Building Kids’ Character, Competence, and Sense of Place
Place-based education offers a compelling opportunity to engage students in the life of their community. More than just taking a field trip, participants in a place-based project make sustained efforts to make a difference and learn basic skills along the way. Academic concepts come to life as real-world problems are investigated from a local angle. Even global issues can be connected to the community, such as the high school in Missouri that linked local land-use choices to the «dead zone» in the Gulf of Mexico. For teachers, place-based projects offer a chance for professional revitalization as they orchestrate complex and meaningful learning environments that go well beyond scripted curriculum mandates. Both teachers and students benefit from a new level of agency as they take ownership of their work. Drawing on his own experience as a teacher and more than a decade of work supporting teachers in crafting their own projects, the author outlines the many benefits of place-based education and describes the challenges that must be overcome if we are to realize its potential.
This work builds on much of my career, first as an elementary grade teacher, and later as one who works to support teachers and kids as they build their own experiences. To that end, I owe a great deal to the late Kirsten Kaiser, a legendary teacher at the Common School in Amherst, MA, and to David Sobel, an equally prominent member of the faculty at Antioch University New England. Where I am as a teacher grows out of the seeds they helped to nurture. Also, many thanks are due to Alan Feldman, who helped me launch the second phase of my career, helping teachers to find the space where they can continue to grow past our time together. Throughout my career I’ve been privileged to work with many inspirational colleagues. Learning together with them has helped to shape the messages in this book.
On a more practical note, I would like to acknowledge the National Science Foundation and the Litzsinger Road Ecology Foundation. What is contained here may or may not reflect their official positions, but their support has enabled this work to unfold and mature over time. For that, I owe a debt of gratitude. Also, thanks to the Missouri Botanical Garden for providing the professional autonomy to explore these ideas.
Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to dedicate this work to the thousands of kids I’ve been entrusted with over the years. Many thanks for the insights and fun you offer, and for...
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