place-based education research


Place-based Education Research

This webpage contains information about place-based education that would be useful in initiating place-based education principles in your own teaching.

What is a Sense of Place?

Sense of Place is the meaning, attachment, and affinity (conscious or unconscious) that individuals or groups create for a particular geographic space through their lived experiences associated with that place (Hug, 1998).

What is Place-based Education?

Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and environmental quality are improved through the active engagement of local citizens, community organizations, and environmental resources in the life of the school (Sobel, 2004).

What are the dimensions of a Sence of Place?

Geographic Landmarks
Natural Flora/Fauna Landmarks
Social / Cultural Landmarks
Historical Landmarks
Human Constructed Landmarks

What are some key questions concerning our students?

How do we (educators) help students learn about local natural and human communities?
How do we help students learn to recognize natural and community health or ill-health?
How do we help students learn to contribute to the health of their natural and human community?

Who are a few of the influential thinkers that inform Place-based Education?

Wendel Berry – What are People For?
Parker Palmer - Wholistic education
Gandhi - Head, Heart & Hands
Madhu Prakash - Living as Learning
Henry David Thoreau - Walden
Willa Cather - My Antonia

John Muir - Wilderness Discovery Books

Aldo Leopold -

Edward Abbey -

Terry Tempest Williams -

Gary Snyder -

Leslie Marmon Silko -

Teddy Rosevelt -

David Sobel - Place-based Education, Map-making with Children
David Orr - Ecological Literacy
Chet Bowers - Root Metaphors
Richard Louv - Nature Deficit Disorder
E.O. Wilson - Naturalist & Biodiversity

What are some of the things citizens should understand if they are going to be well connected to their local places?

1.   Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2.   How many days until the moon is full?

3.   Describe the soil around your home.

4. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that lived in your area before you?

5.   Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.

6.   From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

7.   Where does your garbage go?

8.   How long is the growing season where you live?

9.   On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?

10.   Name five trees in your area.   Are any of them native?   If you can't name names, describe them.

11.   Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.

12.   What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the past century?

13.   What primary geological event/process influenced the land form where you live?

14.   What species have become extinct in your area?

15.   What are the major plant associations in your region?

16.   From where you are reading this, point north.

17.   What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

18.   What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?

19.   Were the stars out last night?

20.   Name some beings (nonhuman) which share your place.

21.   Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so, how do you celebrate?

22.   How many people live next door to you?   What are their names?

23.   How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?

24.   What energy costs you the most money?   What kind of energy is it?

25.   What developed and potential energy resources are in your area?

26.   What plans are there for massive development of energy or mineral resources in your bioregion?

27.   What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

Source:    Devall, B., & Sessions, G. (1985). Deep ecology: Living as if nature mattered . Layton, UT: Gibbs M. Smith Inc. p. 22-23.

Here are some additional questions....

What is a major local business and how does it contribute to your community?
What is a major social festival in your community and how do volunteers contribute to its success?
What are the architectural influences in the buildings in your community?
How does your community take care of those unable to care for themselves?
Which families have lived in your community for generations?

What are some of the benefits for engaging students in Place-based Education?

Environment as an Integrating Context (EIC) - Lieberman provides excellent connections to research and information

Place-based Education Evaluation Cooperative - Great resources on facilitiating and evaluating place-based education programs.

Students say learning during place-based education is fun.

Student - Teacher relationships deepen due to the informal social nature of interactions.

Teachers report that they are renewed and energized for teaching again.

Students report they are energized.

Teachers report there are fewer disipline issues and higher attendance from students who have not excelled in the classroom.

Communities are more involved in the education of students.

Implementation Strategies: Organizations

Put an environmental educator in every school.
Create broad-based steering committees.
Create a community vision and action forum event.
Tread lightly until the community knows your work.
Nurture continuous improvement through ongoing professional development.
Nurture community exchange.
(adapted from Sobel, 2004)


Implementation Strategies: Examples

Teton Science Schools Journey's School, Jackson, WY. -

Piegan Institute's Total Immersion School - Browning, MT. Blackfeet language immersion program

Red Williow School, Montana


Implementation Strategies: Standards

Review the Montana Standards for Science document looking for standards that could be accomplished through your place-based teaching
Review the local School District Scope and Sequence Documents
Design a Curriculum Alignment Document specific to your school, community and intended place-based teaching

Implementation Strategies: Students and Parents

Make sure to help parents understand what you are doing before you begin. Gain their support.

Help students learn how to learn in a new learning environment through careful, sequential instruction in the new learning tasks.

Help students and parents broaden their definition of learning to include that learned in outdoor settings during experiential activities.

Implementation Strategies: Activity Resources

Project Books: Learning Tree, Wild, WET, WOW
Sobel: Mapmaking with Children
Leslie: Nature Journaling
MT Fish Wildlife Parks: Posters, CD’s, Booklets
Identification Guides

Implementation Strategies: Organization Resources

Montana Environmental Education Association
Montana Outdoor Science School
Teton Science School
Museum of the Rockies - Outreach Trunks
Montana Watercourse
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
Yellowstone National Park

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures

Montana Natural History Center
What others would you suggest?

Implementation Strategies: WWW Resources

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
State and Environment Roundtable
Yellowstone National Park Etrips
National Geographic Lesson Plans
Montana State Science & Natural History Filmmaking Program

What others would you suggest?


Nature and Children Powerpoint


Last updated: March 25, 2008

Copyright© 2003-2020 J. William Hug
All Rights Reserved - "No logo, graphic, image, text, or content from this website may be copied
or retransmitted without express prior written permission."