Place-Based Learning Goes International: Lessons from Luxembourg

Key Points

  • With thoughtful planning, community-based learning programs can meet the needs of a variety of student interests, leading to meaningful learning for all stakeholders.

  • Community-based learning programs should be constructed to meet the needs and context of your students and community.

  • Embrace the unique resources and opportunities present in your community to create relevant and engaging learning experiences.

By: Nicole Assisi

Stumbling upon place-based learning has become a recreational hazard during my summer travels. Two years ago, I found myself learning about internships on the Alaskan railroad. But this summer, I found myself wandering through a forest in Luxembourg, surrounded by elementary students’ vibrant artwork. I had the privilege of learning with the children and families of Groundschoul Luerenzweiler in the charming community of Lorenzweiler, Luxembourg.

Lorenzweiler is a small farming community nestled in the heart of Luxembourg. It is known for its picturesque setting along the Alzette River and is surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills. With a population of around 4,500, the community is rich with resources for learning and exploration. The elementary school has embraced this, creating a curriculum deeply rooted in the local landscape and ecosystem.

As I arrived at the school on a Wednesday evening, just two weeks before the end of the year, I was greeted by a flurry of excitement. At 6 pm, the students were preparing for their annual exhibition – but this was no ordinary display of work. The forest adjacent to the school had been transformed into a living gallery, with student artwork hung from trees and twinkling in the fading light.

The students had spent months observing the natural flora and fauna of the forest, meticulously documenting their findings and delving into the habitats of creatures both familiar and unknown. This place-based approach to learning inspired a depth of engagement and curiosity that was palpable as the students eagerly shared their projects. Tom Vander Ark describes this kind of excitement in Place Based Learning across the United States but it’s also flourishing across the pond in the forests of Europe. 

One group of students created intricate drawings of the forest’s animals, complete with detailed notes on their habitats and behaviors. Another group ventured into the realm of fantasy, designing mythical creatures and crafting stories set amidst the trees. Through this work, the students not only developed their scientific skills but also tapped into their creativity and imagination.

“I love nature and animals. For my art, I worked really hard. I ran out of time to put all the details, so I want to do more of this,” said Carol, a second grader.  

“The children spend at least one day a week in the forest with the class. They often came home from school and told me about their adventures. I had never seen the trail. I love seeing where they are, how they spend their time, and what they did,” said Marie Christian, a parent.

 In Lorenzweiler, the school and community formed a powerful partnership centered on place-based learning. By embracing the rich resources of their local environment, they created an educational model that is deeply relevant, engaging, and meaningful. This approach has fostered a sense of pride and ownership among the students, who see their learning as connected to the world around them.

“It is so exciting to see so many people in the community come together to see the work students did. I think this event brings all of us, young and old, together to experience a world we usually just see from our own perspective,” said Daniel, a fellow visitor. 

Here is what I learned about implementing Place-Based Learning in any community from my observations in Lorenzweiler and my work supporting schools at Thrive:

  1. Make the Ordinary Extraordinary By considering the unique opportunities present in our communities and leveraging the natural world as a classroom, we can inspire a deeper level of engagement and curiosity in our students. The natural environment offers endless possibilities for hands-on learning and exploration that can make even the most ordinary subjects come alive.
  2. Bring Adults into the Kids’ World and Vice Versa Through place-based learning, we can help students see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem, cultivating a sense of stewardship and wonder. Children become eager to preserve nature, learn about it, and even teach adults. Bridging the gap between adults and children in learning environments fosters mutual respect and understanding, empowering students to take ownership of their education. 
  3. Invite the Community In Lorenzweiler, the mayor addressed the families and led a group through the forest. This involvement benefits elected officials who want to be part of the community and shows kids that adults care about their work. Engaging community members in educational activities not only emphasizes the importance of learning but also strengthens community bonds.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New and Have it Not Be Perfect The exhibition in Lorenzweiler followed days of heavy rain, turning the forest into a muddy slide. I overheard educators considering how to have kids build bridges and walkways to make it safer. Sometimes, what seems like a failure can become an opportunity. Embrace the unexpected and use it as a learning experience for both students and educators.

As we strive to create more impactful and learner-centered educational experiences, the example of Lorenzweiler offers valuable lessons. By considering the unique opportunities present in our communities and leveraging the natural world as a classroom, we can inspire a deeper level of engagement and curiosity in our students. Through place-based learning, we can help students see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem and cultivate a sense of stewardship and wonder.

I invite you to reflect on the potential for place-based learning in your own community. What rich resources surround your school, waiting to be tapped? How might you partner with local organizations and businesses to create more relevant and engaging learning experiences? By embracing the unique character of our communities and the natural world, we can create educational pathways that are deeply rooted in place and inspire students to grow and thrive.

Nicole Assisi, CEO of Thrive.

Guest Author

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