Thursday October 17, 2013
Saturday, September 28, Debra Paul and Katelyn Floyd, 6th grade teachers at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, shared their expertise with educators from around the state and region.
Twenty participants from A Forest for Every Classroom (FFEC), a yearlong professional development program, were all ears as Debra and Katelyn explained how they develop interdisciplinary curricula that highlight the distinctive attributes of the local community. While sharing their strategies for developing high quality units of study that integrate math, science, social studies, English language arts, and the arts, they emphasized that by partnering together and with resource experts, they could help students understand the connections across subject areas and make the learning come alive.
So often in schools the disciplines are pulled apart to make sense of them, but in the real world they collide and students struggle with putting the world back together. Their approach of place-based integrative teaching and learning is not something new, but is not always easy in today’s educational system where there is little time for teachers to collaboratively plan, assess and redesign. To help make these real world connections, Debra and Katelyn shared how they have incorporated community partners and community sites to deepen student learning and application of learning into new situations. In addition to strategies for planning and teaching, they brought teacher resources and a variety of project examples from student written books to art projects that demonstrate student learning. Debra’s and Katelyn’s efforts at Tuttle in place-, project- and service-learning were a great inspiration to the FFEC educators who are now halfway into their yearlong program, providing a timely boost of ideas and excitement for their own work.
A Forest for Every Classroom is a unique professional development program facilitated by a partnership of governmental and non-governmental organizations comprised of Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park, Shelburne Farms, Green Mountain National Forest, and Merck Forest and Farm Center. Now in its twelfth year, FFEC has had support from a variety of partners over the past decade including the Wellborn Ecology Fund, National Wildlife Federation and Vermont Audubon; more than 200 teachers have participated in the program.
Created in Vermont, the program is now nationally replicated in states across the country from New Hampshire to Wisconsin, Texas to Montana. The premise of the program is to introduce teachers to both content about forest resources, ecology, and management as well as teaching practices, or pedagogy, that support student engagement and achievement. Teachers are immersed in place-based learning, or learning about the way the world works right outside the door, and then are able to practice the arts and craft back in their classrooms. Over the course of the year, teachers develop units of study that highlight some aspect of public lands and forests as well as develop a network of colleagues engaged in similar work.
Programs like FFEC and school-based initiatives that support place-based learning are not only fun for students, but as Deb and Katelyn can tell you, they re-energize teachers, improve student engagement and learning, connect schools and communities, and grow a generation of citizens who are better stewards of their communities. There is strong research in the field of place-based learning pointing to these outcomes and with examples and case studies like Deb and Katelyn from around the country there is a great deal of hope for the future.
By Jen Cirillo, Shelburne Farms Director of Professional Development, and Joan Haley, Shelburne Farms Park Education Coordinator