Northeast Michigan explores project-based learning, place-based education connections
School, community partners from the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative learn and grow together.
A community of practice represents an opportunity for a group of people to learn and grow together – a community with shared interests and together a wealth of shared expertise and experiences.
The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) is a regional community network of schools and educators, communities and partners who are invested in connecting youth, through their learning, in caring for natural resources. This network and partnership regionally supports place-based education (PBE) and works together to engage youth seeking to enhance their learning through Great Lakes and natural resource stewardship projects.
Last month, more than 60 educators and community partners celebrated the network’s successes during the 13th annual regional NEMIGLSI network meeting held in Alpena, Mich. Facilitated by Michigan State University Extension (Michigan Sea Grant and 4-H Youth), NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Huron Pines AmeriCorps and others, this meeting serves to strengthen school-community partnerships across the region. Educators from ten area schools joined in sharing educational presentations, trade resources and exploring new ideas together with community partners.
This year’s meeting offered an opportunity to explore connections between project-based learning and place-based education experiences and opportunities for youth. Keynote speaker, Mary Whitmore, serves as director for the statewide Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and champions PBE as an effective strategy to better connect youth learning with their communities while caring for the Great Lakes and natural resources. Whitmore shared a reflection on the idea of ‘Powerful Learning,’ describing the types of attributes we often seek in youth learners – and the types of educational strategies we often deploy to accomplish these outcomes. Through this lens, she illustrated how project-based learning and place-based education strategies serve together in complementary ways. For example, a student project that inspires greater learning opportunities can also serve as a place-based education experience when connected with local environment and a local community context.
An educational panel shared additional perspectives about project-based learning experiences that have also successfully served in growing place-based education opportunities, including:
- Expanding through community connections: Monarch Watch and Salmon in the Classroom: Gail Gombos and Jen Inglis are elementary teachers at Alcona Community Schools, where students participate in the Monarch Watch and Salmon in the Classroom projects. Their school team has made strides in recent years to connect these student projects with broader community place-based education partnerships. Students who participate in the Monarch Watch project not only contribute important citizen science data, but are also contributing to a pollinator garden project at the local library. On the aquatic side, their Salmon in the Classroom project partnership engages students in broader watershed science and studies connected with their local marina.
- iNaturalist, Schoolyard Bio-Blitz and Biodiversity Conservation: Gabi Likavec joined the panel from Central Michigan University and Michigan Geographic Alliance. Across Michigan, she inspires citizen science opportunities through Schoolyard Bioblitz’s and the iNaturalist digital reporting and mapping tool. Likavec shared examples of how iNaturalist has been used to conduct schoolyard and community bioblitz’s, how student-collected data is being used by scientists around the world, and how educators can leverage this project to accomplish learning goals.
- Projects, inquiry, and place-based successes: Bob Thomson is a veteran elementary teacher from Alpena Public Schools, who serves on the NEMIGLSI leadership team and as a Center for Great Lakes Literacy mentor teacher. Through a watershed science and stewardship model, Thomson engages his students in a wide diversity of projects, ranging from building underwater robots to rearing native fish in his classroom. Thomson leverages these projects to connect his students with scientists and their local communities, and through inquiry-driven processes he challenges students to translate their projects into local science and stewardship projects that result in deeper, richer learning experiences for youth involved.
Impact felt by many
In 2017, supported by Great Lakes Fishery Trust’s Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative funding, the NEMIGLSI network:
- served more than 30 schools,
- supported 167 educators,
- and engaged 4,483 youth in place-based stewardship education experiences.
At its core, the network and partnership is guided by a set of Principles for Exemplary Place-Based Stewardship Education (PBSE) co-developed with the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and nine statewide GLSI network hubs (including NEMIGLSI). This regional meeting reflected on these place-based education principles, examples in local practice, and regional network accomplishments. As a networking meeting participants also discussed upcoming opportunities, and engaged participants in exploring new ideas and planning future opportunities for the NEMIGLSI network.
Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.