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No More Robots

Building Kids’ Character, Competence, and Sense of Place


Bob Coulter

This book was named a 2015 Choice magazine Outstanding Academic Title.

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.
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Chapter 1. Place-Based Education—Building on a Progressive Legacy

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Place-based education is an increasingly common term that is being applied to locally focused projects that get students out of the classroom and into the community. David Sobel (2004) describes it as

the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and environmental quality are improved through active engagement of local citizens, community organizations, and environmental resources in the life of the school. (p. 7)

Developed as a framework intended to be responsive both to the sterile world of textbook-driven lessons and the “gloom and doom” catastrophic framing of some strands of environmental education, place-based approaches to education promise a kid-friendly, academically sound alternative. Through placed-based education’s interdisciplinary focus on the community where the kids live, students can integrate a range of experiences, concepts, and skills as they investigate real-world issues and work toward solutions. This helps to make environmental education more than just a space to learn about ecology. Instead, by moving from learning to action, place-based education is a strategy that “helps students learn to take care of the world by understanding where they live and taking action in their own back yards and...

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