Russian Science & Democracy: Which Comes First?

I received an email from Anya Kucharev, who I met in 1983 on the first AHP-Soviet-North America Exchange Project trip to the U.S.S.R.  Kucharev was known as the “cross-cultural Sherpa” for her work as a guide and interpreter during the Soviet-American citizen diplomacy projects in the 1980s and 1990s.  She is the Citizen Diplomacy Archive Project Director at Stanford University, and has more recently been involved with Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. interviewing participants and collecting materials from the Soviet State Archives.

Anya’s email called attention to an interview with MIT science historian Loren Graham by Leon Neyfakh.  The interview was published in the Boston Globe’s Ideas section and can be read here.

One of the ideas that appears in the interview is the significance of Russia’s failure to commercialize science.  Graham suggests that not using scientists and engineers adequately may be one reason that Russia has not transitioned to democracy.  The interview is interesting, and the many comments are as interesting.

I spent 20 years  participating as Director of the AHP-Soviet Exchange Project, and the Global Thinking Project which brought together teachers, students and their parents from Russia and the U.S., and many other countries.  As a science educator, I was introduced to a number of Soviet and Russian scientists, engineers, and educators.  One of the most remarkable experiences that we had during this period was visiting the town of Pushchino, which is about 75 miles south of Moscow.

Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow on the bank of the Oka River. It was founded in 1962 as home to Pushchino Biological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Up until about 1993, most the funding for the research centers came from the Russian Academy of Sciences. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the funding from the government radically diminished to about 10% – 15% of what it was. Thus began a program of reaching out to other funding sources not in Russia (Russia Foundation for Fundamental Research), but abroad, and the development of funding proposals to secure financial support. The various research facilities in Pushchino were able to collaborate with U.S. organizations including NATO, the European Environmental Research Organization, US State Department, as well a number of U.S. universities including the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.

We also interacted with many scientists through informal visits to Russian homes, and into the labs of science departments in some universities.

In 1989 I met Dr. Anatoly Zaklebyney, a professor of biology and ecology and a member of the Russian Academy of Education in Moscow. The GTP in Russia was organized by the Russian Academy of Education, and it was through that connection that Anatoly and I met and became close friends. He was one of the most respected ecology and environmental educators in Russia, and had been involved in the development of environmental education teaching materials, as well as in directing environmental science teacher education seminars in the summer in Siberia. It was Anatoly who introduced me to Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, whose ideas influenced the GTP, and our own understanding of the biosphere, geology, and life on the Earth.

One of the most profound books published in the last century, was written by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky.  Vernadsky’s ideas didn’t make their way into the west for many years. His original book was in Russian, and a French translation was published in 1929. And it wasn’t until nearly at the end of the 20th Century that his ideas were translated into English.

Interestingly, Vernadsky’s ideas were slowly coming into vogue in Russia at the same time that Gorbachev’s use of the concept perestro?ka (restructuring) took hold in the Soviet Union. Our work in the Soviet Union was propelled by the emergence of perestro?ka, and it aided in our work in Russian schools and in the Russian research institutes that supported us. An atmosphere of change was clear in our meetings with our Russian colleagues.

Vernadsky’s book is entitled The Biosphere (public library, 1927), which is composed of two lectures by the author that describe his conception of the biosphere, and it is the view that is accepted today by science (Jacques Grinevald, from the Introduction of the Biosphere).

The interview with Dr. Graham is important in the context of the increasing turn back to an authoritarian leadership in Moscow, and the deteriorating relationships with the West.






Why Teacher Education is Important and How to Make It Better

Teacher education is more important today than it has been in half a century.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is evident by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the desire to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Apple, 2008).

Robertson (2008) argues that teacher education institutions need to be sustained as autonomous from social and political centers, which would turn teacher preparation toward their own interests.  The social and political context that we find ourselves in today has implications for science teacher educators, and especially if the focus of teaching is on experiential learning.   As teacher educators, we need to think about how these realities influence our work: the polarized political climate, the educational assessment and accountability movements, and challenges to schools of education (Robertson, 2008, Cody, 2012, Hassard, 2012).

Anthony Cody, a science educator and educational policy writer, recently talked about the place of teacher education in American society:

Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of “obsession over data” is what our education “reformers” apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.

