Drawing from the Well
Dear Administrators and Teachers,
Place-based education is the process of using project-based, themed learning activities that help students connect what is traditionally taught in the classroom with their local culture, heritage and environment. In the Drawing from the Well curriculum, students take ownership of how they learn and apply educational concepts, and we teachers must be willing to relinquish the stringent control over our classrooms and stretch beyond our comfort zones. Our role as teachers will shift to that of a facilitator as we go from "sage on the stage to guide by the side."
Students will work together in groups, make decisions about their projects and assessments, go out into the community to conduct interviews and surveys and be given the responsibility for determining how to demonstrate that they are meeting various curricula standards. Students will apply what they have learned in one class to what they are doing in other classes. Teachers can work in teams to maximize the benefits and classroom applications of community research and minimize the duplication effort.
As teachers begin to adopt and enact place-based learning and teaching, they often feel empowered and overwhelmed at the same time - empowered to teach in new ways and overwhelmed by the "messiness" of balancing community research with the demands of meeting testing, standards and content area requirements. But the benefits are worth the challenges posed by place-based teaching and learning. As Judy Cross, a social studies teacher at Central High School in Wartburg, Tennessee commented, "In a sense, I was set free from the chains of the traditional classroom. And once students realized that they were no longer chained to a desk sitting in a neat row, they, too, felt empowered. Three years ago I would have told students that there was only one correct way to do something and then proceeded to show them how to do it. Now I stand aside as students help and share discoveries with each other." ()
Just as students take ownership of their own learning through place-based education, teachers are also learning new teaching methods designed with community learning opportunities and issues in mind. When the community becomes the classroom, students and teachers tap into a wealth of local resources so commonly overlooked and under utilized: parents with deep knowledge about the history of the area, community members who have experience concerning local ecology and agriculture and professionals such as engineers or forest rangers who wish to work with students to develop technical expertise.
For many students, outcomes of place-based education are increased motivation, better attendance, engagement in course work, heightened self-esteem and pride in their own work, and deeper ties to their communities.
Depending on your teaching style you may approach the Drawing from the Well curriculum in a linear fashion with options for extensions. Or, you may use it more like a cookbook, choosing from a variety of lessons that reflect your own particular goals. Our hope is you will be interactive with the curriculum and use it as a springboard to your own new ideas and approaches to conducting a classroom. We encourage you to find what excites you, to discover your own voice as a teacher and to let your sense of inquiry and creativity guide you.
Implicit in the participation of Drawing from the Well is student success. From academic achievers to special needs students, this curriculum is designed to respond to different styles of learning. As you begin this work, notice how students respond to new ways of learning and support them as they begin to shine.