Discovering Place encourages our partners to engage in place based education around the entire region. Below is a link to an article about a class of Bendle High School students who visited UM-Flint’s campus to learn how they can contribute to the recovery efforts and better understand how it is affecting residents.

Read about Bendle High School students’ visit to UM-Flint to see how they can help with the water crisis.

On Nov. 19, one day before the first snow storm of the season, 33 students put on gloves and picked up shovels to begin work on a duck habitat behind Flint Southwestern High School.

The 7th through 12th graders, which included a group with special needs students, cleaned up trash and dug out grass to prepare the site for the upcoming spring. The 150’ x 20’ site, began as little more than a circle of overgrown grass but as Guy, an 11th grader, explained, the students dug holes so that snow would accumulate over the winter and be retained as water for the ducks next season. He said they wanted the ducks to have a permanent home.

cp dirt

photo: Lindsay Stoddard

Families of ducks have been nesting in the high school’s interior courtyard. Previously, the students created a habitat in the courtyard for the ducks but the space is too small to nest in so it led to problems. Linda Heck and Kim Hatfield are the two teachers which have been leading these place based education projects with their students. Ducks can have up to 12 chicks at a time and over the last few years, Kim and her mother have had to transport the ducks out of the courtyard to a nearby river, one family at a time.

Read More →

Jacquie Richardson has been teaching in the Flint Community Schools for 22 years but she has seen a change in her students since implementing place based education projects three years ago. Now, her students are more engaged than ever before and taking charge of their own education.

Richardson began working with a group of Freeman Elementary third and fourth graders three years ago. The students grew their own cucumbers in the classroom and made them into pickles.

The following year, energized by their previous success, the same group of students wanted to expand their project. Richardson said her students wanted to do more than just grow vegetables so they explored how to grow bigger and more unique produce in the classroom. They settled on growing microgreens. The students were able to sell their microgreens at the Flint Farmers’ Market, which had the added benefit of providing them with a lesson in economics. By the time, she taught a unit about economics later in the semester, she said her students already grasped all of the concepts because of their previous business experience.

This most recent year has been the most inspiring yet. Richardson partnered with Flint’s Stockton Center at Spring Grove and helped her students, who are currently in sixth grade, construct a community garden onsite. The octagon-shaped garden was themed and produced vegetables and herbs to make pizza including Roma tomatoes, oregano, thyme, green peppers and mild peppers. The students visit their garden four times a year and after reading about the loss of Monarch Butterflies decided they also wanted to built a butterfly garden at Stockton Center as well. When students visit the home, they spend the entire school day there, completing both their place based work and the regular daily curriculum assignments. She said students enjoy doing schoolwork on the porch and down by the creek. The partnership has also allowed for students to get history lessons from the building’s caretakers and she said some of the kids have become “mini-docents,” giving their own tours when they visit the property.

Read More →

Below are some online place-based education resources for teachers. These ideas are very low-to-no-cost and are meant to support curriculum you are already covering in class! These mini place-based education exercises introduce students to another learning environment that builds connections for them between what happens outside of the classroom and with in-class exercises.


Example 1: Journey North activities

Journey North is a free, Internet-based program that explores the interrelated aspects of seasonal change. For example, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them.

The site offers more than 40 activities and lesson plans for teachers to engage their students through place-based and traditional classroom settings. It also features live cams of exotic animals in their natural habitats and a free phone app for teachers to share data.

One great seasonal project is the Tulip Test Garden. This allows teachers to use the planting and growing cycles of spring to explore the changing seasons. Participants are encouraged to document their location and when the tulips emerge and bloom on Journey North’s website and compare results with other classes across the country. Visit for more information.

Read More →

Boys and Girls Club members have spent the last few weeks learning about environmental issues and careers in resource sciences through a DNR Summer Youth Employment Initiative with UM-Flint University Outreach.

