Four Lessons in Global Education from the Beatles
By Sean Gaillard, June 19, 2017
Editor’s note: Sean Gaillard, principal of Lexington Middle School in Lexington, North Carolina, is a huge proponent of international collaboration for students in his school. In this essay he shares lessons in global education connections from an unlikely source: The Beatles.
The Beatles as Global Education Pioneers
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album by the Beatles. Over the last few months, the album has been the subject of many celebrations in the media. Special edition re-releases have reached the top of album charts. Retrospective commentaries on the innovative nature of this game-changing album by the most successful musical group in history abound. In the midst of this commemoration, another important footnote in Beatles history has been overlooked. This is also the upcoming 50th anniversary of “All You Need Is Love.”
This song is essentially an early example of a global Skype conversation. In 1967, the BBC produced a television special entitled “Our World,” which was the first live global satellite link-up. It aired in 25 countries simultaneously, and each participating country produced a representative segment—Great Britain was represented by the Beatles. The “Our World” audience watched the Beatles in the studio recording “All You Need Is Love.” John Lennon, the song’s primary lyricist, used it to capture a simple, universal message.
In late June 1967, the 400 million global citizens who tuned into the “Our World” broadcast saw the Beatles bedecked in flowers and beads with a group of friends, including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Marianne Faithful singing to the infectious chorus. Signs of “All You Need Is Love” written in several different languages were carried and flashed at the camera by various audience members.
Using technology to reach a global audience with the mindset to intentionally build community, empathy, and connection is a good example of taking action, one of the pillars of global competence. Educators, thought leaders, and organizations use this template on many levels to help students build global competence. Whether intentional or not, the Beatles served as global education pioneers with the example they set in this 1967 broadcast. Educators can glean many lessons from the Beatles and adapt them to support the needs of all students.
Lessons in Global Education from The Beatles
- Demonstrate a Positive Mindset: The message in “All You Need Is Love” is an anthem for the growth mindset expressed in the simplest of terms. Connecting with organizations with similar mindsets, like Teach SDGs, a United Nations-affiliated project to empower educators to teach about the sustainable development goals, provide resources for promoting a positive mindset and developing creative solutions for global challenges.
- Leverage and Integrate Technology: The Beatles understood the magnitude of what was then a new and innovative communication platform. They made sure that their message was simple, clear, and identifiable. Likewise today, there are numerous technology resources that can be leveraged to promote global awareness. Tools like Skype, Google Hangout, and Flipgrid are just a few of the tools breaking new ground in global communication among classrooms all over the world.
- Connect and Collaborate: Collaboration is the unsung element in the success of the Beatles. Global collaboration is more than just a simple “one and done” Skype session with another classroom or a token world map tossed on a bulletin board. Global collaboration is a sustained movement of inspired dialogue, vision building, and strategic planning. Twitter is one avenue for educators to build a network of global collaboration. Following Twitter hashtags like #GlobalEd, #GlobalEdChat, or #TeachSDGs will lead to an endless array of like-minded, inspiring educators who are ready to connect, support, and collaborate on global action projects.
- Take Global Action: The Beatles could have simply recorded “All You Need Is Love” and released it in the traditional manner. By agreeing to participate in a live broadcast for a global audience, they took global action in a daring way. Consider that the band had retired from live performance by that time but chose the “Our World” broadcast as a platform to perform and share a global message for unity, peace, and understanding. Organizations like the Global Oneness Project, Calliope Global, and Asia Society provide resources for educators to assist students in taking on global action projects to solve problems and create empathy.
As a principal, it is important for me to model ways to connect our students to enacting the incredible potential they all possess. Participating in Skype sessions with new international friends is a way to build the vision of preparing our students to be positive, future-ready innovators. Supporting global education projects in the schoolhouse is one way to build and sustain a positive school culture. The inspiring lessons of the Beatles is one of many musical riffs out there for educators to mine for global action.
Is Science Communication? Can students, moving around and talking, do science?
by Jim Martin
CLEARING Associate Editor
You’re trying to answer a question. Student work groups have designed their own investigations to understand the question, develop inquiries to investigate what they have found and thought about, then present their findings to the other work groups in a symposium. There are many processes going on here. Let’s look at a few as they engage them to see what emerges in addition to discovering and testing possible answers to the original question.
Start small. In groups, you help students learn to communicate effectively. How to say, “Here’s what I think, and why;” and to listen and respond when other group members do the same. This is very basic to developing effective work groups. You have them keep notes on these conversations, and use them to elicit concepts, plan work, etc. (Basic, but essential. They need to know why they think what they do, and make what they think and why clear to others. And to learn to be advised or informed by others in their group.)
When your groups are communicating effectively, you observe for outcomes of their collaborative discussions. Do they understand their data, its patterns, its shape in graphs, etc. Are they showing signs of being able to relate data patterns to their question: Is it answered? What is the convincing evidence? What if the evidence doesn’t support their guesses about the answer to question? Or, does their question itself come into question? Are they becoming less mechanical and more purposeful in their work?
Further questions can move the groups along the learning curve by developing their critical thinking capacities: Are their interpretations of data supported by evidence? How confident are they of their data? Can they explain or justify data interpretations they have made, and their validity? What do their interpretations say about possible next steps?
You can continue to build on this conceptual foundation, each step easier because the foundation is becoming broad and more stable. You have them assess the design of their investigation and interpretations of data: How certain are they that they got the right data and used the best techniques of data acquisition? How certain are they that their data do, in fact, tell them what they need to know? Has their knowledge and expertise increased during this process? How much do they really know? Questions like these will tend to focus their thoughts on how they are learning and doing. Metacognition. Students who know how to learn know how to learn. Communication within effective work groups helps generate this capacity.
