Our Town: Sustainable Places, Green Spaces

people bikingRevitalize communities and invigorate learning through interdisciplinary place-based programs on land use, brownfields redevelopment and sustainable communities. Sustainable communities and regional revitalization provide a powerful and inherently relevant context for improving achievement, equity, and teacher effectiveness. Support equity with content that teaches it.  Take a program tour.

Topics. land use planning communities, habitats, brownfields, soil / water / toxicology, green building, environmental justice, public policy and government.

Audience. grades 6-8, 9-12, higher ed, adult ed

Disciplines. earth science, biology, environmental science, chemistry, civics, language arts, economics, design health

Career Connections. urban planning, civil and environmental engineering, HAZMAT, architecture and design, government, law, public health, GIS, geography, environmental policy, landscape architecture, construction and building trades.

the MI  Earth Science  and  Biology  content expectations for Our Town.

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to view Our Town program evaluation results.

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Our leveled programs provide a gradual process to help you transition to new ways of teaching and learning. Each level offers customized packages of professional development, curriculum licensing, and  planning. Select from four levels based on your organization’s goals and level of readiness:

  1. Imagine the Change: 1-3 day introductory programs. Details

  2. Plan the Change: A 3-6 month strategic planning phase. Details

  3. Begin the Change: Semester- or year-long programs to revise or create units, courses or programs.  Details

  4. Sustain the Change: Extended initiatives to build internal capacity and maintain effective change. Details

Level I:  Imagine the Change

Level I programs introduce new ways of reframing content and instruction through a lens of sustainable communities and other Our Town themes.  Participants envision and define possibilities for change as they experience approaches they can replicate in their own classes.  A typical package includes:

Example:  An urban educational institution is seeking ways to improve student achievement and community engagement, and wants to explore sustainable communities and regional revitalization as a possible focus for reframing curriculum.  In a two-day workshop, Creative Change engages teachers in hands-on activities that use the local community as a context for learning.  Topics include regional environmental trends, community social fabric, and the links between culture and community  Educators review age-specific curricula and resources, and evaluate ways the approaches can be integrated into existing instruction to meet achievement goals. 
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Level II:  Plan the Change

Our Plan the Change programs provide 3-6 months of strategic planning to help institutions define goals, strategies, evaluation, and a timeline.  The work is guided by our Instruction Change framework, a needs assessment tool that examines institutional culture, curriculum, professional development, and other factors affecting the successful integration of sustainability. 

Example: After collecting data on faculty impressions and interests, Creative Change meets with the leadership team to develop a plan for integrating sustainability into the curriculum in ways that support existing initiatives.

Level III:  Begin the Change

Level III programs provide professional development, curriculum licensing and ongoing support focused on revising curriculum, courses and programs. Spread over a year or more, a typical package includes:

Example: After completing the Level I program, the same institution works with Creative Change to map out a year-long initiative focused on reframing core units around Our Town programs theme of sustainable communities, public health and environmental restoration.  The initiative unfolds over a calendar year in three steps: A) on-site professional development, B) instructional redesign, and C) evaluation and communication.

Step A) On-site Professional Development

Workshops begin by immersing teachers in content knowledge and research-based pedagogical strategies. To model effective approaches, the sessions engage staff in hands-on activities they can replicate with their students, followed by thoughtful analysis and discussion.  Approaches include:

Through these activities, educators define how Our Town themes can serve context for reinvigorating learning and student engagement.  The staff then evaluates their existing curriculum and set goals for reshaping it.  A life science teacher engages students in mapping invasive species and increasing native plantings on campus.  A math teacher uses local demographic data as the basis for graphing, while a social studies teacher examines local and state land use policies.  The historical society serves as a resource for the students to develop oral histories—starting with their own families.  The literacy coach develops activities to support reading and writing.

At the college level, teacher education faculty would focus on introducing these types of activities into methods courses, while an interdisciplinary team of faculty might collaborate on a new course examining brownfields redevelopment.

Step B) Instructional redesign

The PD now shifts to the on-the-ground work of redesigning the units based on the goals set.  Creative Change’s approach to instructional design. provides educators with a process and framework for planning units that start with students’ experiences, build an integrated knowledge base, and culminate in meaningful civic engagement.  In-depth workshop materials and multimedia curriculum resources from the on-line Curriculum and Resource Center support teachers as they

As teachers continue their work in a learning community approach, Creative Change provides on-going planning support through phone, email, and in-person meetings. Support strategies include unit planning, developing assessments, and evaluation support.  For example, Creative Change helps a teacher team develop specialized assessment tools to ensure the project meets achievement goals.

Step C) Evaluation and documentation

By the end of the year, the teachers’ efforts have evaluated the impacts of their work and are ready to replicate the approaches in other areas of the curriculum.  To support this, Creative Change compiles pictures, reports, presentations and other documentation in order to communicate results to the district leadership team and provide models for replication.  Based on the success of the work, the collaboration with Creative Change grows to other departments or schools through a Level IV program.
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Level IV:  Sustain the Change

Level IV programs enable schools and districts to deepen instructional change by building internal capacity to institutionalize successful approaches. Clients gain training, resources and strategic planning assistance focused on preparing an internal team to lead, evaluate, and sustain instructional change.  These packages, spread over a year or more, typically include:

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