Place-Based Education

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Welcome sign in giant hotel aquarium

Last week, I had the great privilege to attend the 11th annual institute run by the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), of which I was recently elected chair of the board. ISEEN is doing some of the most innovative and exciting work in education today, and I have shared much of it in other posts. This time was no exception.

What made it so great? Well, yes, we were in Hawaii. In January. That helped.

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ISEEN Educators on a Hike above Honolulu

We had chosen the theme of Place-Based Education a number of years ago, and Hawaii was the perfect place to explore that theme. The institute was hosted by Punahou School and Iolani School, both of which had exemplary programs to share. Participants heard inspiring talks by the Heads of each school focusing on innovation and change at every level. We learned how K-12 classes use their campus and immediate surroundings to teach a myriad of concepts through active learning. We also had the opportunity to spend an entire day at Kualoa Ranch, where their education staff taught us about flora and fauna, repurposing old fish ponds for oyster aquaculture, hiking through several ecosystems to get a better view of the island, and contributing to stream restoration. The ranch is an intriguing model of land use: the family who has owned the land for generations created an educational enterprise to serve the dual goals of economic viability and celebration of Native Hawaiian culture.

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An ancient fishpond repurposed at Kualoa Ranch

Native Hawaiian culture was joyfully honored throughout our visit. We were welcomed with ceremony including ancient chants and contemporary songs; we took workshops in hula, lei and poi making; we learned about the worldwide voyage called Hokulea raising awareness and funds for the most vulnerable Hawaiians; and were invited to be full participants in everything we witnessed. It felt like a true blessing to be in the presence of people living out their spiritual traditions and connecting to the land in such meaningful ways.

In a more robust manner than ever, the ISEEN institute practiced the principles we so strongly believe in: learning by doing, staying connected to the real world, modeling Kolb’s Cycle of Experience/Reflect/Evaluate/Act (and even offering a workshop led by David and Alice Kolb themselves!), throughout the institute. These few days strengthened our commitment to experiential education. We believe this theory and the practices it embraces, including Design Thinking, Project-Based Learning, and Mindfulness in Education, are on the forefront of innovation in education. With so much content at our fingertips (literally), we must explore ways to make connections, think critically, and involve our whole selves in the learning process, or we just may cease to be relevant.

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Round table sharing of school programs

All 120 educators from the US, Canada, Korea, Australia, and the UK went back to their homes and school communities ready to put what we learned to good use. Though it may not be as easy in our home communities to connect to the land and the first people who populated it as it was in Hawaii, we have pledged to do so. I invite you to ask yourself: who lived in your neighborhood before the colonizers? What relationship did they have to the land and what can you learn from them? Please consider joining us next year when Hawken School in Cleveland hosts the institute and we continue our exploration of Place-Based Education in an urban setting.  Aloha!