Place-Based Education

#EDUC454E100 – Week 3 – May 24, 2018

What an incredible class and it’s only Week 3. We were so lucky to have guest speaker Dave Barnum (@DavidBarnum) from SFU Graduate Diploma Programs talked about Place-Based Education. He brought samples of journals and definitions of what place-based, community education is and could look like. Students had the opportunity to grapple with these definitions and discuss what it means to them in their future (and current) practice as teachers. There was thoughtful discussion and ideas shared. What struck me was the conversation about the barriers of place-based education and how it can be perceived as utopian considering the workplace conditions of secondary teaching (i.e. permission forms, liability, and administrative approval). These are all real constraints but I believe they can overcome them if they really want to. The new curriculum is a policy document that encourages and enables teaching strategies such as place-based learning.

Understanding by Design… or work backwards with your planning. To orchestrate place-based learning with our current 20th century structures and 21st century curriculum, work with the end in mind. If going to the aquarium, going camping, or walking outside can bridge the gap, enlighten, or inspire student learning, then design your unit, lesson, or class routine to include that and find ways to make it happen. If it’s worthwhile, do it. As a friend and colleague of mine would say, there are a million reasons why not to and only one reason why to. Let’s focus on that one reason. In listening to and talking to Dave Barnum, I realized that place-based learning can reveal interdisciplinary learning, provoke imagination further by bringing students to place rather than just talking about it, and that place-based education can be anything that situates the learner for deeper learning.

We needed to hear about place-based education as a class for this class (EDUC454), but also for our future practice as teachers. Sometimes it’s difficult or less meaningful to only learn from a textbook. A textbook, for example, has limitations. Going out into the environment, finding a sense of place, or going to a place that would enhance the student learning experience are integral to deeper learning in addition to all of the opportunities to engage in and practice the core competencies in real-life situations. I appreciated the activity Dave facilitated with the students. He asked them to IMAGINE… if they were asked to choose a curricular area and grade level from BC’s New Curriculum and from this lens if they were given 2-days with their class in this place (SFU Surrey – Surrey Central), what resources could they find, how can this space and place teach students, and how does place address the Learning Standards. Students went out individually or in small groups to take notes, JOURNAL, and imagine what would be possible. I was amazed by what the students shared with the class. Place-based education has a place in education.

THANK YOU again Dave Barnum for visiting my class of EDUC454 and thank you for spending extra time after your presentation during the dinner break to talk to students individually and for them to look at the journals as exemplars of ways to demonstrate and record student learning. I believe that my students were inspired and took away many ideas about place-based education for their teaching practice and future lesson planning.

Back to class business… and onto discussing their Inquiry Project and participating in student-led warm up activities. I love it when student-teachers are engage in teaching and learning in my classes at SFU. It’s an opportunity for them to create and facilitate a short activity with the class that connects Quantitative Approaches to Environmental Education to student learning. Furthermore, we also want to use these activities to acknowledge the Core Competencies, develop “I can…” statements, and self-evaluate with a single-point rubric scale (meeting/not meeting OR approaching/exceeding). Developing our Core Competencies as we learn how to teach students about the Core Competencies is my main objective with the student-led warm up activities. I love the level of student engagement but I also love how we are learning by doing (aka. experiential learning). This “mingle, mingle, mingle” student-led warm up activity nicely framed the 3 core competencies with 3 distinct activities, as seen in these photos. Students were engaged.

As we move forward with our student-led warm-up activities, students are becoming more comfortable as us as a LEARNING COMMUNITY, but also it’s a time to play, experiment, and have fun. We are getting better at identifying our “I can… ” statements as a way to reflect on the activity and Core Competencies. I appreciated how the second warm-up activity (no pictures because half the class “died” and the rest of us confused) used NON-VERBAL CUES as a means of communication of who you are and identified the class and person as place-based learning. The “murder game” required strategy (i.e. critical and creative thinking) and there was an underpinning of social responsibility for the “police” to find the “murderers.” It’s fun (for me) and I hope the students to identify the Core Competencies in everything that they do as educators and that students can self-identify and self-assess their core competencies in light of their learning. With student engagement and the constraints of time, we had to postpone our oral presentation of the reading summary for next week.

Weekly Journal Questions

What is place-based education? „

Using place as part of the learning experience. The classroom is a place and has it’s place, but also learning can be enhanced if we consider other places to help students realize possibilities, complexities, and realities of what they are learning and find deeper meaning. I am struck by this notion and wonder if taking photos of my class and including them in my blog entries is a form of evidence of student learning. I feel that it enhances my blog and what I am trying to describe, but also it helps me realize that learning happens in place. I love the idea that place-based learning can intuitively demonstrate interdisciplinary learning and help students make connections to the real world.

How could place-based education influence your pedagogy?

Each term I teach at SFU, I am struck by the reality of place-based education and even more so this term with EDUC454 being situated as an evening course at Surrey Campus. Where we teach (i.e. facilities and location) influences how I teach. Last term, I had a small room with almost 40 students with only 2-blackboards at the front of the class behind the screen of the overhead projector. That was a challenge. We had to use poster paper or use technology more to collaborate ideas. My first year teaching at SFU we were in portables. It was another evening class but we had lots of room to work with and lots of whitewash boards to place with an collaborate. Last year, I taught EDUC454 in the morning at Burnaby Campus. We were learning outside every week. This year, we have not been “outside” yet, but we have a huge classroom, whitewash boards to use, and our newly defined OUTSIDE that is the mall. I have to plan my course around place.

What are some strategies you can take to overcome some of the barriers to implementing place-based education into your classroom?

Work with what you’ve got. Make the most of what you have. And, plan carefully if you’d like to take your class off-site to engage in a place-based learning experience. Yes, the class has voted on having a field trip and class party on Week 13, our last day of classes. This decision alone has reconstructed our course outline to have an endurance test of IGNITE on Week 12 (maybe this could be an outing too) and now I am faced with the challenge of finding a field trip experience connected to Quantitive Approaches to Environmental Education that can be facilitated on a Thursday night (possibly in Surrey). It can be done, but it does take time, patience, and creativity to make things happen.

What would you like your EDUC454 inquiry project to be about?

I mentioned to my class that I would be reading the 100 Mile Diet book that I got from the Sechelt Library for $2.00. A super awesome deal… but also serendipitous. I am also considering the @BCSCTA tweet and video I posted on sustainability to reduce the carbon foot print with what we eat (i.e. eat less meat). I might combine the two ideas together. Buy locally (i.e. farmers market) and eat less meat. I want to do a before and after comparison and look at money spent, convenience, and how I feel from eating locally. I also have my husband and daughter that I am recruiting into this little experiment. I will need to plan wisely, but also take into account that my family may not be fully compliant.

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