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.
Preface. Restoring the Craft of Teaching and Learning
This book emerges from an enigma. For six years I served as the principal investigator and project director for two projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) investigating aspects of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning. Both projects had a roughly similar focus: In partnership with MIT, we hired teachers and other professionals from schools in the St. Louis and Boston areas to lead after-school and summer programs with kids ages 10 to 13. The two projects— Local Investigations of Natural Science (LIONS) and Community Science Investigators (CSI)—each had a focus on local, community-based investigations. We provided intensive professional development and ongoing support for the teachers that included help in locating resources, consultation on their project designs, and co-teaching as requested by the teachers. Rather than imposing one program on everyone, areas of focus were at the discretion of each teaching team. This choice was driven both by a desire to help teachers become the designers of students’ experiences and by a practical consideration of the school location. If the kids were to be involved in their local community, projects had to reflect what was available in the neighborhood. Project examples included monitoring water quality in local streams, investigating demographic change in a community over three generations, and assessing how easy it is for community members to have access to healthy food. In some cases, projects emerged spontaneously from local high-interest events, such as a study of tornado patterns undertaken by two schools in response to recent...
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