Wednesday, March 20, 2013

POSOH Field Test Retreat: A Collaborative Place-Based Curriculum Process

Team members test curriculum lessons and provide feedback

Teachers, community members, cultural experts, undergrad and graduate students and other school practitioners from the Northeastern WI area gathered in Madison, WI last week to test curriculum lessons for POSOH, a Menominee place-based education project.  Kate Flick, SDI Education Coordinator, participated in testing lessons on the 8th grade unit which focuses on the two following questions: “How does our place provide us with food?” and “In what ways do our food practices affect our place?” The process integrates scientific and tribal cultural practices into relevant learning material for local middle school students.

Students discover food from a place-based scientific viewpoint
Students begin to understand scientific concepts about how matter moves through earth systems, where it is neither created nor destroyed, but changed into different forms.  Linda Orie, former Menominee Indian Tribal School middle school teacher and current UW-Madison education and psychology graduate student, noted that the unit is very cylindrical. “[It is] reiterating cycles,” she noted, “Students learn about the carbon cycle, indigenous view of cycles, and the food cycle.”

Food serves as the centerpiece of the students’ intellectual journey. Students trace the basic transformation of food from digestion, to the plant life cycle, to different agricultural systems. First, students discover how the digestive process prepares food to serve as the building blocks of their bodies. In order to tell the story of a particular food, students learn the plant life cycle and how plants grow in different environments. They compare a continuum of agriculture practices commonly used in their area from traditional wild-rice harvesting, 3-sisters gardening practices, hunting, and berry gathering, to other corporate Food Inc. style production and high-tech family-owned dairy methane energy production farms.

Through curriculum pieces, students transform their idea of food from something purchased at the store to a much more in-depth understanding of sustainability values and land-use decisions. In the end, students will be able to assess and measure various sustainability indicators and understand the trade-offs of each system. Students also learn how the values and practices of agriculture systems impact their diet and sense of place. In the end, students should be able to “locate” and define their own value system and apply land-use decisions to a hypothetical land tract by using an integrated socio-cultural and scientific lens.
Food is all about science and biology 

Paula Fernandez, cultural resource specialist at Menominee Indian School District, touched on the integration between an indigenous world view and a scientific world view. “In all indigenous cultures, everything is a circle and we go through this life in a circle…connecting with other cycles, said Fernandez, "Even the fact that we come from the earth is central.” In this case, the food we eat, which comes from the earth, becomes a way for students to track this cycling in a scientific viewpoint.

Participants integrate Native words into lessons
The feedback process was demanding but rewarding.  After a particularly challenging exchange about what sustainability indicators to use and how to assess them, Hedi Baxter Lauffer, UW-Madison project head of POSOH, brought everyone together. “Having this process, where we actually get to step back and talk to each other about what we want students to learn is a gift,” said Lauffer, “Sometimes having a discussion about the hard stuff is painful, but then it really is a collaborative process when you stick with it.”

UW-Madison project head of POSOH Hedi Baxter Lauffer
Last summer, the group participated in a rigorous design process where they were asked ”What should area 8th graders take away from a place-based unit focused on food, sustainability, values, and land use practices?” Since then, the UW-Madison curriculum development team transformed the content into practical ideas, lessons, and activities which follow the new State and National Common Core educational standards. The 8th grade unit will continue to undergo development and will be field tested later this year. If you have any questions, please contact field test participant and College of Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute Education Coordinator Kate Flick.

A birds eye view of the field test retreat 

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