A Second-Year Teacher Still Struggling to Find Place

Izaak Standridge, Knoxville, TN

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Children admiring the view from Sharp’s Ridge

Early on in my M.A.T. program I became excited by the idea of Place-Based Learning. The excitement grew after reading “Out of the Classroom and into the World” by Salvatore Vascellaro. I began to see, with my minds eye, a learning experience for my future elementary students that would allow us to go on walking field trips throughout the neighborhood and get to know individuals and their trades in a similar way that Vascellaro and his students did. I’m in my second year as a first grade teacher at Christenberry Elementary School and that dream has yet to become a reality.

Place Based Learning is encouraged through Common Core State Standards by way of making real world connections with our students (I debated using the word “with” or “for” in the last sentence and felt like “with” was more accurate). After my student teaching at Christenberry, an urban school, I was brought on as a first grade teacher for that following semester there. I began to feel the same excitement that I had when I learned about Place-Based Learning; but so did the reality that I did not know this new place, I did not know this neighborhood, I did not know these students. As a result, learning “with” my students has become my biggest connection to the neighborhood. The partnership developed behind my students and I has caused me to spend many afternoons walking around the neighborhood in search of opportunities to learn.

These walks have allowed me to speculate about these learning opportunities and a few possibilities have come to mind. First, a few blocks from the school lies a city designated birding park, Sharp’s Ridge, that includes a breathtaking overlook view of the city. The birding park also has nature trails and pavilions that would be perfect for outdoor lessons. Second, at the base of the birding park is a trail designated for mountain biking – this prospect is especially exciting due to a recently developed non-profit in town, Kickstand, that seeks to get bicycles in the hands of students living in poverty. The bicycle non-profit also seeks to partner with students to teach general bicycle maintenance and repairs. One walk around the neighborhood planted these seeds and my hope is that possible ornithologists, engineers, athletes, and city planers find their start by learning in place.

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