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Place-based education, sometimes called pedagogy of place, place-based learning, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability, environmental education or more rarely, service learning, is an educational philosophy. The term was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion's early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Although educators have used its principles for some time, the approach was developed initially by The Orion Society, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, as well as Professor David Sobel, Project Director at Antioch University New England.
In his introduction to the first book specifically focused on the pedagogy, Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities (ISBN 978-0913098547), Lane-Zucker describes the context within which place-based education was developed,
In an increasingly globalized world, there are often pressures for communities and regions to subordinate themselves to the dominant economic models and to devalue their local cultural identity, traditions and history in preference to a flashily marketed homogeneity. Furthermore, at a time when industrial pollution, biodiversity/habitat loss, and aquifer depletion are becoming widespread and acute, such pressures often exacerbate the problems by encouraging unsustainable patterns of consumption and land use, and by weakening familial and community relationships that are deeply tied to the local environment. A process of disintegration occurs as basic connections to the land fray and communities become less resilient and less able to deal with the dislocations that globalization and ecological deterioration bring about. A community's health—human and more-than-human—suffers.
The path to a sustainable existence must start with a fundamental reimagining of the ethical, economic, political and spiritual foundations upon which society is based, and that this process needs to occur within the context of a deep local knowledge of place. The solutions to many of our ecological problems lie in an approach that celebrates, empowers and nurtures the cultural, artistic, historical and spiritual resources of each local community and region, and champions their ability to bring those resources to bear on the healing of nature and community.
Schools and other educational institutions can and should play a central role in this process, but for the most part they do not. Indeed, they have often contributed to the problem by educating young people to be, in David Orr's words, 'mobile, rootless and autistic toward their places.' A significant transformation of education might begin with the effort to learn how events and processes close to home relate to regional, national, and global forces and events, leading to a new understanding of ecological stewardship and community. This, I believe, supports the propagation of an enlightened localism—a local/global dialectic that is sensitive to broader ecological and social relationships at the same time as it strengthens and deepens peoples sense of community and land.
Place-based education might be characterized as the pedagogy of community, the reintegration of the individual into her homeground and the restoration of the essential links between a person and her place. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? What sustains this community? It often employs a process of re-storying, whereby students are asked to respond creatively to stories of their homeground so that, in time, they are able to position themselves, imaginatively and actually, within the continuum of nature and culture in that place. They become a part of the community, rather than a passive observer of it.
Place-based education seeks to help communities through employing students and school staff in solving community problems. Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students' local community as one of the primary resources for learning. Thus, place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place—that is, in students' own "place" or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community. According to this pedagogy, grade school students often lose what place-based educators call their "sense of place" through focusing too quickly or exclusively on national or global issues. This is not to say that international and domestic issues are peripheral to place-based education, but that students should first have a grounding in the history, culture and ecology of their surrounding environment before moving on to broader subjects.
Place-based education is often interdisciplinary. It aligns with several popular pedagogies, including thematic, hands-on, or project-based learning. Place-based curriculum begins with topics or issues from the local community.
Examples of Place-Based Learning
- A thematic approach can be combined with place-based learning using tourism as a theme. Students research current and historical tourism sites in their community. They analyze how sites are advertised and examine how the impressions of visitors are influenced or how stereotypes of a place are created. The impact of tourism on the environment can be examined. With this approach, learning becomes interdisciplinary, combining social studies, media literacy, language arts, and the sciences. A final project could be creating new promotional materials or volunteering to preserve historical or environmental sites.
- Examining local food using an interdisciplinary, place-based approach can create a new awareness of the unique historical and current tradition in one's community. Students can explore their own unique food traditions, local agriculture and its impact on employment or the environment, or local food deserts. Projects might include the creation of community cookbooks, events showcasing the local food traditions, school gardens, or service projects for local food banks.
- Students embarking upon a unit about the Vietnam War might interview veterans of that war, collecting their stories for a radio-spot, newspaper article or educational brochure. In this case, the use of local people to support students' learning would not only lead to greater comprehension of the Vietnam War, but also to understanding more about the history of their community and the people in it.
- Byron Fellowship is a place-based learning experience built around sustainable community development.
- Wintergreen Studios is a year-round wilderness education and retreat centre in Southeastern Ontario offering workshops and meeting facilities. Wintergreen's environment and architecture have been designed to enable people to engage in mindful living and return to their homes and workplaces inspired and refreshed.Teton Science Schools is a Wyoming-based non-profit organization inspiring curiosity, engagement, and leadership through transformative place-based education. Through two schools (Teton Valley Community School and Journeys School), a graduate program, teacher professional development, eco-tourism, and science education, Teton Science Schools works with students of all ages to use place as a context for learning. Teton Science Schools engages students in place through inquiry and community-centered design.
- Think Global School is an IB traveling high school that holds classes in three different countries each year. Students engage in place-based learning through activities such as workshops, cultural exchanges, museum tours, and nature expeditions.
- Christchurch School in Virginia, the Hill School in Middleburg, VA, Stuart Hall in Staunton, VA, and Coast Mountain College in Terrace, British Columbia are examples of schools that incorporate place-based curriculum.
- Wogaman 5-8 School in Dayton, Ohio is a place-based curriculum school where students explore issues within their community and present solutions based on their research and hands on work. Teachers develop inquiry based lessons around Common Core standards so that students not only meet the standards, but also grow as contributing members of a sustainable community.
- Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education in Alna, Maine uses place-based education to connect children to themselves, to each other, and to their communities through studying both natural and human environments. All activities Juniper Hill's students engage in at the school are integrated into the local landscape and community.
- Peace Valley School, in Yamhill County, Oregon, is a private, non-profit secondary microschool that focuses on cultural universals and applies them locally in the community.
- The Verdi EcoSchool, a private, not for profit, K-8 urban farm school, implements the place-based education philosophy by utilizing the community of the Eau Gallie Arts District in Melbourne, Florida as its classroom. Through a collective partnership with institutions, businesses and individuals in the Arts District, it cultivates a dynamic campus where students move between various sites throughout the day to learn lessons from all angles of the community.
- Conserve School is for students who have demonstrated a genuine interest in the natural world and who are motivated to conserve it. This semester-long immersion in environmental studies and outdoor activities deepens students’ love of nature, reinforces their commitment to conservation, and equips them to take meaningful action as environmental stewards. The program interweaves college-preparatory academics with the study of environmental history, nature literature, and the science of conservation; environmental service work; exploration of careers related to conservation; training in teamwork and leadership; and engagement with the outdoors.
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- Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities by David Sobel, Orion Society, 2004, ISBN 978-0913098547