Special Issue: Justice, Equity and Diversity in Environmental Education

Special Issue: Justice, Equity and Diversity in Environmental Education

Guest Editor: R. Justin Hougham, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Special Advisor: Derek Hoshiko, Community Organizer and Educator on Climate Change and Environmental Equity

e are excited to bring our readers this special edition of CLEARING Magazine. This issue focuses on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) in the environmental education field. For the last several years in general, and especially last year, we have seen a rising consciousness and call to action towards justice and equity initiatives throughout education and accordingly within environmental education as this publication and special issue reflects. This conversation and sharing of resources continues to evolve through both a raised awareness of equity and anti-racism issues, and through action towards environmental justice. This issue reflects practitioner insight from a wide array of venues, geographies, and pedagogies. It features contributions from Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Ontario, and California.

For readers in leadership roles or for those looking to influence organizational decision making during and beyond the COVID-19 era, seven salient and actionable suggestions are presented in “Racial Equity in Outdoor Science and Environmental Education: Re-Establishing the Field with Intention” (pg. 9). “Equity in a Time of Socio-Environmental Justice” (pg. 12) presents a call to action and solidarity in the ‘intergenerational fight for socio-environmental justice.’ Derek Hoshiko provides a case study of pushing for equity work by centering student voices and confronting far right pushback in “Promoting Equity and Justice at the School and Community Level” (pg. 16). Towards a landscape-wide narrative perspective with tribal youth, writers from Idaho explore these concepts through “River Newe: Creating New Narratives on Historic Landscapes” (pg. 20), inspired by time on the Salmon River. For readers interested in instruction in the collegiate context, Juan Miguel Arias and Howard Drossman explore the context and themes of power and equity in the Colorado College TREE semester (pg. 24). As always, CLEARING Magazine presents additional connections and resources that can broaden and directly apply to JEDI work and initiatives across the education community.

Environmental education reaches millions of students and community members a year in a vast array of venues, so consider that these are millions of opportunities to connect learners to core environmental science concepts, while also showing a wider look at environmental justice in the local and global issues that we face today and into the future. We look at the work in this issue to inspire the courage to be better, to do the work. JEDI is not a privilege granted to us—while it is true that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, justice is not achieved through unchecked privilege, rather through hard work, self-examination, collaboration, accountability, and making the most of every opportunity to lift each other up.

Everywhere we look outside of ourselves to find hope in a culture dominated by systems of oppression, we see inaction and injustice. We see this in the failed COP26 conference, and we see it in communities dominated by money and ‘power over.’ At COP26, we were supposed to see increased ambition over the Paris climate accord. Everywhere we take responsibility, we are able to become response-able, and with courage, face the triple pandemic of racism, COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate emergency.

Our hope that you will enjoy this issue lies in knowing that, while much work lies ahead, there is inspiration in the work in the field of environmental education as told in the stories herein, and in the work that our readers do on a daily basis.

In gratitude,
R. Justin Hougham, Ph.D.
and Derek Hoshiko

Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

by Allison Breeze

s an educator, I believe that learning happens when students are applying their knowledge in practice. To this end, I am always looking for activities that engage students in hands-on ways with whatever topic they are learning about. Exploration and experience can provide immensely beneficial learning opportunities for students that give them context to process information. For this to work effectively, students must be positioned in such a way that allows them to take action, and the instructor must be willing to take a step back from holding control over the learning. One effective method for structuring such an environment is stations.

In stations-based activities, students are asked to complete a task in a certain location, and then repeatedly move to a new location to complete a different task, until they have visited all the locations, or within a specific timeframe. Oftentimes, there will be a rotation to allow for multiple students to experience different stations simultaneously. Stations offer the structure of spatial and task-based boundaries to keep students safe, while providing the opportunity for them to have agency and independence in completing the assigned task. Additionally, stations can be done individually or in small groups, to either allow students some independent processing time, or as a way to foster collaboration.

Instructors can often set up the stations ahead of time so that they don’t have to give as many directions to introduce an activity. This way, students are spending most of their time actually engaged in the learning, as opposed to waiting for it to begin. This also means that instructors can feel less rushed and give students the space they need to be successful.

Stations often set students up to be more independent than teacher-led instruction. For some students, this agency is very natural to their preferred structure for learning and helps them express themselves more easily. For other students, this independence requires them to engage in productive struggle to figure out the task and collaborate with their peers rather than relying on the teacher for help. In both situations, the stations model is promoting student growth by offering another mode for learning and asking students to try something new.

