchino and St. Petersburg) a project emerged from the ground up to creation of the Global Thinking Project, a project steeped in inquiry and humanistic education.

Fran Macy, Director of the first AHP-Soviet Exchange Project delegation in September 1983 standing in front of the Russian train, The Tolstoy.
Fran Macy, Director of the first AHP-Soviet Exchange Project delegation in September 1983 standing in front of the Russian train, The Tolstoy.

Thirty years ago, a Russian train left Helsinki for Moscow carrying psychologists and educators from North America who were participants in the first citizen diplomacy project sponsored by the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP).

That train trip was the start of a 20-year Track-II  Diplomacy Project (coined by Joseph Montville–non-officials engaging in dialog to resolve conflicts and solve problems), and evolved into a global teacher and student environmental activist project that brought together hundreds of teachers and students not only from the United States and the former Soviet Union, but colleagues and students in many other countries including Australia, the Czech Republic, and Spain.

The 1983 train trip changed my life, and the lives of countless science and social science teachers, school principals, researchers, students (ages 12 – 18) and their parents in several countries.

Citizen Science and Youth Activism

At the center of this environmental project was the idea that citizens from different countries could work together to solve problems by being open to using inquiry and humanistic thinking.  Dr. Jenny Springer, principal of Dunwoody High School, in DeKalb County, Georgia was clear about how this could happen in a speech at the Simpsonwood Conference Center, in Norcross, Georgia.
The conference was an environmental summit for teachers and students in the Georgia-Russia Student Exchange program.  Dr. Springer said:

We must be scholars and activists. It is simply not enough to be scientists–that is to measure and calculate, but rather we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to causes–to be activists who are willing to commit to environmental and humanitarian issues.

Teachers getting wet to learn how to involve their students in social-action projects.
Teachers getting wet to learn how to involve their students in social-action projects at a small stream in SW DeKalb County, Georgia

Citizen diplomacy, citizen science, and youth activism are not new ideas, but the forces that shape contemporary education around the globe are based on issues related to work and economics.  In our capitalist system, conservative and neoliberal policies are making it more and more difficult for educators to create environments that foster the kind of inquiry and freedom needed to engage in activist projects. Put to the side in the words of Henry Giroux (2011), “are questions of justice, social freedom, and the capacity for democratic agency, action, and change as well as the related issues of power.”

During the period of 1983 – 2002, a project rooted in citizen science, youth activism, and global collaboration emerged and developed into the Global Thinking Project (GTP), a kind of hands-across-the-globe program.  It became an environmental education program based on “education for the environment,” a model that embodies the principles of Deep Ecology (library copy).

Deep Ecology, coined by Arne Naess, is a deeper approach to the study of nature exemplified in the work of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson (Devall and Sessions 1985). In this sense, teachers encourage their students to engage in projects that help them experience the connections between themselves and nature as well as advocating a holistic approach to looking at environmental topics.

Engaging students in ways that enable them to take actions and experience environmental science as education for the environment (Michel, 1996) is what Aikenhead (2006) define as humanistic science.  This definition of humanistic science was the core of the approach to teaching science that was discussed and argued among American and Russian science teachers.

The Global Thinking project was a citizen diplomacy project that integrated citizen science, Eco justice and activism, involving hundreds of teachers, researchers and students who believed it was important to work together with people in other cultures to try to take action on important environmental questions that are both local and global.

The Lessons Seen Around the World

Visiting schools is a common practice when foreigners want to learn about a nation’s schools.  But what would happen if instead of observing teachers and students, foreigners taught lessons in science, social studies, and ecology to students in schools they were visiting?
American teachers began demonstration teaching in School 710, Moscow, a school with about 800 students from pre-school through high school.

It made all the difference in the world.  Who would have guessed?

