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Concurrent Paper Session Thursday, 19th February, 2004

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting


Karen Rae1 & Brigid Pearse2 1 Environmental Management Systems Coordinator 2 Environmental Education Officer Marrickville Council 2 14 Fisher St, Petersham emscord@marrickville.nsw.gov.au

ABSTRACT Place-based education represents a recent trend in the broad field of outdoor and environmental education. Place-based education is a relatively new term in the education literature. However the approach has developed from experiential education which has been promoted by progressive educators for more than 100 years. In the age of on-line learning and electronic media, the case for place-based education needs to be considered by policy makers, managers and educators for effective environment education. The value of placed-based education has been recognised in the rural context in revitalising rural communities and in curriculum as it relates to outdoor/ environmental education in primary and secondary schools. It is also acknowledged as an important educational method in areas where the place is of ecological significance, for example the Royal National Park. The practice of place-based education achieves a holistic approach to environmental education, improved access and better coordination of resources in accordance with the needs identified in the NSW Learning for Sustainability Plan. Drawing on the evaluation research from The Watershed, this paper examines the theories and practice of place-based education in the urban environment. The diverse combination of activities delivered by The Watershed provides rich data and analysis to assess the unique opportunities inherent in place-based education. The Watershed is an example of environmental education informed by a sense of place. It promotes learning through the investigation of surrounding natural and human communities. This example highlights the usefulness of place-based education for an audience beyond primary and secondary schools and beyond traditional locations of ecological significance.

Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting - 2004

INTRODUCTION As part of the Effective Sustainability Education Conference 2004 this paper will explore the relevance of place-based education for environment educators in the urban setting. The authors draw an understanding of the characteristics of place-based education from a review of the literature and reflection of environmental education in practice. Planning and implementing an education program in a shop-front education site lead the authors to distinguish place-based education practice from other methods used in environment education. This reflection on education practice has sparked an inquiry into the key elements of the place-based education approach, in the urban environment. A well-known definition of environmental education is any process or activity that assists the development of awareness, skills, attitudes and knowledge leading to environmentally responsible practices and behavior (NSW Council on Environmental Education, 2002). Effective environmental education, as defined by the NSW Learning for Sustainability Plan (2002), builds the capacity of the people of NSW to be informed and active participants in moving society towards sustainability. Effective environmental education is education that 'moves' people to build their own capacity to respond to environmental issues. The key phrase here is 'education that moves people' that is education as a means of motivating changes in community ethos and individual lifestyle resulting in sustainable local environments. Ethos is the "characteristic spirit of a community" (Oxford.com, 2004). A place-based education approach recognises and seeks to interact with the characteristic spirit of a place. Building on the concept of ethos, this paper will particularly explore the value of place-based education for environment education in urban areas. The understanding of ethos has evolved over four years of environment education practice and has informed the development and design of The Watershed project. BACKGROUND In a review of the literature that documents the theory and practice of place-based education there is an emphasis on the rural or school environment (Woodhouse and Knapp 2002, Smith 2000). Place-based education draws from and overlaps with experiential education approaches such as 'outdoor education', 'community oriented education', 'ecological education' and 'bioregional education' (Woodhouse and Knapp, 2002, Smith, 2000). Place-based education has emerged from alternative theories of education that advocated an experiential approach to learning in the early in the twentieth century. Smith (2002) cites that Dewey (1915) noted a disconnection between schools and the world and suggested that children have minds that are drawn to actual phenomena, not
Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting - 2004

ideas about phenomena. Smith (2002) goes further to say that valuable knowledge for children is knowledge directly related to their own social reality, knowledge that helps them to engage with their local community. In primary and secondary school settings place-based education requires teachers to move away from lessons that provide standard responses from students, towards learning experiences drawn form the local context that leave space for students to make meaning with their teachers. In recent years, technological advances have led to classroom learning dominated by electronic media and standard education materials, curriculums and testing methods. As place-based education is, by its nature specific to particular locales, generic curriculum models are inappropriate (Smith 2002). It is worth noting the growing popularity of placebased education in schools as teachers work to reconnect their students back into their communities and refocus learning onto local issues. An understanding of place-based education approaches and community ethos has informed the design and delivery of place-based stormwater education projects over the last 4 years in Marrickville Local Government Area. The most recent of these projects being The Watershed. The Watershed is a shop-front environment resource centre (open to the public 6 days a week) located in Newtown. It is a joint project between two inner city Councils (Marrickville and South Sydney City Councils) originally funded by the NSW Government through its Stormwater Trust. The key elements of place-based education are discussed in detail in the following section drawing on examples from the diverse combination of activities delivered by the Watershed (business and community education). The examples will illustrate the usefulness of this approach with adults in inner city areas for the purposes of effective environmental education. CHARACTERISTICS OF PLACE-BASED EDUCATION In order to proceed with a discussion it is necessary to establish a working definition of place-based education. The definition presented here is made up of various elements that the authors see as essential to the approach. A 'place-based' education approach draws its key messages from the local environment (cultural, physical and historical) and encourages knowledge sharing between learners and educators based on experience. To give form to the different elements of the definition, a place-based education model: (Figure 1).

Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting - 2004

Experience

Communication methods Content (key messages) People (participants / educators)

Local Environment (place)


Figure 1. Place-based Education Model (Model)

The particular attributes of the local environment or place builds the foundation of the Model (Figure 1 bottom circle) and the foundation of the educational approach. The local environment incorporates the geography, culture, history, ecology, politics and any other dynamics of a place (Woodhouse & Knapp, 2000). The local environment includes the ethos or 'characteristic spirit' of the place and the people living or working there. The model depicts the elements of local environment, people and content as separate, this is to show that the content of a place-based program only comes into being after the participation of the people, therefore this model shows the process through time. The involvement of the people living or working in an area to develop the content, communication methods and experiences that reinforce the key messages is what links the models together. When developing key messages for The Watershed community education program educators replaced standardised State-based messages such as the drain is just for rain and dont be a tosser with messages specific to the local geography. For example King St, Newtown is a ridge that divides the drainage areas of Botany Bay (Cooks River) from Sydney Harbour (Rozelle Bay). Watershed is defined as a ridge or crest line that divides two drainage areas (Oxford.com 2004). Hence the education centre located on King St was named The Watershed and the key messages of the community education strategy were Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour begin in Newtown and Butts on King end up in the swim. The characteristic of content specific to the place is described by Woodhouse and Knapp (2000) as being fundamental to the foundation of the placebased approach. The Watershed Awards night brought together the local residential, business, volunteer and government community in a celebration of environmental efforts. In this urban setting The Watershed Awards celebration became an expression of the community ownership of the project and also a learning experience that reinforced the key messages to all those who attended. The night was hosted at the local community

Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting - 2004

centre and sponsored by the local newspaper. The Watershed Awards event gave participants an experience of the ethos developed in Newtown as a result of the community engaging with the key messages of the project. This experience motivated local businesses and residents to request further assistance to implement a range of environmental actions. The Watershed Awards provided the opportunity for participants share stories about their local environment, efforts to improve their own environmental performance and experience the support for the key messages with people from the local community. Greenwald cites that Sobel (1996) sees place-based education as a means to create experiences where people can build relationships of care for places close to home. Newtown supports a vibrant theatre and arts community. The Watershed Street Project involved eighteen (18) young people from a local Youth Theatre (PACT Youth Theatre) in developing a performance. The Watershed Street Project connected local young people with the impacts of poor water quality in their neighborhood. Their understanding informed a performance they created and performed for the broader community during peak shopping times. "The rich subject matter, so close to home had such an impact on the group- they stopped throwing their butts in the gutter and they felt very visible to the local community" Pers. Comm. Artistic Director - PACT Youth Theatre) The communication methods used to communicate the key messages for the performance involved the Youth Theatre as a partner in the project. The Watershed Street Project became their project and they began to promote the key messages to their networks. The communication methods i.e. street theatre and it's promotion was developed in partnership with the local community. In the early development stages of The Watershed community and business education program educators were located on-site in the commercial district, within the commercial district. Educators gained first hand experience of the characteristics of the place. Smith (2002) calls it learning about the land by being on the land, or better by being in the thick of it. In doing so educators shared an understanding of the place with the participants and what was learnt together about the place was transferred into the development of the education program.
This strategy of allowing the community, in all its diversity, to create the shape of the program allows the Watershed to be perceived as another local shop that is enjoyable to drop into, a member of the King St community that establishes a community assumption of being engaged in caring for the river even though the river is nowhere in sight (Personal Communication Goff 2003 p70).

CONCLUSION The place-based education approach described here has relevance for educators in settings far broader than the traditional context within schools and rural communities. A

Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia

Value of Place-based Education in the Urban Setting - 2004

place-based education approach develops community ownership by being responsive to the local context and results in sustained outcomes. The outcomes of The Watershed have continued beyond the life of the project funding. These sustained outcomes led the authors to reflect on the common elements of education practice in these initiatives. It was determined that these elements correlated with the characteristics of place-based education as found in environment education literature. By analysing the key elements of the place-based approach as defined in the literature this paper has shown examples of the application of these key elements in an urban setting with adult audiences with success. It is hoped that the key elements of place based education will be of use to policy makers, educators and managers when developing environmental education programs. REFERENCES Smith, G. (2002). Place based education: Learning to be where we are. Phi Delta Kappan, 83, 584-594 Woodhouse, J., & Knapp, C. (2000) Place based curriculum and instruction. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EDO-RC-00-6). Gruenewald, D. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedegogy of place. Educational Researcher, v32, 4, 3-12 Goff, S. (2003) So the earth can relax and we can all have fun: The evaluation of three stormwater education programs in the Cooks River Catchment. Cultureshift Pty Ltd. Ask Oxford.com [ Accessed on 3/2/2004] http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/ethos?view=uk Learning for Sustainability: NSW Environmental Education Plan 2002- 2005, NSW Council on Environmental Education, Sydney. Personal Communication: Murphy, C., Artistic Director PACT Youth Theatre 5th September 2003.

Effective Sustainability Education: What Works? Why? Where Next? Linking Research and Practice 18-20 February 2004, Sydney, Australia