Stations in Practice:
I find stations to be an effective structure in which to conduct investigations with my students. It helps data collection happen faster, it means students are less likely to be left waiting with nothing to do, and it requires students to independently make connections between their actions and the overarching inquiry that is being investigated.

One such example investigation I have done with students focuses on the different ways that decomposition occurs in compost. At IslandWood, we have three types of compost bins: an EarthFlow that uses mechanical and bacterial decomposition, a high-volume vermicompost that uses worms and other macroinvertebrates, and a garden compost that uses macroinvertebrates and special fiber mats for insulation. In the investigation, students form three groups that rotate between each compost bin and collect data about each bin — temperature, soil color, material, number and type of macroinvertebrates — to understand how natural material breaks down into nutrient-rich soil in different ways. Each compost station has a set of directions and tools available, and every student has a journal with a data table to record their observations. At the end of the data collection, all students come together to synthesize their information as a whole group and debrief what they learned during the activity.

In this activity, I find that using stations can make scientific inquiry more accessible to students, because it offers many entry points to engaging with the material. It also allows me more time as an instructor to check in with specific students. I make sure to include multiple ways of recording data, such as numerically, through written expression, verbalization, and drawing, to ensure that all students have a way of participating. I have also found that students are more willing to challenge themselves if they are engaged in peer-to-peer interactions while learning, which the stations format allows for better than lecture or instructor-modeled kinesthesis. If a student who is concerned about touching bugs sees a friend holding a worm, they might be more inclined to try touching it, because they can see that behavior being modeled with safe and comfortable consequences.

Overall, I have seen stations as a great way to help students experience more agency and collaboration within an intentional environment set up by the instructor. Using stations can be a nice break from a traditional activity format that provides a balance between flexibility and structure to prioritize student engagement.

Lesson Plan:

Students will collect data at three different compost bins to compare and contrast the ways that decomposition happens at each. They will record and synthesize the data they find and draw conclusions.

Students are in an outdoor educational setting with three compost systems. They have been introduced to the concept of producers, consumers, and decomposers in a food web. They are curious about the differences between the three compost systems.

● Students will understand the role of compost in a food web
● Students will be able to give examples of how decomposition occurs
● Students will know how to collect data in an investigation
● Students will be aware of the different kinds of compost systems

● Understanding energy transfer in a food web system
● Taking observed phenomenon and drawing conclusions
● Creating models of data to explore it further
● Exploring the process of decomposition of natural materials

● Journals with data tables (one for each student)
● Pens/pencils
● Drawing utensils
● Direction sheets for each compost bin*
● Large sheet of paper (for whole group data table)
● Thermometers
● Microscopes/magnifying lenses (optional)
*note: the direction sheets can include instructions for collecting the type of data that feels most meaningful to your students. An example has been included at the end of this lesson plan.
1. Familiarize students with each of the three compost bins – their locations, how to access the compost, and what they immediately notice about the differences of each
2. Ask students to consider the question – why do we have three different compost bins?
3. Explain that the students will be scientists conducting an investigation on each of the compost systems to learn about decomposition

1. Break students into three groups, one for each compost bin station
2. Send each group of students to a different station, with a direction sheet, thermometer, and magnifying tool (optional)
3. Students should record their data in their journal data table according to the direction sheet for their station
4. Signal to the groups to rotate to the next compost station, and collect data there
5. Once all groups have collected data at all stations, have the group come together as a whole and write in their data on the large sheet data table

Debrief (students sharing with someone from a different group):
1. Ask students what the differences and similarities between the three compost stations were
2. Ask students what evidence of decomposition they saw at each station
3. Have students come up with a representation — visual, physical, written, artistic — of what happens to natural waste (food scraps, dead plants, etc)
4. Revisit the initial question: Why do we have three compost bins?
5. Connect their answers to the larger food web of IslandWood

*Direction Sheet Example:
Earth Flow
1. Take a compost sample and rub it in the box labeled “earth flow” on page 11 of your journal
2. Stick the thermometer deep into the compost. Wait until the indicator stops moving, then record the temperature
3. Count the number of macroinvertebrates (bugs!) you see, and record
4. Draw the largest piece of material you see in the compost
5. Draw the different macroinvertebrates you see
6. Match the macros with those listed on page 18 of your journal

Allison Breeze is an elementary educator in the Puget Sound, currently working and learning as a graduate student at IslandWood.

Resources for further information:
Aydogmus, M., & Senturk, C. (2019). The effects of learning stations technique on academic achievement: A Meta-analytic study. Research in Pedagogy, 9(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.17810/2015.87
Chawla, L., & Cushing, D. F. (2007). Education for strategic environmental behavior. Environmental Education Research, 13 (4), 437-452. DOI: 10.1080/13504620701581539.
Gerçek, C., & Özcan, Ö. (2016). Determining the students’ views towards the learning stations developed for the environmental education. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 69, 29. DOI: 10.33225/pec/16.69.29.

