Teaching about climate change?

“We call France, the country of the Paris agreement, to launch a major project to make the fight against climate change a priority of national education and higher education, and make the school a laboratory of the transformation of society.”

This vibrant call made by Valérie Masson Delmotte, vice president of the IPCC workgroup 1 and Laurence Tubiana rightly questions our capacity to act upon climate change from an educational perspective.

Why should we believe in the overwhelming power of education to act upon climate change? Why would climate change education succeed in raising awareness and changing behaviours when environmental politics have been a dismal failure?

The New York Times asked a simple key question in one of its surveys:

Do you think schools should teach about climate change? Why or why not?

That is the first question we must answer!

Others follow: Should students learn about the natural and human causes of global warming? Should they learn about solutions? Should they learn about the politics related to it? Why do you think these topics should or should not be included in science curriculum?

Once the questions are raised about students, come the questions about teachers and their ability to teach climate change.

The NCSE/Penn State survey found a robust correlation between ignorance of the level of the scientific consensus on climate change and willingness to use pedagogical techniques:  10 percent of the teachers declared rejecting human responsibility over climate.

© Yale Climate Connections

© Yale Climate Connections

More dangerous, is the tendency to use fallacious pedagogical arguments such as encouraging students to “debate the likely causes of global warming” or “come to their own conclusions” on the topic to foster doubt or denial about climate change.

The following question was raised on a debate platform (see here): Should climate change be taught in schools?

We can read answers from climate deniers such as: “Climate change is a myth. God is the great and merciful and we have to act accordingly to his emotions. Acid rain is simply God crying angry tears at the reduction in the burning of forests.”, Much more worrying is the following answer: “All theories, whether they be evolution, climate change, or any other kind of theory should be taught in school. As long as they are backed up with facts and great minds behind them, I do not see why climate change would be any different. Of course, there should be a counterpoint to any theory which should also be taught.”

The pedagogical argument for debate in the classroom is in that case the starting point of climate change denial. And denial is at work on many more issues that we now consider as part of what must be taught in school. It happens with climate change and also with evolution, sexual abuse, gender, antisemitism…

 Even if we rightly believe that education is part of the answer on climate change, we may question the efficiency of teaching in this matter. Ivan Illich criticized the “illusion on which the school system rests (assuming) that most learning is the result of teaching”. For him, “most learning happens casually”.

Margaret Mead argued that fighting back the dangers facing our planet should being by understanding “the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices”. Is it the responsibility of schools and teachers?

Protecting nature can’t be reduced to an educative challenge. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, once argued that “protecting nature is a right of the environment in regard to man”. Enforcing this right is maybe first a matter for lawyers and not for teachers.


Why should I learn?

Children’s participation on environmental issues has been at the core of innovative pedagogies. Roger Hart in his book “Children’s participation” argued that sustainable development will need to be achieved locally by thinking citizens and that children will need to help us go beyond the environmental dictum and  “think globally, act locally”. Martha Nussbaum in her book “Not for profit” reminded us of John Dewey and Tagore pedagogies to support children in the pursuit of an understanding of real-world issues and immediate practical projects. Practical results remain debatable.

These pedagogies aimed at shaping a certain type of citizen: active, critical, curious, capable of resisting authority and peer pressure. Though environmental education has been a priority for years, it is however ironic that the more children gained a greater understanding of global environmental issues in the classrooms, the less they were able to influence decisions to be taken on these issues in real life.

Resisting authority is however exactly what 16-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to do with her #schoolstrike movement to protest against politicians unwilling to sustain their commitments to fight climate change as agreed to under the Paris climate accord.

Greta tells us that the problems we need to solve require much more than a traditional approach where children learn in schools about the environment and wait for adults to take decisions in line with what they are told to learn. In a period of social urgency, there is no time left for learning in a traditional way. We must all engage in a new type of learning against the clock. Getting together is the first step and the streets are a starting point.


© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars

© A. Papillault & J.F. Dars


She echoes Nussbaum that think that the problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political –have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.

But Greta goes one step further and asks: “What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”

She is not only questioning our collective capacity to act against climate change. She is not only questioning the “what should I learn” but also the “why should I learn”, and the “where should I learn”.

Learning in school or deserting the school? Which option will guarantee social change?

Greta’s dilemma challenges our understanding of education.


How to innovate in school? Prohibition or interaction?

