Exploring integrated learning through place-based stewardship education

School and community partners explore integrated, applied learning opportunities through place-based education practices regional networking meeting.

The NE MI GLSI annual networking meeting seeks to foster school-community partnerships while exchanging information and new ideas. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The NE MI GLSI annual networking meeting seeks to foster school-community partnerships while exchanging information and new ideas. Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

The recently adopted new Michigan Science Standards reflect a shift and trend in the education world toward providing more integrated and applied learning opportunities for youth. The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) network partnership supports place-based stewardship education, and celebrates more than ten years of support provided to schools and educators and youth seeking to enhance their learning through the integration of environmental stewardship projects.

Recently, 76 educators and community partners celebrated these successes during the 11th annual regional NEMIGLSI network meeting held at the NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center 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 — among other leadership partners — this regional meeting serves to strengthen school-community partnerships across the region. Educators from more than a dozen schools came together with community partners to share educational presentations, trade resources and explore new ideas.

Integrated learning and more specifically “Integrated Learning accomplished through Place-Based Education” was the focus. Educational presentations highlighted examples, ideas, and lessons learned about integrated learning from the perspectives of an educator and students, a school administrator, a natural resource conservation professional, and the Michigan Department of Education.

Megan Schrauben, Integrated Instruction Consultant from the Michigan Department of Education, shared her perspective toward integrated learning. As a true innovator dedicated to expanding and improving educational opportunities in Michigan, Schrauben embraces place-based stewardship education as one avenue to fully engage youth in their education and a reason for them to value their time in school. Schrauben’s talk focused on helping participants understand the flexibility of the Michigan Merit Curriculum and other school policies along with planting the seeds for changing “how school has always been.” Schrauben began with a powerful image of youth in a one-room schoolhouse using a slate and chalk. She challenges educators with the idea that if we’ve only traded one tablet for another and have not changed HOW we engage students, then we have not advanced education in Michigan.

The day’s educational panel presentations also included perspectives toward integrated learning from the following:

  • Great Lakes and natural resources: Craig Kasmer represented the state Department of Natural Resources while sharing a natural resources education perspective. An interpreter from Hartwick Pines State Park, he shared how integrated learning can be accomplished through natural resources experiences; he presented many examples of how the DNR supports teachers and students directly in fostering natural resource learning connections.
  • Educator and students: Scott Steensma, a teacher from Onaway High School, and his student team shared how their Environmental Science class revolves around environmental service projects; through these projects, they accomplish integrated learning that achieves academic goals and enhances life skills.
  • School administrator: Superintendent Jeff Collier from Au Gres-Sims School District presented on how science, technology, engineering, math (STEM)-based learning is achieved through applied PBE principles and practices. The school has designed a curriculum overlay where K-12 students will accomplish STEM learning through a variety of place-based projects organized around four themes – robotics, water studies, schoolyard habitats, and weather exploration.

Participants also provided updates, information, and resources from across the region. The day ended with breakout conversations where participants discussed ways to develop place-based learning projects with their students in their schools and communities. Participants also learned about zero-waste strategies as drink and food containers were reused or recycled and food waste and paper products were collected for composting.participants around a table during conference.

Opportunities abound when schools and community partners gather together from around the region. In 2015, supported by Great Lakes Fishery Trust’s Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative funding, the NEMIGLSI network served 34 schools, supported 145 educators, and engaged 4,804 youth in place-based stewardship education experiences. These partnerships show how place-based stewardship education strategies can enhance school and student learning through hands-on science learning in their community. This regional meeting reflected on these accomplishments, discussed upcoming opportunities, and engaged participants in planning toward a brighter future 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.