Ends Not Means: The Axiology of Place-Based Education

Narration, slide by slide, for
GSA “Ends not Means”

Ends Not Means: The Axiology* of Place-Based Education

Charles “Kip” Ault
Professor Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling
GSA Connects in Portland Oregon
Session T154 “Best Practices in Place-Based Education”

1              Welcome! I’m Kip Ault, Professor Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling in Portland, Oregon. My thanks to Steve Semken, Michael Phillips, and Sarah Fortner for this opportunity. My title, “Ends, not Means,” suggests the social value of achieving a sense of place.

2              I propose three fundamental aims (CLICK): “caring for the landscape’s capacity to sustain communities, (CLICK) attaining identity as a beloved member of the community, and (CLICK) achieving an understanding of the science needed to improve the community. CLICK For example, students working with artists and scientists to enhance local geotourism” My task this afternoon is to place a typical science topic in a context of achieving a sense of place. I’ve selected the study of evolution of the horse. Valuing place-based education elevates the story told by horse fossils to insights about climate change in the past and understandings crucial to concerns about climate change in the present.

3              “The Paleogene to Neogene story of changing climate and the evolutionary responses of its inhabitants lies embedded in the rocks and fossils of north central Oregon.” Large grazers replaced small browsers. (CLICK) “The Horse Fossil Study Kit, created at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument decades ago, tells this story.”

4              These are the fossil replicas of the Horse Fossil Study Kit: “There are four sets of skull, mandible and tooth fossils to associate with habitat place in temporal order. Which skulls and teeth might be more ancient? More modern?”

5              The “Essential Question” for the Horse Fossil Study Kit is: “What does the geology and fossil record of the John Day Fossil Beds reveal about the climates and ecosystems of eastern Oregon’s past?” CLICK [In general, aridity increased, and landscapes transitioned from tropical forests to grasslands.]

6              Equus skull annotated: “Let’s start by looking at skulls and teeth from the horse family. Pay attention to the position and height of the molars.”

7              Exercise: “Find the intersection of anterior suborbital point with the mandible.” (Hyracotherium 55 mya, AMNH 4832; formerly Eohippus)

8              Exercise: “Find the intersection anterior suborbital point the with the mandible.” (Merychippus 16 mya)

9              Exercise: “Find the intersection of the anterior suborbital point with the mandible.” (Equus modern horse)

10           Hyracotherium (55 mya)), Merychippus (16 mya), Equus (modern)

11           “Notice the size, shape, and cusp pattern of these molars.” (Haplohippus 38 mya)

12           “Notice the size, shape, and cusp pattern of these molars.” (Equus modern horse)

13           “Notice the size, shape, and cusp pattern of these molars.” (Merychippus 16 mya)

14           The answer key: ancient horse tooth pattern (browsers) compared with a modern horse tooth pattern (grazers).

15           Puzzle: “More ancient or more modern?” (Miohippus 27 mya) The size and placement of sockets in the skull, matched to body size, tells a compelling story of reforming the cusps and ridges of molar teeth, accompanied by modifications in the shape of the head to accommodate them. Chewing silica rich plants wore down crowns; the evolution of really high-crowned teeth met this challenge. Tooth sockets deepened and eye sockets shifted to make room. Horse heads lengthened—together with body length. Talking horses are rare, but their mouths have much to say. You’ve now completed the first of several units from the kit! Now let’s race through the rest. But first, I wish to share a film clip about Oregon circa 12 million years ago.

16           In 1987 biology students in eastern Oregon, in collaboration with professional artists and filmmakers, produced The John Day Fossil Beds: Impressions from the Past. The film combines art and science to provide a journey through geologic time in the local environment. It expresses appreciation for the local landscape and local story. Stop-motion, figures of oreodonts, nimravid saber-toothed cats, gracile rhinoceros, and three-toed horses star in the film. Lava oozes, trees topple, lahars tumble, land rifts, and the climate changes as the peaceful valley of Dayville comes into existence.

17           Dayville video, 12 mya.

18           Horse teeth have even more to say about past climate and habitat (CLICK). “The “You Are What You Eat” lessons of the Horse Fossil Study Kit stress that horses are made from grass.” Grasses vary in their manner of linking carbon atoms to become sugars. The metabolism of three-carbon chain production (C3) grasses favors cooler, temperate climates; warm, dry tropical savannahs offer better opportunities for their four-carbon fixing (C4) siblings. When C4 plants synthesize sugars, they utilize a higher proportion of atmospheric carbon-13 than do C3 plants. [Kentucky blue grass: C3.]

