ERIC Identifier: ED448012
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: Woodhouse, Janice L. - Knapp, Clifford E.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Place-Based Curriculum and Instruction: Outdoor and
Environmental Education Approaches. ERIC Digest.
Place-based education is a relatively new term, appearing only recently in
the education literature. However, progressive educators have promoted the
concept for more than 100 years. For example, in "The School and Society," John
Dewey advocated an experiential approach to student learning in the local
environment: "Experience [outside the school] has its geographical aspect, its
artistic and its literary, its scientific and its historical sides. All studies
arise from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it" (1915, p.
91). Place-based education usually includes conventional outdoor education
methodologies as advocated by John Dewey to help students connect with their
particular corners of the world. Proponents of place-based education often
envision a role for it in achieving local ecological and cultural sustainability
(1). This Digest reviews placebased curriculum and instruction, especially as it
relates to outdoor and environmental education, and provides examples of K-12
resources and programs.
OUTDOOR EDUCATION, ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND PLACE-BASED
EDUCATION: HOW ARE THEY CONNECTED?
The main purpose of "outdoor education" is to
provide meaningful contextual experiences--in both natural and constructed
environments--that complement and expand classroom instruction, which tends to
be dominated by print and electronic media (Knapp, 1996, p. ix). It is a broader
term than "environmental education," which can be described as instruction
directed toward developing a citizenry prepared to live well in a place without
destroying it (Orr, 1994, p. 14). Environmental education can occur both inside
and outside the classroom.
Understanding the relationships among place-based education, outdoor
education, and environmental education is worthwhile because each concept has
been developed somewhat separately by educators who have produced curriculum
materials and instructional practices that could be useful within the other
concept areas. Further complicating this potential exchange is the variety of
labels that have been applied to each of these approaches. For example, as the
field of outdoor education matured, it was labeled school camping, camping
education, and eventually, outdoor education. Likewise, place-based education
has been referred to as "community-oriented schooling," "ecological education,"
and "bioregional education."
Paul Theobald refers to "place-conscious" elementary and secondary classrooms
in his book, "Teaching The Commons" (1997, pp. 132-159). He advocates using the
immediate locale as "the lens for disciplinary engagement in all schools across
the country" (p. 137). In a later article, Theobald and Curtiss (2000) describe
the field as "community-oriented schooling."
Smith and Williams (1999) describe this approach as "ecological education."
They write, "The practice of ecological education requires viewing human beings
as one part of the natural world and human cultures as an outgrowth of
interactions between species and particular places" (p. 3). The authors outline
seven principles, two of which directly reflect outdoor education: (1) practical
experiences outdoors through the application of an ethic of care, and (2)
grounding learning in a sense of place through investigation of surrounding
natural and human communities.
Traina and Darley-Hill (1995) extend "locale" to include "bioregional
education," encouraging students and teachers to know their place and to
consider the impact of lifestyles on the resources of that bioregion. Similarly,
Orr's (1994) call for "ecoliteracy" presents principles for rethinking education
that clearly relate place-based education to outdoor education: (1) students
should understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their
communities; and (2) learning though direct experiences outside the classroom is
as important as the content of particular courses.
Thomashow (1995) writes about the goal of achieving "ecological identity"
through the examination of four basic questions: What do I know about the place
where I live? Where do things come from? How do I connect to the earth? What is
my purpose as a human being? He integrates these questions into activities by
incorporating reflective learning in the school, home, community, and the
workplace (p. xvii). These questions focus curriculum and instruction on
understanding and appreciating students' immediate surroundings.
Haymes (1995) speaks directly to a "pedagogy of place" and addresses issues
of race and class as they are made manifest in the construction of urban
environments and in the power and politics that emerge from those constructs.
His work takes a cultural studies perspective and contributes a much-needed
complement to more conventional outdoor/environmental curriculum and
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF PLACE-BASED
A survey of the literature on place-based education reveals
characteristic patterns to this still-evolving approach that make it
It emerges from the particular attributes of a place. The content is specific to
the geography, ecology, sociology, politics, and other dynamics of that place.
This fundamental characteristic establishes the foundation of the concept.
It is inherently multidisciplinary.
It is inherently experiential. In many programs this includes a participatory
action or service learning component; in fact, some advocates insist that action
must be a component if ecological and cultural sustainability are to result.
It is reflective of an educational philosophy that is broader than "learn to
earn." Economics of place can be an area of study as a curriculum explores local
industry and sustainability; however, all curricula and programs are designed
for broader objectives.
It connects place with self and community. Because of the ecological lens
through which place-based curricula are envisioned, these connections are
pervasive. These curricula include multigenerational and multicultural
dimensions as they interface with community resources.
