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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 3. Place-Based Education—Teaching Beyond the Script

← 43 | 44 → CHAPTER 3


In the two previous chapters, we looked at place-based education as a compelling and engaging way to frame students’ work, both in and out of school. By combining intellectually challenging work with opportunities for students to apply the knowledge and skills they are developing, it would appear to be a model for educational reform that is worth emulating. As a further advantage, the opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning can enhance motivation, and thus counter the all too pervasive apathy found in many schools. Despite its potential, however, place-based education struggles to gain traction in a crowded field of competing and contradictory efforts to improve schools. In this chapter and the next, we’ll try to gain a better handle on the ways in which the same values that make place-based approaches to learning so compelling also serve to limit its potential for widespread implementation. If a place-based approach to education is to become more widely embraced, we need to better understand the operational and cultural challenges it poses so that implementation efforts can be better positioned for success.

Looking broadly at school reform, for the past half century or more, schools in the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere have tried to “fix” the educational system in myriad ways, with reform swinging from greater to lesser degrees of control and back again. Recent reform efforts in a number of countries have tried to instill accountability through measures such as increased use of standardized and centralized...

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