InClass

Connect your students to their communities with place-based learning.

Jun 28, 2021

The PBLs! You’ve probably heard of project-based learning. And, you’ve probably heard of problem-based learning. Now, let’s talk about place-based learning. If you attended the 16th Annual Teacher Leadership Institute, you heard how teacher leader Adrian Alvarez incorporates place-based learning into her science classes in the Grand Canyon Unified School District. In this piece, we explore what place-based learning is and offer tips for applying it in your classroom.

What Is Place-based Learning?

Place-based learning is not a new phenomenon, and it’s likely something you’ve already been exposed to or have experienced yourself. Place-based learning or place-based education (PBE) begins with community. In its simplest form, place-based learning connects learners to their communities (place) and the world around them through meaningful, interdisciplinary experiences that help them think critically, collaborate, and design solutions to complex challenges. Look for local partnerships to help plan place-based projects; for example, CommunityShare has roots in Tucson and has plans to expand in Phoenix and nationally.

Why Place-based Learning?

Instead of having students wonder how the school experience is related to the “real world,” they can learn by experiencing the “real world” now. Place-based learning means students can learn anytime, anywhere, and with (almost) anyone. By leveraging the power of place, students and educators become invested in their communities and can apply innovative, interdisciplinary solutions to community problems.

This can look like connecting classroom discussions to community news or conversations or occur on a much larger scale. The Rob and Melani Walton National Sustainability Teachers’ Academies, for example, help educators bring complex environmental challenges to the classroom while equipping students with the knowledge and resources to take an active role in creating solutions. As an added incentive, each individual receives a $500 stipend for participating, plus a possible additional $500 after completing an aligned project in their home school and/or district.

How to Incorporate Place-based Learning in Your Classroom

Are you ready to bring place-based learning to your classroom? Here’s how to do it.

Find a framework.

The Center for the Future of Arizona used the findings from the 2020 Gallup Arizona Survey to develop The Arizona We Want Progress Meters. With over 80 metrics, the Arizona Progress Meters can be used to help educators find inspiration for their students’ projects. What issues do Arizonans care most about? How can your classroom help?

Want to dig deeper into place-based learning? Expand what you’re doing locally to a global context. These 17 goals in global partnership identified by the United Nations Member States are a great place to start.

Incorporate service.

Service-learning is an educational approach that incorporates community service with learning objectives. With a cycle of action and reflection, students participate in experiential learning while meeting societal needs. This might include engagement and involvement with direct issues, like working with people who are currently experiencing housing insecurity, advocating for sustainability issues, or doing research on city infrastructure. Key components should include, but are not limited to: pre-reflection, empathetic research, presentation, and post-activity reflection.

Connect the dots.

Learning in the classroom is connected to real-world learning. Through place-based learning, students can apply what they’ve learned in one area/environment/subject/etc. to another (with some adaptations based on context, of course). By giving students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of their communities on a variety of subjects and topics, they can expand their range and increasingly thrive.

New to Teaching?

Connect with other beginning teachers as you learn more about the community around you and how they can support you as an educator during our Meet, Mingle, and Learn event for beginning teachers.

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