top of page

Place-based Learning

Place-based Education: Holding an Essential Place in Powerful Learning



“Place must be an integral part of any curriculum” (Little Bear, 2009)


Place-Based Education is defined by the Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement as a learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” 


Place-based Education creates such meaningful context, connections and authentic learning opportunities. Natural curiosity and a sense of wonder thrive in these organic domains.  Students collaborate with each other to share observations, problem-solve, and create an understanding that sticks (like the mud to our boots down at the park).   The curriculum comes to life with hands-on experiences and everyone is involved and can experience success.  This natural learning laboratory lends itself so well to being a special space for listening to the many stories that live in this landscape. The learning log has become a fixture in our outdoor classroom and the students are eager to stop at this spot to listen and learn from the power of stories and storytelling.

 Applying knowledge from the lessons and stories is seamless as I witness students fully engaged, participating in activities like finding the silver berries that can be used for making beads... I hear the excited calls of  “Mrs. Wade you have to see the decomposers and lichens on this log!”  or the joyful greetings to Elder Breaker with “Oki”  (hello) as they enthusiastically hop off the bus for another weekly visit. It is this place-based programming which has provided the opportunity to respectively incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and Blackfoot language into weekly instruction. These lessons are powerful.  Ecological literacy is nurtured and the values of stewardship, interconnection, and sustainability guide this experience.  It is in our weekly visits and the relationship to this space where wellness also flourishes.  Wellness is a foundational piece of this type of programming and incorporates not only physical health, but also cultivates positive social relationships with peers and community members,  and increases self-confidence, resilience and connection. Place-based learning is a powerful learning model and holds a very special place in my heart as an educator. -  Claire Wade 



“The environment is the classroom” (Little Bear, 2009) 


“The growing national interest in project-based learning coupled with the recognition that situating these projects in students’ home communities can deepen their meaning and impact suggests that interest in Place-Based Education could continue to expand in coming decades. As a means to engender among students a sense of affiliation with their home communities and regions, develop problem-solving skills and the ability to collaborate with others, cultivate a sense of responsibility for the natural environment and the people it supports, and instill a recognition of their own capacity to be positive change-makers and leaders, Place-Based Education is proving to be an effective antidote to apathy and alienation….. The environmental and social challenges likely to arise in coming decades will require many people with the kinds of attributes associated with the experience of Place-Based Education”  (Gregory Smith, The Past, Present and Future of Place-Based Learning). 


Scholar and educator, Leroy Little Bear notes:


“Space/place is a very important referent in the Aboriginal mind. Certain events, patterns, cycles, and happenings occur at certain locations and are readily observable including animal migrations, cycles of plant life, seasons, and so on.  The culture of the Blackfoot involved a communication with nature and the animals. The environment is our classroom. The land, as opposed to time, is a major referent in the minds of Aboriginal people. For Aboriginal people, the land is a sacred trust from the Creator. The land is the giver of life like mother. The ecological aspect of Indigenous knowledge is all about the land. The land is a source of identity for Aboriginal people.  The Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre (AbLKC) holds to the view that “the surrounding environment can provide a rich laboratory for students to learn about the many interconnected forces that impact their lives and make a contribution to the well-being of their community.”  AbLKC truly believes in the power of place being a necessary aspect of any curriculum. It is not enough to only know about places, its history or narrative, but a learner must experience them both physically and emotionally, achieved through rituals, and visitations. Just as human beings develop relationships through collaborative activity, and just as they suffer from disassociation or distance from such relationships, the emotional and physical exchanges that occur between places and Aboriginal people are social in nature. In other words, just as a person would suffer from absences from friends, parents, and other relatives, Aboriginal people suffer when absent from the land. Place must be an integral part of any curriculum.













Additional Place-based Resources:

bottom of page