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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 4. Planning for Place-Based Learning

← 68 | 69 → CHAPTER 4


In the previous chapter, we saw how teachers go about making the many decisions that together constitute professional practice. To the extent that they don’t just defer to a script, teachers make decisions that are informed by an effort to resolve a situation before them. These decisions draw from a forward-looking projection of what successful learning looks like and from a re-visioning of past experience. We also saw how these decisions are influenced (and to some extent bound) by such entities as tools, people, and environments.

In this chapter, we will look at specific design parameters that give shape to the plans that result from these decisions. First, we will start with a short overview contrasting the larger goal of authentic meaning underlying place-based education with some of the less useful approaches to meaning typically found in school. Following from there, we will look at ways in which teachers operating from different pedagogic frameworks use resources differently. Here we unpack more fully the work of Melissa Gresalfi and her colleagues (2012), which has been touched on a few times previously. Next, we’ll see how these differences are in large part driven by more or less nuanced understandings of epistemology, or visions of how people learn. Effective place-based education and other educational strategies built on authentic meaning rely on a complex view of knowledge construction that isn’t content to rely on fact nuggets and broad truisms. This is a fundamental but often overlooked difference between place-based and traditional education...

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