As 2013 draws to a close, we are excited to announce the 2014 Discovering Place mini grant application: DP_mini grant application 2014

While most grants involve a competitive process, our grant process is designed not only to help support your projects as you get them off the ground, but to steep teams in the process of grant writing. Getting good at this vital skill means when you want to continue or expand your projects, you’ll have more options, since you’ll already be experienced in the grant-writing process.

Submission deadline is April 1, 2014.


I don’t know about you, but as a middle-schooler with an attitude, I didn’t really get why I had to learn certain stuff.

Even in high school, I was leaning back in my chair asking, “Algebra? Really? How am I ever going to use this in real life?”

You’d think, now that my attitude’s better and all, that I could just simply hush up and do what I’m told without questioning why. While that happens on occasion, I still find that relevance makes a world of difference to me. I’ll bet relevance matters to you too.

For example:

  • I can more easily memorize a route when I’m the driver, not the passenger.
  • I understand what I’m reading when I know why it matters to me.
  • I’m better at coming up with a solution when I’ve experienced the problem.

See what I mean? Herein lies my love for place-based education, since PBE’s entire focus is on developing stewards by teaching youth through lessons that actually matter to them. When done right, it also helps ensure that improvements happening in a community originate with members of the community, instead of being externally imposed, which substantially improves the odds of positive change taking root for good.

I doubt that teachers would dispute the need for relevance in lesson plans, but that means taking teaching beyond the textbook. This can be messy. Depending on your comfort level in trying something new, it can be a little scary too.

That’s why we have added a page to this blog showing examples of place-based education.

Please explore these examples and lesson plans! Use them as inspiration to get started in place-based education!

Once you’ve tried out a PBE lesson, you can take it to the next level by finding out what matters to your students, then gearing lessons accordingly. Because we all tend to remember the right road when we’ve had a chance to sit in the driver’s seat.

– Elizabeth Lowe

Looking for inspiration, motivation or a look at the ideas that are currently being implemented in place-based education? Register now for the 2nd Annual Great Lakes Place-Based Education Conference, to take place Nov. 13-14, 2012 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing, MI. The conference is presented by the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) .

Early registration ends Oct. 19 for the conference, which features keynote speakers Doris Terry Williams, who directs the Leadership Council and the Capacity Building Program of the Rural School and Community Trust; and nationally renowned Great Lakes nature writer Jerry Dennis. Early registrants save $15 – $25 per person.

According to the GLSI site, the two-day conference will also feature presentations on promising practices, panel discussions, forums for communities of practice, access to place-based education (PBE) resources and plenty of networking opportunities.

The Great Lakes PBE conference is especially recommended for K-16 educators and administrators who want to “forge strong partnerships with the community,” along with community leaders and representatives of foundations and organizations interested in education, environmental stewardship, youth or community development, and those who want to learn more about PBE and environmental stewardship.

A call for presenters closes Oct. 15. There are three formats for presentations, including a traditional 45-minute presentation, participation in a 45-minute forum/discussion panel, or a 5-minute/20-slide presentation on an idea, discovery, or success that can benefit others interested in PBE and environmental education.

The conference is sponsored in part by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust.

To register, sign up for a presentation or learn more about the conference or the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, click here.

Nearly 80 people attended last month’s “Our Cities, Our Classrooms” conference here on the University of Michigan-Flint campus to learn more about place-based education, which connects kids, classrooms and communities.

We are currently compiling feedback, but here’s what some attendees had to say:

“This was a wonderful conference that addressed many challenges we face in education. Thank you–it was awesome!”

“I enjoyed learning about PBE.”

“Thank you for this opportunity! I learned so much that I can bring back to my school and classroom!”

“Very interesting and helpful conference.”

“Thank you for including not just teachers but community partners too!

“Loved it!”

 While we can’t fully convey all the good stuff that happened at the conference, you can check out the presentations here. Or view the conference photos on Flickr!


Wow! What an amazing opportunity to kick-start your school year!

Click on the pic for a smattering of what you can expect at our Aug. 23 “Our Cities, Our Classrooms” conference, here on the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Along with highlights of place-based education (which links students to lessons based on their surroundings), there’s some amazing info on school gardens and nutrition. You’ll even have a chance to link technology to your school garden and check out For-Mar’s rolling truck farm!

