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.

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.