We had visited School 710 the previous year, and at that time, an agreement was reached with the teachers and school’s head, Mr. Vadim Zhudov, that the demonstrations would:

  • Establish classroom environments where students would learn through inquiry;
  • Enable students to explore science topics in earth science and physical science;
  • Create learning situations where students would work in collaborative and cooperative learning teams

We didn’t realize how significant it was for us to teach lessons in School 710.  Those that taught lessons were naturally nervous and hoped that things would go well.  Each room was packed with observers, teachers, the Director, and researchers.  The lessons involved hands on activities and demonstrations, and small group discussion, artwork, and a take home packet of materials and a booklet in Russian for the students to share with their parents.

Our goal in these demonstration lessons was to present an approach to teaching that involved inquiry, cooperative learning and hands-on experiences to create dialogue among American and Russian teachers.  In this case, we wanted the students to take part actively in learning, a practice that was not common in Russian schools (or in American schools, for that matter).

Over the next 15 years, there were many exchanges of teachers and students, and it became tradition to have teachers conduct lessons in schools they were visiting and working with in the Global Thinking Project. Many Russian teachers taught in schools in Metro-Atanta, the Walker County School District and schools in the Savannah region of the state.

Teaching in each other’s schools was one of the most important aspects of our exchanges.  By doing this we were willing to be vulnerable not only with our adult colleagues, but it opened our collaboration to students, as well.  This personalized our work.

It also built trust.  Trust that lead to a collaborative venture of designing and implementing inquiry-based environmental lessons and projects.

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Dr. Galina Manke and a student from School 710, Moscow
Dr. Galina Manke and a student from School 710, Moscow



The GTP fostered an inquiry approach to learning by involving students in problems in their own communities, and extended inquiry to include dialog using email, bulletin boards, and videoconferences—thanks to Dr. Wayne Robinson.  In each project, students were asked to wonder and to ask questions that were relevant to environmental issues and problems in their own communities.  The GTP focused on helping students to become capable citizen scientists, or in the words Dr. Galina Manke, biology teacher at School 710 and researcher at the Russian Academy of Education:

The ideals of humanistic psychology and education were put into practice by involving teachers and students in the development of the curriculum.  The context of the GTP was dialogue among teachers, students and researchers.  Although the project began with the exchanges of teachers, administrators, and researchers, by 1992, student exchanges had begun, and during 1995 – 1998, more than 300 students and more than 75 teachers were involved in exchanges between U.S. and Russian schools.

Fostering inquiry among students and teachers in different countries lead to a problem.  How could we engage kids in distant classrooms with each other?  Today, there is an easy answer: The Internet.

But in 1990?  What’s a group of teachers to do?

Using the Internet to Foster Collaboration

In 1990, the Internet, as we know it today, was primitive.  The World Wide Web in its present configuration did not exist.  But even more so, none of the schools in Russia were connected to the Internet.  Even worse, the only phone lines we could find in Russian schools were in the Director’s (Principal) office, often times more than 1000 feet from the science classrooms.
Our vision was to somehow set up a telecommunications network among the ten schools that were in the project by 1990 (5 American and 5 Russian).  With a telecommunications network we could link schools, and use communication technologies (e-mail and bulletin boards, we also experimented with freeze frame television, and later video conferencing).  But in 1990, we still had no computers, modems or printers on the Russian side.
Our view was that a telecom network would enable students to collaborate with each other.  They could ask questions.  They could tell stories about themselves.  They could share information, indeed they could share “data” that they had acquired through their own inquiries.
The teachers in the project had strong beliefs about the role of collaborative and cooperative learning.  The GTP curriculum (a series on environmental project-based units) was organized in such a way that teams of students in each class worked together to solve problems, and then shared their collective data with students in classes in other schools, and in other countries.
But still, we had no computers in Russia.  How would we get computers in their schools?  Here’s how we did it.
We took six of these Apple SE 20 Macintosh computers and installed them in five Russian schools.  Remember the floppy disc?  How about a HD of 20 MB!
Remember the floppy disc? How about an HD of 20 MB!

