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New Jersey GLOBE Partnership Takes the First Steps with Dr. John Francis, Planetwalker: “From South Jersey to South Africa”

by John D. Moore, Director, Institute for Earth Observations GLOBE Partnership

The GLOBE Program's capacity to unite people from diverse backgrounds and locales is beautifully illustrated by the serendipitous encounter between John Francis and John Moore at the 2023 GLOBE Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. This meeting, seemingly coincidental, quickly revealed a shared geography and passion, laying the foundation for a meaningful collaboration. Both hailing from New Jersey and discovering their proximity to one another, they engaged in deep conversation that would lead to a series of significant environmental education initiatives, blending the local with the global.

John Francis walking with a cane on a beach with water in the background.

John Francis walks along a beach in South Africa during his Planetwalk journey in January 2024.

The encounter led to active participation in a series of online organizational meetings with Dr. John Francis and his Planetwalk team, under the aegis of Mark Brettenny, the GLOBE Africa Regional Coordination Office Director. This collaboration saw the inception of the "New Jersey GLOBE Planetwalk" with a local middle school, bringing the spirit of Planetwalk to over 250 students spanning grades 6 through 8. This initiative, conducted over a three-day period, not only connected these students to the global GLOBE community but also imbued them with a sense of environmental stewardship and scientific inquiry, all while standing over 7,000 miles away from South Africa, where Dr. Francis began his journey.

Students stand in groups among trees while taking maeasurements.

Learning the value of teamwork and collaboration, Riverside Middle School's fall visit saw students breaking into small groups to collect data throughout Palmyra Cove.

At the heart of this collaboration is the Institute for Earth Observations (IEO), the New Jersey GLOBE Partnership, which has established itself as a crucible for environmental STEM education. The IEO's Environmental STEM Center and the Palmyra Cove Nature Park serve as vital resources for hands-on, experiential learning. Students are introduced to the "Space to Earth: Earth to Space" (SEES) learning model, which encourages them to observe, question and understand the Earth from a holistic perspective.

Students standing by a tree, holding a measuring tape and clipboard.

Riverside Middle School students collecting tree height and circumference data.

Through the comprehensive integration of the GLOBE Program into the year-round middle school curriculum, students from Riverside Middle School are afforded the unique opportunity to venture beyond the classroom walls and into the natural world. Their educational journey, marked by seasonal visits to the Palmyra Cove Nature Park, allows them to engage directly with the environment. By walking the trails and visiting established learning stations, students conduct real scientific observations and measurements that contribute to a global database, fostering a sense of global citizenship and environmental responsibility.

Students standing by a tree with a measuring tape wrapped around it.

Students recorded circumference data to compare with their GLOBE observations.

Each visit to the park is designed to expose students to a variety of ecosystems and encourage hands-on scientific inquiry. From investigating wildlife tracks and conducting biodiversity surveys to measuring the physical attributes of trees and observing cloud formations, students apply GLOBE protocols to gather meaningful data. This approach not only enhances their understanding of the natural world but also connects them to a global network of young scientists and environmental stewards.

Two students crouch on the ground with leaves while other students stand by watching.

Students worked together to identify the tracks and signs of animals as they walked the trails of Palmyra Cove.

The narrative of John Francis and John Moore, and the subsequent engagement of New Jersey students in the GLOBE Program, exemplifies the power of serendipitous connections and shared passions. It highlights how a simple meeting can blossom into impactful educational initiatives that resonate with students and communities across the globe. This story is a testament to the GLOBE Program's enduring mission: to inspire and prepare the next generation of scientists, environmentalists and global citizens through hands-on learning and cross-cultural collaboration. As they look forward to Dr. Francis's return to New Jersey and the continuation of their environmental explorations, they embody the ethos of discovery, friendship and stewardship that defines the GLOBE community.

A teacher stands next to a student and looks at their clipboard.

Middle school teachers communicate the importance of observing and collecting data to the next generation of young scientists.

The Planetwalk Africa/GLOBE collaboration is helping to grow more interest and participation among teachers and students at GLOBE schools in New Jersey. The next middle school event has already been scheduled, and more schools are expressing interest in GLOBE and Planetwalk Africa. It can do the same for GLOBE Partners and schools across the U.S. and beyond. Planetwalk Africa is just gearing up. As Dr. Francis plans the next leg of his journey, XR (3-D) technology is on the Planetwalk drawing board to enable students everywhere to walk along with him as they learn about the environment and witness acts of human and environmental kindness. We encourage everyone to join the walk and Dr. Francis’s encounters.

Here are some ideas for student activities to spark your thinking:

  • Create and rally local “Planetwalkers” through a series of day or evening nature walks.

  • Develop student photography or artwork activities so students can showcase local acts of human and environmental kindness to both post and display.

  • Identify a “sister” school(s) in the U.S. or in Africa and beyond so your students can share environmental concerns, brainstorm solutions and build lasting friendships.

  • Join Dr. Francis in GLOBE Cloud Observations … compare imagery and data.

  • Give GLOBE students a voice by giving them opportunities to develop opinion pieces on human and environmental kindness to submit to media and policymakers at all levels.

  • Invite Dr. Francis to connect with your GLOBE Partnership or school.

A group of students stands in front of a wall painted with a large bird of prey.

Riverside Middle School's 6th grade class.

The quote "As We Aspire, So Shall We Become" from Dr. John Francis captures the essence of what the GLOBE Program aims to achieve: a sustainable future through learning, kindness and a shared commitment to our planet. It is a reminder that even small, seemingly random interactions, like a lunch meeting between two individuals, can lead to impactful global initiatives that unite people from all walks of life in a common purpose.

John Francis stands on a platform with his banjo with students in the background.

John Francis visits students in South Africa.

Read about John Francis's walk through the GLOBE Star Story "Planetwalk — Dr. John Francis' Journey Towards a Better Earth"

Many thanks to photographer Joanna Arlow for the many beautiful pictures to capture the moment during the “New Jersey GLOBE Planetwalk.”

News origin: United States of America