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Teacher workshop for place-based learning practices

Teachers gather on the second floor of Isabelle Sellon School in Blairmore for the two day workshop hosted by Teton Science Schools for place-based learning techniques on August 30. Nicholas L. M. Allen Photo

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Sept 6, 2023

Isabelle Sellon School hosted teachers for the Teton Science School workshop on August 30 and 31.

Crowsnest Pass teachers undergo place-based learning workshop on August 30 and 31 at Isabelle Sellon School.

Teachers from both Horace Allen and Isabelle Sellon Schools (ISS) were present for the workshop held by Teton Science Schools. Sharon Laidlaw, the director of place network and professional learning at Teton Science Schools, spoke about the organization which is based out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 

“We do something called place-based education and we have two schools. We do wildlife tours and immersive learning experiences in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks in Wyoming,” said Laidlaw.

They would have schools and teachers come to visit wanting to do something similar where they live. After this they developed a professional learning team that works with schools across the U.S.A and the Crowsnest Pass here in Canada.

“This is the only area in Canada that’s a part of our network. Horace Allen and Isabelle Sellon are working with us and they are making every effort they can to break down the barriers between the community and the classrooms, bringing community members in and taking students out,” added Laidlaw. 

An example they talked about is, instead of learning about the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, they will teach them about the ways that the forest has been impacted locally and what issues exist here so the students can generalize that to other places.

“[The students] can really see that it’s relevant to their lives and their futures, and they also feel an increased sense of self efficacy and agency,” said Laidlaw.

The principal for ISS, Marnie Davidson, explained how it’s a benefit to kids and it brings the community into a partnership with student learning.

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“As a school, we’re not the lone institution, we want learning to be extended into our community. Having the support of Teton facilitators, passionate educators from Horace Allen and ISS and knowing that we have a community and municipal council that supports place-based learning just encourages our work that much more,” said Davidson.

Davison thanked Suncor for their funding which Christine McKie, the grade five teacher at ISS, explained was a donation of $100,000. Mckie explained how John Taylor, the off-campus coordinator for the Livingstone Range School Division, spearheaded the three-year partnership with Teton and managed to secure the funding. 

“I think the other thing too is that we get a lot of really positive feedback from the kids and the parents about how much their kids are coming home and talking about their experiences or how much they’re enjoying being engaged in in the community and learning about our community,” said McKie.

Brandie Fast, the grade one teacher at Horace Allen School, said how there are many people who know each other in a “small town” like the Crowsnest Pass including family members of the students and teachers. 

“We have a lot of family members who are very rich in their knowledge and experience as well as businesses. They can help facilitate different lessons or teach the kids about different things, or we go out into the community for field trips to learn in different areas. That hands on learning is so much more memorable for the kids and enjoyable,” said Fast.

Taking the kids traditional way of being in a classroom and learning from a paper, pencil or textbook and making it more engaging is important according to Meipsy Shackleford, the assistant principal of Isabelle Sellon School.

“We can actually make learning fun and engaging. The kids have a deep understanding and extend their learning and understanding of whatever it is we’re learning in the curriculum,” said Shackleford.

Principal Davidson explained how the school’s approach to place-based learning has evolved as a school and as a community.

“In the beginning it was an allocated time. During this block of scheduled time, we’re going to have place-based learning focus. In our school, we called it wild time. But as we’ve gone forward, it’s seamlessly kind of woven across the school day and place-based learning is just a part of the instructional approach,” said Davidson.

Elaine Garner, the principal at Horace Allen School, explained how the students are actively engaged in learning and in their community. 

“I think it just involves them to a higher level than just being teacher directed,” added Garner.

For John Taylor, he said his favourite part of this approach to learning is the sense of belonging the students get. 

“They’re part of this wider community and they also get to see what some of the challenges are, and it encourages active citizenship so they can grow up to make a contribution.” explained Taylor.

Laidlaw went on to explain how this type of learning can be applied anywhere, with some people confusing place-based education with outdoor education. 

“We work with schools in small rural communities in the center of farmland in the United States or urban schools in the inner city, because every place is unique, and every place has a history, a culture, an economy and ecology that’s specific to that area. This can be done anywhere,” said Laidlaw.

She also commended the Crowsnest Pass for being “exquisitely positive” and “optimistic” in their approach to place-based learning.

“They’re so tenacious about trying to find solutions to the challenges of education and have the best interests of their students at heart and it inspires hope,” said Laidlaw.

The work aligns with Livingstone Range School Division’s core value of place-based learning and Davidson said they are grateful for the support as the schools continue to explore this opportunity with community partners and through their partnership with Teton Science School. 

Visit for more information on Teton Science Schools and the work they do with place-based learning.

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