Cesar E. Chavez
When students, parents and many teachers think of a “project” what they are often thinking of is a product – that “thing” students create to show what they know, usually after all the content has been taught. In Place Based Learning it is essential to understand that the project encapsulates ALL the learning – from day one to the final reflection – and the product(s) are embedded in a project to assess students’ understanding of content, concepts, skills and cultural knowledge. Products are one component in the project process and when we understand that, Place Based Learning becomes much richer and more meaningful.
Community Product is a critical Design Principle of Place Based Learning. It might be an action such as an awareness campaign, a solution to a problem facing the community, an action plan for the betterment of the community or a service to address a genuine need. The final community product can take many forms such as a web page, blog, mural, proposal, documentary or podcast – all as a way to engage, educate, increase awareness or solve a problem within the community.
Students at a middle school on the Fort Yuma Quechan Reservation near Yuma, Arizona identified the increase of type 2 Diabetes among tribal and community members over the past 50 years as a major concern. Through purpose-driven inquiry they discovered that Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common ailments affecting Native Americans at epidemic levels. Their inquiry led them to understand the historical context, such as the damming of the Colorado River, the introduction of government commodities, and the impact on diet. They conducted a comparative study of the nutritional values of government commodities to foods grown and harvested one hundred years ago. Students wondered how they could reduce this alarming trend in their community. They decided to focus on diet and the traditional foods from the past. Through extensive interviews with tribal elders, native nutritionists and family members they compiled recipes that used traditional foods such as tepary beans, chollo buds, prickly pear cactus, saguaro fruit, squash and corn as well a fresh foods grown today in the area. This “Back to Our Roots Cookbook” was shared throughout the community in hopes they could revitalize their native food culture and positively impact the health of their community members, both young and old. They next hope to create a display garden that grows traditional foods and traditional planting practices.
By engaging students in working towards the betterment of their community – the whole community benefits. Students are viewed as a valuable resource as they become knowledgeable about the environmental, cultural, sociopolitical, economic and historical context of their community or region. This in-depth understanding of place guides them in their search for solutions for positive change. When students are engaged in this manner, learning takes on a new dimension. They engage with the power of place and see how they fit into their community and the contributions they can make. Content, skills and cultural knowledge come alive when rooted in places.
Assessing Student Growth
Whether a community partner has come to you with an issue or a specific request, or students through inquiry and investigation have determined an issue and solution for action, you want to make sure the final product(s) and/or deliverables show evidence of understanding and application of the content within the community context. Consider ways to individually assess student work throughout the process. It might take the form of an individual product such as a lab report or science journal. The individual product or deliverables helps students take unfamiliar content and make it familiar. Build in deliverables and formative assessments along the way to make sure students stay on target and strive towards creating quality work.
Oftentimes the community product is created in collaborative groups where students synthesize their knowledge and understanding to come up with the final product. Here students can be assessed on their cultural knowledge and awareness, application of the content, and specific skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication and problem solving. This collaborative product is often what is shared with the community. In this process, students are now taking what is familiar and making it strange – the process of innovating by coming up with a solution, action plan and/or product to address a real need. This is how students hone the skills that will help them succeed beyond the school setting. This is where they come to understand civic responsibility and the many different ways they can participate.
We want to be sure to leave room for student ownership in the design and implementation of the community product. Think about how you can build in processes that empower the voices of all – students taking the lead in deciding next steps, ideating solutions, surveying community members, testing prototypes and holding town meetings. Be flexible with this process as this is how we engage the creativity and hearts of our students. This is how students build agency and recognize that their voice is formidable and can be used to make positive changes in their community. Provide ways for students to discover their strengths and how they are an integral factor in the “power of place”.
For more ideas on Community Product, check out: www.pblpath.com