Phil Gang and I went to the local Apple Computer office (in Atlanta for us), and were accompanied by five Russian colleagues who were with a larger delegation of Russian educators, and explain to Apple executives that we had developed this “global” project, but we didn’t have computers in the any of the schools in Russia.  We asked if they could help.  They gave us six Macintosh SE 20 computers and printers!  But we also needed modems.  We made a phone call to the Hayes Micromodem Company in Norcross, GA, and told them the same story.  They gave us six very high-speed modems (2400 baud).  We were all set with the technology we needed to connect all the schools.

Two months later, ten Americans flew to Moscow with the computers, printers and modems in tow, and then set up the technology in five Russian schools (2 in Moscow and 3 in St. Petersburg).
At each school, Gary Lieber  (an engineer from Apple who accompanied us throughout Russia) set up the technology that would enable teachers and students to logon to a network to send email using AppleLink, as well as post and read messages on bulletin boards we set up in the Apple Global Education network.  Each computer and modem had to be programmed to connect with a service in Moscow, which connected to an interface in Western Europe and then to the U.S. through standard telephone lines.  Amazingly, we got the system to work in every school in Russia (only blowing out one printer, e.g 220), and by the end of the two-week trip in December 1989 we had established the first Global Thinking Project Network.
The Global Thinking Project first telecommunications network using networks in the Soviet Union, Western Europe and the U.S.  AppleLink accounts were set up on each Macintosh SE20 in the Soviet Union.  American schools were able to provide their own computers.  By December 1989, the GTP network was running.

When the GTP began, we only had e-mail and bulletin boards to communicate with each other.  Over the next ten years we incorporated new technologies to include video conferencing, an interactive website, and software to enable students to post and retrieve data.

Over time, the GTP project, with no funding, expanded to other countries including Australia, Czech Republic, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Japan, Canada, and others.

Online Projects Begin at Home

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 4.08.13 PMThe Global Thinking Project curriculum was organized into eight online project-based experiences designed for elementary through secondary schools.  The instructional materials are based on learning through inquiry and make use of cooperative learning as the core learning strategy.  The original GTP curriculum was published in English, Russian, Catalan, and Czech.

Three inquiry-based projects that are included here to give you an idea about the nature and instructional design of the GTP curriculum projects.  You are welcome to make use of the projects in any way you wish.  When you visit any one of the websites for these projects, you will find all the activities, as well as online forms to give you an idea how these activities work.

In these projects, students study a problem locally, and then use the Internet to share results with others.  The projects are online, and can be used by teachers and citizens around the world.
  • Project Green Classroom invites students to assess the environment of your classroom by examining and monitoring a variety of indoor parameters.
  • In Project Ozone, your students monitor ground-level ozone at your school, their home, or other designated sites.  They observe and make measurements of related variables such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed.
  • In Project River Watch, you and your students investigate the quality of the water in a local river, stream or body of water.

But what makes these projects interesting is that you can post your data on fillable webpages linked to the projects so that your data can be shared with others around the world.  You can also click on a link in each project to reach all the data, and download the data into Microsoft Excel, or other similar programs for data analysis.

Inquiry in the Service of Social Action

The three projects included here are examples of using an inquiry approach to teaching in service of involving students in action taking on science-related social issues.  We worked with students and teachers for nearly two decades engaging them in global thinking with face-to-face collaboration and online communication using a primitive Internet.

Today there are some  projects that use the same philosophy in which the Internet is used to foster inquiry and action-taking on the part of K-12 students.  Here are two projects that I highly recommend.

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Flat Classroom

The Flat Classroom Project was developed by teachers Vicki Davis, and Julie Lindsay.  The Flat Classroom supports and encourages global collaboration.  Davis and Lindsay are cutting edge educators who use Internet-based technologies to inspire global collaboration among teachers and students. Check it out.


iEarn is one of the most accomplished Internet systems promoting social action projects by bringing together schools around the world to work together on a wide range of teacher inspired projects which value communication among teachers and students. I think its worth visiting the iearn website.

There are many stories of inquiry-based Internet projects that have been developed by teachers.   What story would you like to share?



Inspiration in the Rockies


The Rocky Mountains as seen from the YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado, August 19, 2012

This is a view from the YMCA of the Rockies, which I first visited in August, 1975 to attend my first conference of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP). Since then I’ve been here about 15 times.

