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?



Review of the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education

The Carnegie Corporation of New York, which funded the National Research Council’s project  A Framework for K-12 Science Education, also provided the financial support for the Fordham Foundation’s review of NRC Framework.  Although not a conflict of interest for the Fordham Foundation, it does raise questions about the Carnegie Foundation’s desire to fund an evaluation of its own funded project.  I doubt that Carnegie sent out an RFP to universities and organizations to write a proposal to evaluate the new Framework.

But I think this is a minor distraction, especially after you read the Fordham report and compare it to the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education.

The Report

The Fordham report was a commissioned paper (Review of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education), written by Dr. Paul Gross, Emeritus Professor of Biology.  The Gross Report was not a juried review, but written by one individual, who appears to have an ax to grind, especially with the science education research community, as well as those who advocate science inquiry, STS, or student-centered ideology.  Indeed, the only good standard is one that is rigorous, and clearly content and discipline oriented.

Gross’s report is the Fordham Foundation’s assessment of the NRC report, A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which you can download free here.

The essence of the Framework is depicted in the chart below.  The Committee that designed the Framework built around three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.

In general, Dr. Gross, as well as Chester E. Finn, Jr. (President of the Fordham Foundation), are reticent to give the Framework a grade of “A” instead mark the NRC’s thick report a grade of “B”. Here are some points Gross makes in his review of the Framework.

  • Content: The Fordham Report stated that the writers of the Framework did a good job with the content of science “by including all of the content critical to a rigorous K-12 science curriculum—real content.  If you look at the chart above, Dr. Gross is referring to the content outlined in the Disciplinary Core Ideas Dimension of the Framework.  Although stating the content was adequately outlined, Gross said that there was “undue emphasis on engineering and technology.
  • Inquiry: Gross also observes that, to their credit, the authors “wisely dismiss what has long been held indispensable for K-12 science: “inquiry-based education.”  I am not sure where Gross gets this idea that the NRC report dismisses inquiry-based education because inquiry is prominently identified in the NRC report and in fact the authors of the Framework state that in “all inquiry-based approaches to science teaching, our expectation is that students will themselves engage in the practices and not merely learn about them secondhand.”  The Fordham report is totally off-base here.  The Framework does support inquiry-based learning, and indeed devotes an entire Dimension of its report to inquiry in its section on practices.
  • Raising the Bar: The Fordham report also states that the standards are the first step toward raising—and harmonizing—our expectations of what students should know and be able to do.

The Fordham report organizes its assessment or review into two areas, Content and Rigor I, and Content and Rigor II.

Content and Rigor I: How Much?

Firstly, rigor is the measure of depth and level of abstraction to which chosen content is pursued, according to Gross.  The Framework gets a good grade for rigor and limiting the number of science ideas identified in the Framework.    The Framework identifies 44 ideas, which according to Gross is a credible core of science for the Framework.

The evaluator makes the claim that this new framework is better on science content than the NSES…how does he know that?

The evaluator says, the choice of core ideas from the main K-12 science disciplines is thoughtful.

Content and Rigor II: Emphases  

The Fordham evaluation has doubts about the Framework’s emphasis on Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Engineering/Technology Dimensions.  For example, Gross identifies several researchers and their publications by name, and then says:

These were important in a trendy movement of the 1980s and 90s that went by such names as science studies, STS (sci-tech studies), (new) sociology or anthropology of science, cultural studies, cultural constructivism, and postmodern science. (emphasis mine)

For some reason, Gross thinks that science-related social issues  and constructivism are not part of the mainstream of science education, when indeed they are.  Many of the innovative Internet-based projects developed over the past 15 years have involved students in researching issues that have social implications.

Inquiry-Based Learning. Gross also claims that the NRC Framework authors “wisely demote what has long been held the essential condition of K-12 science: ‘Inquiry-based learning.’  The report does NOT demote inquiry, and in fact devotes considerable space to discussions of the Practices of science and engineering, which is another way of talking about inquiry. In fact, inquiry can found in 71 instances in the Framework.  It seems to me that Gross and the Fordham Foundation is trying to make the case that Practices and Crosscutting ideas are accessories, and that the part of the Framework that should be taken seriously is the Disciplinary Core Ideas, or Dimension 3.  This will result is a set of science standards that are only based on 1/3 of the Framework’s recommendations.

