One intriguing way that teachers can change their instructional methods is by integrating place-based education (sometimes also called as expeditionary learning or experiential learning).
Place-based education centers the educational process in the environment. This form of learning requires that teachers place students in their communities so that they can solve community-based problems.
Unfortunately, placed based learning can be difficult to integrate into one’s teaching approach. It requires that the teacher’s curriculum integrate projects in which students explore issues within their community to develop practical solutions. This can be an excellent way of encouraging critical thinking skills as well as practical skills that can apply in both higher education and in a student’s career.
However, this approach also requires teachers to identify standards that they want to meet and then identify match community issues that can be solved and meet those standards.
Principles of Place-Based Education
It can be easy to assume that place-based education simply means being on-location with a class. However, there are several guiding principles that can maximize the effectiveness of this approach.
The University of Michigan noted a core principle that can help to make place-based education an effective means of educating students. Although their program was based in environmental stewardship, there was one significant principle that all educators could use.
The primary takeaway from the University of Michigan was that all educators should root place-based education heavily in inquiry-based learning and a hands-on approach. Students should conduct inquiries into their subject and be allowed to use a variety of tools to explore their topics. However, although place-based education is heavy on the experiential, it’s also important for instructors to include regular assessments and set clear goals for any place-based education, the same as they would for a traditional class.
Other principles have also been detailed by Getting Smart, a collective of educators, instructors, and other stakeholders in the education sphere. The first principle is that all place-based education has to take place in the community.
Students need to learn in a way that is rooted in the local context and develop solutions that could potentially be applied globally. When using this approach to learning, educators should always keep the lessons learner-centered. Students should find lessons personally relevant and feel empowered to independently explore community issues.
There are other principles that were described in the report issued by Getting Smart. For instance, in a place-based education environment, the community is the classroom. Within the community is where learning occurs. This form of learning can take place in a number of ways. Not only can students learn by independently exploring community problems, but they can learn by listening to experts in related fields. Combining these experiences is the key to making the community context the ideal for place-based education.
Examples of Place-Based Education
Community based service projects can be arranged by teachers. An example of how these community projects can be conducted can be found at Promise of Place, which helps immerse students in the local landscape and culture of where they live.
One educator, working as a member of the Shelburne Farms’ Sustainable Schools Project, helped her students learn more about food cycles by introducing chickens into the lessons. This lesson first involved having students dressing up like chickens, detailing different body parts on the animals, and discussing how chickens are used either to lay eggs or be eaten. However, the coup de grace of the lesson was the introduction of a real chicken into the classroom itself.
Interestingly, the introduction of the chicken helped the students become even more engaged. Some shared stories about their own experiences raising chickens growing up. This created a story telling environment in which the students shared how chickens provided companionship in some cases and food sources in others, further emphasizing the roles chickens played within the community.
While the class didn’t visit a specific place, they did engage and share stories that shared how the community benefited from chickens. The activity also helped to promote interactivity and friendships among the students.
Place-based learning may involve visiting places but, more importantly, involves having students engage with learning materials in a way that centers the topic in a real, community-based way.
As with the example of Promise of Place, this might mean examining the impact of certain things, like chickens, on the community and the lives of the people in it. In other cases, real world, community-based problems might be addressed by the class. In both cases, the lessons and goals of the classroom are attached to a real place, time, and culture. Rather than leave subjects abstract, place-based learning helps students gain a more concrete understanding of a topic.
Another example of place-based education that occurred away from the rural environment was described in Education World. In this example, students found abandoned tracks in a local park. When the students explored the location in greater depth, they discovered that it was part of an old streetcar line that had once run through the area.
At the time, the local government was discussing reopening the streetcar line but was encountering pushback from the community. To educate locals about the issue, the students partnered with a local streetcar company and began making podcasts about the project, the history of street cars in the region, and how the new streetcar line would be implemented. In this instance, students helped to promote a local project that might not only benefit residents but that had historic ties to the region.
Place-based education is a student-centered form of learning that heavily emphasizes inquiry into topics of importance in the community. The community becomes the classroom as students learn more about a local issue and learn from local experts.
Following these experiences, students are better positioned to propose solutions that might also apply at a global level. Place-based education often occurs when performing explorations of the environment, but there is also space for students to learn about a variety of issues that affect the urban environment.
So long as learning remains centered in the community and empowers students to explore community issues, place-based education can be an effective approach to education.
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