Learning Lessons for Life: PBE at Plainfield Elementary School

Jen Frederick is a science educator at Plainfield Elementary School in New Hampshire.

Jen Frederick, a middle school science educator at Plainfield Elementary School, incorporates PBE into her classroom because she believes it makes for better humans. She’s observed firsthand the love students have for their place and their desire to protect these spaces and use them responsibly. That legacy continues beyond her classroom; she says many former students go on to integrate an appreciation for nature, community, and the environment into their adult lives. 
Her approach to the student growth process combines the principles and tenets of PBE with the skills kids need to be successful adults. For example, Frederick has no qualms when things don’t go according to plan; in fact, modeling failure is the responsible thing to do, she says. Not every project will be seamless, nor will every moment in her students’ adult lives. When mistakes are made, students have the space to reflect on what went wrong and try again. By rolling with the punches, students’ personal development benefits, and they realize that trial-and-error is vital to scientific inquiry. 
This process was in action when Frederick implemented a new project: data collection with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. Frederick chooses projects, like GLOBE protocols, that work well with Next Generation Science Standards. The Standards’ flexibility allows her to connect community interests with her students’ interests, whether outdoors or in the lab. The influence of service-learning and community connections led to students choosing personally relevant projects, like a regional plastic bag usage study, and a grant study for compostable utensils. Frederick recognizes how much her students benefit from flexible standards and the unwavering support of her school, fellow teachers, and administrators. Place-based is in her school's mission statement, and she is encouraged in all of her endeavors to use place as a platform for higher learning.
Frederick utilizes the forest as a paradigm to discuss the three E’s of sustainability, sharing the concepts through examples that impact or exist in that space. For example, while collecting tree data in the forest, students thought about equity together. Trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, her students discussed the importance of biodiversity in the forest and diversity in the community. There are also many conversations sparked over the economics of the forest; the value of certain species compared to others (and the meaning of worth and value), sustainable practices, the pros and cons of logging, and industry usage. The environment is threaded through each project and discussion, an umbrella held over all their work. 
Centering and belonging are at the heart of Frederick’s work. Through teaching, she wants her kids to be comfortable in their bodies and in their place, feeling ownership and commitment to both. All in all, she says, she wants them to just be “better humans.”

Project City Meriden
Project State New Hampshire
Project School Plainfield Elementary School
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
Subject Area
  • science, math, engineering, technology (STEM)
Outcome Area
  • stewardship behavior
  • environmental change
Participant Area
  • student
Age Area
  • middle school (12-14 years old)