Maybe the problem wasn’t WHAT we were learning but WHERE we were learning?

Maybe the problem wasn’t WHAT we were learning but WHERE we were learning?

At-risk students are exposed to their local environment to gain an appreciation for their community, developing environmental awareness built on knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors applied through actions.


Lindsay Casper and Brant G. Miller
University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho

Photos by Jessie Farr

n the last day of class, I walked with my students along a local river trail shaded by cottonwood trees and surrounded by diverse plants and animals. The shaded areas provided spots for us to stop, where students assessed the condition of the local river system and the surrounding environment. The class had spent the previous week by the river’s mouth, and the students had grown a connection to the local environment and to each other. This was evident in their sense of ownership of the environment and their lasting relationships, which were expressed as the students discussed what they had learned during the class.

A month earlier, the class began differently. The students were focused on themselves and their own needs. They stood alone and unwilling to participate. Many expressed feelings of annoyance by being outside, forced to walk and unsure about what to expect in the class. My students were disengaged in their community, education, and the environment. Most had spent little time outside and lacked environmental knowledge and displayed an uncaring attitude toward their local community.

The class included a group of Youth-in-Custody (YIC) students, those who were in the custody of the State (the Division of Child and Family Services, DCFS; and the Division of Juvenile Justice, DJJS), as well as students who are “at-risk” for educational failure, meaning they have not succeeded in other school programs.
Most of my students came from challenging circumstances, with little support for formal educational opportunities, and live in urban areas below the poverty level. Students below the poverty level have fewer opportunities to access nature reserves safely (Larson et al., 2010), and children who live in neighborhoods where they do not feel safe are less likely to readily apply environmental knowledge and awareness to their community (Fisman, 2005).

Despite these setbacks, I wanted to expose my students to their local environment and help them gain an appreciation for their community. I wanted to increase their environmental awareness, built on knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors applied through actions.

The summer education program approached the environmental curriculum via an action-oriented strategy, which takes learning to a level where the class and the outside world integrate with actual practices and address environmental problems (Mongar et al., 2023). The students began to show an understanding of how knowledge can affect their environment and exhibited purpose behind their action. The steps in an action-oriented approach involves students identifying public policy problems, then selecting a problem for study, followed by researching the problem, and developing an explanation, and then finally communicating their findings to others (Fisman, 2005).

Students explored science content, studied sustainable issues, read relevant scientific literature, developed and carried out research, and analyzed data. This multi-step program enabled students to stay active and engaged in environmental science practices and processes, increased their environmental awareness, encouraged them to implement these practices in a real-world environment, and allowed them to immerse in the learning experience. The program developed a connection with environmental restoration, crossed cultural borders and demographic diversity, created a sense of ownership and attachment, and developed a sense of belonging.

Week 1: Invasive Species in Mount Timpanogos Wildlife Management Area

The first week, students monitored a local problem of invasive plants by conducting a field project on vegetation sampling at a wildlife management area. Students researched the area and the issues with the invasive species of cheatgrass. They examined the characteristics that make cheatgrass invasive and used skills to identify local native plants and introduced species in the wilderness. Students determined the problem and used a transect line and percent canopy cover to determine the area’s overall percent cover of cheatgrass. Students used the results of the survey to evaluate the cheatgrass invasion in the area. They compiled their research and presented the issue to local community members to educate and inform them about the possible environmental problems in the area.

Students working in the national forest studying the role of trees in carbon cycling.

Week 2: Carbon Cycling in Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

During week two, the program evaluated forest carbon cycling within a wilderness area, part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The students’ projects involved carbon cycling models and forest carbon sinks to build a comprehensive summary of all the structures and processes involved in trees to help reduce the impact of human activity on the climate. Students identified problems in their local forests by researching the role of forests in carbon sequestration and evaluating climate change. They then selected a problem for the class to study involving the effects of deforestation. Additional research included students discovering how trees sequester carbon and researching how much carbon trees and forests can hold over a given time. Students used their results and data collection to determine how effective trees are for carbon sequestration, compiled their research, and presented the issue to local community members to educate and inform them of the possible environmental problems in deforestation and the need for forested area protection.

