Place-based Education

Place-based education, sometimes called pedagogy of place, place-based learning, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability, environmental education or more rarely, service learning, is an educational philosophy developed initially by The Orion Society, a Massachusetts based nonprofit organization, as well as Professor David Sobel, Project Director at Antioch University New England though educators have used its principles for decades. The term was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion's early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Place-based education seeks to help communities through employing students and school staff in solving community problems. Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students' local community as one of the primary resources for learning. Thus, place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place--that is, in students’ own “place” or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community. According to this pedagogy, grade school students often lose what place-based educators call their “sense of place” through focusing too quickly or exclusively on national or global issues. This is not to say that international and domestic issues are peripheral to place-based education, but that students should first have a grounding in the history, culture and ecology of their surrounding environment before moving on to broader subjects.

Place-based education is often hands-on, project-based and always related to something in the real world. Thus students embarking upon a unit about the Vietnam War might interview veterans of that war, collecting their stories for a radio-spot, newspaper article or educational brochure. In this case, the use of local people to support students’ learning would not only lead to greater comprehension of the Vietnam War, but also to understanding more about the history of their community and the people in it.

Christchurch School in Virginia and Northwest Community College in Terrace, British Columbia are examples of schools that incorporate place-based curriculum. Wintergreen Studios is a year-round wilderness education and retreat centre in Southeastern Ontario offering workshops and meeting facilities. Wintergreen's environment and architecture have been designed to enable people to engage in mindful living and return to their homes and workplaces inspired and refreshed.

Byron Fellowship is a place-based learning experience built around sustainable community development

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