ERIC Identifier: ED322022
Publication Date: 1990-05-00
Author: Graves, Ginny
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science
Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about the Built Environment. ERIC Digest.
Critical thinking, responsible citizenship, cultural literacy, social
relevancy; these concerns of educators in the social studies can be addressed
through teaching and learning about the built environment. The tangible
structures that humans have created (e.g., bridges, houses, factories,
farms, monuments) constitute the built environment. Objects in the built
environment can be used to enhance teaching and learning in core subjects
of the social studies--history, geography, civics, and economics. This
Digest discusses (1) what built environment education is, (2) why it belongs
in the school curriculum, (3) how to connect it to the social studies,
(4) how to initiate successful programs on it in schools, and (5) model
programs and resources for teachers.
WHAT IS BUILT ENVIRONMENT EDUCATION?
Architecture and other facets of the material culture are the focal
points of built environment education. For instance, it includes teaching
and learning about city planning, architectural and landscape design, preservation
of historic sites, and the issues and challenges raised by these activities.
In general, the means and ends, and the conditions and consequences of
human interventions in the natural environment comprise the subject matter
of built environment education. This includes teaching students to care
for the built environment as it fits into the natural environment.
Built environment education pertains to a great variety of places,
objects, and processes. Parks, streets, schools, statues, and signs are
included. So are recycling of resources and developing of model communities.
And it refers to decision making about public issues, such as saving historically
significant sites and balancing the sometimes conflicting goals of environmental
protection and economic development.
Built environment educators want to increase the knowledge of their
students about the interrelationships of humans with their environments
in the past and present and in different parts of the world. They also
want to develop critical thinking skills in response to environmental issues.
And they hope to foster positive attitudes about environmental stewardship
and historic preservation toward the end of high-quality built environments,
designed to be aesthetically pleasing, functional, safe, and responsive
to the various needs of different people.
WHY DOES BUILT ENVIRONMENT EDUCATION BELONG IN ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY
A key to improving the quality of our built environment is widespread
education about it. Citizens who lack knowledge of the built environment
are not likely to act effectively to remedy deficiencies in it. Professionals
in architecture and design, for example, have reported that the public
seems unable to tap their expertise to assist in the remediation of built
environment deficiencies. Most members of the general public do not even
know what to ask for. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) formed
a focus committee to look for a solution to this problem.
The AIA focus committee recognized that there are many approaches to
educating the public about the built environment and the role of architects
in maintaining and enhancing it. One necessary solution to the knowledge
gap, however, is to infuse more of the right kind of information and ideas
into the classrooms of elementary and secondary schools. The goal is to
develop responsible citizens, who are knowledgeable and adamant about improving
their quality of life through enhancement of the built environment. The
AIA focus committee, therefore, recommended that all students from kindergarten
through grade twelve should be educated about the built environment in
their standard courses in science, mathematics, English, art, and social
studies (Sandler 1988). This recommendation has also been advanced by the
National Trust for Historic Preservation (Weitzman 1988) and the National
Council for Preservation Education (Committee on Elementary-Secondary Education
All advocates of general education about the built environment emphasize
that the best means for adding it to the curriculum is infusion--integration
with existing curriculum patterns--rather than creation of new courses
or stand-alone units of study. Standard subjects in the curriculum provide
numerous points of entry for teaching about the built environment. This
kind of education about the built environment is not directed primarily
to preparation of architects, historians, city planners, or other professionals.
Rather, the purpose is to inform members of the general public about the
issues and challenges of their built/natural environment and the role they
can play in maintaining and improving upon its quality.
HOW DOES BUILT ENVIRONMENT EDUCATION FIT INTO THE SOCIAL STUDIES
Built environment education fits easily into the standard subjects of
the social studies such as history, geography, civics, and economics. Consider,
for example, the relevancy of using a nearby and familiar building or site
as a "learning hook" and a "visual history book" for students in a high
school United States history course. Historic buildings can be used as
primary sources in the study of persons and events associated with a place.
And studies of architecture in different places and periods of history
provide insights about continuity and change in various civilizations.
Examination of architecture in different civilizations is a useful exercise
in comparative historical studies.
The five main themes of geography education can easily be connected
to objects in the built environment. These five themes are (1) location,
(2) place, (3) human-environment interactions, (4) movement of people,
ideas, goods, and (5) formation and change of regions. It is impossible
to teach these themes without reference to the built environment. Teachers
should be urged to emphasize these connections through field trips and
video programs that provide direct and vivid instruction about architecture
and other aspects of the built environment.
Issues in city planning and community development can be treated in
civics and economics courses. So can lessons in responsible citizenship
that pertain to the ethics of environmental stewardship and historic preservation.
HOW CAN TEACHERS INITIATE SUCCESSFUL BUILT ENVIRONMENT EDUCATION
PROGRAMS IN SCHOOLS?
The Missouri Council of Architects has developed an excellent model
for starting and sustaining a successful built environment education program.