The third week of the program included two site visits, one to the UM-Flint Urban Alternatives House (UAH) and another to the city of Flint master planning office downtown. Students were welcomed by four UM-Flint professors from the Earth and Resource Sciences department in the classroom space of the UAH on Eddy Street. The Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED)- certified house was converted from a derelict house in the Central Park neighborhood, just east of campus.

Dr. Martin Kaufman told the Boys and Girls Club members about Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which is multi-layered mapping software. Kaufman said that GIS is one of 3 emerging technologies and career paths that will become very important in the next century.

Read More →

More than 25 young people from the Boys and Girls Club are spending a portion of their Summer learning about environmental issues and careers in resource sciences through UM-Flint’s University Outreach.

The group of 16 to 19 year olds is being paid through the DNR’s Summer Youth Employment Initiative to learn about issues, such as recycling and watershed quality, through a series of lectures, activities and field trips. These students are leaders at the local Boys and Girls Club and will share their knowledge and activities they learn with younger members.

One day a week, the group has been meeting on the university campus with University Outreach staff members, who lead the program.

In its first week, Program Coordinators Leyla Sankar and Sara McDonnell asked the students what they would like to learn about during their visits. The young people responded that they were interested in local recycling, the city of Flint’s current master planning process and a host of other issues.

Read More →

It didn’t matter to Patty Hillaker that her science students went to an alternative high school, she wanted to give them hope and the best education possible.

Hillaker, an UM-Flint alumni, was inspired by the place-based education and grant writing training she received through the Discovering PLACE hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative to develop her own project for Beecher’s Riley Adult/Alternative Education Center. She called her program, Project E.a.r.t.h., which stands for Environmental awareness reaching teen homes.

Over several years, Hillaker was able to bring a series of projects and experiences to her students that taught them about their larger connections to the natural world.

This project consisted of planting raised gardens, an urban bird study, salmon in the classroom, bottle cap murals, school clean ups, clothing and book drives, and year-round recycling of batteries, paper, ink cartridges, glass and bottle caps.

In addition, Hillaker’s students did an audit of the school’s energy consumption and asked what they could do to cut energy costs.

Read More →

Want to find out more about place-based education?

Visit our Discovering PLACE website to view the PBE video series and other related resources, produced by University Outreach at the University of Michigan-Flint.

The series includes:

Principles of Place-Based Education,

Building School-Community Partnerships,

PBE and Sustainable Communities,

Designing Place-Based Education Projects,

Authentic Assesment of Student Achievement,

Working Outdoors with Students,

And Connecting PBE to Curriculum Standards.

Go to to watch the videos or learn how to earn SCECHs (formerly SB-CEUs) for completing the series.

M’lis Bartlett knew that if she wanted to create an outdoor learning space that students would actually use, she should just ask them what they would want to see.

So she began working with a ninth grade science class in February 2013 discussing environmental justice issues and ways to address them. Through a process of participatory design, they chose and began re-designing an under-utilized concrete space at the Beecher School District’s Ninth Grade Academy.

She spent ten weeks in the summer constructing an outdoor classroom space next to the school’s Moses Lacy Field House.

Bartlett asked the students to make models of the existing site and what their dream space would look like. Teachers also provided feedback. Students wanted the outdoor learning space to be used for eating lunch or hanging out before sport events. The class voted on each other’s ideas and then volunteers from University of Michigan’s Landscape Architecture program compiled those ideas into a final design.

The concrete was torn up in June and volunteers began recycling chunks of it for paver stones and inside s-shaped benches made from recycled urban Ash trees that were cut down because of Emerald Ash Borer infection. Permeable red gravel, colorful flowers, a water catchment barrel and an ADA accessible ramp were added to the site. There will be a free- standing arbor installed for shade by October. Four trees will also be planted on the space and Bartlett said an intern will work with teachers to effectively use the outdoor space and to design and plant a vegetable garden. The project was funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation and a University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship grant.

A lot of teenage space is criminalized in places like Flint or Beecher, Bartlett said. She said that Beecher students discussed how there were not many safe spaces in their community to hang out and so this was an opportunity to create one right on their school campus.

Read More →