There is a new cohort group of teacher educators in the USA and other countries that approach teacher education based on clinical and experiential theories of learning.  Although the idea is not really new, there is a new and growing number of teacher educators who now have a strong research base upon which to design teacher education programs.

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy, 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, implement, reflect on, and evaluate learner-centered curriculum and practice.

Although Dewey’s ideas did not convert policy makers and education decision makers, it did have a strong impact on the Progressive Education movement which advocated active and problem based learning.  Although historians of education would agree that Thorndike’s educational and psychological ideas won out in the advancing the direction of American education, Dewey’s ideas maintained a hold on a cadre of teachers and teacher educators.  Many of the successful teacher education programs identified by Darling-Hammond (2006) are substantially Deweyan in nature.

I fell in love with teaching and being a science teacher educator when I was very young.  I arrived at Georgia State University  at the age of 29, and was embraced by my colleagues in science education who had arrived at GSU at the same time, but they were “seasoned” science educators, having had professorships at other universities.  I was a rookie fresh out of graduate school.  Even though I taught middle and high school science, and had graduated with a Ph.D. in science education and geology, many of you would agree that I couldn’t possibly be prepared for all the challenges I would face in my new position.  There is no question in my mind that the collaboration with colleagues over the years helped cultivate my identify and self-confidence in being and thinking like a teacher educator.

Over the years, I collaborated with colleagues in K-12 schools and universities and research organizations in the U.S. and other countries, especially Russia, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic.  We used humanistic, progressive, and experiential frames of reference in designing teacher education, and curriculum.  We closed the distance between theory and practice by co-creating programs, curriculum, experiences in teaching and teacher education.

I will explore teacher education from these experiences, and the research that intwined over the next few posts.

Do you think teacher education is important?  In what ways?  


Apple, M.W. (2008), Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 105 – 110).  New York, USA: Routledge.

Fishman, S.M. and McCarthy, L. (1998). John Dewey and the challenge of classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Robertson, E. (2008), Teacher education in a democratic society in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 27 – 44).  New York, USA: Routledge.

Science Curriculum—A Global Perspective

In this post I want to announce a new website entitled: Science Curriculum—A Global Perspective.

In the last two posts I alluded to science teaching from a global perspective.  In the first of these two posts, entitled Infusing Global Thinking into science teaching, I discussed some examples of how educators have developed programs that infuse global thinking into science, in particular the Global Lab program, which is being revitalized in Russia and the Global Thinking Project, which engaged thousands of students during the period 1991 – 2002.  In the second post, which announced a science education conference in Istanbul, I introduced to readers of this weblog, DR. M. Fatih Tasar, professor of science education at Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.  In my introduction of Dr. Tasar, I explained that he authored an essay on Science Education in Turkey which was published in The Art of Teaching Science: Inquiry and Innovation in Middle School and High School.  I also mentioned that there were six additional essays written by various authors on science education from Australia, Chile, China, Ghana, Japan, and Russia.

Science education is a worldwide community of teachers and researchers, and is an active force in the socio-political, educational and economic dynamics of most countries.  Researchers have documented that science education reform is a worldwide trend, and have identified several forces that have impacted these improvement efforts. Reform has been influenced by: constructivist views on learning, cross-national studies of student learning, globalization, and advances in science, technology and information technology.  Social constructivism, perhaps more than any other construct, has influenced the development and design of curriculum experiences in most countries over the past several decades.

I have developed a website that includes the original compelling essays written by seven science educators about science teaching in their own nation.  The website includes science education in:

  • Australia by Roger Cross
  • Chile by Claudia Rose
  • China by Ronald Price
  • Ghana by Charles Hutchison
  • Japan by Shigehiko Tsukahara
  • Russia by Sergei Tolstikov
  • Turkey by M. Fatih Tasar

I hope you you will visit the new site and explore science education as seen through the lenses of these outstanding educators.  I’ve added photos, videos, maps, and links to help you delve further into science education in these countries.

