One of the special things about place-based education is that teachers and students continue to discover new ways to look at the world – even objects as ordinary as a tree. These new discoveries steer us to not only think about something in a different light, it helps us to sharpen our observation skills and to become better learners all around.
When teachers help their students experience a sense of wonder in the ordinary, magic can happen. Imagine students saying: “Wow — I never noticed this before and I walk by it every day.” Or: “This makes so much sense—I never stopped to figure it out.” The benefits of place based education include:
- Creating bridges from past personal experiences to new experiences,
- Making connections to classroom learnings,
- Increasing literacy skills,
- Developing a sense of region, and
- Helping students with different learning styles succeed.
Here are some suggestions for trying place-based learning in your classroom:
1. Use Your Imagination.All you really need to do is to step outside and take a look around for ideas. Your community is your primary resource for learning. Some lessons can come from things that literally are in your school yard (like the White Pine); others can spring from a community need or interest including water quality, community gardens, climate change, etc. The key is to use your place to make the subject come to life for students. When it becomes real to them, student engagement escalates.
2. Find Partners in the Community.
Ask for input from community members and parents. You may uncover a great project or partner!
3. Use the Resources You Have
If you are in a rural community, your ideas may revolve around a nearby stream or a forest. If your school is urban, you may want to consider a place-based project that involves historical buildings, or urban agriculture such as community gardens.
Once teachers start going outside of their classrooms for lessons and projects, they may run into uncomfortable questions or come upon technical or resource issues. It’s ok to seek help from the community or other experts to supplement your knowledge. Local conservation committees, state departments of natural resources, not-for-profits like VINS all can help answer questions and provide valuable information and ideas.
5. Engage in Continuing Education
Beginning next month, VINS will be offering four-session course that will delve into the ways that Place Based Service Learning (PBSL) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) can work together to enhance student learning and teacher practice. Climate change will serve as the place-based integrating theme as we explore the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices. This course is designed for teachers in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade, and who have a basic familiarity with the Next Generation Science Standards and Place-based Service Learning. Click here for more information.
As I reflect on the enthusiasm students have shown for the place-based lessons I have taught -- whether tapping trees for sap to connect seasonal changes; dipping in the local stream for invertebrates to help explain complete metamorphosis; or examining dandelions under hand lenses to explain life cycles – I can’t help recognize that place-based projects get students more involved in their learning. As a great side benefit, these explorations always re-energize me as well!
Mary Ellen Kelly is a volunteer at the Center for Environmental Education and guest contributor on Science Talk. Interested in writing for Science Talk or volunteering your time and skills with the CEE at VINS? Contact us today!