Gross cherry picks his resources, and does not include a single research article from a prominent research journal in science education.  If he did, he might have found this article: Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002.  This was published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), and was the most accessed article in JRST in 2010.  Here is the abstract of the research study:

Various findings across 138 analyzed studies indicate a clear, positive trend favoring inquiry-based instructional practices, particularly instruction that emphasizes student active thinking and drawing conclusions from data. Teaching strategies that actively engage students in the learning process through scientific investigations are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, which are often necessary in the current standardized-assessment laden educational environment.

The Fordham report also questions the justification for elevating Engineering and Technology to the same level as the three science content areas that define K-12 science education.

Crosscutting concepts also give the author of the Fordham report a problem.  Crosscutting concepts (there are seven) are bridges that provide students with a framework to connect knowledge from the various science disciplines. Gross feels that that these concepts are too abstract, and only the very able students will be able to grasp them.


The Fordham report defines “accessories” as the “broader, less science-substantive” issues mentioned in the Framework.  A prominent accessory is equity and diversity.  Gross appears to be concerned that not only might science teachers use different pedagogical styles to help learners, but teachers might also choose different subject matter.  He is concerned that the science education community might stray from the one optimum set of science standards that should be used with all students.

Common Grading Metric

Gross reviewed the Framework for K-12 Science Education using a Common Grading Metric developed by Fordham which rates the Content and Rigor of the Framework using a 0 -7 scale, and Clarity and Specificity on a 0 – 3 scale.  The Framework scored a 7 on Content and Rigor, and a 1 on Clarity and Specificity, giving it an overall score of 8, which translates into a B+ on the Fordham scale.




I Hope My Child Is Not Left Behind

There was an article in this week’s Newsweek Magazine titled, The New First Grade: Too Much Too Soon? which raised questions about what schools are doing to young students in the name of education. There is an add on television about one of the Internet service providers that uses the Slowski’s (two turtles) who complain about the speed with which information flows from these high speed Internet providers. The Slowski’s prefer to use the slower dial-up system. There may be a lesson here for schooling, and the attitude that is perpetuated in our schools today. The Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, a K-12 magnet actually uses a “slowed-down approach to education. After looking into the school, and its philosophy, it does appear to honor this approach, and at the same time give a greater commitment to hands-on learning and thinking (as evidenced by the high school’s adoption of Paideia, which emphasizes thinking and communication.

The article shows distressed students in that there is an enormous rush to push kids as hard as possible, resulting in great frustration. One principal was quoted as saying, “I worry that we are creating school environments that are less friendly to kids who aren’t ready…around third grade, sometimes even the most precocious kids begin to burn out.”

One of the forces at work that has created this malaise is over emphasis on testing, and more testing. The
No Child Left Behind Law
is the prime mover in the new testing movement, and it has resulted in an increased amount of time devoted to testing kids.

I’ve been an advocate as well as a practitioner of inquiry-based and hands-on learning. One of the issues that always comes up when people talk about the virtues or issues with this kind of approach is how can time be allocated to build in these kinds of experiences. And of course it usually comes down to the idea that we need to sue the time to “cover” the content, or learn the skill that will be tested. That’s always been a part of schools. What has happened is that the slogan, “No Child Left Behind” has created a new set of anxieties, not just for students who attend school, but for parents, teachers and administrators. Fear is built into this approach in that administrators fear that their school will not meet the testing standard, and be put on a public list of failed schools. Parents fear that the school they are sending their child to is not up to snuff. And teachers are caught in the middle being forced into testing standards that take away from creative and innovative teaching.

There is a disjointedness that exists in our approach to education today. At a time when real progress is being made with the development of innovative approaches to curriculum development, Federal and State level administrators (who really have no clue what it is like inside an American classroom) control the purse strings, and limit innovation.

I am not sure when the tide will turn—it does and it will. Our culture represents hope that innovative ideas developed by creative teachers and researchers, will supplant the stale ideas of the present in a tectonic way.