We’re lucky to get to learn in the company of experts from across the state, including our keynote, Ryan Huppert, principal of a Grand Rapids school named among Michigan’s Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report.

If you haven’t yet registered, just click here. The conference is free, and will feature fresh local food by Hoffman’s Deco Deli. Teachers who attended the 2010 conference had great things to say, including that it was “one of the best” they’d ever attended and was “worth the drive.”

Join us next Thursday to kick off the best school year ever!

Want to start the school year with a truckload of inspiration and hands-on ideas for engaging your students?

Then don’t miss the “Our Cities, Our Classrooms” conference on Aug. 23!

The free conference features an exciting lineup of experts (see below) to help you kick-start the year with plenty of garden, outdoor and nutrition resources, ranging from theme gardens to healthy food access to incorporating technology into the outdoors. Savor free locally-grown food prepared by Flint’s own Hoffman’s Deco Deli. Take advantage of networking and the Information Fair to find out more about implementing your own school projects. Conference guests will also have a chance to check out For-Mar Nature Preserve’s rolling Truck Farm, catch a glimpse of our soon-to-be-released educational video series and, for local educators, learn how to win money to start their own school project!

Sign up here!

  • Keynote Speaker Ryan Huppert is the Administrator of Environmental Education Programs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, including the district’s hands-on Blandford School at the Blandford Nature Center, the Zoo School, and two environmental science schools which utilize place-based pedagogy. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and a Master’s Degree in Education, with certification in Science and Spanish. Huppert’s career has been influenced by many important experiences, including living and studying abroad, implementing outdoor leadership classes, leading sustainability-focused student trips to Costa Rica and serving on the United Nation’s Regional Center of Expertise in Sustainability. Huppert also serves on the board of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, and as the Principal of Grand Rapids City Middle/High School, which was named among Michigan’s Top 10 Schools this year by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Joy Baldwin is the former Food Systems Project Coordinator for the NorthWest Initiative in Lansing, where she developed, taught and managed school-based nutrition education garden programs, to motivate students to grow and eat fresh food, as well as to grasp curriculum concepts. Joy now uses her garden and artistic talents to benefit community agencies through her business, Joyful Designs.
  • Julia Liljegren is the Regional Education Advocacy Manager of the National Wildlife Federation, Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor. Her focus is on developing strategies to link people – especially children – with nature, advocating to implement these strategies, and cultivating collaborations to advance the ability to connect with and understand the great outdoors.
  • Dr. Norm Lownds is an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University. His interest in science education, experiential learning and technology can be seen in the integration of computer applications in the 4-H Children’s Garden, as well as in his involvement in the Seeds of Science and Wonder Wall research projects.
  • Rebecca Nielsen owns and operates Nielsen Education Consulting, which specializes in science and environmental education and education program design. A former high school science teacher, she serves on the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative evaluation team and as a curriculum coach and school liaison for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition. Rebecca is also an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University.
  • Heather Schwerin is a Master Gardener, an educator, and a Horticulture Assistant for For-Mar Nature Preserve and Arboretum, part of the Genesee County Parks system. She currently oversees development and implementation of For-Mar’s youth horticulture programming.

To develop stewardship among students, and help them learn lessons that take root, several of our Discovering Place teachers are planning school gardens for the fall.

The California School Garden Network offers a free guide to help get your garden started. It’s also a great site for lots of other school garden resources, including curriculum ideas, which can be modified to meet Michigan education standards.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds just posted suggested fall crops for northern gardens, which could be helpful for teachers; this kind of information ─ geared specifically to school gardens ─ will be shared at next month’s 2012 Our Cities, Our Classrooms conference. The free conference, which will share expert ideas on school gardens, healthy food and place-based education,  is slated for 8:30 – 4 p.m. Aug. 23 on the campus of  the University of Michigan-Flint. Michigan educators can register  here:

Place-based education doesn’t have to be about gardens, but gardens can be worthwhile place-based efforts.

Whether your school is planning a garden, taking over cleanup of a nearby park or figuring out a way to help a local business thrive, place-based education is simply the process of continually connecting kids to their surroundings.

When students authentically work side-by-side with community members for the good of their neighborhood or their local environment, it’s easier to connect with that place, and want to be part of keeping it healthy. And because it’s relevant and meaningful, they’re more likely to remember the academic lessons learned in the process.

