In mid-June, teachers from around the state will have an opportunity to learn about place-based science education through a new initiative in the Chilkat Valley, led by local specialists.

The Chilkat Valley Teacher Institute for Place-based Science will offer a series of field trips and instructional lessons for local and visiting science teachers and education students on subjects ranging from geology to gardening to flying drones — all centered around outside-the-classroom techniques for teaching students about the natural world.

The institute is organized by Alaska Science Teachers Association with funding from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation.

Patty Brown, former Haines science teacher and acting president of the Alaska Science Teachers Association, said the idea is to have “five days of field trips with local subject area specialists, who would be providing both inspiration as well as content for teachers.” The institute is geared to help teachers teach students about their natural surroundings in a way that aligns with the state’s science education standards adopted in 2019.

Institute participants will be able to choose from one of three field trips each day. Some field trips will be half-day. All will be led by local experts (with one exception), like naturalist Judy Hall Jacobson and geologist Cindy Buxton.

“We’re using local people to teach teachers from all over the state about ways to use their own backyard,” Brown said.

There is a $200 registration fee for food and transportation (not including lodging), but that will be covered for local teachers and students pursuing degrees in education.

Place-based science is “catching on,” Brown said. The method is interdisciplinary and rooted in experiencing the natural world, as opposed to rote memorization of facts in a classroom. The philosophy is to start with a student’s curiosity and to make clear at the outset why it’s good to know certain facts, rather than to start with the facts and explain significance later, Brown said.

“One of the ways you can develop a sense of place is to get out of the classroom and apply some of the theories of the textbook to where you’re living. This experiential element is really critical,” said Scott Ramsey, director of the Alaska Outdoor Science School and a professor at Prescott College.

Ramsey will lead a lesson for the institute on the ecology of the Chilkat Valley, showcasing a systems-based approach “​​that sees and recognizes that all these different elements are interconnected — that there’s a relationship between even glaciers and salmon, salmon and the bears.” Ramsey said his focus will be on the “interplay between the living and non-living world.”

While the place-based approach has gained ground in schools across the country in recent years, humans have been learning from their environments since long before the modern classroom ever existed.

As Ramsey said, place-based science is as much “a rediscovering of (a) way of connecting people to place” as it is an innovative approach to education.

The institute will run June 19-25. It will count as two credits through the University of Alaska Anchorage Office of Professional and Continuing Education. The deadline to register is May 15 or until full. Email [email protected].