Week 3: Jordan River Watershed Management

Week three focused on watershed management, during which students investigated a local river and evaluated its watershed and continued pollution. Students identified problems in their community by reading articles and examining data concerning a local river’s environmental issues, proposed solutions, as well as the progress that has been achieved. Students then made qualitative statements about the river’s current condition based on abiotic and biotic measurements. Students used the information gathered and discussed issues concerning the current quality of the river and discussed why water quality is essential. Students researched the issue by conducting river water quality experiments using flow rate measurements and collected macroinvertebrates. Based on their experimental results, students developed a portfolio with a problem explanation, alternative policies, and a public statement concerning the current Jordan River water quality. Students then presented their findings to community members to help inform and educate them about the river contamination and improvements.

Student collecting water samples.

Week 4: Provo River Delta Restoration Project

During the last week, students examined a river delta restoration project for its effectiveness in restoring a wetland and recovering an endangered fish species. Students investigated the role and importance of river systems and wetland areas, monitored the status of the wetlands, and evaluated the current project’s future effectiveness. Students identified problems in their community by reading articles and examining historical data concerning the lakes environmental issues and made qualitative statements about the lake’s current condition. Students used the information gathered and discussed matters concerning the delta project to protect the local endangered species of June Sucker (Chasmistes liorus). In addition, students toured the construction site and participated in a stewardship activity planting new trees and helping to disperse cottonwood seeds around the area. Based on their stewardship project, a site tour, and experimental results, students developed a portfolio with a problem explanation, alternative policies, and a public statement concerning the current delta restoration project. Students presented their findings to others with the intent to inform and educate them about the project.

Student Impact

This program placed students as critical participants in sustainability and gave them ownership of their education, and knowledge of local environmental issues to give students a deeper appreciation and increased environmental awareness. This curriculum could be adapted for various populations although it is especially essential for those with disadvantaged backgrounds and those underrepresented in science. Creating an opportunity for my students to access nature and build environmental knowledge is important for them to build awareness and an increased ownership of their community. After completing the course, students wrote a reflection on their experience and a summary of what they learned concerning environmental awareness and feelings regarding their connection to nature.

“At first, I hated being outside, but it grew on me, and I had a lot of fun learning about the different invasive species and how they negatively affect the land.”

“I really enjoyed being outside for school. I liked the shaded and natural environments. It was enjoyable and easier to understand because I was learning about everything I could feel and touch.”

“I liked seeing the things we were learning about. It was easier to focus outside.”

Student working on writing assignments during the last day of class.

“I have had a lot of issues with school my whole life. I have never felt like what I was learning was useful. I felt like I was repeating work from former years over and over again and never getting anything out of it. After this experience, I began thinking that maybe the problem wasn’t what we were learning but where we were learning it. It was enjoyable being outside and seeing how what we were learning applied to the world around us. I got to see what we were being taught in action. We did tests with the world and not in a classroom. For the first time, I was really interested in what was being taught, and I realized that the problem wasn’t me.”

The importance of connecting at-risk youth to the outdoors is evident in their reflections. Their reflections indicate an appreciation for being outdoors, a more remarkable ability to focus their attention, and an advantage of learning in the world instead of the classroom. Students’ perception of environmental issues impacts their ability to make educated decisions. The increase in students place identity resulted in a deeper connection to the environment. Their knowledge, attitudes, and actions had changed.


On the last day of class, walking along the river trail with my students, I listened to their conversations, questioned their learning, and gathered their insights. I recognized how the connections made in class developed over time by building relationships, collaboration, trust, and teamwork. My students developed empathy for each other and their environment. As a class, we visited four distinct settings in our local area. My students could grasp the larger perspective by recognizing the cumulative effect of those areas as a whole. They identified the invasive species of cheatgrass studied in week one had made its way downriver and recognized the importance of carbon cycling studied during week two in the cottonwood trees flanking the banks of the river in addition to the value in wetlands studies in week three shown in the progress made on the restoration project. The sequence of each week was purposely built on the following week with a cumulative effort at the river delta restoration project, put in place to help solve many of the environmental issues identified in the previous week’s lessons. This program focuses on increasing student connection and ownership of the environment and identifying how isolated environmental concerns significantly impact the whole ecosystem. Additionally, I wanted my students to notice how environmental restoration and protection alleviate some of these issues. These connections came naturally to the students after the time spent outdoors and investigating environmental issues. Exposing them to new areas and increasing their knowledge and skills affects their awareness.

The environmental science program provided environmental concepts, fostering a deeper appreciation for nature and the outdoors. It engaged all senses, made learning more interactive and memorable, and encouraged more profound connections with the natural world, building ownership of the local area. This program initiated an attachment of students to the local area. It engaged students in environmental issues through science by participating in experiential outdoor education. It kept students engaged with relevant current topics, formed a connection to the natural world, and involved them in direct, focused experiences to increase knowledge, skills, and values.