Teaching About Global Warming, or Should It Be “Global Weirding”

People who say “drill-baby-drill” are much like people in the 1980s when personal computers came on the scene saying we need more typewriters and carbon paper (paraphrased from Thomas Friedman–see the video in this post).  The “drill-baby-drill” is a mantra of those who are stuck in the past, with their heads in the sand,  and don’t see that what is needed to deal with our hot planet is “invent-baby-invent.” In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Thomas Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and in this post I want to explore one aspect of Friedman’s analysis of how we got to where we are now, that is a hot (not just warm), flat (the rise of middle classes in countries such as China, Russia, India), crowded.  On a late night talk show, Friedman talked about his new book and the underlying themes of this new work.  Here is that interview, which I hope you will find interesting and entertaining:

What do you think?  Did Friedman’s comments ring any bells for you?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken notice of the vast number of hurricanes that launch out of the Atlantic and track toward North America.  Is this the result of climate change?  I live in an area of the country that is experiencing a very severe drought.  In fact, one the largest lakes in Georgia, Lake Lanier, is at its lowest level in years, and it provides the source of drinking water for millions of people.  Is this drought related to climate change?  The mid-western region of the U.S.A. has experienced some of the most powerful floods on record, and it seemed for a while that there was no end in sight.  Is this related to climate change?  And then, as Friedman says, there was Hurricane Katrina.

Climate change is a phenomenon that has occurred throughout geological time.  The earth, for example has experienced at least four different ice ages, that is ice ages that occurred long before the most recent ice age, the Pleistocene Ice Age.  One of the Earth’s truisms is that the climate is a “changin.”  It always has, and it always will.  BUT….

Up until the mid-1700s, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million of air, and according to geologists, for 10,000 years, it was that figure.  Now it is 384.  An increase of nearly 40%.  Scientists agree that this increase is due to industrialization, and deforestation.  CO2 is one of four major greenhouse gases (also including water vapor, methane, and ozone).  Carbon dioxide contributes between 9 – 26% of the greenhouse effect, and the jump in CO2 levels can be easily tied to human activity.  Of course their are deniers, who continue to cast suspicion and doubt on research, and use interesting wedge strategies to influence thinking on global warming.  But in my own opinion, they are very much like the “drill-baby-drill” people who fail to accept the new direction that is needed.  Deniers make use of statistics and research results to make dumb decisions, or no decisions.  This is why the U.S. Senate has made very little progress in climate change and global warming legislation.  It lacks the leadership, and it has a few deniers who think like this (Freidman, 2008, p. 124):

Climate-change deniers are like the person who goes to the doctor for a diagnosis, and when the doctor tells him, “If you don’t stop smoking, there is a 90 percent chance you will die of lung cancer,” the patient replies: “Oh, doctor, you mean you are not 100 percent sure?  Then I will keep on smoking.

We have abundant evidence that human activity has influenced climate change to the point where we experience, in Thomas Friedman’s terminology, global weirding.  Strange weather.  Unusual flooding.  A line-up of hurricanes in Atlantic.  Drought in regions that normally get 40 – 50 inches of rain per year.  Really hot summers.  And perhaps, with tongue in cheek, fall has been cancelled.

Teaching about global warming, global weirding, if you will, can be a liberating experience for our students. What I mean here is that knowledge of science is power.  Helping students understand the issues and the science related to climate change is the first step to help them move ahead and see the future as needing radical changes in energy policy.  The solution to the problem warming is already emerging in some nations and states, as well individual industries.  Leadership at the national level is sluggish, and lacks the motivation that exists locally.

According to Friedman, a new plan is needed to deal with climate change.

How would you go about helping your students understand the issues related to climate change, and how to plan for a new energy future?


First Experiences Using the Internet in Science Teaching

I had two real first experiences using the Internet.

Here’s the first:

I had purchased my first personal computer in 1980. It was an Apple II, which was invented by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer. In his book, iWoz, Wozniak describes his unbelievable creativity in firstly inventing the Apple I, and followed soon thereafter (1977) with the Apple II. I used my 1980 Apple II (which used cassette tapes to run programs), along with a modem made by Hayes Micromodem of Atlanta to connect to two different data bases on the Internet: BRS Afterdark (Bibliographic Research Service which libraries used; afterdark meant it was cheaper), and Compuserve, one of the first online companies offering access to data bases and products—and this was 1980. No one at Georgia State University was doing this, so when I asked to use one of the phone lines to connect to data bases, not only did they not know what I meant, but they simply said, “sure.” So now I had connections at my home, and in my office at the university. Later I started using email, and gopher and some of the other ways of accessing and sharing information on the Intenet. Remember bitnet?
My first computer
The Apple II: my first computer, C.1980. I connected a modem to the Apple II, and I was connected to the Internet! See the end of this post for a picture of the modem I used

