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Place-Based Education 1

The preservation of place is essential to the preservation of the world. A world that takes its environment seriously must come to terms with the root of its problems, beginning with the place called home. This is not a simple-minded return to a mythical past but a patient and disciplined effort to learn, and in some ways, to relearn the arts of inhabitation. These will differ from place to place, reflecting various cultures, values, and ecologies. They will, however, share a common sense of rootedness in a particular locality.

David Orr, 1994

Table of Contents Key Concepts What is Place-Based Ed.? Why PBE? Benefits of PBE Suggested Practices 8 Steps of Implementation

Critiques 5 6 7 9 10

PBE in Action North Van Outdoor Ed. Center 17 Maple Ridge Environmental Ed. School 18

Implementation Challenges 14 Issues to Consider 15

References Glossary Annotated Bibliography

20 21

Key Concepts of PBE

Definitions Why PBE? Benefits


What is Problem-Based Learning (PBE)? Place-based education is learning that is rooted in what is local. —the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community provides the context for learning, student work focuses on community needs and interests, and community members serve as resources and partners in every aspect of teaching and learning. This local focus has the power to engage students academically, pairing real-world relevance with intellectual rigor, while promoting genuine citizenship and preparing people to respect and live well in any community they choose. (Rural School and Community Trust, 2005)


Why PBE? This style of education:  Creates a smoother transition from school to the working community around them.

 Encourages students to become actively involved in promoting social justice. Students dialogue with the local community and collectively solve local community issues.  Discourages students to simply be consumers of information. PBE experientially connects meaning to learning and then demands an active local response to what is learned.  Prepares students with concrete skills and familiarities with the outside world.

(Adapted from Environmental Education in Canada, 2006 and Woodhouse & Knapp, 2000)


The Benefits of PBE Nature shields students from stress. I remember‌ my grade 5 teacher used place-based learning in his teaching of elementary Science. Our class would journey to the nearby creek and we would learn about different aspects of the environment, including the salmon life-cycle.

At the stream, our learning always had a peaceful feel to it; its cool flow had a way of gently channelling our natural curiosity and keeping our mind at ease. Our studies at the local creek was one of my most memorable educational experiences. -Jill Cratty

Students are able to experience natural environments first-hand and develop their own environmental ethic. Research suggests‌ that students who create close bonds with their environment are more likely to teach others about respecting the environment in the future.

(Shamah, 2009)


The Benefits of PBE Cont’d Prepares students for their future endeavours.

Students are

physically active.

Increased community involvement.

Increased parental and student satisfaction.

Higher academic achievement is generally observed, especially with initially lowerperforming students

Students become more confident navigating geographically around their local community.

(Shamah, 2009)


Suggested BC Ministry Practices

(Taken from the BC Ministry Doc. “Environmental Learning and Experience�, 2007)


8 Steps to Implementing PBE PBE requires, more than anything else, a change in perspective and the recognition that educational standards and requirements can be met in a variety of ways, including the opportunity to engage in meaningful place-and communitybased investigations and projects.

1. Bring community members into the school This strategy honors local expertise and connections

2. Form partnerships with active community organizations Establish a long-term working relationship with an organization committed to ameliorating local social or environmental conditions.

3. Initiate school/community planning activities Meetings that bring teachers and community people together can alert teachers to the kinds of projects that will be valued most by the community. Not all PBE activities need to have an action component, but when they do, the rewards for students can become much more meaningful and public.

(Sobel, 2010)


Implementing PBE Cont. 4. Ground curriculum in the community Place based learning opportunities must be linked to curriculum in a substantial rather than tangential way; otherwise students will view outside-of-class activities as an “add on�. PBE works best, when it is central to the school’s identity.

5. Allow teachers to be curriculum designers Curriculum must be finely suited to particular places, so teachers need to become involved in the creation of lessons and reach beyond pre-packaged curriculum.

6. Give students the chance to be knowledge creators Students are no longer consumers of knowledge, but co-creators, invited to observe and explore the world, draw conclusions, and see how well their understandings match others. (Sobel, 2010)


Implementing PBE Cont. 7. Nurture student capacity and voice There is a danger of exposing children and youth to information about environmental problems without having first established a satisfying connection with the natural world and offering them opportunities to develop a sense of agency and voice. Teachers must encourage students to take on activities that show them that they can make a difference.

8. Link students to adults OUTSIDE the school These links positively diminishes the boundary between school and the outside community. Internships in local businesses, government, and NGO’s give young people a chance to link their lives to purposes bigger than their own immediate needs or desires.

(Sobel, 2010)


Critiques of PBE

Challenges + Current Issues


Challenges to Implementation The Trend Towards High-Stake Testing With educational policies like the “No-Child Left Behind Act� in the U.S., and an overall increased emphasis on measurable accountability, many schools focus more on conservative styles of teaching that often run counter to the overall aims of PBE.

Teaching Environmental Issues Some still question whether local environmental issues should be included in the teaching of mainstream curriculum, concerned that these discussions make classrooms too politically charged.

Budget and Liability Similar to traditional schools, PBE experiences challenges with monetary funding and liability issues.

