Over the past three weeks, I have been collaborating with another teacher candidate in a professional learning community centred around Place Based Education (PBE). Since we both come from an Arts background (her, drama, and me, visual art,) we were most interested in discovering how an Arts education can use PBE to bridge connections between the other subject areas and make learning relevant and meaningful for students.
The following are the highlights from the findings of our collaborative investigation, as well as opportunities for BC educators wanting to engage with PBE with their students.
What is Place Based Education?
Place Based Education (PBE) is an educational philosophy rooted in the local communities in which the students participate. It values the environment, people, and culture of a space as a site in which meaningful learning can take place, while also emphasizing the themes, systems, and content of the local curriculum. It often involves project-based learning, where students work on ongoing collaborative projects designed to work with and work for the space in which they are engaging with. While PBE could be done inside the classroom, it is best achieved when students are given opportunities to leave the school and participate in the environments and communities in which they are learning through and about. PBE is student-centred learning guided by strong and varied partnerships with other experts, organizations, community members, etc.
Why is it important?
PBE makes learning relevant and personally meaningful for the learner. It engages interdisciplinary perspectives and content objectives, while teaching students to be involved community members and environmental stewards. The hands-on approach helps to crystallize learning and leads to a deeper understanding of the key topics, issues, and objectives of the lesson. Further, it (re)-establishes connections between learners and the neighbourhoods and communities in which they live, and can promote ecological literacy and social activism.
Links to First Peoples' Principles of Learning
PBE is rooted in an educational philosophy used for millenniums by the indigenous communities with whom we share the land. Below are the three principles of learning that are best supported by PBE.
Principle 1: Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the spirits, and the ancestors.
PBE engaged students with the community and fosters a respect for and responsibility to the people, animals, environment, and histories that share the space with them. Further, students will investigate their own role and identity within the community and better understand how to contribute to society in positive ways.
Principle 2: Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relationship (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
PBE includes hands-on, experiential learning that incorporates cross-disciplinary investigations. When implemented correctly, students will be given ample opportunities for reflection on the interconnectedness of parts within the environment, and the ways in which they can both contribute to and benefit from the community.
Principle 3: Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.
By moving into the community and environments where learning takes place, students will engage with the stories of community members, and the histories of the places in which they live and participate.
Place-based Art Education
Place-based education is ideal for any classroom because of its focus on interdisciplinary themes and real-world understandings. However, we are particularly interested in how art classes might use place-based education in their curriculum to increase student engagement and creative output. Hilary Inwood, from the University of Toronto, suggests that place-based art not only gives students a communicative tool to share their learning and perspectives and make connections with the community members they are engaging with, but also engages their affective and subjective orientations to content that make learning more meaningful. Using the local community also provides a source of imagery and inspiration for students' art making, and promotes collaborative engagement both with the other students and with the community members and local audiences. In this way, students engage in social, political, and environmental issues, and discover ways to be stewards and activists for these issues. Some examples of the research used in place-based art settings include: walking tours of the neighbourhood, researching history and cultural traditions, talking with community members and elders, sharing personal stories and experiences. Once research is collected, students may create murals, mosaics, drawings and paintings, collages, maps, quilts, drumming circles, songs, drama skits, hand-woven baskets, ice-sculptures, wood sculptures, etc. to communicate their learning and share messages with their community.
Tips for designing a PBE unit
1. Look for opportunities within the local community of the school. Identify areas of need, or areas of interest to the students.
2. Consider length of engagement. While PBE can take place during one day (like a field trip), students will benefit most from a longer term arrangement.
3. Consider the relevancy of your chosen site. Make sure it is somewhere that supports your content and learning objectives while also being relevant and exciting for your students.
4. While many PBE programs take place in nature, PBE can also occur in urban environments. Look for opportunities around the school to learn about the people, businesses, and environment that share the school's community, as well as the histories of the buildings, land, and cultures that exist nearby.
5. Look for help from community members, organizations, etc. PBE works best when students are learning from a variety of mentors, not just the teacher.
Examples of PBE in BC
www.freshroots.ca | Urban farm at David Thompson Secondary School in Vancouver. The school partners with a non-profit organization who manages the garden, grows food for the community and provides a space for learning.
www.seatosky.bc.ca | Sea to Sky Outdoor Education School on Gambier Island. Community-based ecology and sustainability focused programming for elementary and secondary students.
www.hctfeducation.ca/wildbc | WildBC provides programming for elementary schools to engage with hands-on environmental education.
www.es.sd42.ca | Environmental School Project is a partnership between SD42 (Maple Ridge) and Simon Fraser University. The school is based on environmental and community-based education through experiential inquiry.
Edutopia.org. (2015, 10 November 2015). Place-Based Learning: Using Your Location as a Classroom. [Weblog]. Retrieved 20 July 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/practice/place-based-learning-using-your-location-classroom
Inward, H. J. (2008). At the Crossroads: Situating Place-based Art Education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 13(1), 29-37.
Promiseofplace.org. (2016). Promiseofplaceorg. Retrieved 20 July, 2016, from http://www.promiseofplace.org
Roy, R. (2014). Place-based Environmental Education. Retrieved 20 July, 2016, from https://sustain.ubc.ca/sites/sustain.ubc.ca/files/Sustainability Scholars/GCS reports 2014/GCS Environmental Ed report Sept. 2014.pdf