For each edition of Flint Currents, Discovering Place features one of our member teachers.
My name is Dawn Knapp and I’m a 2nd grade teacher at McMonagle Elementary, in the Westwood Heights School District. I have a passion for educating students about their world, through placed-based education. With place-based education, we can use our local community, its environment, culture, and history, as a basis to enhance our students’ curriculum. Our students will gain hands-on, real-life experiences for learning, when we turn our school courtyard into a garden and visit places in our community, which become live-event classrooms. Students will be empowered when they learn that they can make a positive impact in their world.
Why did you become involved in place-based education?
I became involved in place-based education when I learned of the opportunity to receive funding for a school garden and funding for exciting field trips that would engage my students and enrich their education and understanding of the environment and the world they live in. One of the most memorable experiences for me, growing up in the Battle Creek School District, was planting and harvesting vegetables from our school farm. It was so exciting taking the vegetables home for my family to enjoy. I also remember the nature centers and camps that we attended, and how we learned about bogs, milking goats, trees, birds, camping in the snow, and making ice cream using snow. These programs greatly enriched my education, and I wanted to bring the same opportunities to my students.
Can you tell us a little about your current project and why you chose it?
With my team at McMonagle Elementary, we chose to plant a school garden in our courtyard where our students will be engaged in a dynamic hands-on project. The garden will become our student’s classroom, where textbook lessons will come to life as our students plant, grow, and harvest their own organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers. They will learn how to use rain water to make their garden grow, record the growth of their plants, put together their own compost bin, learn about healthy food choices, watch butterflies metamorphose, and create beautiful writing pieces such as poetry and stories. Students will observe, experiment, discover, nurture, and learn. Our students will become active participants and responsible caretakers in this living laboratory, where they will gain real-life experiences that they will remember for a lifetime. We will also go on field trips to other school and community gardens to gain knowledge and experience, so that we can improve and expand our own garden and curriculum. Our students will embark on many outdoor adventures that they will remember and utilize in their future. We have decided to plant a salsa garden. It will have tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, and maybe a few other easy to grow veggies/fruits, like potatoes and raspberries. We are also learning about Hydroponics, and are so excited to have our Hydroponic system in place and growing peppers and tomatoes already! We plan on growing herbs and strawberries as well.
What is your favorite thing about being a teacher?
My favorite thing about teaching is seeing learning come alive for my students, and watching the excitement on their faces as these real-world experiences inspire and motivate them to learn! What concerns me the most about children today, is that they don’t get enough of these rich and rewarding experiences. We need to move beyond the traditional paper and pencil classroom and engage our students in real-world connections. Our students will then have the opportunity to make a difference in their community, establishing a sense of pride and accomplishment!
What gives you the most hope for your students?
What gives me the most hope for my students is that they want to learn and are so excited to be a part of these engaging projects. They look forward to coming to school, because they know that they are a team that is making a difference in their world, and that is rewarding to them!