ROOTed in Place Project Spotlight: Experiential Learning in the Driftless

The RSC Team joined ROOTed in Place teacher grantee, Jay Gesin and his 8th grade students of Platteville Middle School, at the Taliesin UNESCO World Heritage site in Spring Green, WI.

October 31, 2023 |

The RSC Team joined ROOTed in Place teacher grantee, Jay Gesin and his 8th grade students of Platteville Middle School, at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin UNESCO World Heritage site in Spring Green, WI. Gesin is guiding his students through his place-based education project, Experiential Learning in the Driftless and this was just one component of his ROOTed in Place project.

Fall in Wisconsin is an undeniably gorgeous time of year, and set the perfect scene for the Rural Schools Collaborative team's recent visit in our Driftless Hub. At the Taliesin UNESCO World Heritage site, RSC joined ROOTed in Place teacher grantee Jay Gesin and his 8th grade students of Platteville Middle School.

The Tea Garden at Taliesin

As a recipient of the Compeer Financial General Use Grant, Rural Schools Collaborative granted three rural teachers in Compeer Financial’s service region to engage their students in agricultural themed place-based education projects during the 2023-24 school year.

With his award, Jay Gesin is excited to engage his students in their community and environment by using local resources and partnerships to encourage a deep sense of connection to their surroundings. While visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, students learned about the Wisconsin native, architecture, and engaged with the idea of place. Amidst a backdrop of observation and conversation around this world landmark in their backyard, the students connected the tour to their lessons in the classroom, such as creative writing.

The tour began along the historical estate hillside. The students circled up and, taking in the beautiful rolling hills of the Driftless region, were introduced to the connections between people and place by Taliesin, Director of Programs Caroline Hamblen. Caroline began the tour by sharing a brief history of the land and expressing to the Platteville Middle School students “this is in your backyard, this is yours to enjoy and learn from!”

Director of Programs, Caroline Hamblen, speaking to the students outside of Taliesin.

As the tour continued in and out of the historic buildings, the RSC Team, teachers and students collectively continued to awe over the architecture while learning about the history of the estate and the man who built it. Students asked engaging questions and gained a wealth of inspiration for their upcoming creative writing unit project back in the classroom. Jay also prompted the students to think in cross-curricular ways throughout the morning, engaging other teachers who were also on the tour for the day. Social Studies teacher Merrill Brunson’s curriculum was tied in when Jay prompted the students to identify their five themes of geography (Location, Place, Human-Environment Interaction, Movement, and Regions) while standing in the courtyard, and used the texture of the architecture to encourage descriptive writing skills.

Before the morning ended, the students had a chance to put their creative ideas and architectural inspiration to practice. The RSC Team joined in a building block activity, and all 20 tour participants sat around the Wright-built table, inside the beautiful Hillside Schoolhouse. The task was simple: each pupil had to build their own structure all with the following materials; 16 wooden blocks, a grid paper and a few shapes made out of foam core. After completion, while each new architect shared their ideas, the uniqueness and creativity shone through; no two structures look the same.

The idea of place is often broad, but is easily relatable to the building block activity - no two places are the same, no two schools are the same. However, what can tie a place together is its resources. ROOTed recipient, Jay Gesin, does an excellent job at sharing the incredible resources of the Driftless Region with his students. By allowing his 8th grade students to explore this regional gem of the Taliesin, students not only gain inspiration for their upcoming story unit, but also gain a sense of place ,and pride, in their own backyard. By engaging with their surroundings and community partners, students will gain a deeper understanding of their own place in the world, while also developing a sense of empathy and appreciation for other places and perspectives.

As Jay’s project continues throughout the school year, students will use the lessons of Wright’s organic architecture style, connect with local agriculture and deepen their sense of place. Because of the agricultural ties in the Platteville area, students will conduct studies at the renowned Pioneer Farm at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville which is also the home of one of three Dairy Innovation Hubs in Wisconsin. Students will study animal welfare, food production, worker responsibilities, innovation, and conservation all within relation to the land, culture, history, and economy of the region, and beyond.

Rural Schools Collaborative is thrilled to support Jay Gesin through the ROOTed in Place grant, as he is truly rooting his students in their place, while using these valuable life lessons and connections to tie back into the classroom curriculum. Rural Schools Collaborative is extremely grateful for Compeer Financial’s support of the ROOTed in Place Grant.

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