But it was my attendance at the (AHP) conference that changed my outlook as a teacher at Georgia State University.

Continue reading “Inspiration in the Rockies”

Holistic Teaching: Integrating ideas of Vernadsky & Lovelock into science teaching

The opening sentence in John Miller’s book, The Holistic Curriculum is that holistic education attempts to bring education into alignment with the fundamental realities of nature. Nature at its core is holistic,interrelated and dynamic. As such we have much to learn about curriculum from environmental education, and the science-technology-society (STS) movement (each developed In previous posts.

The essence of Vernadsky’s concept of the biosphere, and Lovelock’s Gaia theory reflect Miller’s construct.

However, curriculum, for the most part, has been broken into fragmented pieces, even within a single discipline, such as our own field of science. The National Science Education Standards reflect this compartmentalization of content (as shown below). Although in the text of the Standards, the authors emphasize that science should be taught by using an inquiry approach, the overriding outcome is the empahsis on discrete, non-contextual, standards, divided into these categories:

  • Unifying concepts and processes in science.
  • Science as inquiry
  • Physical science.
  • Life science.
  • Earth and space science.
  • Science and technology.
  • Science in personal and social perspectives.
  • History and nature of science.

I want to explore here the notion of holistic curriculum and teaching as an implication of the theory of the biosphere as developed by Vernadsky in Russia, and the Gaia theory by Lovelock in England, and Margulis in the USA.

My own experience in applying holistic ideas of Gaia, the biosphere, and curriculum came together in the development of the Global Thinking Project (GTP). We developed cross-cultural and holistic curriculum materials that focused on global thinking. Our strategy was to get students involved in real-world problems and to work together collaboratively within their own classrooms, and using the Internet, with schools in other cultures. The holistic ideas of Vernadsky and Lovelock were integrated into the GTP philosophy.

Both Vernadsky’s biosphere, and Lovelock/Margulis’ Gaia imply interrelationships, symbiosis, synthesis, a system, if you will. To apply these ideas to science teaching means designing lessons that help students think in wholes, to see and develop relationships among concepts and ideas, and involve and connect students to real problems and issues.

In the GTP, we traced the historical roots of global thinking to Albert Einstein’s statement shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “everything has changed save our mode of thinking.” Although he didn’t say it directly, Einstein knew that humanity would have to learn to think in wholes. He knew that hardly anthing is independent and freestanding; rather virtually everything is part of some larger system. This would require a new mode of thinking.

And there were others who invoked the same message. Andrei Sarkharov, the Soviet physicist, advised his government that atmospheric testing of nucelar weapons must be suspended if humanity were to sustain itself in the “nuclear age.” At the same time, Rachel Carson warned all citizens that a year may come when appears a “silent spring.” Her book described the interconnections in the biosphere, and the deadly effects of some chemical sprays on the pyramid of life. earthAnd then there was the photograph of Earth taken by astronauts on their way to moon when they looked back at the “blue planet” and saw at once that the Earth was whole, and a new perspective in thinking was needed—global thinking.

The Global Thinking Project, which was an active project from 1990 – 2002, developed a web-assisted global communication and collaboration program enabling elementary, middle and high school students to pursue environmental studies that focused on problems facing communities around the world. The GTP was organized around seven “Projects” including: Project Hello, Project Green Classroom, Project Clean Air, Project Solid Waste, Project Water Watch, Project Soil, and Project Earth Month.

In the activity shown in this image, American and Russian students work together to explain visually how the biosphere works.  Using photographs, and arrows, they had to create a web of ideas.
In the activity shown in this image, American and Russian students work together to explain visually how the biosphere works. Using photographs, and arrows, they had to create a web of ideas.

In Project Hello of the GTP curriculum, one of the first activities that students were engaged in was “Earth as a Living System.” This activity introduced the concept that the Earth can be viewed as a living organism (Gaia theory), with the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and heliosphere interacting to form a functioning whole. We went on to say that changes that affect any one of these subsystems (temperature of the atmosphere, for example) necessarily affect them all. Click on this link for the full details on the activity, and the materials you need to carry it out with your students.

