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guest editorial

Science Teaching Goes Global with State Department Support

Science and Children—July/August 2021 (Volume 58, Issue 6)

By Betsy Devlin-Foltz and Maxine Pitter Lunn

“Teaching is a collaborative career. We work best when we share our work and help each other. The problems our children will face in their lives will require global solutions and collaboration.” Dianne Christenson, Science Teacher, New Zealand, Fulbright Teacher Exchange Alumna

We were delighted to learn from Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn, editor for Science and Children and a 2018 alumna of a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program to Vietnam, that NSTA had decided to devote this issue to the importance of global connections in science education. We immediately thought of the elementary level teachers who have participated in the U.S. Department of State’s exchange programs over the years and asked our alumni to share how their experiences influenced their teaching practices. With these educators’ help, we hope to inspire you to seek opportunities to build your own global knowledge through virtual or in-person professional learning opportunities and thus ensure that your students have the skills, abilities, and perspective for scientific study that crosses international borders.

The mission of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is to build connections between the people of the United States and people from other countries through exchange programs. These have included academic exchanges for youth and teachers, as well as cultural, sports, and professional exchanges. We are actively building and supporting a global network of citizens who understand the wider world, all of whom can be partners in solving global challenges. In 2021, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program and its ongoing positive impact on the lives of individuals and on global and local communities.

As the past year has made abundantly clear, our planet faces multiple challenges. To address climate change, food insecurity, international migration, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, global cooperation has never been more important. No one country can solve these problems alone. As noted in the United States’ Interim National Security Strategy, “Our strength is multiplied when we combine efforts to address common challenges, share burdens, and broaden the circle of cooperation.”

Teachers from the Unites States and United Kingdom were among the first international exchange participants when they crossed the Atlantic in 1924 to teach in one another’s schools. Since that time, approximately 30,000 teachers have participated in exchanges, sponsored by the U.S. government, often in support of bilateral partnerships with countries around the world. Though the shape of our programs continues to evolve, the overarching goal is the same: to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people from other countries by leveraging the effect that teachers have on the development of the next generation of leaders.

Approximately 400 teachers from the United States and over 80 countries participate in State Department exchange programs each year. We estimate that within one year after they return home, these teachers reach over 75,000 students. Over the course of their careers, that adds up to over one million students.

Changed Perspectives and Practices

Tammy Dunbar, a fifth-grade teacher in the Manteca Online Academy in Manteca, California, who participated in a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program in 2018, notes, “Traveling to India allowed me to make connections and build meaningful relationships while reminding me we are all vital parts of the global community.” She wrote, “It’s one thing to hold up a globe in your classroom and show students the location of other countries or how the earth revolves around the Sun .... But when you’ve actually been to the far-away places you read about, when you’ve spent time touring the significant places and meeting some of the people who work and live there, you have made real connections ... those connections change you.”

Rachel Savoy Caldwell, a third-grade teacher at Venable Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia, who also took part in a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program in 2018, adds, “(the program) introduced me to the Asia Society’s Four Domains of Global Competence: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action” (Figure 1). This model has helped her bring the world into her classroom in authentic ways.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Four Domains of Global Competence.

“Most of my students are students of color. Many are from other countries. They are very interested in the world.” Now when Caldwell teaches about electricity, her class reads The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, a story about a young boy who learns how to build a windmill to bring electricity to his village in Malawi. At the end of one school year they read a book about schools around the world, then designed their dream school in which Caldwell asked them to address some of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in their plan. They then submitted the architectural plan to a local firm that designs schools.

Caldwell says the Fulbright Program gave her the confidence to address complex concepts like climate change in her teaching. “When I taught about the weather before, I taught about hurricanes and other extreme weather events. Now I make sure that students hear from people who are impacted by these events.”

Participating in an exchange program helped Phil Moshoyannis, who teaches fourth grade at Lee Avenue School in Hicksville, New York, find many ways to incorporate global education into his science curriculum. When his students participate in “Skype a Scientist,” they will now often talk to scientists from other countries. “If they want to learn about entomology, (for example) the dung beetle, I know someone. If they want to ask questions about primate nutrition, there is a scientist for that, too. The program fosters connections worldwide. I have been inspired to ask experts beyond our borders.”