We have now an increasing set of data (and indicators) to assess the impact of technology in education. John Hattie provided a complete analysis framework of what works in education and the impact of specific technology appears to be significantly less than collaborative ways of learning for instance.

What happen when politics (and politicians) come into play and ask the one million dollar question: is technology good for our schools and our students? Let’s have a look at three very different countries: China, France and the US.

In the past months, China’s education ministry banned harmful apps in schools and France banned smartphone use in schools. In the same period of time, Silicon Valley tycoons founded a smartphone free school.

Captura de pantalla 2019-02-13 a las 18.47.27

The prohibition – ban smartphone use – or the subjective interpretation – what is “harmful” and what is not– can’t be considered as a scientific approach to assess the impact of technology in learning.

But what if politicians could be trusted? Shall we consider with them that use of apps and smartphones must be banned or restricted for the sake of learning and learners? Is it a signal that innovation in education has gone too far?

A recent study by the London School of Economics found that “in schools where mobiles were banned, the test scores of 16-year-olds improved by 6.4%”. The main variables in this study seem to be on the one hand “distraction” and its impact on “impressionable” students’ attention and on the other hand “danger” represented by potentially harmful contents.

In France an experimentation that took place in a lower secondary school came to a more drastic conclusion:”on ne pouvait pas vivre sans, maintenant on se parle” (we couldn’t live without it, now we talk to each other). Talking to each other is in that case the chosen indicator to assess student’s quality of learning (and quality of life).

Talking to each other or improving test scores are two (very different) indicators of learning achievements. And it would be simplistic to attribute better learning achievements to the smartphone ban or limitation.

But we will all agree that concentration on tasks, quality of dialog between students and teachers, students mental health, are essential indicators to design successful (and pleasant) learning paths.

This is what I call the “Art of interaction” i.e. the capacity of teachers and students to engage into a continuous and granular conversation about learning.

And the role of technology should be redefined (and not banned) in this context with digital tools specifically designed for true interaction and genuine participation between students and with the teacher.

Edtech magicians on stage in London

We just finalized our fifth edition of the GESA Awards and edtech magicians are more alive than ever. Startups from all over the world joined in London to address the future of education with a mix of creativity, vision and candors. They tell a fascinating and some times frightening story about the impact of innovation in education from the very beginning of our life cycle.

gesa 2018

A baby is born. More than one million new neural connections will be formed every second. The newborn is a genius! Enough to raise attention of smart entrepreneurs that create the perfect baby app to make sure that each of these precious seconds are used for learning. https://babysparks.com/

Your baby is growing smart and joyful. Already time at preschool to be acquainted with maths and language, get a sense of proportion and syntax, thanks to algorithms based on a mix of neuroscience and artificial intelligence that will enrich and personalize the learning path. https://www.hanamarulab.com/en

You may ask : why does a 3-year old kid need adaptive learning when socialization is essential at that age? Magicians will tell you that your child as every child is unique!

Time to go to the big school and learn for good! Core contents, core knowledge, core standards! From day one, it is all about skills and competences. Because our challenge as educator is clear and ambitious: to prepare a 6-year kid for a job that has not been invented! Impossible? Not for our magicians. They come to the classroom on their magical carpet with a box full of apps and robots to make our daily life fun, interactive and successful.

Learning maths remains one of our core objective because what was learned in early age was good but not enough. A new app combined fun exercises and artificial intelligence to get out of the black hole. https://www.maphi.app/ A smartphone will make us a mathematician, and a physicist, and a biologist, and an artist, and an historian, and a reader. A reader? Or at least an “easy reader” that can now read a book in a matter of minutes thanks to Natural Language Programming. https://www.onovation.co.il/startup/mist/. No more excuses for no readers: our magicians can convert every book in a smart book. How could we ever think of learning without a smartphone or a tablet?

Companies are complaining about how well prepared our kids for professional life? (as if they had no role in it!) Our child must be prepared for a future job that doesn’t exist yet. No programming, no future. Magicians brought robots in our classrooms ready to be programmed by 6-year old kids. Nicely designed or made of recycled waste, they remind us of a future job that not yet exists. http://khalmaxsoftwaresystems.com/krc.html

Education authorities watching us from their PISA tower are relieved: solutions do exist for every education problem and even to educate children as citizens! Media literacy in a click https://gutennews.com.br/ or citizenship education with a 360º perspective www.lyfta.com are only a few examples of what digital innovation is also about: respect for diversity and grassroot cultures.