Lindsay Casper is a graduate student in Environmental Science at the University of Idaho, in Moscow Idaho and teaches Environmental Science to at-risk youth at Summit High School in Utah.




Brant G. Miller, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the University of Idaho. His research interests include Adventure Learning, culturally responsive approaches to STEM education, science teacher education, and technology integration within educational contexts.

Using Stations to Increase Student Independence: Overview and Lesson Plan

Exploring the Classroom Beyond: A Beginner’s Guide to Implementing Place-based Education

by Lucy Clothier

eing a new teacher in this contemporary era of education can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. The demands placed upon teachers are extensive, often lacking clear pathways to achieving these substantial goals. Within the classroom, educators bear the responsibility of nurturing a grade-appropriate understanding of numeracy and literacy in all students, attending to each student’s emotional well-being, fostering open lines of communication with guardians, and so much more. Moreover, amid the hastening climate crisis and transformative technological strides reshaping society, the very structure of education is also changing. Education is moving away from the industrial model of rote memorization and increasingly molding into a 21st century structure concerned with cultivating socially conscious citizens who are able to navigate our rapidly changing world.

To advance these objectives, educators are increasingly turning to the implementation of place-based education (PBE). In essence, this comprehensive pedagogical approach seeks to immerse both students and educators in the richness of their surroundings for learning — seeing education unfold not only in the conventional classroom but from the local community, nature, history, and beyond. This philosophy disrupts the industrialized educational framework and flips it on its head. It suggests that learning is hands on, is reflective of real life, takes place anywhere, and centres the student experience. PBE supports teachers in confronting those classroom concerns while also actively participating in the shifting world. The positive impacts of this pedagogical approach is undeniable. Students feel empowered in their learning and have a heightened affinity for their immediate community. These sentiments, in turn, fosters improvement in academic performance and nurtures adaptive and responsible members of society.

How can a novice educator incorporate place-based education into their teaching practice while managing the myriad of other responsibilities inherent to the role? As a new teacher myself, I embarked on this journey with unwavering enthusiasm, envisioning myself as a proficient place-based educator, guiding my students to become intimately connected with nature and stewards of their community all within my first practicum. However, reality quickly humbled me as the challenges of this profession became more clear. In this article, I aim to dissect the strategies new teachers can employ to integrate PBE into their teaching. I also draw on my own experiences from teaching in a grade 3/4 combined class in the North Vancouver School District for specific ways to utilize these strategies. I hope this helps those interested in PBE to engage with place and see the beautiful rewards from this pedagogical approach.

When you begin your teaching journey, the initial focus often revolves around refining classroom management skills, mastering assessment techniques, and crafting personalized lesson planning approaches. Imposing undue pressure upon oneself to attain instant expertise in PBE is unrealistic. Start small. Begin by weaving locality into your lessons — any effort constitutes commendable progress. For instance, in a language arts poetry lesson, explore the works of community poets who write about the beauty of their neighbourhood. Similarly, in a science class regarding biomes, delve deep into the environment in which your school resides on. This practice enables you to explore diverse ways of merging academic content with local context allowing the effectiveness of this pedagogical approach to unfurl naturally.

Map of haida gwaii

My personal journey with PBE began with modest steps within a third-grade math class. The topic was kilometres, and to explain the concept with real-world relevance, we took a virtual road trip around British Columbia. The classroom came alive with the map of the province, and we collectively measured distances between cities along the major highways. Among our destinations was Haida Gwaii — an archipelago known for its breathtaking natural scenery and historic totem poles crafted by the Haida Nation. At this stop on the map, an unexpected spark ignited. A student’s hand shot up with excitement. When called upon, she began to proudly share about her ancestral ties to the Haida Nation. This students excited monologue prompted a profound lesson on Haida culture. What had initially been a lesson on kilometres transformed into a beautiful testament to the interconnection of place and identity, underscoring the transformative potential of PBE.

2. Restructure the Classroom

As previously explored, PBE represents a departure from traditional educational norms, urging educators to expand their horizons on what education can look like. The physical classroom is not constrained to the four walls of a school. The teacher isn’t the only voice that should be heard within the learning community. Instead, the classroom comes from emergent education that can take place anywhere and students are empowered to speak their minds and help shape their learning community. It’s not only the structure of the classroom but how we build community together.