WHY IS PLACE-BASED EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
Some critics of
place-based education believe that the primary goal of schooling should be to
prepare students to work and function in a highly technological and
consumer-oriented society. In contrast, place-based educators believe that
education should prepare people to live and work to sustain the cultural and
ecological integrity of the places they inhabit. To do this, people must have
knowledge of ecological patterns, systems of causation, and the long-term
effects of human actions on those patterns (Orr, 1994). One of the most
compelling reasons to adopt place-based education is to provide students with
the knowledge and experiences needed to actively participate in the democratic
WHAT ARE SOME SOURCES OF PLACE-BASED CURRICULUM?
limitations in this Digest preclude extensive lists and descriptions of
place-based programs. However, the references below will direct the reader to
many of them.
For descriptions of exemplary curricula, see the resources and reviews
sections of back and future issues of:
"The Active Learner: A Foxfire Journal for Teachers." The Foxfire Fund, Inc.
P. O. Box 541, Mountain City, GA 30562-0541. 706-746-5828.
"Clearing: Environmental Education in the Pacific Northwest." Creative
Educational Networks/EE Project, P. O. Box 82954, Portland, OR 97282.
503-657-6958 x 2638.
"Green Teacher: Education For Planet Earth." 95 Robert Street, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M5S 2K5. 416-960-1244.
"Orion Afield: Working for Nature and Community." The Orion Society, 195 Main
Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230. 413-528-4422. (Especially "In Pursuit of a
Bioregional Curriculum," Spring, 1999, Vol. 3, No. 2).
"Taproot: A Publication of The Coalition for Education in the Outdoors." P.
O. Box 2000, Park Center, Cortland, NY 13045. 605-753-4971.
In addition to books included in the reference list, see the following:
Bowers, C. A. (1995). "Educating for an ecologically sustainable culture."
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Describes three curriculum
models of community and environmental renewal and profiles the Foxfire
Curriculum, the Common Roots Program, and the Ecoliteracy Project. Bowers notes
that the three programs represent very different approaches, but they all share
the common characteristic of having evolved outside schools of education (p.
Cajete, G. (1994). "Look to the mountain: An ecology of indigenous
education." Durango, CO: Kivaki Press. Describes Indigenous teaching and
learning tied to place. Written by a Tewa Indian specializing in environmental
education and multicultural curriculum/program development in science, social
science, and the arts. These concepts and principles are equally adaptable to
Haas, T., & Nachtigal, P. (1998). "Place value: An educator's guide to
good literature on rural lifeways, environments, and purposes of education."
Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. Chapter
subtitles describe the book's scope: education for living well ecologically,
politically, economically, spiritually, and in community. Extensive annotated
bibliographies for each aspect of place-based education are included.
Hart, R. A. (1999). "Children's participation: The theory and practice of
including young citizens in community development and environmental care."
London: Earthscan Publications Ltd. Outlines a theory and practice leading to
sustainable "development that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (p. 5).
Hart's examples of place-based curricula are provided through several case
studies from all over the world.
Kriesberg, D. A. (1999). "A sense of place: Teaching children about the
environment with picture books." Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press. Highlights
integration of the arts with place, providing teachers with picture book
resources and activities for place-based teaching.
Smith, G. A., & Williams, D. R. (Eds.) (1999). "Ecological education in
action: On weaving education, culture, and the environment." Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press. Kiefer and Demple describe a strategy for building
an ecologically sustainable way of learning in the program, "Common Roots." They
conclude, "in creating a context for local curriculum, we have seen the power of
unifying the curriculum through the unique story of each community" (p. 43).
Sobel, D. (1993). "Children's special places: Exploring the role of forts,
dens, and bush houses in middle childhood." Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press. Offers
several case studies in Chapter 5: "Making a Place in The Curriculum" and
demonstrates the importance of childhood experiences around the home and
The Orion Society (1998). "Stories in the land: A place-based environmental
education anthology." Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society. John Elder
describes four fundamental themes illustrated by the programs described:
attentiveness to students' home landscapes, the convergence of natural sciences
and the arts, time spent outdoors, and exploring cultural aspects of the
community (pp. 13-14). The authors of this anthology provide examples of
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE
Place-based education represents a recent trend in the broad
field of outdoor education. It recaptures the ancient idea of "listening to the
land" and living and learning in harmony with the earth and with each other. As
society becomes increasingly urbanized and technologized, educators must
continue to adopt and adapt more of the goals, theory, and practice of
Dewey, J. (1915). The school and society (Rev.
ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Haymes, S. N. (1995). Race, culture, and the city: A pedagogy for Black urban
struggle. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Knapp, C. E. (1996). Just beyond the classroom: Community adventures for
interdisciplinary learning. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 388 485)
Orr, D. W. (1994). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human
prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Smith, G. A., & Williams, D. R. (Eds.) (1999). Ecological education in
action: On weaving education, culture, and the environment. Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press.
Theobald, P. (1997). Teaching the commons: Place, pride, and the renewal of
community. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Theobald, P., & Curtiss, J. (2000, Spring). Communities as curricula.
Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 15(1), 106-111.
Thomashow, M. (1995). Ecological identity: Becoming a reflective
environmentalist. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Traina, F., & Darley-Hill, S. (Eds.) (1995). Perspectives in bioregional
education. Troy, OH: North American Association for Environmental Education.