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Travel Report: Yi Chien Jade Ho
Yi Chien Jade Ho, a PhD candidate in Education, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in Taiwan.
During my doctoral studies at Simon Fraser University, I was drawn to environmental education, particularly the place-based outdoor aspect of the field. I believe taking learning outside allows students to situate their learning in the specific context and it helps to dispel the myth that the four-walled classroom is the only place that learning can happen. Moreover, the place-based focus connects local experiences to the larger social, cultural and ecological scene. Nevertheless, the theorization of place-based education predominantly comes out of Western thoughts. As someone from a diverse non-western background, I am driven to ask how this pedagogy looks like in different cultures. For this reason, my research project focuses on my home country, Taiwan, where this pedagogy is only beginning to develop.
Although the term “place-based education” is quite new in Taiwan, place-based practices are not unfamiliar. Recently, conversations around place have been taken up more fervently due to the influences of burgeoning fields of environmental education and outdoor education. Questions of sense of place, place/community attachment, cultivation of relationships with the natural world, just to name a few, have begun to be more deeply theorized. On the ground there have been several pockets of educators that center their pedagogical and curricular practices on and with place in the hope to provide a more holistic, socially just and environmentally sound education centered on local cultures and ecology.
With the support of GIRTA, I was able to travel to Taiwan, for a period of two months in 2016, to work with a group of passionate teachers who developed a place-based program for a fifth-grade class in Sanxia, a township located at the outskirts of Taipei City. The program, “Portraying Sanxia” takes students outside of their classroom into their schoolyard, and into Sanxia itself. This program intertwined science, social and cultural studies, and art and humanities, cultivating in students a connection with the places in which they live. In this program, knowledge is not just the answers on the worksheets, but it becomes the foundation of a deeper knowing and understanding of place.
The curriculum development team consisted of experienced teachers from different knowledge areas, students’ homeroom teachers, principals, and researchers. Through a combination of participatory action research and ethnography, we discussed and explored the principles, concepts and possibilities of place-based education and outdoor education in promoting interdisciplinary learning. We also engaged in the process of curriculum development from innovative lesson design, through trial implementation, to modification. The first stage of the program contained four themes—“The Street that Listens to the Breath of Mountain and River: Sanxia Old Street”, “Making Sanxia Indigo: Sanxia Indigo Dye”, “Finding the Eye of Wu-Liao River”, and “Ploughing the Artisans of Sanxia”. During this process, I also held individual and group interviews with the teachers and students.
Reflecting on the process, we came to understand the importance of “time” spent in a place. From student’s interview, through this program students indeed have come to know and understand more about the place they live in. They see that there are many happenings. Their curiosity has been aroused but time did not allow them to continue explore that curiosity and to have a deeper connection with the places. For example, when students encounter the river, their imagination was governed by assumptions our culture has assigned to nature. They see it as places for camping, fishing or home of scary creatures rather than a place upon which we depend. We, yet, need to explore a sense of interdependence between human and non-humans. This is as the teachers emphasized over and over again, during the curriculum development process and interviews, the importance of “giving back”, of being “place-responsive”.
During this time, I also visited four other schools that are actively engaged in place-based pedagogies in very unique ways. This pushes me to ask the question what is a Taiwanese place-based education and how does one go about exploring the possibilities place offers education at the intersection of complex historical, cultural, ecological and spiritual eruptions. This trip was an important initial stage that gsve me a preliminary understanding of the Taiwanese scene of place-based pedagogies and the large social and global influences. This in term gave me a ground to design further research that will be addressed my doctorial dissertation.