Wow, we really appreciate the positive feedback teachers and partners expressed at Saturday’s workshop on logic models and grant writing. Seeing our Discovering Place participants so engaged in workshops is enormously rewarding. But when you send compliments our way? Well, that’s the icing on the proverbial cupcake.

With that said, we’re intensely focusing on this month’s deadline for turning in mini-grant applications. I trust school project team members are looking over their applications in more depth, and working to link their logic model information to their applications. Be sure to mark any questions you have and come out to the May 17 work session so we can help.

While most grants involve a competitive process, our grant process is designed not only to help support your projects as you get them off the ground, but to steep teams in the process of grant writing. Getting good at this vital skill means when you want to continue or expand your projects, you’ll have more options, since you’ll already be experienced in the grant-writing process.

Please be sure to RSVP for next week, so we have enough food for everybody!



OK, I’ve finally gone through the stash of books brought back from February’s workshop, the ones not checked out of our Lending Library, and it’s good to see our teachers are using the resources at their disposal to develop some great projects!

If you’ve found a book especially helpful, feel free to review it, either on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble. If you send me your review link (or e-mail your review), I’ll share it with other Discovering Place participants on our blog, even if it’s only a sentence.

To help you plan ahead, here are some books we’ll be bringing to the next workshop. Just shoot me an e-mail if you want to check out books;  I’ll set them aside for you. I’m linking these, when possible, to book reviews.

– Elizabeth

  • The Growing Classroom, by Roberta Jaffe and Gary Appel. This book’s copyright date is 1990, but there are lots of good lessons (which appear intended for younger students), ranging from observation to amino acids to responsible consumerism, which were uncovered by scouring the country for the best of the best in garden-based science. Could be helpful for garden projects.
  • Teaching Green, The High School Years, Hands-On Learning in Grades 9-12, by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn. Published in 2009, this book lacks reader reviews but has lots to offer. The 8-step process to creating environmental projects (pages 12 – 17) will be beneficial to teachers as they begin expanding on, and narrowing down, the ideas currently being developed. Along with inspirational and educational sections (Discovering Lake Management, Carbon Cycle, Science on the River, Measuring your School’s Ecological Footprint, etc.), the book contains an especially helpful section: Making Interdisciplinary Connections.  Note: Our library also has elementary and middle school versions of this book.
  • The Great Neighborhood Book, A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking, by Jay Walljasper. Remember Matthew Washington, the amazing New York speaker from our December dinner? One of Matthew’s passion is something called placemaking, which focuses on creating places where people want to gather. We love the garden and environmental projects that teachers are planning, but one of our aims is for our projects to benefit the community. This is an easy read, full of inspiration to help you build elements into your project to elevate it to something really special.
  • From Seeds to Stories, the Community Garden Storytelling Project of Flint, by the Flint Urban Gardening and Land Use Corporation Prevention Research Center of Michigan. It’s helpful to know what others have done. It’s wonderful to see local photos. And it’s heartwarming to learn how these efforts have been transformational for people involved. I especially love the story of two young ladies involved in  the East Bishop/East Flint Park Block Club, who were on their way to being enemies until paired in a garden workgroup. Sadly this book is now out of print, but you can borrow it from us. Click here for a more extensive description of the book.
  • Digging Deeper, Integrating Youth Gardens Into Schools & Communities, by Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple. This book strikes me as a very practical read for anyone planning a school garden. Chapter 1 starts with five questions to consider when starting a youth garden, Chapter 2 covers building your team and defining the type of garden based on needs, along with theme-based schedules. The book also includes garden design ideas, plans for building a composter,  advice for kickoff events, seed-starting tips, information on planting and weeding, a sample sheet to track garden data, summer activities, worm composting, recipes and activities such as dissecting flowers, making a five-senses vegetable book, and more. There’s even an advanced section on marketing specialty products to sell from the garden.
  • No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard, by Jane Kirkland. This book completely outlines – in six easy steps – how to do a great, engaging, potentially  multidisciplinary project with your students. Not only can it be used to create an extensive inventory of your schoolyard, you can use it for a mini-project, to create a small guide booklet showing the plants you find or birds you observe. If you’re interested in including birds in your project, you’ll especially like this book, since birds are used as an example.