Train the teachers and they will train the masses. It is not a new concept, but one which is continually being reinvented for different purposes. In Wyoming, the purpose has become Place Learning and Civic Engagement (PLACE) based learning.
In 2011, Teton Science Schools and Dr. Kate Welsh from the University of Wyoming received a Math Science Partnership grant to provide professional development for elementary science teachers on place based teaching practices and science content. Now in its final year of the three-year grant, the program touts success stories from across the state. Teachers attend intensive workshops, create implementation plans, and then teach students outdoors in the local environment.
Wyoming students are gaining an even stronger connection to place as program teachers have successfully integrated PLACE into their everyday teaching practices.
Regardless of the weather, Janet Wragge and Debbie LaChance’s students start everyday outside with scientific inquiry and play – a program they call Burn & Learn. Wragge and LaChance’s classes have adopted the school’s snow bank for study this winter. Each day the students make a prediction about the snow bank prior to their outdoor exploration. Wragge stated that even when the students’ faces are dripping with snot and their hands frozen from the snow, they still energetically examine the snow bank to find answers.
Teachers of PLACE teach in all seasons. In the spring another teacher created miniature landfills for her students and encouraged them to weekly investigate the decomposition of an organic and an inorganic piece of trash. The study was not from photographs in a book, but with real objects the students brought from their trash bag at home.
Regardless of where teachers were located, their commitment to PLACE will have positive impacts on Wyomingites for generations to come. Students learning the decomposition of trash through inquiry based projects at school will make better choices for our landfills in the future. Most importantly, however, Wyoming students investigating what we term “home” will feel connected to our land, our communities, and our environment. What book can teach that?