When they are ready, you have the groups report in a symposium. This is where their communication skills will be called upon to build conceptual understandings. How familiar are they with their evidence and its interpretation? How well do they comprehend other groups’ data and interpretations? How well do they generalize what they’ve learned and developed about collaborative communication within their work groups? Do they move it outward to carry on effective discussion with all of the work groups in the class? When an entire class develops the capacity to engage in substantive conversation about what they are learning, they’ll learn and nail down more than you could ever teach them using the publishers’ prepared materials and recommendations in the Teachers’ Editions.
Learning about science, but not doing science, does not develop the capacities described here. By only collecting and reporting data, students don’t engage the critical thinking capacities of their brain. I’ve observed science classes in which students looked up the boiling point of a liquid, say water, boiled the liquid and noted that it did boil at that temperature. What do they communicate amongst themselves? Is communication actually involved here? Or, are they simply engaging a perfunctory ritual? Might they have learned more if they had heated 3 or 4 liquids, noted their boiling points (or figured out how they’d know the boiling points, then test that), then looked up boiling points and made a guess about what their liquids were?)
Nor do they develop their capacity for conceptual learning when they simply learn about science, and commit science facts to memory. When students do engage in self-directed inquiries, examine the relevance of their collected data, critique it and the process of collecting it, and formulate interpretations they agree upon, they become involved and invested in the work, and empowered as persons. Engaging life. Engaged students are learning students. What our schools need today.
There’s not a lot of information out there on how to engage this part of teaching. There should be. This kind of work supports critical thinking, so it is of value. Critical thinking uses a part of the cortex that is especially well-organized for conceptual learning. That’s the prefrontal cortex, where relevant information from associative memories throughout the brain are brought together in working memory to nail down this new learning, then send it back out to associative memory; not as a fact to memorize for a test then forget, but as something more akin to common sense – something integrated into associative memory that you ‘just know.’
This critical thinking system turns on when you ask a question that is meaningful to you, and seek an answer to it. Science inquiry is a perfect complement and extension of this cortical learning system. In contrast, learning simply to prepare for a test won’t, of itself, entrain critical thinking. Instead, because of its aversive nature, learning content in order to answer test questions is accompanied by some level of anxiety, and entrains the limbic system, which isn’t good at engaging critical thinking. At least in this context, learning facilitated by anxiety about passing a test.
As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) continue to influence teachers’ and students’ experience in school, they present some level of anxiety to many, whether from an unfamiliar expectation for performance, change from structured, curriculum-directed teaching and learning to a more open-ended, active learning model, or from increased paperwork and accounting with no accommodating increase in free time for such work. Anxiety is processed through the limbic system, which impacts how the brain learns; which of its resources are freed for the task. As student and teacher stress levels increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage critical thinking. Instead, the limbic system, busy processing anxiety, increasingly limits communication with the prefrontal cortex, where critical thinking does its work. Instead, learning is limited to simple thoughts, which remain connected solely to the need to pass questions on a test, with little or no integration into associative memory, as occurs in critical thinking.
On the other hand, when students and teachers are free to explore new learnings (which the CCSS and NGSS seem to be interested in), to ask questions and seek answers to them, the limbic system supports this work with a heightened sense of pleasure and excitement, and feelings of well-being and inquisitiveness. And by assuring the doors to the prefrontal cortex are open.The different limbic involvements in learning are entrained by the properties of the learning environment. As they were when our brain evolved in the savannah during the Pleistocene. Might we use that history to revisit how we teach? How we organize student-student interactions while they learn? In the classroom and on-site in the natural world? In these cases, the limbic supports the work of the cortex, especially the prefrontal cortex, where working memory resides, and the brain’s conscious executive functions do their work. Work in which goals direct effort, reasoning and abstract thought are supported, and critical thinking takes place. Where we actively construct knowledge and commit it to long-term associative memory; ask questions, design investigations, develop needs-to-know which drive us into the information we seek, desire to complete and communicate our work.
When we are driven only by anxiety about not being able to answer questions on tests, this wonderful part of our brain is lost to us. The limbic system limits its use, and we simply memorize disconnected bits of information long enough to use them on a test, then forget. Are we teaching for fight or flight, or for higher-order critical thinking?
Used knowledgably, communication as practiced in doing science has the capacity to produce a foundation for critical thinking. By the information it generates, the testing of the information, and its processing and communication, it involves and invests students in critical thinking; in using their prefrontal cortex, its executive and working memory functions. The key feature is that the students, not the teacher, are involved in constructing knowledge. The teacher, while responsible for producing an environment where a constructivist approach to learning will probably happen, becomes a facilitator of their work. A difficult transition for many of us to make. I went into it willingly, but once committed, sorely missed lecturing and wowing students with the wondrous things I could show them in the lab. In spite of this, when I would pull out my old lesson plans, it would be immediately clear to me that this constructivist model was much, much more effective and empowering. And I eventually discovered this was because it used those sites and connections in the brain which were organized to engage conceptual learning. Something my pre-service and graduate education in teaching never addressed. It should have. Had it, and we learned as our brain is organized to learn, we just might have learned well.
Communication, when it is substantive, has the capacity to facilitate critical thinking. It does this by requiring us to consider what we are saying and doing, which is a readily useable road to the prefrontal cortex and working memory. Sort of like working in a shared workspace, a place with all the resources and facilities you need to focus on what you are learning, and the executive capacity to follow up on what you have learned.
This is a regular feature by CLEARING “master teacher” Jim Martin that explores how environmental educators can help classroom teachers get away from the pressure to teach to the standardized tests,and how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula. See the other installments here, or search Categories for “Jim Martin.”