Place-based education enhancing STEM education

School and community partners explore Great Lakes science opportunities through place-based education practices enhancing STEM education in area schools with the support of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

Across northeast Michigan, youth are engaged in citizen science learning opportunities and making a difference in their communities through these place-based education Great Lakes environmental studies. These efforts reflect the work of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NE MI GLSI) network partnering to advance place-based education practices that engage youth in environmental stewardship opportunities across northeast Michigan.

According to Michigan State University Extension, many place-based education conversations center on the theme of “Bringing Great Lakes Science Alive through Place-Based Education.” One Great Lakes literacy principle, promoted through the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy, notes there is still much to be learned about the Great Lakes. This presents opportunities for youth to engage in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and to be part of the Great Lakes science conversations, investigating Great Lakes issues and connecting with research scientists around real world issues.

Through the NE MI GLSI network, students are engaged in E-STEM projects where they are taking on water quality monitoring, habitat restoration, invasive species, biodiversity conservation and other important environmental issues. Youth across northeast Michigan use technology like iPads, GPS units and 3-D printers to engage in the science around environmental issues while engineering underwater ROVs, release mechanisms for Lake Trout fingerlings and trawl net systems to collect micro plastics.

While involved in PBE learning projects, students engage in science process to investigate environmental issues, such as water quality of invasive species, and apply mathematics to analyze the variety of data collected from chemical or micro plastics in the water to the number of zebra mussels or crayfish per unit area. Whether it is science inquiry and investigation, technology and engineering to take on projects, or mathematics to interpret data, students are addressing environmental issues through E-STEM engagement.

Place-based education (PBE) in northeast Michigan enhances STEM through the use of the Science and Engineering Practices identified by the National Research Council in their Framework for K-12 Science Education published in 2011. These practices are the research-based best practices for teaching, learning and doing science with youth. The Michigan Department of Education supports the inclusion of the practices as one way to enhance science literacy in Michigan. The practices focus on how to do STEM in a meaningful and engaging way with youth.

Through the practices, youth engage in higher level thinking, question and investigate their world, collect, analyze and communicate information and learn to evaluate existing information, using it to engage in arguments or discussions based upon evidence. PBE and the Science and Engineering Practices are strong threads weaving STEM throughout the NE MI GLSI stewardship projects. The PBE principles and the practices engage students within their learning and support youth in applying their educational experience in environmental stewardship projects that make a difference in their community. The PBE STEM learning opportunities make these projects come alive and become successful youth driven ventures.

When taking on important environmental issue like invasive species, youth are challenged to reach a higher level of science understanding while weaving technology, engineering and mathematics into accomplishment of their projects. Place-based education strategies can enhance school and student learning, academically, through hands-on learning in their community.

In 2014, supported by Great Lakes Fishery Trust’s Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and NOAA B-WET, the NE MI GLSI network served 33 schools, supported 154 educators and engaged 5,126 youth in place-based stewardship education experiences. This network serves to engage communities, schools and youth through Place-Based Stewardship Education (PBSE) learning processes. Applying E-STEM learning strategies can foster the knowledge, skills and spark of opportunities empowering students to successfully engage in these environmental stewardship projects that make a difference in their communities.

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