Rob Hanson epitomizes the phrase, “lifelong learner.” He has taken advantage of more than a dozen place-based and environmental education professional development opportunities over the years. As a sixth-grade teacher at the Prosper Valley School, he models for his students the deep curiosity and love for learning that he hopes they will acquire and benefit from their whole lives.

“I am here to help students develop a love of learning and ‘wake up to the world.’ We all learn best when we are engaged and passionate about a subject. And this is really one of the places we find the most joy in our lives. I want to help students find their passions.”

Rob grew up near the Sierras in California and 26 years ago, after 10 years of teaching there, he moved to Vermont. “When I moved to Vermont, I quickly found it to be a community with a real sense of place,” Rob reflects. “The Pomfret School’s strong environmental education culture attracted me to the school. I believe environmental education leads to more experiential and therefore more authentic learning.” That said, after about 10 years in Vermont, Rob reflected on his teaching practice and knew he could do better. “The amount of time my students were engaged in truly authentic outdoor learning was sporadic.”

“I am here to help students develop a love of learning and ‘wake up to the world.’ We all learn best when we are engaged and passionate about a subject. And this is really one of the places we find the most joy in our lives. I want to help students find their passions.”
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Right around this time, Rob found the A Forest for Every Classroom (FFEC) program at Marsh-Billing’s Rockefeller National Historic Park. “As with many students, I wasn’t sure I was up to the demands placed on me by my FFEC teachers. The primary assignment of FFEC was to create a quality place-based unit connecting students to their natural and human communities. After immersing myself in place-based literature, two readings quickly set my course. The first came from John Tallmadge’s Into the Field essay describing field journaling and power spots. Yet, the piece offered only a general bearing: my students would select an outdoor spot and write. A second work, that of Joseph Cornell’s Journey to the Heart of Nature, was more precise. As I read Journey with its detailed “power spot” activities, I knew I had in my hands a map of the very territory I wished my students to explore.”

“Using this book as a guide, I began setting aside an hour each week for power spots. As I hoped, implementing the power spot unit put my students outside, engaged in substantial, fun, and meaningful learning. I tweaked Cornell’s activities here and there, add a few others, and so finally felt that I was living up to my own expectations for outdoor education.”

 

Over the years, Rob added to his practice. He now codirects Mountains and Rivers Forever, a place-based outdoor adventure summer camps sponsored by the National Park and he is the co-director of the Horizons Observatory at the Prosper Valley School.

“During past couple years I’ve begun to integrate a ‘noticing’ lens throughout all subjects. This is something I picked up while part of the Upper Valley Linkages for Environmental Literacy program that FourWinds Nature Institute offers. I use the guiding questions:

  1. What do you notice?
  2. What do you infer?
  3. What connections do you make?
  4. What do you wonder?
  5. Why does it matter?

We ‘play hard’ in my class and these questions are one way we play with ideas and puzzle them out. I’ve found this approach is experience rich and so is more likely to endure.”

“I challenge my students and myself. We know life can be hard so cultivating resilience within a safe space for our children is vital. I think it’s often these very challenges, hard as they may be, that allow us to grow, to truly wake up”

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Field Notes is a monthly column highlighting the work of Upper Valley educators passionate about place-based environmental education. Do you have a story to share? Email us and let us know.