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Pennsylvania Land Choices

The Pennsylvania Land Choices curriculum helps the learner understand the forces and choices that shape a community and region.  It engages and enlightens people regarding civic responsibility, the power of citizens in planning the future of a community, and the conservation of natural resources.

Introduction

The Pennsylvania Land Choices curriculum (also commonly called PA Land Choices) can be found at palandchoices.org. (The curriculum is also available in the ConservationTools.org library.)

PA Land Choices helps the learner understand the forces and choices that shape a community and region. It engages and enlightens people regarding civic responsibility, the power of citizens in planning the future of a community, and the importance of natural resources, green spaces, and public lands. It teaches citizenship and the democratic process as practiced at the local level. It challenges the learner to become involved in creating more vibrant and sustainable communities.

The curriculum’s collection of sequential activities was developed for use by educators and community leaders. The activities provide opportunities for learners to work collectively in teams, helping them gain knowledge and skills that will be useful for a lifetime.

The easy to use activities provide a simple approach to community involvement, guiding the learner to understand the power of choice by first analyzing the forces that create change in a community and region. Fun and engaging, the curriculum facilitates discussion, focusing on a key question: “What defines a good community?” and guides learners to identify positive and negative impacts of community elements. It identifies the importance of natural resources, green spaces, public lands, and public spaces.

Through its interactive and thoughtful activities, the program challenges the learner to become involved in creating the communities of the future. Most commonly used by teachers, the Pennsylvania Land Choices curriculum is also useful for community leaders and nonprofit organizations.

Getting Started

The curriculum and information on training opportunities are available at palandchoices.org.

Those who wish to use PA Land Choices are encouraged to attend a training workshop, which provides participants with the basic knowledge of the course objectives and resources as well as an opportunity to network and gain confidence in using the materials.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has granted Act 48 status to PA Land Choices teacher workshops, and the workshops have been endorsed at the Governor’s Institute for Social Studies and the Governor’s Institute for Environment and Ecology.

It is recommended that anyone conducting workshops or utilizing PA Land Choices provide feedback to the PA Land Choices Coordinator in an effort to assess the materials and solicit recommendations for improvement. Evaluation forms are included with the materials for participants to offer their comments.

Many State Park educators are certified facilitators for PA Land Choices and can provide training opportunities for those who want to use the curriculum. To request a PA Land Choices program for your community or organization, contact the PA Land Choices Coordinator or a state park educator.

Those interested in becoming a certified facilitator for PA Land Choices should contact the PA Land Choices Coordinator in the Bureau of State Parks.

PA Land Choices Goals

PA Land Choices is based on the following goals:

  • To increase citizen involvement in shaping the future of our communities and the Commonwealth
  • To promote conservation of natural and historic resources, the value of public land and the responsibility of land ownership
  • To encourage citizens in defining and promoting healthy, sustainable communities
  • To understand the role of local government and the tools available for guiding growth, protecting regional character and promoting valuable resources

Adapting to the Audience

PA Land Choices is easily adapted to suit the uniqueness and flavor of any region. This curriculum appeals to a diverse audience, including citizens, municipal officials, and community leaders. It encourages participation by a variety of community constituents and is most valuable if it involves a diverse representation of the community. Citizen programs can be delivered in a variety of circumstances and within a length of time deemed appropriate for the audience.

In classrooms, the program can be applied in a week-long social studies unit or during a series of class periods teaching about local environmental responsibility. Teachers may choose to schedule individual activities as a one-day experience or applied in an integrated program of multidisciplinary education. The material can also be used in classrooms conducting Project Citizen or with Project Learning Tree.

Key Features for Classroom Use

Five key features make PA Land Choices a relevant tool for public education:

Democratic Deliberation through Group Problem Solving

The activities involve opportunities for small groups of students to analyze issues, distinguish fact from opinion and work together to solve problems. Group dynamics engage students in developing confidence and leadership skills that foster responsible action. Individuals become aware of their role in society – developing faith in the group process, the importance of sharing information through public dialogue and the role of compromise to advance an agenda. The educational process does not intend to advocate a particular viewpoint but encourages the learner to make their own choices and chart their own course of action.

