Place-Based Learning



Why should our students engage in place-based learning? 

"Understanding place begins with understanding self - your role in the community." (Getting Smarter 2019)


According to Tom Vander Ark and his team at GettingSmart.comPlace-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to education that takes advantage of geography to make learning authentic, meaningful and engaging for learners. PBE is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences–using these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum” (2019).

Place-Based Learning allows students to personalize their learning:

In the document titled "What is Place-Based Education and Why Does It Matter? GETTING SMART in partnership with eduInnovation & Teton Science Schools" (Getting Smart 2019) the authors maintain that "Place-Based Learning enables personalized learning by:

  1. Giving students "voice and choice" in determining what, how, and when and where they learn.

  2. Tailoring learning to each student's strengths, needs and interests.

  3. Ensuring mastery of high academic standards.

  4. Promoting student agency" (Getting Smart 2019). 

The above document also outlines three goals of Place-Based Education:

  1. "Impact communities.

  2. Boost academic outcomes

  3. Increase student and teacher engagement" (Getting Smart 2019). 

Benefits of Place-Based Education:

The authors express the following benefits for students with this type of experiential learning:

  1. Learning is grounded in local communities and contexts.

  2. The Learning experience is student-centered and personalized.

  3. Learning is relevant and engaging.

  4. Social-emotional learning can be a priority.

  5. Instruction can be interdisciplinary.

  6. Lessons can be inquiry-based.

  7. Students can be challenged to see the world through ecological, political, economic and social lenses.

  8. Students can have more agency and autonomy - boosting motivation and persistence.

  9. Design-thinking can be encouraged.

  10. Students can meet deeper learning outcomes.

  11. Students can gain better appreciation and understanding of the world around them" (Getting Smart 2019). 

Place-Based Learning is not a new way of learning:

According to scholar Gregory Smith, "...Children growing up in pre-19th century America or Europe experienced much of the same thing -- learning the skills and crafts required of adulthood from their parents, other family members or people they apprenticed..." (Getting Smarter 2019).

To learn more, please download the infographic titled "The Potential of Place-Based Education" (Getting Smarter 2019).

Please view the video below to learn how middle school students in Hood River, Oregon engage in authentic learning experiences that take them outside of their classrooms. They connect with their local community to learn about about so many different things, from pre-historic rocks to local history. They actually created a museum within their own school building!

Works Cited:

“Learning and the Power of Place.” Getting Smart, 2019,

“Place-Based Learning: Connecting Kids to Their Community.” Edutopia, 19 Apr. 2016,

"The Potential of Place-Based Education." Getting Smart, 2019, https://www/

How do we implement Place-Based Learning (and other out-of-school designs) at our school to activate broader, deeper learning?

There are many ways to implement Place-Based Learning. According to Tom Vander Ark and his team, there are two sound ways to implement Place-Based Education:

  1. The Local to Global Model.

  2. The Place-Based Education Implementation Continuum.

The Local to Global Model of Implementation:

Starts "with encouraging students to reflect on and better understanding themselves and their role in the community. Then expands like concentric rings to...

  1. Classrooms

  2. Schools

  3. Communities

  4. Regions

  5. Nations

  6. World" (Getting Smart 2019).

To view an image of the Local to Global Model please click here.

Thus, in this implementation plan a student starts locally and then keeps expanding their reach, bit by bit, until they are a true "world" learner. In this phase they are learning in an internal place-based setting. They are connecting with others throughout the world, and truly understand their place in the world and how they can contribute globally. 

The Place-Based Education Implementation Continuum.

Tom Vander Ark and his team maintain that "There are infinite pathways to learning through place. The continuum that follows is one way to organize these pathways, since implementation can vary from a single lesson or experiences to a full-scale "community as classroom" model" (Getting Smart 2019). As one progresses through the continuum the teaching and learning progresses from a "...teacher-centered to one that is primarily learner-centered" (Getting Smart 2019).

Please read this Getting Smart article to learn more about different levels of implementation. 

To view an image of The Place-Based Education Implementation Continuum please click here.

As we develop an implementation plan, we need to reflect upon where Place-Based Learning for our students can occur. We know that it can occur anywhere and anytime! See suggested places below:

Resources to guide implementation of Place-Based Education:

The first resource is titled "Quick Start Guide to Implementing Place-Based Education — translates educator insights into an actionable guide for the implementation of Place-Based Education in classrooms and in communities. Actionable examples and tips are shared throughout to inform and inspire place-based opportunities across the curriculum" (Getting Smart 2019).

The second is titled "Quick Start Guide to Place-Based Professional Learning — makes the case for place-based professional learning that can benefit teachers the same way that it benefits students. As educators begin to think about how the community can be a classroom for students, it is important to develop their own sense of place, student ownership and long-term strategy to ensure effective implementation. The process can be transformative not only for the students, but also for those educators who are participating in the journey" (Getting Smart 2019).

In this podcast, Tom Vander Ark and his team share, "the perspectives of the teachers, leaders and learners at Teton Science Schools, with advice on how to implement PBE in the classroom, school, campus and community" (Getting Smart 2019).

Vermont Fun Fact:

Did you know that a former Middlebury College Professor, John Elder, was writing about Place-Based Education in 1998? He wrote Stories in the Land A Place-Based Environmental Education Anthology. Please read some of the inspiring stories in this anthology, which may give you some ideas as to how to begin implementing Place-Based Learning activities in your classroom.

Works Cited:

“5 Levels of Place-Based Learning Implementation.” Getting Smart, 2019,

“Quick Start Guide To Implementing Place-Based Education.” Getting Smart, 2019,

“What Is Place-Based Education and Why Does It Matter?” Getting Smart, 2019,

What do students gain when they receive the support and expertise of local business and community partnerships?

"We believe in the potential of Place-Based Education to empower students with greater autonomy and more agency so that they can identify and take ownership over complex community and global challenges" (Getting Smart 2019).


What do students gain?

Students gain so much when they engage in Place-Based learning! When students learning through the continuum they learn "...locally, regionally, and ultimately globally. With multiple opportunities to interact with professionals, design solutions to real challenges, and skills to understand the world through multiple lenses, these students are the citizens the world needs for tomorrow" Nate McClennen, Place-Based Education Communities As Learning Environments (Getting Smart 2019).

When students engage in Place-Based Learning they are truly prepared for the future. Most importantly, however, they feel like they are connected to something and they recognize that their lives do matter. They have a purpose and can make a powerful impact upon other the lives of others in their local, regional, or global community. These experiences connect students emotionally, because they care. Students thus engage in deep learning experiences, which physically changes the brain. 

Students learn to empathize when they engage in Place-Based Education. Place-Based Education ultimately:

  1. Humanizes Learning

  2. Unveils Inquiry

  3. Creates Connections

To gain a deeper understanding of what students gain when they engage in Place-Based Learning and the effect of the "power of place," please listen to the following podcast. "Ready to experience place-based learning? Close your eyes and listen to this “audio field trip” to TSS" (Getting Smart 2019). 

Works Cited:

“Teaching Empathy Through Place-Based Education.” Getting Smart, 2019,

“What Is Place-Based Education and Why Does It Matter?” Getting Smart, 2019,