This model, Teach the Teachers, has been used to train more than 4,500
elementary and secondary school teachers in Missouri and Kansas, and through
a ripple effect, thousands of students. These teachers have received thirty
to forty-five hours of contact with excellent professionals in the fields
of architecture, preservation, landscaping, city planning, and history.
After the teachers have been shown how to use the built environment as
a teaching tool, they begin to develop their own curriculum materials and
activities for use in their classrooms. Furthermore, these trained teachers
develop skills in disseminating their knowledge and materials to other
teachers through workshops and other inservice education activities.
The success of the Teach the Teachers program has been demonstrated
in the quantity and quality of the curriculum materials developed by participants
and their widespread use in schools. In addition, the number of people
affected by the program continues to increase. Furthermore, in 1989, Teach
the Teachers was selected as one of ten model built environment education
programs in the United States through a survey conducted by the American
Institute of Architecture and the National Endowment for the Arts. The
program has also won awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation,
the National Continuing Education Association, and the Kansas and Missouri
A portfolio of materials describing the Teach the Teachers program and
how to start it in your city or state is available from the Center for
Understanding the Built Environment, American Institute of Architects,
104 West 9th Street, Kansas City, MI 64105 (816) 221-3485. Send $15. A
list of resources for teachers is included in this package.
WHAT ARE OTHER MODEL PROGRAMS AND RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS ON BUILT
Several other model programs in built environment education are described
in the AIA's LEARNING BY DESIGN SOURCEBOOKS, Numbers 1 and 2. In establishing
a built environment program, organizations should follow examples set by
successful programs and adapt them to meet various local conditions and
needs. Three examples of successful programs are highlighted below.
The Massie Heritage Education Center in Savannah, Georgia, operates
out of an old school that is maintained and operated by the local school
district. Students take field trips to the school to see exhibits and take
walking tours. A video program is available that tells about the activities
of the center. Contact Thomas Downen, 207 East Gordon Street, Savannah,
As part of the Tampa, Florida, Teachers Teaching Teachers program, fourth
graders tour historic Ybor City. Teachers must have participated in a training
course before they are given the walking tour materials. Students receive
their own walking tour notebooks to complete. Selected fourth-grade teachers
receive training and then become trainers of teachers. Eventually all fourth-grade
teachers in the Hillsborough County School System will have had the built
environment education training. This program is provided through a partnership
of Tampa Preservation Incorporated, the Tampa Junior League, the Hillsborough
County School System, and the American Institute of Architects. Contact
Nancy Crane, TPI, 2802 T. Drive, Tampa, FL 22609.
In Washington, the State Board of Education funds Architecture and Children
workshops for teachers each summer. Selected teachers are paid to attend
the week-long program. Contact Anne Taylor, School Zone, Inc., 111 South
Jackson Street, Seattle, WA 98106.
All of the successful programs rely on synergistic partnerships (e.g.,
school district and historic organization, AIA and state board of education,
service league and architectural and design professionals). It is this
partnering or synergism that is working so well through built environment
education programs that will help us to develop and sustain high-quality
lifestyles in our home, the earth.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system
and are available in microfiche and paper copies from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS,
3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone numbers are
703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated
monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is available
in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however,
they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided below.
Carroll, Rives. "Exploring the History of a Neighborhood: A Community
Project." SOCIAL STUDIES 76 (July-August 1985): 150-154. EJ 322 803.
Committee on Elementary-Secondary Education. A HERITAGE AT RISK: A REPORT
ON HERITAGE EDUCATION (K-12). Burlington, VT: Historic Preservation Program
for the National Council for Preservation Education, 1987.
Graves, Ginny. ARCHITIVITY: LIBERTY MEMORIAL. Kansas City, MO: American
Institute of Architects, 1987. ED number will be assigned (SO 020 334).
Graves, Ginny. ARCHITIVITY: UNION STATION. Kansas City, MO: American
Institute of Architects, 1989. ED number will be assigned (SO 020 333).
Hunter, Kathleen. HERITAGE EDUCATION IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES. ERIC Digest
EDO-SO-88-10. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1988. ED 300 336.
Joint Committee on Geographic Education. GUIDELINES FOR GEOGRAPHIC EDUCATION:
ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS. Washington, DC: The Association of American
Geographers and the National Council for Geographic Education, 1984. ED
Patrick, John J. HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND THE SCHOOL CURRICULUM. Paper
presented to the Symposium on Heritage Education of the National Trust
for Historic Preservation, Washington, DC, May 11, 1988. ED 300 289.
Reed, Vernon, and Ginny Graves. TEACH THE TEACHERS. Kansas City, MO:
Missouri Council of Architects Press, 1987.
Sandler, Alan, ed. THE SOURCE BOOK 2: LEARNING BY DESIGN. Washington,
DC: American Institute of Architects Press, 1988.
Schneider, Donald O. "History, Social Sciences and the Social Studies."
SOCIAL EDUCATION 53 (March 1989): 148-153. EJ 389 780.
Weitzman, David. "What Schools Don't Teach." HISTORIC PRESERVATION (September-October