Integrated Place-Based Learning Programs

Place-based projects and classes are grounded in several core ideas about learning and living. The first of these is that human beings learn best when our learning is connected to our own lives and experiences, and when it engages us in active investigation of, and interaction with, the world around us. Place-based projects and classes naturally integrate many traditional academic subjects in a meaningful, connected way. Also significant is the belief that the long-term sustainability of our society depends on developing the ability to care for the places in which we live. This means knowing them well, developing a sense of connection and embeddedness, and also acquiring the skills necessary to continue to investigate and address problems and changes.

Current Offering:


Create a treasure hunt to a special place in the community!  After trying at least one local quest, we will choose a special (natural or cultural) place in the community and create our own.  We’ll learn about the site we’ve chosen, create maps and clues (possibly using compass readings and/or pacing out distances) and a site description, and hide a quest box with a special stamp and log book.  In addition to helping develop a sense of place, the project will incorporate geography, some writing, art, and natural and/or cultural history.  It is inspired by the “letterboxing” tradition and particularly the work of Valley Quest (, “... an award-winning, place-based education program that uses treasure hunts to celebrate community, natural history, cultural sites, stories and special places.”  My hope is that the quest we create can be included on Valley Quest’s website so that we can make it available to others in the community to try and enjoy.

6 Mondays, 4/8-5/20/13, skipping 4/22; 10:30-12:00
Montpelier location TBA (some classes will meet at the quest site)
$70, $35 due with registration form by 4/1, the remainder due by 5/6
There will be a small materials fee as well.



Past Offerings:

Watershed Issues, Watershed Science

This project involves students in real-world scientific research that makes a difference in the local community. Our focus will be on river ecosystems and the connection between human activities on land and the health of the watershed. With the help of an educator or intern from the UVM Watershed Alliance, we will investigate issues that affect the Winooski River watershed and monitor the ecology and health of the North Branch. After some preliminary activities, we’ll design a study based on a question of interest to the group. Then we’ll carry out a number of scientific tests to learn about the ecology of the river and help us answer our study question. These may include measuring physical characteristics of the river (temperature, bottom characteristics, etc.), inventorying macro-invertebrates, and testing water chemistry (for oxygen, pH, etc.). Our data will be entered into a statewide online database, and we’ll plan an outreach project to bring the results of our study to some portion of the local community. Activities will include measurement, data collection, map work, and discussion of local issues, as well as learning about river ecology and monitoring techniques. Students will learn about framing questions for scientific investigation, gain hands-on experience in the scientific process, and learn to use up-to-date water quality monitoring equipment. They will become more aware of how watersheds connect communities, types and sources of pollution, the effects of pollution on humans and ecosystems, and local water-related and river management issues. For more information about the UVM Watershed Alliance, you can go to (yes, it’s watershd, not watershed).

Amphibians and Vernal Pools Field Study, ages 12 and up, a science and arts class offered with VT Institute of Natural Science North Branch Nature Center

New England Forests: Past, Present, and Future
Ages 8-12

This class involves students in an interdisciplinary study of the forests around us and how people have interacted with them over time. Historical, societal, and ecological questions will be investigated through hands-on activities that incorporate science, history, geography, literature, writing, and the arts. We will look at changes in the forests of New England over the last several hundred years, as well as changes in the ways people have lived in and used the forests. We'll investigate what the forests mean to us today, and also look ahead into the future. The group will discuss the historical novel Sign of the Beaver, which students will read at home. Other activities will develop scientific skills of close observation, questioning, and classification; and basic ecological concepts will be reinforced. At the end of the class, students will be asked to think about the future of the forests, including participating in a simulation of a decision-making body discussing various plans for the use of forested land. They will be introduced to a range of issues that affect decisions about human life in forested places.

This class is coordinated with "Secret Life on the Forest" taught by Julie Hand at VINS. Julie's class begins Wednesday, 9/15 and will focus particularly on understanding the ecology of the forest, including it's cycles and inhabitants. "New England Forests: Past, Present, and Future" offers a broader context for this ecological knowledge, connecting it more to human activity and a historical perspective. The two classes together will give students a deeper and more comprehensive learning experience.


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