Incorporate Place-Based Education Into Your Mi-STAR Teaching with GLSI

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Since its inception, one of Mi-STAR’s main goals has been to empower students to address real-world issues in their communities. To further this goal, Mi-STAR has partnered with the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative on an innovative project to pilot place-based education (PBE) in Mi-STAR units.

Mi-STAR’s unit challenges are designed to be relevant to any student in Michigan, and to empower students to see how real-world problems can be addressed. However, generalizations are made to achieve broad relevance for a statewide audience. Unit challenges designed to work for Mi-STAR’s various student audiences across the state are unlikely to bring in the hyper-local relevance that supports place-based stewardship education.

PBE is not just about supporting students to learn using local examples, it is about using the learning to address local problems. The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, also known as “GLSI,” accomplishes this by supporting teachers to implement a 6-part framework that supports students to scope out local needs, identify an important local problem, connect with local community partners to research the problem, and define and carry out a stewardship project to meaningfully and authentically address the problem.

Integrating locally relevant problems into Mi-STAR builds off the existing unit challenges by identifying specific problems and contexts in students’ communities. This allows students to engage with their communities to address problems relevant to them as part of their learning.

The Mi-STAR / GLSI partnership was possible as a result of generous support provided by the Michigan Department of Education though the MiSTEM Advisory Council grant process and MiSTEM Network. A pilot project supported teachers at four GLSI hubs around the state to develop ways to use Mi-STAR and GLSI together. Teachers worked with a Mi-STAR professional learning facilitator and a GLSI support person from their regional Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative hub to weave the GLSI framework into Mi-STAR units.

Two experts, Joan Ancona, a district Science Coach for Brighton Area Schools and Sarah Halson, an Education Specialist at the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS), collaborated with Brighton teachers on a version of Mi-STAR’s Unit 6.1: Water on the Move. The unit was adapted to focus on water movement similar to what the students would be able to observe in their local environment.

They made tweaks large and small to help students connect their learning to managing the flow of water across the school's campus. When practical they used local watersheds and waterways as contexts in the lessons. They arranged video visits with a local construction manager and a local watershed council representative. “These video visits allowed students to get expert answers to their questions about the use and flow of water on the building site next door to the school and in the larger community” said Ancona.

To wrap up the unit, students’ culminating experience was planting trees on the school’s campus to slow the flow of water across the schoolyard. According to Ancona, “Students were diligent tree planters, intentionally trying to be sure the trees had the best start possible. They were able to answer lots of questions about why trees were important for the flow of water around the school campus.”

These PBE additions were hard work, but they paid dividends. Compared to prior years teaching Unit 6.1, Ancona’s teachers found that the opportunity to make a difference in their local community increased student engagement. “At the end of the unit, one student reflected on how they were truly surprised about how much they still had to learn about the water cycle and how much they enjoyed it”, said Halson. Teachers at other hubs around the state shared similar findings, and one group in the Flint-area hub has even kicked off another round of implementation of Unit 8.7: Global Climate Change.


In terms of what’s next, the statewide leaders of the pilot hope to eventually be able to provide all Mi-STAR teachers with the option to integrate GLSI’s place-based stewardship education framework. Stephanie Tubman, Mi-STAR’s Coordinator of Curriculum and Implementation, says that they are exploring various options that will work in concert with GLSI’s strategic priorities, and they excited to find a way to scale up this offering. Tubman has some advice for current and prospective Mi-STAR teachers: “Stay tuned.”

If you want to incorporate PBE into your teaching practice Ancona and Halson have several tips:

  • Start Small.
    Take advantage of existing opportunities in the curriculum to help students connect their learning to their surroundings. For example, Unit 6.1 starts with a scavenger hunt, where students look for water in their community. Halson elaborates: “Teachers had not taken their students on the scavenger hunt before this year because of time constraints. However, after seeing the impact that initial activity had on the rest of the unit for student engagement, I imagine they will always include that.”
  • Find local examples.
    Utilizing local resources is the easiest way to get started, according to Ancona. For example, in the unit, students use a video of a flood in Saginaw County as an anchoring phenomenon. A quick Google search brought up several examples of local rivers flooding that would be more relevant to students in different areas.
  • Community partners enhance the learning.
    Bring in special guests to talk to students about how their work uses the knowledge the students are gaining. Video conferencing allows even very busy special guests to fit in time with the students.

Learn more about GLSI at their Place-Based Education with the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative session strand at the upcoming MSTA conference! The sessions will be held Saturday, March 4th from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm at the Radisson Hotel Lansing. 

Photo Credit: "Arlington Oak sapling - official replacement tree - Arlington National Cemetery - 2012-05-19" by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

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Mi-STAR was founded in 2015 through generous support provided by the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Mi-STAR has also received substantial support from the National Science Foundation, the MiSTEM Advisory Council through the Michigan Department of Education, and Michigan Technological University.