The Climate Action project

Koen Timmers

Educator - Author - Keynote speaker - Global Teacher Prize 2017 and 2018 finalist

The Climate Action project

I believe in changing people’s mindsets via education. Formal education tends to focus too much on knowledge acquisition. IQ or EQ? Which one is more important: the book smarts or the street smarts? I strive to bring empathy into classrooms around the world. And what’s better than focus on SDGs? These Sustainable Development Goals were set by UN trying to make the world a better place by 2030. If you want to know more about Teaching SDGs, please visit

I decided to connect student from around the world while focussing on Climate Change. While parts of the world suffered from hurricane Irma, we need to understand that Climate Change is real. After I posted a message on Twitter and LinkedIn, 250 schools over 64 (!) countries signed up for the Climate Action project: from India, New Zealand, Canada, Kenya, Japan, Argentina, Denmark to Sierra Leone.  

I was overwhelmed by the amount of interest. I’ve been launching several global educational projects like (involving 10 countries) and (involving 37 countries) and the amount of participants is increasing and so is the amount of preparation. This time I decided to involve a few teachers who are quite innovative and who participated in the previous projects: Emma Nääs (Sweden), Susanna Jilka (Austria), Jim Pedrech and Kaylyn Dorland (Canada), Mike Soskil (USA), Soheir Zaki (Egypt), Juan Arbona and Angels Soriano (Spain), … they all helped organizing this project.

Collaboration is key. In October students across 6 continents will research, brainstorm and discuss 4 climate related topics and they will share their findings via weekly videos or presentations. These will be published on our website This way they will directly learn from their peers about their conditions and situations. During the last week they will also travel the world by having Skype calls. The teachers are only allowed to guide this process. So we kindly request them not to give away knowledge.

All teachers will use one shared MS OneNote document to share best practices, light bulb moments, their students’ work, new approaches, resources and anecdotes.

As a surprise I decided to contact a lot of influencers and agencies around the world: Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Justin Trudeau and others. As you can imagine none of them replied to my email. In case one of them is reading this article: please do respond.

But I will always remember the moment His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s office replied to my email. They sent me a quote which I will use as an introduction to this project. It will certainly inspire the participating teachers and students. But I also got quotes from Unesco, National Geographic, WWF and several influencers like Hanan Al Hroub (Global Teacher Prize winner 2016), Stephen Ritz (Green Bronx Machine), Jennifer Williams (TeachSDGs), etc.

Soon we will see that all participating students have been learning in very different ways: by discussing, interviewing people, by expressing themselves, being creative, by exploring, presenting and by doing research.

In project based learning combining with real-world problems, students will need to do more than identifying problems. They also need to try to find solutions and so this project will cover a lot of different subjects: Biology, Maths, Science, Literature, History, etc.

Furthermore, the students will learn to use certain tools to create presentations (like PowerPoint, Sway) and to edit videos without having a teachers who to do so. They will spontaneously start using Minecraft, Lego and many other tools to express themselves. Teachers don’t have to teach about a computer but by using a computer.

This project already gets the best out of the participating teachers. The students of Joe Fatheree (Illinois) have set up their own Minecraft server so they can start exploring the world and visualize global issues. Anthony Zarate (Chicago) will ask his students to start sending letters to media and policy makers. And others will do a science project about water.

Although every participating teacher teaches different ages, subjects, circumstances and in different part of the world, the students will enjoy learning. And isn’t that what it’s all about in education?

Teachers don’t like the idea of students knowing more about a certain topic than they do. But how to break this taboo? I wanted to try to break this taboo on global scale by allowing students to focus on an important issue: climate change. We all once have heard of Climate Change. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce schools from around the world to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 500 schools over 90 countries decided to give it a shot during 4 weeks in October. The students had to do the thinking. They had to explore, brainstorm, discuss and present their findings via weekly videos. These videos are accessible on

During the past month I received emails from the Dalai Lama’s office, the 2 directors of Greenpeace, UNESCO, Anthony Salcito (Microsoft Education), human rights activist Kumi Naidoo, scientist Er Anuj Sinha and many other public figures claiming they support the Climate Action project. Belgium’s weather man and our deputy prime minister sent a personalised video message.

When students are being put in charge, very often magic happens. Students interviewed people, brainstormed, discussed, explored, offered feedback and overwhelmed us with their creative ideas.

