The Fall 2012 issue of Flint Currents highlights the dedication and enthusiasm of two dynamic Discovering Place community partners, Dyanna Mitchell and Earma Cooper, and their work with teacher Shelly Roberts and Beecher’s Tucker Elementary school courtyard garden.

Cooper and Mitchell are among the Beecher Community Development Council members working for the local good.  They also belong to the Dailey Nolan Neighborhood Association, the Clean and Green program to maintain Genesee County Land Bank properties and a community garden.

Flint Currents also features Southwestern Academy teacher Linda Heck, who is working with her students to create an accessible outdoor classroom and garden where students with special needs can work with their fellow students on projects.

Heck’s love of science is the reason she started teaching, but she cites her life experience and expertise as the source of the compassion and practical wisdom that she shares with her students.

Flint Currents is a publication of Discovering Place, a regional hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative facilitated by University Outreach at the University of Michigan-Flint.


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

We’ve always known our Discovering Place educators are pretty darn amazing. So it sure is nice seeing them get the recognition they deserve.

Take Patti Hillaker, for instance. She has positively captivated her students at Beecher’s Riley Alternative Education Center, where she teaches science out of a tank fully of baby salmon, and engages kids with plenty of other cool stuff to make learning relevant.

Hillaker is one of two Michigan teachers who gained nationwide recognition in the ING 2012 Unsung Heroes grant program. She also earned media coverage in The Citizen, her local newspaper, for her enthusiastic efforts to help students better their worlds.

Teachers are up against so many challenges that it’s important to share the good they do. Thanks, Patti, for bringing a daily dose of awesomeness to your classroom!

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!

Wasn’t this month’s “Our Cities, Our Classrooms” conference great? More than 80 attended, and most left pretty stoked about the idea of place-based education.

While we feel honored to be able to share the concept of PBE with others in Michigan, it’s time to turn our attention to our teachers who will actually be implementing some of the concepts discussed at last week’s conference.

That’s why we’re holding a special Kickstart session specifically for our Discovering Place teachers and their project partners, 4-8 p.m. Tues., Sept. 11, at King Karate. It is necessary for each of our teachers to attend and share their project plans with fellow educators, as well as concerns about the upcoming year. We will also be working with teachers to help successfully implement PBE projects.

Teachers, be sure to check your e-mail for more details and RSVP as soon as possible. Please let us know if your project partners will be attending too, as we will be providing a meal.

We’re so proud to be working with such fine educators. Thanks for being part of your students’ lives, and connecting your students to learning in ways that are relevant to them.


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.