Alignment to Pennsylvania Academic Standards

Activities are aligned to Pennsylvania academic standards focusing on social studies and environment and ecology while including such standards as mathematics and language arts. It is a multidisciplinary approach to learning that is valuable to public education.

Civic Learning

PA Land Choices reflects the goals established by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS): The NCSS goal of Citizen Education is “to help young people develop the ability to make informed and rea-soned decisions for the public good”. Our right to participate in governing ourselves in order to protect rights and promote common welfare carries certain responsibilities. Citizens must develop knowledge and skills to participate intelligently and work together to make our communities a better place to live.

Place-based Education

According to David Sobel, in his Place-Based Education Connecting Classrooms and Communities, place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, math social studies and science. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach has been determined to increase student academic achievement, building strong ties to community and a heightened commitment to serving as active citizens.

Service Learning

Service learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity changes the recipient and the provider. According to the report developed by the National Commission on Service Learning “Learning in Deed, The Power of Service Learning for American Schools”, service learning is different from volunteerism – teaching and learning by integrating community service with academic studies to teach civic responsibility and strengthen the community. It links the task to self-reflection, self-discovery and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills and knowledge.

Improving PA Land Choices

Anyone conducting workshops or utilizing PA Land Choices can provide feedback to the PA Land Choices Coordinator to help assess and improve the curriculum. Evaluation forms are included with the materials for participants to complete following training sessions.

History

PA Land Choices began as a pilot project in 1998 as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recognized the growing issues related to changing communities, increasing land development and the need for natural resource awareness and protection. Over 40 teachers, community leaders and education specialists participated in a week-long workshop led by the Bureau of State Parks. Following the workshop, a series of trainings and advancements led to the development of a manual of activities to help teach about the impacts of land choices and civic leadership needed to shape a changing community and a changing Commonwealth.

Training has been delivered to over 2000 educators, planners and citizen groups throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. These materials are also a standard component of the National Park Service Trail to Every Classroom initiative. This program has been instrumental in furthering land use education and has been a model for other state and national education initiatives, including programs in Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island and the Project Learning Tree.

Activities have been aligned to state academic standards in social studies and environment and ecology for application in public school programs in grades 6-12. For classrooms, it is a model for place-based education, focusing student learning on communities and familiar places, addressing standards in civics and geography. It encourages citizenship through public stewardship and service learning. It provides students with connections to projects in their community and on public lands throughout the Commonwealth.

Statewide Coordinator

Carissa Longo is the statewide coordinator for PA Land Choices. Call her at (717) 772-1807 or email her at palandchoices@pa.gov for more information or to schedule a workshop. Carissa is an environmental education program coordinator with the Bureau of State Parks at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.

Resources at ConservationTools.org

To find experts on the topics covered by this guide, see the right hand column of the on-line edition at conservationtools.org. The on-line edition also contains the most up-to-date listing of related library items and guides.

Library Categories

Education & Communication

Submit Comments

Help improve the next edition of this guide. Email your suggestions to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association at aloza@conserveland.org. Thank you.

 

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DCNR, Bureau of State Parks
717-772-1807
Carissa Longo is the statewide coordinator for PA Land Choices. She is an environmental education program coordinator with the Bureau of State Parks at the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.

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Acknowledgements

PA Land Choices was developed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in partnership with the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. The Bureau of State Parks has trained education staff to help facilitate, coordinate and deliver workshops in partnership with other community based officials and leaders. PA Land Choices is coordinated through the Division of Outdoor Recreation, Education and Interpretation within the Bureau of State Parks.

Disclaimer

Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice. The authors disclaim any attorney-client relationship with anyone to whom this document is furnished. Nothing contained in this document is intended to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to any person any transaction or matter addressed in this document.
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