Disasters offering an angle to talk about Climate Change

Ireland had to close schools fort he very first time due to hurricane which offered the student Kate and her students another angle to talk about Climate Action. Miriam had the same experience in Sierra Leone – one of the poorest countries in the world - where many students lost their homes due to floods. Same scenario in South Africa: floodings offered food for thought in Prinavin’s class and so students discovered the importance of climate action.

Technology Enhanced Learning

Joe’s (US) students set up a Minecraft server on which students around the world started building an energy friendly world. Malaysian students managed to visualize deforestation in 3D via Minecraft.

Romanian students developed their own video game. Canadian students made quizzes which they sent to their peers in other schools. Kristine’s grade6 printed the coral reefs in 3D to help save the coral.

Express yourself

The project also allowed students to express themselves. Some danced, some sang others used Lego to express their feelings. Many classes used green screen to turn their classroom in actual newsrooms and create beautiful news bulletins. 


The Climate Action project on German television: students doing a flash mob in Münster and singing a song with famous singer Detlev Jöcker. Emma took her Swedish students to two ministers and showed them the Equality Machine they created. Their adventures were covered by national television. 2 Portuguese television channels visited Manuela’s school where students are creating a mural including the project’s icon. Jim, Imen and Lukasz were interviewed by a Canadian, Tunisian and Polish radio station. Koen presented the project live on Abu Dhabi tv.

Anthony’s students began to contact media and policy makers in Chicago so their story was noticed.


The aim was to go further than studying Climate Change. During the third week of the project the schools action and trees were planted by Guatemalan, Filipino and Vietnamese students.  The students from Peru started to use the bike and Nigerian students even developed a small biogas plant which allows to reduce carbon emissions. Kenyan students developed fencing materials from plastic bottles. Indonesian students developed Ecobricks and made national television. Indian students developed edible water bottles and solar cars which really worked. 

Soma Singh (India): “My students are preparing infographics and rallying for Rivers. They are sensitising people to conserve water by sharing how do they conserve water themselves. How the concept of car pools and idea of public transport instead personal cars in a densely populated country like India goes along way in saving fuels and combating air pollution.”


There were no limits to students’ engagement. Students spent time during weekends and were able to express themselves. They danced, sang songs, drew images, etc. Manuela’s class in Romania even created a Climate Action cake. In Mike’s class a second grader brought the Wall Street journal because he was looking for information on his own. His class invited farmers and scientists to get better insights. A student who struggles with traditional lessons with text books has surprised us all with her deepening understanding and contributions. Shy students are having a larger sense of belonging.


Skype lessons by experts

During the last week we increased interaction between students by connecting them via Skype. How about hundreds of thousands virtual miles travelled to share findings about one subject?!

We also arranged Skype lessons delivered by experts. Céline Cousteau inspired both teachers and students over 35 different countries. She taught us how Brazilian indigenous people live and that action begins with one single initiative. Her grandfather was the famous explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. As Michael Dunlea claimed: “I seriously think this was the best day of my teaching career. What an incredible experience.”

Dr Languell – star of Discovery Channel’s Project Earth, Jennifer Nolan, Naomi Volain and Richard E. Hyman also shared inspiring stories via webcasts. 

The work that Valerie’s students completed during this project has empowered them to find credible information, seek solutions to world problems, and take action. They even learned from experts on social media.


A higher form of learning

Students learn in different levels. At first from each other in their own classroom by brainstorming, exploring, creating, discussing and presenting and second from their peers across 6 continents. Rather than learning by textbooks they create life changing moments. Collaboration is key while this project

Kylee’s students are co-designing the learning environment. Kylee Babish: “They are demonstrating progress towards and mastery of learning standards through their voice and choice, engaging with credible content and expressing their learning. Students are individually and collaboratively contributing to the organization, research, written and spoken scripts, filming, and presenting on the overall project each week. Finally, they are providing feedback to each other, themselves, and absolutely love to look at the other countries' projects”


But also the teachers rocked the stage. They discovered new approaches and inspired each other. They noticed that in this digital era students may know more about certain topics and that’s perfectly fine. When learning becomes fun, students are more engaged and teaching becomes more fun as well.

The project was presented during Microsoft’s live “Hack the Classroom” global event. The Climate Action project was awarded the HundrED award as one of the 100 most educational innovative global projects, during their summit in Helsinki. Teachers and students are creating global impact.

by PLN Education