From Volcanoes in Your Backyard to Snow in Mine

About a week ago, I wrote a post entitled Volcano in Your Backyard, which was initiated by the Governor of Louisiana’s comment that spending money on volcano monitoring was an other example of wasteful spending by the government.

Mount St. Helens on February 8, 1984, the day before I met my wife
Mount St. Helens on February 8, 1984, the day before I met my wife

February 8, 1984, I was on board a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Portland, and as we approached the region, I was able to take this picture of Mount St. Helens during its activity in the early 1980s. You can view the volcano today by linking to the Mount St. Helens Volcanocams located on the Johnston Ridge Observatory. There is no doubt that Governor Jindal was unaware of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program; indeed if he had, he wouldn’t have stuck his foot in his mouth. It amazes me that any governor would make such a claim disparaging important monitoring programs, but especially the Governor of Louisiana, a state which has been ravished by hurricanes. He ought to be aware that we fund the National Hurricane Center, a monitoring program that has unfortunately become more important to us in the past five years.

It is March 1, and in Atlanta as well as much of the Southeast, it is snowing.

Snow in my backyard on March 1, 2009
Snow in my backyard on March 1, 2009

Meteorologists predicted this storm, and their monitoring efforts certainly play an important role in our lives. Living in Atlanta, we have our share of thunderstorms, and tornadoes and the monitoring efforts of meteorologists is extremely important, and people come to expect a high degree of accuracy.

In April 1998, as Director of the Global Thinking Project, I was part of a large delegation of American middle and high school students and their teachers participating in a conference in Moscow, Russia. We had just finished a three week exchange period during which time Russian students and their teachers had hosted the Americans. The students were involved in an exchange project that focused on environmental science as part of the GTP. April in Moscow is a lovely period of time to be there, and to enjoy the Moscow Spring. More than 100 Americans and Russians were staying at the Ukraine Hotel in Moscow having arrived there on April 13 for a four day conference which was held nearby at School 710.  On April 14th, the heaviest mid-April snowstorm in more than 100 years fell on Moscow.

A view of the heaviest mid-April snowstorm that hit Moscow as seen near the Hotel Ukrane.
A view of the heaviest mid-April snowstorm that hit Moscow as seen near the Hotel Ukrane.

All of the participants in the GTP conference enjoyed the surprise snowstorm, except for the mayor of Moscow.  According to the major’s office, cars were stuck in slush, trees were down, and the huge fleet of snow plows still could not get the city out of gridlock.  Because of the lack of warning, the major decided to terminate the contract of the federal weather service that provided weather reports, and set up its own weather service.  

The GTP conferenced was not deterred by the snowstorm.  We walked to School 710 each day, and by the time of the conference, the roads had cleared, and we were able to order a lunch each day for 125 participants from Moscow’s first McDonalds.

Paradigm 2 Schools: Some Examples

Georgia Bracey, from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, commented with an important question regarding the existence of schools that might be based on the humanistic paradigm (Paradigm 2) outlined in the previous post. There are many schools around the nation that embody a humanistic, student-centered character. I’ll talk here about a few of them.

When I first moved to Atlanta, and began teaching geology and science education at Georgia State University, I made my first visit to a new school, The Galloway School and met the founder of the school, Elliott Galloway. Over a period of nearly thirty years, I was privileged to create internships at The Galloway School for our science education students at Georgia State University, first in the early 1970s, then from 1981 – 1983, and then from 1999 – 2001. The Galloway school was a community of learners, with its teachers establishing an environment of learning that was very different than many of the schools that I worked with over the years. I recall a mathematics teacher who was taking my graduate course in humanistic education talking about how he “taught” mathematics at Galloway. He said that he did mathematics with students when they were ready to do mathematics. His class was one of the most informal environments that I had visited, and it was clear that he embodied the attributes of the humanistic paradigm, especially the focus on innovative and flexible thinking. The Galloway School really was embodiment of Elliott Galloway the person, but his influence was so profound, that even after his retirement, the headmasters that followed (Dr. Joe Richardson was the first), maintained the student centered atmosphere that characterized the Galloway School.

Mr. Eliot Galloway, Founder and Headmaster, The Galloway School
Mr. Elliott Galloway, Founder and Headmaster, The Galloway School

The second school that I want to include in this post is the Paideia School, which was founded in 1971. Elliott Galloway was instrumental in helping establish this second school, and indeed, one of his teachers, Paul Bianchi became the headmaster, and has been the only headmaster of the school.

There are other examples of schools that I have been involved with over the years that embodied a humanistic spirit. In many of these cases, it was the headmaster, or the principal that was integral to the nature of the school. Dr. Jenny Springer, who I mentioned in the previous post, was principal of Dunwoody High School, and she and her faculty were deeply involved in the Global Thinking Project, and indeed, helped forge powerful and lasting relationships with schools in Russia, especially School 710, in Moscow. Another innovative school was Salem High School, in Conyers, Georgia. Under the principalship of Robert Cresswell, the school created an alternative environment in which students were seen as inquirers of learning, and teachers as coaches. Salem was also involved in the GTP, and a number of their teachers fostered relationships among American and Russian students and teachers.

Please let us know of a school that in your opinion is a paradigm 2 school.

Using the Web to Transform Learning Possibilities

Fifteen years ago, a team of educators from Georgia took 6 Macintosh SE 20 computers, modems, and printers to the then Soviet Union, and then proceeded to install one computer, modem and printer in five different schools we were collaborating with (2 in Moscow and 3 in St. Petersburg). We connected each computer to a telecommunications system using the school’s phone line and modem. The World Wide Web as we know it today, had not been in use, so we only had email as our means of communication, but given the fact there were very few computers in the Soviet Union’s schools, this was a remarkable event. The five schools in the USSR were linked by a network known as the Global Thinking Project with five schools in the USA (four in Georgia, and one in Pennsylvania). Students collaborated on a series of environmental projects in which they conducted local research projects and then used the Network to share their findings with their partner and collaborating schools. Today we have the Web, laptops, and wireless environments. We also have 15 years of research on the problems and benefits of using these technologies to promote learning. The Web has transformed the way we do business, and the way we communicate with each other; it can transform the way we learn, and the way we impact learning in schools. For example, the Virtual High School enables students at any participating school take courses online. Online curriculum projects have been implemented and field tested over the past ten years including GLOBE, CIESE Collaborative Projects, Hands On Universe, to name just a few. The Web has great potential. What do you think?