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Immerse Yourself and Discover Your Place

January 9, 2013

Ahhh…Amazonia.  A magical word that conjures up images of snaking rivers, soaring trees, and strange wildlife.  Surely if there is a place that can inspire wonder and curiosity, it is this.  And yet…many visitors struggle to make sense of it all, to put it into perspective, to find a scale that makes it understandable and manageable, to find a way to meaningfully connect.  It seems that many find it difficult to immerse themselves and fully experience the world right in front of them.

Now imagine if you were blind.  How would you begin to understand and connect to this strange new world without the sense of sight?  I recently finished A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts, a remarkable book about a remarkable man who traveled – completely blind to some of the most remote and wild regions of the world – often by himself.  Needless to say, it got me thinking – and questioning! 

How does one typically develop a sense of a place?  How do I connect with the places I visit every day or once-in-a-lifetime?  How do others connect?  What ways of making connections are overlooked or under-utilized? Does a deepening sense of place lead to action? involvement? As educators and naturalists, what is our role in helping our students develop a “sense of a place” and what implications does this have for teaching and learning?  How can we facilitate total immersion in a place?

Total Immersion of 2012 Amazon Educators

Total Immersion of 2012 Amazon Educators

According to the Center for Ecoliteracy, place-based learning begins with asking questions such as, “Where am I? What is the natural and social history of this place? How does this place fit into the larger world?”

IMG_3602All great questions, but it seems to me, as stated, they barely scratch the surface.  The real power of place-based learning comes when these questions are used to not only develop a student’s awareness of the world around them, but to deepen their understanding that they are active participants and not passive observers of the places they live and the places they visit.   Planting and nurturing this sense of awareness, this personal responsibility to a place, will allow real and lasting transformation to take root.

As we prepare for our upcoming 2013 Educator Academy in the Amazon, we will be using these Vital Venture tips for getting started with place-based learning to focus the development of our field sessions.  You can use these just as easily in your own classroom or own backyard!

  • Make it personal. Make personal connections to your community and environment through research, personal reflection, and exploration.
  • Find out what is going on.  Identify local issues or ongoing projects related to concepts you are studying in the classroom or exploring in the field – “real world” examples provide context, life, and meaning.
  • Find out who your local “experts” are. Deepen understanding by engaging with local professionals from a variety of backgrounds and ask them to share their perspectives on the issue at hand.
  • Investigate. Engage in independent, personalized research and enlist the support and guidance of the “experts” in your community.
  • Take action.  Apply your learning and serve your community. Work with community members to help solve a local problem.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION!  Leave a reply below. How do you connect to the place you call home or the places you’ve visted?  How do you use place-based learning in your curriculum?

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