But parents are worried. They always are and always will be! They dream of being in touch with teachers, at any time and from any where. Magicians make it possible.  https://www.classtag.com

And what about teachers? Are they dreaming with parents? At least, they dream with better training and this can also be as magical as a smartphone. http://www.millionsparks.org/

Education everywhere will be transformed thanks to the power of chips, processors, networks, artificial intelligence and… people. Even in Africa! Or maybe before all in Africa. https://solutions.snapplify.com/

And education goes on as a continuous journey! Skills, skills, skills are needed once we left school as if our (long) stay in school had been useless. Learning is deconstructed to be constructed again. Online courses – https://bedu.org/ – enable skills acquisition that will immediately be connected to the job market – https://www.skillist.co. Simulation tools will help future doctors to cope with future illnesses – https://insimu.com/ – because our reality is also virtual!

And in this magical world where we have a hard time separating virtual and real worlds, the winner is immersive learning. And for those who don’t believe in true magics in education, have a look at https://www.uptale.io. One last thought, isn’t “immersive” the final goal of learning, i.e. feeling completely involved?

All winners of the 2019 GESA edition are to be found on the GESA website.

Thanks to Avi, Cecilia, all MindCET team and all GESA partners to make magic come true once again!

Scaffolding : a question of balance for teachers-bricoleurs

Teachers are not so much concerned by the appearance of their classrooms or how fancy they look. Their main concern is to mobilize all the resources at hand to achieve their goal.  In words of  Claude Lévi-Strauss they are “bricoleurs”, and the rules of their game “are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand”.

Huberman developed his vision [Huberman: the model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations in: J.W. Little & M W. McLaughlin (Eds) Teachers’ Work : individuals, colleagues, and contexts (New York, Teachers College Press) 1993] of a teacher “who is always busy, creating or repairing learning activities of different kinds with a distinctive style or signature”.

Joan Talbert and Milbrey McLaughlin developed his analogy between teaching, artisanship and jazz improvisation in their analysis of the artisan model of teaching. Bricolage in this context is no longer a “second best solution” but is central to creative thinking. In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

Teachers are used to “working at a height above the ground” and look like high wire artists walking a tightrope in their attempt to catch their students’ attention. They set up their scaffolds in the classrooms for an academic year, just the time they are given to fix or improve education.

Scaffolding is not only another word for teaching. It is also a way of teaching, Psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to  scaffolding as  designing activities that support the students as they are led through the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD).  A learner can finalize the acquisition of a given skill through interaction with a teacher or a skilled peer.



What is the role of technology for the teacher-bricoleur?

We will argue that the bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Our teacher-bricoleur knows  the importance of teacher-student relationships, confirmed by John Hattie  to explain student achievement. Classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method, feedback intervention are some of the techniques and tools with the highest probability of success while online and digital tools have among the lowest.

Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.

“Thinking and working together” with the help of technology in the classroom remains a true question of balance for our teachers-bricoleurs working on their scaffolds. We will continue exploring this high-flying issue.


Visitor or classroom resident?

The success and sustainability of innovative online learning solutions rely on the capacity to engage learners in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed learners means more interactions, more knowledge.

How do you measure commitment? Commitment can be both quantitative (number of hours spent, number of videos watched, number of interactions…) and qualitative (intensity of interaction, quality of contribution to dialogue…).

Is it easy to commit online? You first need to be at ease with a digital environment. In the words of Prensky, author of ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’; these digital natives, i.e. those who are entirely at ease within a digital environment, are the most likely to engage.

However, as made clear in an article by White and le Cornu, the main issue is not so much in being a digital native or not but in being an online resident or a mere visitor.

“Visitors are anonymous, their activity invisible and see the Web as primarily a set of tools. (…) Residents on the contrary see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work.”

The metaphor of place will be crucial for the future of online learning. Danah Boyd, in her book ‘It’s Complicated’, insists on how social media has become an important public space where teens can gather and socialise broadly with peers. She explains how social media has enabled youth to participate in and help create what she calls networked publics.




David Weinberger, author of ‘Too Big to Know’, argues that a network of people connected in discussion and argument know more than the sum of what the individual knows. This means that the value of a network will grow in an exponential way.

How do we apply these concepts to the classroom? For a teacher using online learning tools, success will depend on his/her capacity to commit students as ‘residents’ and not ‘visitors’, which means creating a network of connected people: a networked public.

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