19           “When Charles Darwin dug a fossil of a horse tooth out of a cliff in Argentina, he probably gave little thought to its chemistry. Modern climate scientists, however, treat fossil horse teeth as Pleistocene thermometers.”

20           “The body rots away, but fossilized teeth may endure for millions of years, preserving the carbon isotope signature of their owner’s feeding habits.” The ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 in horse teeth depends upon the proportion of C4 versus C3 in the plants they have consumed. Thus, the chemistry of fossil teeth from a horse that grazed in a warm, dry grassland tends to differ from that of a horse who lived in cooler, temperate lands.” [Phytoliths differ in C3 and C4.]

21           “The teacher stands before the class with a horse fossil tooth in hand and says, ‘You are looking at a thermometer.’”

22           “What is the value of studying the fossil history of John Day Country?
1. Learning evolution through the lens of place: the quarries of the John Day Fossil Monument;
2. Appreciating the nature of paleoclimatology: the challenge of inferring past habitats
3. Participating in community development:
the enhancement of tourism by welding a Plesiosaur

23           For example, The Mitchell Plesiosaur. Part fossil bone, part iron rebar, and welded all over, the Mitchell Plesiosaur’s presence mesmerizes onlookers at the Oregon Paleolands Visitor Center in Fossil, Oregon—it’s a marvelous monster with a paddle-limbed body behind a long, skinny neck ending with a head packed with reptilian teeth. The high school vocational education class took on the task of reconstructing the twelve-foot-long creature for display, and elementary school children composed a book telling the plesiosaur’s story. Student filmmaking, story writing, and exhibit welding projects have come to enhance the experiences of tourists who visit their community.

24           “What are the ends of place-based education? (CLICK) A just and sustainable society, democratically governed by a citizenry appreciative of the role of diverse sciences. (CLICK) Even a conventional unit on evolution can be repurposed to this end. The story of John Day fossils I’ve shared is a promising start.”

25           Place-based education configures subjects as strata of vivid, coherent stories in order to achieve socially valued ends. Achieving a “sense of place” attaches the heart and mind to landscapes, the memories that inhabit them, and the promise of renewal.

A good example—and you should all take a look–of this perspective can be found displayed outside Oregon Convention’s Center Portland Ballroom: Lillian Pitt’s “Voices,” is a series of 26 bronze relief plaques. If you haven’t, do take a look. Her Native American name is Wak’amu (camas root), chosen because it represents a “stubborn plant that won’t let go of the earth.” Her name refers to the long periods of time she spent wandering the hills during her childhood, strengthening her sense of place.
THANK YOU! (Stop here to encourage questions and discussion, perhaps introduce themes from Beyond Science Standards: Play, Art, Coherence, Community.)

26           8 MYA, “avalanche of death” film clip from Impressions of the Past (time-permitting).

27           “Elliot Eisner’s Criteria of Artistry.” The study of JODA horse fossils by students in North Central Oregon linked science, art, and community improvement. In what ways does this episode of place-based education reflect Eisner’s criteria of artistry? These criteria apply appropriately both to art and curriculum.
The first is (CLICK) “Vivid Depiction.” Clearly, the fossil artifacts vividly depict the phenomena of interest—mouths evolving in response to changes in diet. The same applies to the welded skeleton of the Mitchell Plesiosaur. The film, Impressions of the Past, extends “vividness” to encompass “empathy for the subject”—the dramatic history of the region.
The next criterion—or feature of art and curriculum of place—is seeing the “Universal in the Particular.” The teeth fossils of the JODA are just one case of inferring habitat from isotope records. Isotope traces of past events are essential and ubiquitous in paleoclimate inquiry.
The end of place-based education is not simply to embed learning in local landscapes, but also to uncover the threads that connect the local to a bigger picture. Otherwise, place-based education becomes very parochial.
The third criteria is (CLICK) “Coherence.” Art and curriculum have a wholeness, a stand-alone quality. The parts work together to create a consummatory experience. The parts give meaning to the whole and the whole gives meaning to the parts.
Eisner’s fourth criterion of artistry is (CLICK) “Constructive Neglect.” A painting frames a subject, includes some elements, excludes others, and deliberately enriches and restricts perceptions. The same might be said of a scientific theory, such as evolution. Paying attention is the first step of learning—and curriculum, like art, best begins by prompting attention. A table of fossil skulls certainly does so. Vividness that makes empathy possible, particularity that uncovers universals, coherence that keeps parts in clear relationship to the whole, and constructively neglecting some aspects of a phenomenon in order to focus attention on others contribute to achieving a sense of place in the same manner as they engender an appreciation of art.

28           Perhaps we should think in terms of the “art of place-based education” along with “best practices.”

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