Nearly a century ago, John Dewey called for experiential learning that engages students in their own environments.
An increasing number of teachers are embracing place-based learning as a strategy that captures students' imaginations and advances environmental stewardship and civic engagement.
Place-based learning begins with asking questions such as, "Where am I? What is the natural and social history of this place? How does this place fit into the larger world?"
Successful place-based programs involve students as participants in the life of their communities. Successful projects demonstrate many of the following characteristics:
- Learning takes students out of the classroom and into the community and natural environment.
- Projects have consequences; students' contributions make a difference to environmental quality and to the well-being of communities.
- Place-based projects are integrated back into classroom lessons.
- Students want to learn in order to apply their knowledge to solving real problems.
- Students play an active role in defining and shaping projects.
- Students collaborate with local citizens, organizations, agencies, businesses, and government. Working alongside community members, students help make plans that shape the future of their social, physical, and economic environments.
- Students are encouraged to view their community as an ecosystem and to understand the relationships and processes necessary to support healthy living.
- By mapping their school and its surrounding community, students create visual representations of the systems nested within larger systems that constitute their local place in its wholeness.
There is a growing body of research on the benefits of place-based learning. Among them: higher test scores, better grade point averages, improved classroom behavior, increased self-esteem and problem-solving abilities, and higher-level thinking skills.
The Center for Ecoliteracy encourages place-based learning through activities such as mapping the local environment to learn key ecological and cultural principles, studying the interplay between local society and the environment, supporting habitat restoration projects, and working with local citizens to improve the quality of life in their communities.