In order to effectively practice PBE one does not need to completely throw out the traditional organization of the classroom, just be mindful in how you can make little changes. I maintained many elements of a conventional classroom structure, one being organized rows of desks facing the front of the class — this order of desks greatly increased the productivity of the chatty students that I taught. One of the ways I took a PBE perspective in the structure of the classroom was by introducing dynamic changes in seating and special arrangements for specific activities. I orchestrated group work stations, held circle based discussions, and diversified my teaching positions within the room. Beyond the classroom walls I contemplated alternative learning environments by venturing outside for different lessons. A science lesson on energy unfolded on the playground as we discussed kinetic and potential energy in a real-world context. In a geometry lesson, we embarked on a neighbourhood stroll, spotting geometric shapes within our everyday surroundings. Even without curriculum-aligned outdoor sessions, occasional silent reading sessions outdoors offers a refreshing change of scenery. There are countless ways to slightly modify the structure of the classroom to integrate PBE.

Empowering students’ voices stands is a cornerstone of PBE. This tenet prompted me to reflect on the balance between my own voice and the voices of my students within our classroom. An integral facet of cultivating classroom community through a PBE lens involves co-constructing expectations with students. Commencing lessons, I would encourage students to articulate their envisioned expectations. This small act extends beyond expectation setting; it empowers students to become active members of their learning community where their voices are heard and respected. I recognize the value of harmonizing my guidance with their perspectives, nurturing an environment where collaboration and mutual respect thrive.

3. Make Time in Your Schedule

Place-based education is often conceptualized as being integrated across various subjects and curricula. However, the idealized image of a teacher orchestrating flawless synchronized cross-curricular activities that seamlessly connect students’ experience with local knowledge remains somewhat elusive, particularly for beginning teachers. For many students and teachers, PBE remains a novel approach to engagement with education. Infusing this model of learning into conventional subjects can initially feel awkward and disjointed. Allocating dedicated time within the class schedule for PBE offers educators an opportunity to experiment with this pedagogical approach and cultivate a deeper familiarity.

When I began my teaching journey, there were countless PBE activities that I wanted to share with my class, yet I grappled with integrating them into my existing subject areas. It was with this frustration that I opted for a paradigm shift, reserving a portion of each week for PBE specific lessons. My intention was to make space within our schedule for our classroom community to immerse ourselves in place and explore our interconnectedness with the world around us. Within this dedicated time slot, we were able to engage in a PBE unit I had co-created and look more closely at community dynamics, local nature, and historical narratives. Through this focused work our classroom community was able to engage in lessons entered on place that might not have organically found their way into other subject areas.

4. Connecting with Different Aspects of Place

Learning from “place” can be a lofty and abstract notion. The essence of “place” itself is multifaceted and demands a nuanced perspective. The definition of “place” often converges at an intersection of various socio-spatial dimensions. Embracing place in regards to PBE encapsulates geography, history, culture, environment, and lived experience. Given the expansive and intricate nature of place, it proves to be advantageous to deconstruct the specific facets you intent to explore within your classroom. This deliberate segmentation offers a clearer way to navigate the educational potential within your unique community.

For my classroom, I chose to explore place through three distinct facets: community, nature, and local history. Within the dedicated PBE unit that I made time for in our class schedule, we engaged in a range of lessons and activities that corresponded to these three aspects of place. By exploring these segmented ideas of place, I witnessed students make connections of place to other subject areas and aspects of their lives.

To initiate our exploration of community, we began by thinking about the essence of this foundational concept. Through interactive class discussions, students thought about the components that constitute a community. These dialogues nudged students to reflect on their own neighbourhood, fostering a deeper awareness of its elements. As an extension of this lesson, I had students sketch a map of their community to help them reflect on the most important elements of their immediate surroundings. This activity could evolve by having students periodically add to their maps, incorporate envisioned changes to their neighbourhood, or invite students to make out other communities they feel a bond with, such as their places of origin.

In learning about local history, I aimed to take a holistic approach when diving into the history of North Vancouver. Oftentimes we are taught about our nation’s history within school, but rarely are we given a chance to learn about the events that took place within the very place we grew up. With this in mind, we began by learning about the Indigenous land upon which our school resides — the ancestral territory of the Squamish Nation. Acknowledging my role as a non-indigenous educator, I consulted local educational resources to ensure a culturally sensitive approach when teaching about the Squamish Nation. Keeping within these respected guidelines we practiced land acknowledgments, learned greetings and local plant names in the Squamish language, and read stories that relied information about Squamish culture. Our historical lessons continued by tracing the evolution of North Vancouver, particularly explore the role of roads in shaping our present-day city. Learning about local history underscored the integral role of preceding generations in sculpting the very space we inhabit today.

