The thought that has a hold of me today is about context. Where you are in your family is context. Who you are in the school community is context, as is your neighborhood, your city, your region and, ultimately the world as the final, universally binding context.
Place-Based education is taking the concept of context and using it to provoke questions that lead to investigations which results in a deep and rich understanding of, and connection to, the varied contexts we exist in. It encourages the learner to become actively involved with the people, the place and the condition of their communities.
Today I met a documentary filmmaker who looked at this approach in several schools in various corners of the country. Some were average communities and some more disadvantaged, but no matter where they were, the questions the kids were asking were entirely authentic and relevant to their context. Kids in a small Appalachian town wondered about the very unnatural color of the creek behind their school and started the ball rolling on water testing, data mapping, community involvement and action for cleaning up the effects of a nearby mine. Their new relationship with the community led to noticing other needs and answering them by baking bread for hospice patients and rebuilding a neighborhood playground. The breadth of learning that took place is vast to say the least, but their authentic connection and inspiration to the community could not have been achieved in any other way.
I have always been a huge believer in contextual learning. When you have a need, you learn the necessary skill to meet that need. When you are curious about something, you will pursue understanding and mastery intrinsically. Our responsibility as parents and educators is to be close enough to hear the question, engaged enough to acknowledge it and supportive enough to stand back and trust the process and the kids to find their way to the answers.
“Tell me, I forget – Show me, I remember – Involve me and I understand.” -Carl Orff