Then I started traveling to Russia (then, the Soviet Union). I first went there in 1981. After several years of travel, and after developing very wonderful and strong relationships with Russian educators in Tbilisi (Georgia), Moscow, and St. Petersburg, and after bringing hundreds of American and Russian teachers and researchers together through a series of exchanges through the rest of the 1980s, we jointly decided to begin designing and writing lesson plans and curriculum that we would implement and teach in each others classrooms. Russian teachers taught in American classrooms, and Americans taught in Russian classrooms. We developed trust. We were ready to move on.

The second first real experience with the Internet:

A group of us had developed the Global Thinking Project. We designed it to be used in an Internet environment. Problem was, we didn’t have the hardware for the Russian schools.

Phil Gang, a friend and colleague, suggested we visit the local Apple Computer office, and see if they might be interested. It just so happened that we were hosting a group of educators from Russia who were involved in the GTP, so we all went to the Apple office. The meeting broke the ice, and because we had our Russian colleagues with us, Apple realized that the project was going to happen. We needed computers.

At the next meeting we met with the Apple directors, and they agreed to give us six Macintosh SE computers and printers. They also introduced us to Gary Lieber, an engineer for Apple who had just moved to Atlanta from Cupertino. Gary became a part of the GTP, and he traveled to Russia with us. Ten of us arrived at the Atlanta airport with the Macs, printers and modems (given to us by Hayes Micromodems) boarded the airplane carrying this technology on with us. We flew to Moscow, and we now ready to install the computers in six different schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In late January, 1990 we carried (literally) six Macintosh SE computers (printers and modems) onto a Delta jet, and flew with them to Moscow, and installed them in six schools, helping establish one of the first global telecommunications systems for science teaching.

We were held hostage at the airport for about six hours. The Soviet customs officials demanded money from our Soviet colleagues, so it took hours of negotiation to let us through. We did and we were ready for the first installation the next day.

Without Gary, we couldn’t have done it. Telecommunications connections were not as easily obtained as they are today. There was only one company in the Soviet Union that we could use to get a modem connection, and it was called SOVAM (Soviet American Telecommunications). Gary had to program the computer we used in each school to reach SOVAM, which we used to connect through Europe to Apple’s email system. Unbelievably Gary got the system running in each school, and we had a telecommunications project that linked six Russian schools with six American schools (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles).

There was a wonderful moment in School 157 in St. Petersburg. Gary was explaining to a group of Russian secondary students how the computer network and telecommunications system worked. One of the Russian students asked Gary how long it took a message typed on the Macintosh in his classroom to reach America. Gary said, “Oh, less than a second!” The students were astounded. So were some of the adults.

With the installation of the computers and modems into six Russian schools, we had established The Global Thinking Project telecommunications system.
GTP Network
The network shown here was established by putting Mac SE computers and modems in Russian and American schools. In Russia, telephone lines connected the IASNET to Geisco in Europe, which used satellites to transmit data to the US. Without Apple’s Gary Lieber, we probably could not have established this early telecommunications system.

This was an exhilarating experience for all of us. We implemented the first field test of the GTP curriculum over the next two months. Students in Russia were using their new computers to send email messages containing information about themselves and the data they had collected on the various GTP projects. That summer we brought all of the teachers together for a conference and training session several months later in Atlanta. Although there were many problems with telecommunications, and helping teachers develop a habit of mind of using email and checking posts on the bulletin board system we had set up, it showed us the potential of using the Internet as a tool in science teaching. This was the beginning. The GTP grew to include schools not only in the USA and Russia, but Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, Botswana, Singapore, Scotland, and Finland.

These were the two-first ways that I used the Internet. I’ll continue talking about the Net further this week. Let me hear from you and about your first experiences with the Net in teaching.
This was the modem we used in the Soviet Union. It was made by Hayes, and had a speed of 2400! It worked beautifully.