What is Place-Based Learning?

Place-based learning is a pedagogical approach that uses places and their cultural, historic, and geophysical resources as a foundation for learning across disciplines. (Get a bibliography.)

Students of ELA teacher Virginia McCurdy spend a day exploring their city and connecting it to the curriculum. Photo: Christopher Gonzalez Hazleton, Newburgh Free Academy, 2014.

“When schools disconnect from specific
places and life in
communities, they cease
to be public institutions, serving the
public good.” — John McPhee


Goals

Place-based education seeks to foster a sense of place in individuals and in communities. The benefits are far-reaching and complex, but here are a few:

  • Boost student achievement and confidence.
  • Improve the environmental, social, and economic vitality — and long-term sustainability — of communities.
  • Create vibrant partnerships between schools and communities.
  • Pass on knowledge and skills that will help students take part in the democratic process.
  • Encourage  world citizens by learning to understand, appreciate, and care for their own communities.

Characteristics

Practitioners of place-based learning in the Hudson Valley aspire to one or more of the following:

  • Ground curriculum in the particular attributes of the Hudson Valley.
  • Use local, regional, and community places, resources, systems, and themes as a context for learning.
  • Prioritize hands-on learning. Organize a significant amount of study outside the building in school yards, at sites of regional significance, and in the local community.
  • Contribute to the Valley’s vitality and/or environmental quality by helping students address school, site, and/or community needs.
  • Inculcate respect for and love of the Hudson Valley and its communities.
  • Offer a foundation for understanding and participating in regional and global issues.
  • Build relationships between schools and significant places, not-for-profits, businesses, and/or government agencies in the Valley.

What happens when we DON’T teach about place?

Many students in the Valley have never been on the Hudson. Here is one student’s reaction to that first time experience.  (J. Watson Bailey MS, Kingston)

  • When knowledge is not grounded in real-world experiences and phenomena it has the potential to stay in the classroom; students do not have opportunities to apply their learning to the real world.
  • Students get the impression that their communities are not worthy of study; they feel local stories are not as important as national or international history, culture, and politics.
  • Schools become isolated; without exposure to local opportunities, students may feel they must leave town to succeed and public support for local schools may dwindle.
  • Communities and significant places within them are deprived of new ideas and approaches that students could contribute.

Learn more — bibliography with articles, books, websites, and video.


Alex Ramey developed this page from Quantifying a relationship between place-based learning and environmental quality: Final report, Duffin, Michael, M. Murphy, M., and B. Johnson, 2008, Woodstock, VT: National Park Service Conservation Study Institute in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and Shelburne Farms and from a 2012 talk by David Sobel at the University of Colorado, Boulder.