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Running head: PEDAGOGY OF PLACE 1

Pedagogy of Place: Place-based Education

Tanya Smithson
University of Saskatchewan

1. The concept of Place-Based Learning is what John Dewey described as immersing

students in the local environment, (Louv, 2008 p. 203) which fosters the development of

a balance between the human and non-human (Smith & Sobel) and happens through

teaching and reinforcing the necessary behaviours, understandings and actions that work

towards creating a world that is socially just and ecologically sustainable. I believe this

compiled description is indicative of what place-based learning is and presents a

holistic concept of education that has its focus and foundation built in concepts of local,

balanced, socially-just, and sustainable action. I see teaching and learning are

interconnected and interrelated. Through engagement in place-based learning we find

relevant ways to activate the desire to learn and the agency to contribute in meaningful

ways. David Sobel states that place-based learning is a process of using the local

community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts...across the curriculum,

emphasising hands-on, real world learning experiences. (2004, p.7) When the

community becomes a classroom students have opportunities to expand their learning by

engaging with ideas and understandings that have real world relevance, This impacts the

community and also provides children with the opportunity to partake in the collective

process of creating the sustainable and just world (Gruenewald & Smith). In place-

based learning the land and the people within become an integral resource which was

experienced on our trip to Wanuskewin where we walked the land and discovered what

we could learn, and in turn teach, through the process of becoming immersed and actively

engaged with place and community. Our visit to the place where Str8up members call

home demonstrated the deep-seated need we as humans have, to have meaningful


connection with place and similarly the Western Development Museum (WDM)

provide students with opportunities to engage with artifacts helping them to connect with

their historical place in society.

2. To address all learning from a classroom desk we limit student experience and

understanding to sitting on the land, instead of having roots within it. (Piersol, p. 201)

This quote really made clear the need to actively search for and understand the best place

that allows for authentic engagement and connection with the desired learning outcomes.

As with everything we ought not jump into place-based learning with the belief that we

must always take the classroom out of the school and into the community.

Appropriateness must guide our decision-making process as we decide which

classroom is most suited to the learning at hand. Piersol warns against simply telling

generalized stories that could have taken place inside just as easily as outside and

neglecting to root stories in place by treating place as an objectified other, as a backdrop

to learning instead of a focus for it (Plumwood, 1993 in Peirsol, p. 202). I think these

ideas affirm that by simply labelling teaching as environmental place-based and

eco-justice and then engaging in a token relationship with place we are doing nothing

but providing students with a superficial relationship with place, including learning that is

short-lived and short-sighted. Critical evaluation when selecting how, where, why and

when to use place, technology and classroom is the foundation necessary to ensure that

place-based education fosters a deep enduring inter-related connectedness with our

world and other. Louv (2008 p. 212-213) describes how choosing to study a canyon near

their school led to a banding together of staff, students and community and restoration of

the area to its natural state. This was their best-place with concomitant benefit for the

wider global community. Locally, the Natural Grasslands present an opportunity for

stewardship, by learning about indigenous flora and fauna and allowing students to

experience what ongoing preservation looks like in action.

3. Ways of knowing for Indigenous people is deeply rooted in their connection with the land

and their responsibility to maintain harmonious balance and interconnectedness with all.

With the belief that everything is imbued with spirit, the connection and responsibility to

Mother Earth is the foundation on which Indigenous understanding of their role as

guardians and caretakers is built. With there being no separation between self, land and

other, interconnectedness is integral in how Indigenous people approach relationships.

The Indigenous perspective is that creation is a continuous and repetitive process

observable in the cycles, phases and patterns that occur on the Earth and from the Earth

and is supported within the human processes of engaging in renewal ceremony (Battiste,

2000, p. 78). I think through this holistic understanding of the interconnected nature of

our existence as well as the necessity of renewal, ethical and ecological treatment of

other, Indigenous ways of knowing is inherently connected to place-based learning

which works to create an authentic and ecologically just connection to land and other.

Smith and Sobel acknowledge that place-based is not new and it is through providing

opportunities for the young to engage in the common life of older and more experienced

people (2010, p.25), which is the core of Indigenous teaching and education, that

learning becomes rich with holistic connection, shared history and authentic meaning.