I’ll explore holistic teaching in the coming days, and also make more connections to Vernadsky’s theory of the biosphere, and Lovelock’s Theory of Gaia.


Jack Hassard & Julie Weisberg. Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project. 1999. Good Year Books

Nir Orion. A Holistic Approach for Science Education for All. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology, 2007, 3(2), 111-118

John Miller. The Holistic Curriculum. University of Toronto Press, 2007

Track II Diplomacy and Science Teaching

In yesterday’s post, I used the phrase “track II diplomacy” when I was reporting an interview with Dr. Peter Agre, the new president of the AAAS. It turns out that Dr. Agre agrees with a group of American scientists who wish to talk with North Korean scientists, in a sort of “informal diplomacy,” discussion, and perhaps future collaboration.

In this form of communication, “non-officials” (educators, teachers, musicians, scientists) enter into discussion and talks, or simply a sharing of expertise. A good example track II diplomacy is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing in Seoul in February, 2008.

In 1983, I was part of a group of educators and psychologists that traveled “unofficially” to the Soviet Union as members of the AHP Soviet Exchange Project. It was my introduction to “track II diplomacy,” and the leader of this group, who became one of my inspirational teachers, was Fran Macy, at the time the Director of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Fran Macy, who passed away on January 20, 2009, was a Russian scholar, and environmental activist working on energy and nuclear issues.

Fran Macy, shown here in front of the Tolstoi, a Russian train that traveled from Helsinki to Moscow. Fran led a group of 30 psychologists and educators to the Soviet Union, which would be the beginning of nearly 20 years of collaboration for not only Fran, but myself and many others that were on this first trip.
Fran Macy, shown here in front of the Tolstoi, a Russian train that traveled from Helsinki to Moscow. Fran led a group of 30 psychologists and educators to the Soviet Union, which would be the beginning of nearly 20 years of collaboration for not only Fran, but myself and many others that were on this first trip.

Without official invitation, Macy’s team sought ways to establish ties to prestigious institutes, universities, and schools in the Soviet Union. With each new encounter was the hope that this might lead to more lasting, satisfying, and in-depth relationships. The early visits set the stage for more organized and official relationships with Soviet colleagues and institutions. Strong ties were developed with colleagues in Moscow, Leningrad, and Tbilisi, and more recently in Tallinn, Vilnius, and Kiev. Two areas of collaboration with Soviets have emerged over the years: psychotherapy and humanistic education. AHP psychotherapists have worked with groups in six cities, demonstrating practice and discussing recent trends in humanistic psychology. The humanistic education focus has progressed through two offlcial agreements. In the most recent one, the AHP, Georgia State University, and the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences signed a three-year agreement in which American and Soviet scholars and teachers would work together through a series of exchanges, writing conferences, and field testing to develop teaching materials focusing on global thinking. From this emerged the Global Thinking Project, a direct result of this track II diplomacy project.

One of the key instruments used in our work in this track II diplomacy project was simply listening to our Soviet and Russian colleagues. We did not try and force our thinking and ways on our colleagues, but sought ways to collaborate, discuss, demonstrate for each other, areas of mutual interest. For those of us in the realm of education, we brought together science teachers, researchers, and students in a series of visits to each other, and in so doing built trust amongst ourselves, which led to many interesting events, and projects.

Track II diplomacy and science teaching were linked together by means of a form of collaboration that was manifested in the Global Thinking Project which helped students learn to think globally. (see the journal publication, or the online version of our research).

In today’s world, track II diplomacy is needed throughout the world’s hotspots (North Korea and the Middle East), but the elements of track II diplomacy can be a virtue for the science teacher. Helping students learn to communicate not only with each other, but students in different cultures can be exhilarating, and meaningful.

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 (http://www.globe.gov), or participating in projects developed and hosted by IEARN (http://www.iearn.org). 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.