Thursday, January 21, 2010

Place-based Learning

Yesterday I received a copy of the Marlboro College alumni magazine Potash Hill which contained several articles about place-based learning.  Importantly, place-based learning puts knowledge in the context of student’s lives.  Field trips as students in our youth make this point.  This approach links understanding with responsibility, connecting us with the sources of water, food, energy, shelter, entertainment, and all else that we value in life.  The consequences of actions in our places become apparent. 
We can learn in a place like Beaver Creek Marsh.  A part of Beaver Creek Marsh belonged to the Zeek family for a time.  They decided to put it up for sale.  After seeing a for-sale sign, Jackie called and asked what was going on.  The realtor said that many people had called but that they were mostly asking what was happening and were not interested in buying the 77 acres of marsh.  We realized that many people watched and appreciated this marsh in a protective way and that it might be possible to raise enough money to buy the marsh for conservation.  Who would take title?  God has no standing in real estate matters so that was out.  We asked around and eventually partnered with the Wetlands Conservancy who helped teach us fundraising and networking and agreed to take title to the marsh.  Many interest groups were involved in the project.  Examples include, school children and their teachers, other community residents, Oregon Habitat Joint Venture, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Central Coast Land Conservancy, anonymous donors, and the Happ estate.
As the project grew, inspiration blossomed.  Waldport elementary-school kids, on their own initiative, wrote and performed a play with the help of their parents and teacher.  Their enthusiasm encouraged teachers, parents, and community members to participate in many forms of creative fundraising.  The play was a mock trial which presented a thoughtful and respectful opportunity for all parties involved to express their viewpoints about the marsh as a home or as other animals and people who wanted to visit and use the marsh.  Examples of characters included Judge Legal Eagle, Harry the Heron, Eager Beaver, potential residents of an assisted-living home, and a land developer.  Testimony was given from several perspectives about the value of the marsh and impacts of conservation and development on marsh residents and on the local economy.  Participants learned about the marsh, how to stage a play and raise money for a project, and how to stand up for what you believe in.  Newport high school students in the Youth for Peace Club also raised money for the marsh.    

Beaver Creek Marsh is a natural resource that is ideal for learning and teaching by students of all ages.  Schools and community groups continue to use the marsh as a classroom and discussion topic. Lessons can be organized around the meaning and value of the marsh for flood control, wildlife habitat, conservation, recreation, artistic expression, history, archeology, economics, and philosophy.  
Posted by michael

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