The school where I taught had an incredible forest located in the back of the school grounds. Majestic cedars, nurturing nuts logs, and a tapestry of flora made this space a beautiful area for PBE. Prior to integrating PBE into our schedule, outdoor time primarily served as an outlet for expending energy. Reconfiguring students’ perception of nature from merely a recreational space to a place of profound learning took much time and patience. We began by introducing ourselves to our natural neighbours by learning about local flora and fauna. Land acknowledgments and learning Squamish language for local plants further enriched these lessons. We also embraced the practice of “sit spots,” wherein students immersed themselves within specific areas of the forest — an embodiment of a quintessential PBE approach.

5. Teaching as a Student

PBE embodies the idea that you, the educator, are a fellow learner alongside your students. Embrace the notion that you are continually evolving and gaining insights beside your students. Be attuned to the lessons that unfold through community interactions and remain receptive to the wisdom your students impart within your shared learning space. Embrace humility by acknowledging that you do not know everything and that your knowledge may be limited. This opens is fundamental, for your journey as an educator mirrors the lifelong pursuit of learning you seek to cultivate in your students.

Stepping into the role of a new teacher in this ever evolving educational landscape can feel overwhelming. The path is marked by missteps, pedagogical uncertainties, and self-doubt. Yet, these challenges are juxtaposed by moments of fulfillment by witnessing your students’ responses to your dedication to transformative education. My journey with PBE has encompassed all of those complicated feelings. As I continue on this teaching journey I promise to continue to explore, reflect, and experiment. I promise to teach as though I am a student and embrace the idea that the world itself is my classroom.


The following articles are some of my most treasured Place-Based Education resources that help guide my understanding and practice.

Smith, G. (2002). Place-Based Education: learning to be where we are. Phi Delta Kappan.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities (2nd ed.). Vermont: Orion Society.
Sobel, D. (1999). Beyond Ecophobia (Vol. 1). : Nature Literary Series.

What is Place-Based Education and Why Does it Matter? Getting Smart.

Lucy Clothier is a newly certified teacher who has just spent the past year sailing the coast of California and teaching online. She is looking forward to starting a new chapter of teaching at the Sea to Sky School District in British Columbia this fall.





Finding Dragons

Finding Dragons

by Erin Banks Rusby rerinted from the Idaho Press

n the summer of 2023, a group of high school students and adults converged over their shared interest in science and dragonflies.

Known as the Finding Dragons program, the effort aimed to provide hands-on, publishable research experience to high school students and adults, while answering some key questions about the health and history of dragonfly species — offering clues into how they have weathered stress in the past, and how they might be affected by climate change.

Their findings so far have been published in the International Journal of Odontology, with the students listed as co-authors, and a second currently under review for publication.
Jisong Ryu, a junior at Timberline High School, is interested in working in the environmental science and public policy field. Participating in the dragonfly research offered an opportunity to practice some of those research skills, and in the process, build friendships and fortitude in the face of challenging times.

“I think those efforts of understanding the problem more gives me hope and less worry about how things will be,” Ryu said.

The Charisma of Dragonflies
Insects are one of the first animals kids notice, drawn in by their seemingly alien features, said Dick Jordan, a retired science teacher who taught for 40 years at Timberline High School.

Jordan is also the founder of Life Outdoors, a nonprofit whose programs focus on connection with the outdoors and learning about conservation.

In 2021, a former student of Jordan’s, Ethan Tolman, reached out about helping Jordan survey dragonfly species in the Boise River watershed. Tolman, now a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York, wanted to look at the abundance of different dragonfly species along the Boise River.
Kristin Gnojewski, Boise Parks and Recreation’s community volunteer specialist, had trained community volunteers on dragonfly identification for a community monitoring program, and a volunteer read about the Finding Dragons program in the newspaper, asking if their group could participate. Soon, both students and community science volunteers were banding together to participate in the Finding Dragons program.

Tolman, Jordan, and Gnojewski said dragonflies make a great study subject for understanding the urban environment because they are easily recognizable and charismatic. They are not difficult to find in the Treasure Valley’s green spaces, Gnojewski said. Their aerial agility and iridescent colors make them fascinating to watch, Tolman said, noting that they appear in pop culture, like the flying machines, or ornithopters, in the Dune movies.

Dragonflies are also some of the most efficient predators, Tolman said. Known for intercepting prey rather than just chasing it, studies indicate they have a 90% success rate for snagging their target, he said.
The aquatic nymphs are eaten by fish species and other animals, while also doing their own hunting, Jordan said.

“They really are wonderful bioindicators of the health of a river,” Jordan said.

