Thursday, 30 May 2013

STREAM of Consciousness

My old and valued friend and colleague, Mark Standley - Director of the Professional Education Center at the University of Alaska in Juneau, is organising a wonderful conference / institute with the title Pedagogy of Place from 17-19 July. I have been looking at the information on the web at http://www.uas.alaska.edu/education/pec/stream/index.html and, in doing so, been introduced to the idea of a STREAM curriculum and place-based learning. This may be familiar territory to you, my readers, but it is new to me.

We have heard a lot from the UK Department of Education over the past year or so about the importance it places on STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - in the curriculum. There is a great deal of rhetoric about how this will help develop the skills in our young people necessary for national economic strength in the future and, indeed, there is no doubt in my mind that - well taught - such a curriculum could be engaging, exciting and of lasting value to students. However, context is all, and such a curriculum could equally be overly theoretical and sterile if it is not rooted in the experience of students (and teachers). The other problem with a STEM curriculum is the danger of narrowness to the exclusion of the arts in particular. 

STREAM overcomes these difficulties with a curriculum containing Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics all of which are studied in the context of the place where students and teachers live. The uniqueness of place-based learning is the grounding of curriculum and instruction in a local context. In a fascinating, short paper (mcs.k12tn.net/departments/director/pedagogyofplace.pdf) Edward Diden quotes James Lewicki, a teacher from Wisconsin, for this succinct definition of place-based learning. Combined with the elements of STREAM, this sounds like my idea of the ideal educational experience:

"A pedagogy of place brings school and community together on a common pathway dedicated to stewardship and life-long learning. It is teaching by using one's landscape, family, and community surroundings as the educational foundation. Significant learning takes place outdoors and in the community. This community expands outward from the local 
landscape and home, to regional realities, to international issues. In coming to know one's own place, one comes to know what is fundamental to all places." (the italics are mine)

Of course, this may be easier to achieve in a rural context or a smaller school and it is hard to visualise how it might be worked out in a secondary school with 1600 students but what the heck, it has to be worth trying. It would be so much more interesting and rewarding for teachers and students than the latest version of the national curriculum.