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.

Social Action Projects for Social Justice

One of the leading groups of teachers who have designed action projects and lesson plans that focus on social justice is the iEARN (International Education and Resource Network). I met many of the teachers from iEARN when I was involved as the Director of the Global Thinking Project (GTP), and attended one of their international meetings, and also met with some of the key teachers in the movement in Barcelona, Spain in the 1990s.  iEarn is in its 20th year of activity, and it the largest non-profit global network that enables teachers and youth to use the Internet to collaborate on learning and try and make a difference in the world.  Many of teachers who were active in iEARN were also involved in the Global Thinking Project network; in fact more than 20 schools in Spain that were active in iEARN were participating in the GTP online environmental program.

Social action projects are social justice projects.  They are concrete examples of how teachers and students can deal with equity and excellence in teaching, and work with all students, particularly the underserved, and design experiences that have social action components.  Students have to see that their work means something, not only to themselves, but to their community, including other youth, teachers, parents and citizens.

iEARN is one of the most powerful resources on the Internet to provide teachers with specific examples of social justice projects, but also iEARN provides online teacher education in which you learn how to connect with other teachers and globalize your classroom.  iEARN involves teachers from many parts of the world, and its website exists in many languages.

iEARN languages
iEARN languages

You can visit the iEARN website, and explore a host of social action projects that have been designed by teachers, and implemented in classrooms around the world.  For example, if you search the projects site on iEARN for “environmental” projects you will find several projects including: Four Rivers, One World; Natural Disaster Youth Summit 2008; Planetary Notions, Water Habitat Project, and YouthCaN Environmental Project.  These and other projects will give you insight into how to implement social justice projects in your own classroom.

iEARN is not the only source of social action projects.  In preparation for the 2nd edition of The Art of Teaching Science, I discovered the Yotvata Salt Flats Project, which I would like to share with you.  The Salt Flats Project was one of several identified as one of the Stellar Cases of Technology-Supported Pedagogical Innovations by Ronald Anderson in the online environment.

Source: The Yotvata Salt Flats Website
Source: The Yotvata Salt Flats Website

The Yotvata Salt Flat is located in the Arava desert, on the border of Israel and Jordon.  Students designed a website that built upon the peace accord between Israel and Jordon in 1994, and have shown how students can work on a social justice project across borders.  I think you will find this example very interesting.

What are some other examples of social action and social justice projects you would like to share?  Make a response here, and I’ll highlight them in a later post.

The Case of iBooks in Cobb County Schools

This is the county in Georgia where I reside. I followed the story in the local newspaper on the Cobb County School District’s decision to provide Apple i-Books for all teachers, and students in grades 6 -12, beginning with an experiemental phase beginning next school year in four of the district’s high schools. It created an outrageous stir, especially with the editors of the Marietta Daily Journal. Not only did the paper print many negative letters to the editor (as expected), but the editorials were biased against the implementation of the program in the schools. Fortunately, the district’s superintendent held firm under intense criticism, and the first phase of the program, known as the “Power to Learn” will soon be underway. In my opinion, this is a couageous undertaking in light of our experiences with technology in schools. Putting iBooks in the hands of every student is a powerful idea, but will require a shift in the way teaching takes place, day-to-day. For example, the iBooks, with the district’s move to create a wireless environment, will enable teachers to link their students with students in other parts of the world in a variety of projects. One example of this is the work of I*EARN, which enables teachers and students to collaborate on a variety of projects in writing, language, science, geography, history and culture, to name a few. We’ll discuss other aspects computers in schools at this site. This gets us started.