Integrating Content into your Project
The process of integrating content into your place-based education project is similar to cooking an entree. You have to investigate the ingredients available to you, prepare them, cook them correctly, and present it to your guests to take a bite (and hopefully it tastes delicious)! Download this tool to help you initially think about your project as you plan. Here's a recipe to follow for your first attempt:
Step 1: Find your Ingredients
Get out your curriculum, lessons, and standards and lay everything out on a table. Review all of the units, sections, lessons, and activities you've used in the past to make your way through the standards you must teach each year. When you see a theme or topic that may align with a need or potential opportunity your community may have make a note of it. Write down every connection that comes to you! Having a partner help you consider how your curriculum may fit with the needs and issues in your partner's area of expertise can be refreshing. A new set of eyes and opinions reviewing your curriculum can breathe life into areas of instruction you may overlook. This is curriculum integration map can help you track your curriculum integration notes.
Step 2: Choose the Entree
Even the finest restaurants in the world don't allow their customers to order anything they want. They provide a carefully crafted menu to their diners consisting of the best ingredients available to the chef. In project based learning, the teacher is a lot like the chef. You get to choose the units and sections that seem to be the best fit for a place-based education project and offer those experiences to your students.
To create your menu, take the list you created in step one and narrow it down to the two most inspiring or engaging topics (again your partner may help here). Understand that a theme or topic is not a project or solution. You are simply choosing an area of instruction that lends itself to students' curiosity, investigations, and engagement. For instance, if you decide that you want to "create a compost bin," you've jumped to a solution too quickly. There's little room for students to inject their passions and interests. Instead, you should be thinking about a project that generally explores an issue, such as protecting natural resources, assisting impoverished families, or documenting local perspectives of history (to name a few). Once you begin delivering content within a theme or topic, you can use reflective practices and your partner's influence to guide students into uncovering needs, solutions, and opportunities for community-based projects connected to the theme.
Sometimes it can be fun to leave it all to the students' imaginations and ideas, but typically starting your year knowing where you'll begin is necessary for planning and pacing. As you become increasingly experienced, you can make your menu more diverse and allow for youth-voice to influence the direction and theme of your place-based experience. We recommend you start simply and add complexity as you become more comfortable with place-based education.
Step 3: Start Cooking
This is when you start teaching. Your students don't know it yet but you are about to help them "stumble" into an opportunity to make a positive change in their community. In order for them to do so, they need to be well versed in the content and topic you chose. Use your community partners and your "place" to help students learn using real-life examples and situations.
Let's use Mrs. Tolly's project (see lesson 1) as an example. Mrs. Tolly learned about non-point source pollution and how it is a serious problem in her local watershed during a workshop she attended over the summer. When reviewing her curriculum after the workshop she noted that her textbook addressed non-point source pollution during a social-studies unit focussed on human-impact.
Mrs. Tolly decided that her place-based education project could revolve around the theme or topic of the Lower Grand River Watershed. To integrate content, she could teach students about non-point source pollution (NPS) and human impact by exploring their local environment and waterways. She was able to help her students begin understanding these standards using their own local environment and context. By using activities and experience to help students learn about human impact and NPS she helped them form a personal connection with the Lower Grand River Watershed. The table was set for a wonderful meal!
Step 4: Serve it up!
The last step is letting your students dive into the experience!
While students were learning about NPS and human impact Mrs. Tolly used reflective writing prompts to ask students where sources of NPS came from in their community. This is often a fantastic way to conduct formative or even summative assessments. Students proceeded to conduct observational and online research and discovered that chemical fertilizers were contributing to NPS in their watershed. After a few more questions and phone calls to local partners, the class decided to begin a composting program at their school to raise awareness of chemical fertilizer alternatives. The entire time, students continually developed mastery of Mrs. Tolly's important learning goals. In addition, Mrs. Tolly was able to connect standards in language arts (presentations, persuasive writing, vocabulary), mathematics (graphs, charts, simple statistics), and science (water cycle, soil science, and weather). Now Mrs. Tolly's class teaches the incoming students (and probably their own parents) about composting, NPS, and human impact every year.
Before you begin integrating core content delivery with a PBE project, lesson, or unit, you might consider asking yourself the following three questions posed by the North Carolina Public School System:
- Can I teach the goals and objectives of my curriculum with the topic being considered? (If so, you should then define the objectives and the criteria for achievement).
- Will my efforts to integrate most likely increase student learning and understanding? (Is it relevant)?
- How will this integration affect students' learning? (Identify the outcomes - your personal outcomes that may be project related and the expected outcomes for the content area(s) being studied with the integrated lesson or unit).
If a lesson/activity/unit can not be justified through the above factors, it is probably not worthwhile or appropriate to integrate.
Integrating the content you are required to teach into the background knowledge, implementation, and assessment of a place-based education project is critical for success. To have enough time and energy to accomplish a place-based project educators must find ways to integrate multiple standards over the duration of the project. When considering a starting point, think about themes or topics with many facets to explore. These themes will allow you to integrate a variety of standards and provide a more robust and memorable learning experience.