Place-Based Learning

neighborhood

About 10 years ago, I read a book called Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and CommunitiesPlace-based learning is an educational philosophy. It is also known as (or is related to) pedagogy of place, place-based education, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability and environmental education.

The term Place-based Education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion’s early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and I received a grant from the Dodge back then to do a project with a community and elementary school in New Jersey using this philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt of that book that gives you an overview. It was written by David Sobel, who teaches in the education department at Antioch University New England in New Hampshire.

Back when I was teaching in a middle school and working on that grant, I had used another book  by him, Mapmaking with Children.  It’s definitely related and concerned with having kids get a better “sense of place” for their community.

child's map

I’m a map fan and for me this is more than geography education. You can work with kids and start with mapping close to home in their known world. Then it can “zoom out” to nearby neighborhoods, bordering towns and beyond. I saw this as visual literacy and critical thinking.

I know that many educators use it along with community projects involving the environment or service projects. In the project I did for that grant, we had set one of the goals to be having every kid work with at least one parent closely and we did a day of field trips around the town and area with them,

I saw the mapping as way beyond a  social studies class. I had a lot of fun having students make maps of imaginary places and setting from books they were reading.

Place-based education is more aimed at solving community problems. It uses the students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning – the unique local history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community can be just the school grounds or the town.

You might zoom out later but at the start it is definitely better o zoom in on the community rather than national or global issues. Think global, act local.

Kids always liked that this was very much hands-on learning, project-based learning, and involved getting out of the classroom.

More recently I saw an article on place-based learning that got me thinking about this again. This idea of community as classroom and learning that engages students in solving real problems in the community is still very valid. Even more important to me is the idea of place.

You can easily imagine a nearby woods or river as a classroom for science. What about using it for writing poetry or for a math lesson? Getting away from just using textbooks and worksheets is probably more of a challenge for teachers than for students.

Sobel has kept the philosophy moving forward and he consults and speaks on child development and place-based education for schools. He has authored seven books on children and nature. Perhaps his best known book is Beyond Ecophobia.

That article mentioned above is by Bernard Bull and he suggests six starting points for using place including thinking beyond the “field trip (something that is often not feasible for teachers to consider these days anyway) and building a community network of groups and people in the community who own or work in places that align with the curriculum.

Place-based learning didn’t take a real grip on education when it first was promoted, but I think it has so many possibilities for dropping the many walls, literal and figurative, that hold back innovation in education.

And this is certainly an approach that parents can take with their kids, even if the schools are not willing to take on the challenge.

Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere https://www.flickr.com/photos/60712129@N06/
Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere via flickr.com

Some Ways the World May End

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. 1887.

“Here’s a song guaranteed to bring you down. It’s called ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’.” – Neil Young introducing that song on 4 Way Street

The year just ended, and before you get too optimistic about the new year, here is a book about the End that just might bring you down to Earth. It’s called The Apocalypse Reader and it is a collection of 34 short stories about the end of the world. It is filled with Doomsday scenarios by writers old & new, famous and not so famous, all looking into the future and finding it gone.

The short story isn’t a popular form these days. It has disappeared from many magazines that I used to read them in, like Esquire. That doesn’t seem logical to me. In this time of rushed schedules, too little time and too many inputs, I would have guessed stories would get more attention than novels. Of course, by that theory, poetry should be selling even better.

I discovered this one via an interview online with the collection’s editor, Justin Taylor. One story they include online is actually a funny zombie tale by Jeff Goldberg that you can listen to called “These Zombies Are Not a Metaphor.” Some poor guy is trying to convince his idiot roommates that the zombies outside their door are not a metaphor for something else, but are quite literally zombies.

Okay, maybe this book won’t bring you down.

Time Machines

The Time Machine (1960)

When I was in second grade, I saw the film The Time Machine at a drive-in theater. It was directed by George Pal, starred Rod Taylor, and was released in 1960. It was scary. It was cool. It had “primitive” special effects by today’s standards. But I loved it.

Eventually, it sent me to the library to get the novel by H.G. Wells. Twenty years later, I taught that book to a bunch of like-minded seventh graders that I had lured into reading its very 19th century pages with very 21st century imaginings about traveling through time.

Then, the summer after fourth grade, I tried to build a time machine in my own basement. I had a “lab” in a old coal bin that was full of chemistry sets, rockets, rocks, any tool I could find, model car kits and salvaged electronic components.

I had no idea where to start or what to do, but I just went at it. (Years later, I would jealously watch ET do the same kind of thing successfully.) I have never lost my fascination for time travel.

The telectroscope (also referred to as ‘electroscope’) was the first non-working prototype (i.e. conceptual model) of a television or videophone system. The term was used in the 19th century to describe science-based systems of distant seeing.

The name and its concept came into being not long after the telephone was patented in 1876, and its original concept evolved from that of transmitting remote facsimile reproductions on paper, into the live viewing of remote images.

Back in 2008, artist Paul St George exhibited an outdoor interactive video installation linking London and New York City in a faux “telectroscope.”  Of course, it wasn’t any more real than the ones from earlier centuries – but this conceptual model “worked.”

It had a fictional “back story” that said that the device worked by using a transatlantic tunnel started by the artist’s fictional great-grandfather, Alexander Stanhope St. George. People looking in one end in NYC could see and hear those at the other end in London.

I like the term “distant seeing” that was attached to the original concept and has remained.

   telectroscope in New York                photo via urbanshoregirl

The installation art actually used a visual high speed broadband link between London and New York City that did allow people to see across the ocean.

You can’t really call any of these telectroscopes “television systems” or “time machines.” And the term telectroscope was replaced by the term “television.” But, looking back at the original 1870s imaginings about these things, it sounds like they were describing our television, or even the Internet, or perhaps some merging of the two that is happening right now.