Dick Jordan, left, holds a blue dasher dragonfly as student volunteers look on. Student and adult volunteers collected blue dashers near the Parkcenter Pond in Boise in August for genome sequencing. Photo courtesy of Jisong Ryu

Time Traveling with Biological Clocks
When the DNA of a species is sequenced, it can be read as a sort of code to understand the evolutionary changes the species has undergone over time.

When Tolman approached Jordan about studying DNA sequences of dragonfly species, he likened it to a kind of time travel — a way to peer into the species’ history, Jordan said.
“When he mentioned time travel, it was just like the light came on,” Jordan said. “What an exciting way to get these kids to go back in time and think about how these species — which have been around a lot longer than us — dealt with climate change.”

In 2023, they investigated two lines of inquiry: analyzing the genomes of dragonflies that had already been sequenced, and sequencing the genome of a local species, the blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

To accomplish the latter, students and volunteers from Gnojewski’s program went to the Parkcenter Pond to catch blue dashers. The day lives on as a highlight of the program so far, with the students and city volunteers coming together to do fieldwork.

For Ella Driever, now a senior at Timberline High School, it was her first time doing field work, an exciting step for the aspiring wildlife biologist. The experience ‘sealed the deal’ on her interest in wildlife biology, she said. That day, she was also the first person to catch a blue dasher, a feat given their nimble flying capabilities.

“That was the first time I actually got to have a real creature that I was studying in my hands,” Driever said. “That was just magical.”
The specimens collected from near the pond were sent to Brigham Young University for sequencing, Jordan said.

Bringing it All Together
In August 2023, the Finding Dragons group hosted a two-day, intensive biodiversity workshop that invited everyone who participated in the project to hear presentations from Tolman and Jordan, as well as scientists from around the country about conservation research efforts.

Though the initial intent was to analyze and write the scientific manuscript about the blue dasher’s genome during the second day of the workshop, the sequencing was not yet completed. Instead, the group pivoted to analyzing the genomes of three species whose genome sequences were already available to the scientific community, seeing how they had responded to past climate change as a practice round for doing the same for the blue dasher, Tolman explained.

The group looked at the genomes of two damselflies, one from Europe and one from the western U.S., and a dragonfly from Europe. The students had the chance to do some of the computational analysis, Tolman said.

Ella Driever holds up a blue dasher dragonfly that she caught near the Parkcenter Pond as Augie Gabrielli looks on. Student and adult volunteers with the Finding Dragons project collected blue dashers near the Parkcenter Pond in Boise in August for genome sequencing. Photo courtesy of Ella Driever

The analysis revealed that none of those species appear susceptible to climate change. That is still a valuable finding as it helps scientists prioritize policy for species that are the most vulnerable, said Or Bruchim, a senior at Timberline High School that helped with the computational analysis.

“We have limited resources to alleviate the impacts of climate change,” Bruchim said. “The species that we need to protect, we should definitely allocate more resources according to how much they’re impacted. So we shouldn’t waste our resources on a species that’s not going to be too impacted by the effects of climate change.”

By the end of the day, through dividing up the different sections of manuscript, the group had a draft of about 80% of the research paper. The results were published in the International of Odonatology, with the students and city volunteers listed as co-authors.

When the blue dasher genome information came back, the students were tasked with assembling that as well, Tolman said. With the help of some additional analysis from Tolman and other scientists, they were able to write a manuscript looking at broader changes in the dragonfly order Odonata.

The manuscript is currently being reviewed by the journal Gigascience, with the students listed as authors.

Future Blue Dasher Inquiries, Future Connections
Tolman and Jordan anticipate that the information contained in the blue dasher genome can be used for an additional five or more years of scientific inquiries for students, and anyone who makes use of the publicly available data.

For example, how closely related is the Boise blue dasher to blue dashers that live elsewhere, and do they have traits that make them able to survive in cities?

Jordan says he also hopes to apply the research model to study mayflies in the McCall area, connecting with the fishing community there, he said.

The leaders and participants also highlighted the wide-ranging mental health benefits that come with scientific research efforts.

Driever said that she keeps a busy schedule with activities like playing varsity volleyball and working a part-time job.

“When I get to go do these fieldwork things, and I meet these people, I allow that nature that I’m protecting to ground me and keep myself from being burnt out,” she said.
Bruchim said his involvement shows him that others care about the same issues and are taking action toward solutions.

“It’s a really enlightening experience, and you’re able to make connections with people that share the same values and are passionate about the same things you are,” he said, “so it’s a big mental weight off, and it makes you feel more in control of the situation.”

Erin Banks Rusby covers Caldwell and Canyon County. She reports on local government, agriculture, the environment, and more. She can be reached at erusby@idahopress.com