Professional Growth and Global Collaborations

Lauren Zappone Maples was running a community garden at her school in Austin, Texas, before she traveled to New Zealand as a Fulbright Teacher in 2014 to examine outdoor education practices.

In New Zealand she found outdoor education ingrained in education every day. Classrooms have doors that open to the outside, teachers have more autonomy to integrate outdoor education concepts into their teaching, and students have more freedom when they are outside.

“I was struck by the influence of the Maori culture—learning to be a caretaker of the Earth. I got to see what could be done in outdoor education without fear of litigation and standards. It helped me realize what we could do here ... in a different way. You can create awe and wonder and check the boxes for (your) administrators.”

She returned to the United States with energy and a vision and started PEAS (Partners for Education, Agriculture, and Sustainability), a non-profit designed to make it easy for teachers to bring outdoor education to their students. PEAS sends educators into schools to provide academic support for school garden projects.

An international exchange program also allowed Mikko Korhonen, who teaches physics and chemistry in Mikkeli, Finland, to share his expertise with a broader audience. In 2010, he received a Fulbright to spend a semester at the University of Maryland. While on program, he created a collection of toys that can be used in physics lessons. After returning to Finland he continued his collaboration with Matthew Bobrowsky, who had served as his advisor. Together with Finnish colleague, Jukka Kohtamäki, they wrote Using Physical Science Gadgets and Gizmos: Phenomenon Based Learning, which is available through NSTA in versions for grades 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12.

Ranielle Navarro, who teaches in Legazpi City in the Philippines, and Dianne Christenson from Wellington, New Zealand, developed a lasting professional relationship that began during their shared experience in 2019 on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program in the United States. The two teachers worked together on an inquiry project titled “Literacy Skills and Sense-making in Science.” Since returning home, they have continued working together. Among other activities, they carried out a virtual workshop based on the Ambitious Science Teaching Framework. They developed the workshop in partnership with U.S. educators Navarro met while on program at Syracuse University. Of the experience, Navarro says, “as a Science teacher, global connections and collaborations create opportunities for borderless education and cultural immersion. And as our education shifts to the new paradigm due to the pandemic, these connections help us benchmark best pedagogical practices that will benefit our learners’ community as they become global citizens.”

Ready to Go Global?

We hope that these examples have inspired you and that you will consider applying for a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. Fulbright Teacher Exchanges are funded by the United States Congress and free to participants, and there are program models of various types and lengths.

Our programs suit educators’ varying needs, availability, and experience with international travel. Among the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Programs you will find the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms that equips educators from the United States to bring an international perspective to their schools through an online course, a field experience abroad, and global collaboration.

The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Research Program provides an opportunity for educators from the United States to take part in a three- to six-month professional experience abroad to conduct research and pursue additional learning. Participants conduct inquiry projects, take courses at a host university, and collaborate with colleagues on educational practices to improve student learning.

Additionally, the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Short-Term Program sends expert K–12 educators from the United States to participating countries and territories to carry out short-term consulting assignments abroad for two to six weeks. Educators support and work in schools, teacher training colleges, government ministries, or educational nongovernmental organizations, as identified by U.S. embassies and Fulbright Commissions.

Every year, we host a free public event called the Global Teaching Dialogue, which brings together K–12 educators, alumni of our programs, and experts for a conference-style exchange of best practices in global education. Alumni and educational experts convene discussions and workshops on a variety of topics including how to develop a virtual exchange with students and utilizing U.S. government STEM resources.

We hope your curiosity has been piqued and that you will explore some of these opportunities. To get the most up-to-date information about applications, deadlines, and free online courses and webinars, please visit our website ( and follow us on social media (Facebook: Fulbright Teacher Exchange Programs; Twitter: @FulbrightTeach). For questions, please email us at

Online Resources

Ambitious Science Teaching Framework

Fulbright Teacher Exchanges

Global Teaching Dialogue

Partners for Education, Agriculture, and Sustainability

Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals

What is Global Competence?

Betsy Devlin-Foltz and Maxine Pitter Lunn are Senior Program Officers in the Teacher Exchange Branch in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Interdisciplinary Professional Learning old Teaching Strategies Elementary

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