FabNewport and Place Based Education

By Josie Michaud, Director of Instruction

Graphic from Teton Science Schools

Think of an interesting place in your community. Why do you find this place interesting? When you are in this spot, what do you notice or wonder about? How might this place help you understand your community or the larger world? Does this place inspire you to take action in some way?

Four FabNewport staff are enrolled in a Place Based Education course through Teton Science Schools in Wyoming. The goal is to increase our ability to incorporate the power of place

into our work across the community with our students and partners. We are nesting the ideas of the Maker Movement into a the broader pedagogical framework of Place Based Education. 

Through the years, FabNewport has built a reputation as an educational maker space, based on the ideas of the Constructionist educational thinkers who believed it was important for learners to create mental models for them to understand the world around them. Constructionism asks students to tap into what they already know and are driven to learn about in order to construct and acquire new knowledge. Students would make things both to learn and show what they learned. 

An important part of making is coming up with ideas. This is much easier to do when you have a full memory bank of experiences to draw from. You can pull from that rich schema to generalize and make connections to novel situations. It’s is the stuff of inspiration.

 Drawing from experience becomes difficult when most of your learning is theoretical, digitally distant, done in isolated exercises or not hardwired through your senses. Even if a student has a wealth of experience, they may not know how to use it as a source of inspiration and a call to action. Place Based Education is a great way to find this inspiration and offers supporting processes for inquiry, idea generation and project development. 

Teton Science Schools began in 1967 when one teacher decided to bring his students out in nature to learn about the natural sciences rather than within the confines of classroom walls. Located in Wyoming and Idaho, it now runs programs in field education, classroom education and educator development. Since then, it has expanded its reach and impact based on the idea that all people live in a place they should care about, learn from and actively participate in. This does not have to be in the wilds of Wyoming- it can happen anywhere. 

Over the years Teton Schools has developed an approach to Place Based Education founded on some key principles and conceptual frameworks. First, all places can be uniquely examined through the lens of culture, economy and ecology. This is done by actually going out into the community and drawing from authentic observations and experiences. Observation is the starting point for analyzing your community and what makes it unique and determining what can be discovered and learned about the larger world through a local context. 

Next, the following guiding principles help educators design impactful learning experiences for students:

  • Local to Global Context– connect local events and histories to broader context
  • Community as Classroom– locate people, places and resources found locally
  • Inquiry Based Learning– develop observation and questioning skills to build curiosity and focus inquiry
  • Design Thinking– define an opportunity with empathy, understanding of bias and a view toward community
  • Learner-Centered– create opportunities for voice and choice in order to increase engagement and agency
  • Interdisciplinary Approach– collaborate with colleagues across disciplines to define and refine learning opportunities

The Maker Movement shares most of these same ideas, but can benefit from two principles in particular which help to inspire and build schema. The PBE principle of Community as Classroom, is a call to action, to seek out possibilities and opportunities for project ideas right in the local community.The PBE principle of Local to Global helps students draw a connection between what happens locally and its broader global implications. These principles encourage students to design things relevant to themselves and of value to others.

Our end goal by participating in this program is to take what we learn and create a network of community partners and a menu of learning experiences to offer Newport’s students. We plan on designing educational experiences in teams of community partners who are experts within their own domains, school teachers who are academic content and pedagogical experts, along with student representatives and community members who will ensure we are considering diverse perspectives and putting the user at the center of the experience. 

For example, one team may consist of a Thompson art teacher, a representative from the Newport Art Museum, a Thompson student, a local mom/artist and a FabNewport coach trained in Place Based Education. We already have a team of educators and community partners who have agreed to participate and plan learning experiences together. Once we have developed our menu of learning opportunities, we will try them out with our Newport Experience summer camp students. The long term goal would be to integrate these out of school learning experiences into the school day. 

Place Based Education does not require that you live in an amazing place with lots of wild spaces. Wherever there is culture, economy and ecology, in other words, wherever there are people, there is something to be learned from place. 

Newport is particularly rich with opportunities to learn about the world through a local context. 

History here is well preserved and obvious. We have both wild and urban ecology. Newport also has a superficial story of place, designed for tourism, masking many untold stories and deep truths just waiting to be discovered by young people. Ultimately, we have a future we will entrust to the next generation and, with forethought, can shape their love of place, foster a sense of stewardship, help them discover who they are and how they can contribute and give them the tools they need to evolve and adapt. This is learning at its best. 

To learn more about Teton Science Schools and Place Based Education, check out these resources:

Website: tetonscience.org

Article: What Is Place Based Education and Why Does It Matter?