Learning about Place-based Education

We were lucky to bring in David Sobel from Antioch University to OISE this past summer to do a talk and day-long workshop on place-based education.  David is the guru of Place-Based Education (PBE), having written extensively about it in his many books (looking to Mapmaking with Children, Childhood & Nature, or Place-Based Education, to name only a few).  Working with his partner, Jen Kramer, David led our teachers through a variety of art-based learning activities based on creative mapping, collages, and miniature worlds.  Our teachers would be the first to tell you that they aren’t ‘artists” or ‘creative’, yet all were fully engaged in these experiences as David and Jen had us consider the places in which we grew up, and the places we live in now as a starting point to thinking about PBE.  David’s rich set of examples of PBE, drawn from schools all over the US, inspired us with its ‘real world’ learning that can take place when using this approach – creating museum exhibits, cleaning up wetlands as just two examples. In Jen’s afternoon workshop, the teachers created beautiful collages using discarded artworks of key parts of Toronto, inspired by author’s book; a few examples are shared below.  We ended the day feeling better prepared to tackle PBE theoretically, practically, and aesthetically!



I have been focusing specifically on eco-art education in this blog since its inception, but have just finished working on a major document related to environmental and sustainability education and so would like to share it here.  Called DEEPER – the Deepening Environmental Education in Pre-Service Education Resource – it aims to support and inspire faculty, staff, and students to deepen the implementation of environmental education in initial teacher education programs across the province.

 This resource guide is a substantial publication that is the first of its kind.  It was a collaborative effort informed by the input of over 60 participants of the DEEPER provincial roundtable that we hosted at OISE last May.  Since that time, we have coordinated a team of writers and reviewers from faculties of education across Ontario who have shared strategies, practices, and resources to encourage initial teacher educators, teacher candidates and staff to improve the breadth and depth of environmental education in their programs, faculties and institutions.

 It has been a rewarding journey working on the DEEPER guide; I have learned so much about the field of environmental education, and its practice in Ontario teacher education programs, and there is so much more going on than I had anticipated.  Most importantly I have forged new connections with other environmental educators working across the province, which was in fact one of our motivations for writing this document in the first place.  I hope you will take the time to look through it; so much of what we have compiled could be applied in school or community settings.  I certainly hope that it helps you to go DEEPER into your own practice of environmental education moving forward.

The DEEPER guide can be found at:  



Deeper Cover 2014

Get outside and draw!

I had the pleasure recently of attending a workshop led by naturalist Clare Walker Leslie, who is a prolific artist and author.  Clare is a passionate proponent of art-based nature journalling, well-evidenced in her many journals.  Seeing her journals is a delight – they are rich with drawings of the natural world, observations, and connections to her experiences.  Her drawing style is beautiful – in some cases, quick and gestural to capture the shape of a bird before it flies off into the bush; in others, detailed, well-worked watercolours or coloured pencil drawings created in her studio from outdoor sketches and field guides.  She spends a lot of time in classrooms with students, encouraging them to use drawing (or mark-making, as she prefers to call it) as a way to closely observe the flora and fauna around them – an important step towards developing their ecological literacy.  Clare delivered three workshops in Toronto, including one at the Master of Teaching Environmental Education conference at OISE.  It was refreshing to get outside – yes, even in a cold Ontario winter – just to draw, and to be reminded of the power of journaling as an ongoing learning activity for learners of all ages.  For more info on Clare, or to order one of her books, please visit her website at:  


Using art as a part of environmental education

Just finished a summer institute for teachers in Toronto that took an integrated approach environmental education (EE) and ecological literacy by using art, science, outdoor ed and mapping as a way to get teachers and students outside to learn about the environment. What a great time! Hosted by Evergreen (an amazing Canadian EE non-profit) and the EE dept. at the Toronto District School Board, about 30 teachers came to Runnymede PS in the west end of the city for four days of tours, learning activities, and stimulating discussions, all centred on EE. I was lucky to work with co-facilitator and science educator extraordinaire Pam Miller (for the fourth summer in a row), new Evergreen staffer Erin Wood, as well as four inspiring lead teachers from schools around the city – Anne Lakoff, Karen Goodfellow, Ryan Adams and Jennet Poffenroth.

We organized the institute on learning in, about and for the environment, themes drawn from the TDSB’s approach to developing students’ ecoliteracy. We combined this with a focus on learning trails, a type of guided learning experience that gets teachers and students outside to access the range of environments in their communities. We modeled interpretative, self-guided and investigative trails, and then had the teachers develop their own for the upcoming school year.

Of course there was a strong art component to this institute as we encouraged teachers to experiment with age-appropriate environmental action with their students. Part of this was manifested via creative approaches to mapping, but a few of us also played with developing the Yellow Fish Road concept to make it more eye-catching. Here is the result of our efforts – a stenciled fish near the Humber River that reminds people of the rich range of life in our rivers and lakes in the city.

Overall it was a wonderful week of PD for all of us as the teacher-participants always end up teaching us just as much as we teach them. I’m hoping some of the ideas from the institute take on a life of their own in schools across Toronto over the course of the school year.