Lack of Teacher Training Many pre-service teachers are not adequately prepared (or even introduced) to effectively implement PBE in their communities. (Adapted from Environmental Education in Canada, 2006)


Issues to Consider Unpredictable Weather The natural elements can present formidable challenges to effective instruction and student learning. How do we, as teachers, modify activities accordingly in these dynamic teaching environments?

Accommodating Language and Culture How do we best adapt PBE content for second language learners (ESL and FSL)? How can we do a better job connecting PBE to different cultural groups, especially ones less familiar with PBE?

Sharing Information and Securing Steady Funding There has been little distribution of information regarding PBE programs across Canada; in addition, financial support for PBE initiatives often wanes after program has been put into effect. How can we share information more effectively and keep great programs running smoothly?

Scarce Aboriginal Content There is a lack of environmental education inclusive of a First Nations perspective. How do we ensure indigenous voices are heard in PBE? 15 (Adapted from Environmental Education in Canada, 2006)

PBE in Action!

Sample PBE programs

North Vancouver Outdoor School Maple Ridge Environmental School Project

Since 1969, this overnight field school and educational resource has offered experiential environmental studies situated on 165 hectacres (420 acres) of ecological reserve in the Cheakamus River Valley near Squamish, British Columbia. Students can wander under 1,000-year-old cedars; gaze at hundreds of wintering bald eagles; watch a goat kid being born or marvel at thousands of spawning salmon. In 2007, the school received a one million dollar grant to build an environmentallyfriendly eco-learning center.

Architect’s rendering of proposed centre.

North Vancouver Outdoor School


Maple Ridge Environmental School Project Since August 2008, the project has been working to bring together the community of Maple Ridge to establish a public K-7 school and learning centre that replaces whiteboards and desks with nature and hands-on learning. 60 students ages 4-12 registered (max capacity) for the recent 2011 Fall launch of the project, learning in parks, at picnic tables, alongside streams, under tarps and tents, in gardens, libraries, restaurants, fitness centres, and even municipal council chambers The theory and practice of the project is supported by Place-Based, Imaginative and Ecological Education. Learning and teaching is experiential, inquiry-based, in context, and through activities that engage the mind, body, and heart. The project is a partnership between several community groups, School District 42 Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows, and Simon Fraser University. 18


Glossary Annotated Bibliography

Glossary A Sense of Place: Those things that add up to a feeling that a community is a special place, distinct from anywhere else. A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines. (National Trust for Historic Preservation) Citizenry: Living in a place without destroying it (Woodhouse & Knapp, 2000) Critical Reflection and Negotiation: “Negotiation involves actively seeking out differences in opinions and looking for common ideas or themes around specific issues.” (BCMin, 2007). Direct Experience: “Direct experience with the environment, both individually and in groups, is an important and vital way to learn about sustainability. These opportunities must be provided for the studies to be relevant, because they help provide students with a deeper understanding of natural systems and the impact humans have on those systems. Direct experience then allows students to challenge other cultural perspectives regarding environmental problems and examine them critically.” (BCMin, 2007). Ecology: the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms. Environmental Education: is the umbrella term that encompasses terms such as outdoor education and place-based learning. Outdoor Education: Meaningful contextual experiences in the natural environment 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. (Sobel, 2010) Sustainability: the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.


Annotated Bibliography Smith, G. A., & Sobel, D. (2010).Place- and community-based education in schools. New York: Routledge. This is an essential text for educators looking to implement PBE in their own schools. Along with compelling illustrative examples of PBE in action, the texts clearly explains the educational philosophy behind PBE and includes helpful definitions of key terms.

BC Ministry of Education - Environmental Concepts in the Classroom. (n.d.). BCIS Redirector . Retrieved October 18, 2011, from The BC Ministry of Education Website provides extensive information on Place-Based Learning/Environmental Education and sustainability.

Environmental School Project | Maple Ridge, BC. (n.d.). School District #42 | School Site. Retrieved October 18, 2011, from This website is a perfect example of an elementary education program that has integrated place-based learning within the Lower Mainland. The school will qualify students to graduate into grade 8 through a non-traditional style of education.

Shamah, D. & MacTavish, K. A.. (2009). Making room for place-based knowledge in rural classrooms. The Rural Educator, 30(2), 1-4. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from the WilsonWeb database. This article argues that rural students tend to have strong relationships with their local environment and community. As a result, it is important to integrate such characteristics into lessons and units. The resources of rural areas can present the foundation and background knowledge of place-based educational techniques!

Wason-Ellam, L. (2010). Children's literature as a springboard to place-based embodied learning. Environmental Education Research, 16(3/4), 279. Retrieved October 13, 2011 from the EBSCOhost database. This article encourages teachers to place emphasis on the children’s present environment through literature (story books, picture books, journal writing, and etcetera). It is important for students to have connections with their geographical position and their community. 21 A complete list of our downloadable PBE articles and resources can be found at

Place Based Education Primer  

A brief explanation of Place Based Ed, its benefits to students and their communities, critiques, ways to implement PBE, and current example...

Place Based Education Primer  

A brief explanation of Place Based Ed, its benefits to students and their communities, critiques, ways to implement PBE, and current example...