When students connect with, observe and inquire about the stories, knowledge, land and

people that exist within their community they are learning as Indigenous people learned.

Wanuskewin is an obvious location to explore Indigenous cultural components and

experience their ways of knowing however I feel that the visit to the Str8up group

provided different viewpoint of understanding how the past shapes the present, showing

social-justice and interconnection within a different but critically important framework of

the here and now.

4. Social, global and ecological justice requires an understanding and passionate acceptance

of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all forms of spirit on our planet.

Gruenwald and Smith affirm the importance of place-based education, saying children

need the opportunity to partake in the process of creating a sustainable and just world

(2008, p.345) which becomes evident when we as humans understand and actively and

critically engage in creation rather than destruction with respect to everything and

everyone. Through engagement in projects that are based in the present and local, are

worthy of the students time and attention, and have importance for both the individual as

well as the collective, consequential learning occurs (Shelton, 2005 in Smith & Sobel,

2010, p. 26). This allows students to engage in wholehearted and purposeful activity

(Smith & Sobel, 2010, p. 26) which is directly related to the principals of social, global

and ecological justice. I think that when we incorporate the local place within the

principals and framework of social, global and ecological justice, students have the

opportunity to experience and feel how their learning has an impact individually, locally

and globally. Although we have not been to the Meewasin presentation I believe this

would be an example that not only connects local place and thereby engages and

enhances the principals of local and global ecological justice, but also allows for a deeper

exploration and critical thinking about the interconnectedness on the social and global

5. With respect to the Conceptual Foundations, I recognize the importance of providing

students with a broad and diverse education that inspires students to become lifelong

learners and engaged citizens who have a strong sense of self, community and place. In

relation to these Conceptual Foundations, some of the main underpinnings of place-based

learning are connection, interconnection, community, justice and responsibility and these

are activated, explored and developed through engaged inquiry within local and

community places. Gruenewald and Smith (2008, p. 356) purport that when young people

develop connection to place and community they become invested in actively engaging in

efforts that restore and preserve. I believe this outcome is representative of the desirable

foundational keystones such as engaged citizens and strong sense of self, community

and place. To support students to become engaged, we have to make learning relevant

and empowering, allowing them to recognize that they have power to make changes that

impact the world. Local place-based learning, with its special focus on exploring,

inquiring and engaging in specific community settings such as care homes, community

gardens, local shelters, as well as ecological settings such as Meewasin, and Brightwater,

provide students the opportunity to authentically develop, explore and grow as engaged

individuals as well as members of community and place.

6. The Indigenous Voices Circle presents an overview of the holistic components that

combine to create a transformative pedagogy. With the inner circle being the shared

ground, we see the importance of not only place but also the significance of shared and

what that represents. I watched a video about One Square Meter (Roper, 2007) and the

man described that although he was alone in his OSM, he liked to think about there being

a global network of connection with others who might be doing the same thing elsewhere

in the world. I found this to be fitting with the Indigenous Voices symbol and how

everything centers around shared ground which is described as the cultures shared

philosophy, values and customs (Battiste, 2000, p.77) and for Roper (2007) this shared

ground would bring other together as alike. Similar to place-based education the

Indigenous Voices symbol incorporates a holistic model of education where connection to

place and shared-ground builds the foundation for learning. Within the Indigenous Voices

framework education includes connecting with and developing ones identity through

culture, ceremony, history, justice and story, and this learning occurs in urban community,

Aboriginal community, Indigenous land-based and classroom-based place. Place-based

learning incorporates many of these holistic understandings and reiterates the importance

of and the need for connection, connection with self, with other, with history, with justice,

with story and ceremony, and with the land and community.


Armstrong, H., Indigenizing the Curriculum: The Importance of Story

Greunwald, D.A. & Smith, G.A. (2008). Place-Based Education in the Global Age. New York,

NY: Taylor Francis Group

Louv, R., (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

New York, NY.

SK Ministry of Education. (2010). Saskatchewan Government Curriculum. Regina SK, 2010.

Smith, G.A. & Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms &

Communities. New York, NY: Orion Society.

Smith G.A. & Sobel, D. (2010) Place-and Community Based Schools. New York, NY:


Roper, P.WildlifeWatcherUK. (2007, October 15). The Square Meter Project. Retrieved from