• By Melissa Luetje M.S.

Education in the Field Kennebunk High School Macroinvertebrate Study of the Batson River, Kennebunkp

A connection to place, or the outdoors, is essential in environmental science education. How can one learn about the complexity and beauty of the environment without being outside and experiencing the environment first-hand? Experiential learning is enduring for students as it places science concepts learned in the classroom in an authentic context. Students that participate in "real science" by getting dirty and taking data contribute to a larger body of knowledge that benefits their local and scientific communities. This rich experience can be fostered utilizing community partners in an ongoing relationship, thereby providing continuity in instruction and programming.

It is difficult to make time and space for experiential, placed-based learning opportunities within the constraints of the academic year. After all, a specific curriculum must be taught and assessed, and field trips require time, resources, and context. The high school environmental science curriculum does just this. It is dynamic and allows the delivery of applicable concepts within the framework of units, setting the table for authentic field experience that is vital and underutilized in secondary science education. Place-based learning is "an educational approach that uses all aspects of the local environment and emphasizes hands-on, real-world learning experiences. Research has shown that place-based education has increased student achievement" (Sobel 2004).

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are part of the coastal community in Maine. Kennebunkport Conservation Land Trust is an active community member of the school district, encouraging the recreational and educational use of its land trust. These lands are home to diverse ecosystems, including freshwater and marine ecosystems. While studying aquatic ecosystems and global climate change, it was easy to create a place-based learning opportunity for environmental science students at Kennebunk High School.

The Batson River is part of Kennebunk's local watershed, traveling through farmland and urban areas and under roadways, eventually emptying into the Gulf of Maine at Gooch's Beach. What a community does directly affects the water quality of the river and, thus, the Gulf of Maine (GOM). The water quality of rivers is essential to preserving an ecosystem's biodiversity, and human impacts can negatively affect ec