Tompkins, L. J. (2005).A case for community-based education. The Science Teacher. 72, 34-36.


This article begins with a necessary clarification of the difference between bringing a person from the community into your classroom to speak or taking a field trip, and having real “community-based education” (CBE). Tompkins describes students having a CBE when they are community members, and they “create a product, service, or process of value for the community” (34). Tompkins had her class focus on the health of watersheds around the Finger Lakes in New York. They worked with the County Water and Soil Conservation District Office along with the local Water Quality Committee to identify potential areas to target for research and assessment. Over 1998-2002, they focused on a stream, and sought assistance from local universities in the form of classroom and site visits with experts.
The presence of the professionals at the stream with the students provided a unique experience, and promoted learning across many categories, including different experimentation techniques and safety. The students were accountable for their time there and worked hard, knowing that officials from the city were waiting for their data collection.
Over the next semester, aided by experts the students analyzed their data, and attempted to form conclusions. Using their ideas, they were able to brainstorm solutions as to how to sustain or improve the water quality in the region they sampled. With money from the NY State Clean Water Clean Air Act, they paid for their improvements.
Assignments throughout the project consisted of letters, videos, posters, and a scrapbook, to deliver their findings to the community. This built the students communication, and summarization skills.
In subsequent years Tompkins’ class focused on a river/golf course, and a landfill.
Overall, Tompkins feels that making students aware of their community will make them more active and informed adults. In the moment, pride and ownership on behalf of the students was exhibited, along with more enthusiasm for in class work.
To aid future teachers in creating a CBE of their own, she lays out a page long step-by-step process to creating one.

I chose this article because I have seen in my own science learning that when I do something hands on, I learn better. But, I learn even more when I have not only an interest, but a stake in the outcome. When I feel like what I am doing has a benefit not only for the grade, but for something greater, I end up trying harder. This is the same concept that is utilized in the CBE. The students are able to recognize their role in society, and able to visually see how they are making an impact.
Perhaps not as many Benchmarks are covered in a CBE unit, but the learning outcomes are much greater than any unit based upon a textbook or other simple in class activities. I think that it would take a lot of planning around the CBE, in order to put it into the curriculum, getting time for the students to go to the sites, and organizing experts to come and dedicate their time.
Personally, I would love to have a CBE project in my science classroom. Of course it would depend on the area I was in as to what type of project it would be, but I would still like to dedicate my time to helping students learn in this effective way.