What it means to be attached to a place

“[a] Sense of place is the set of all meanings and attachments a person or a group invests in a place” (slide no.7)

This site features a series of powerpoint slides by Steven Smeken in School of Earth and Science Education at the Arizona State University, a US state where many Native American tribes live.  The department teaches earth sciences by using students’ prior sense of place as leverage for learning.

Classes begin with advanced organizers:  meeting the students where they are.  Students must pick a place that holds intellectual and cultural significance for them, and describe characteristics of the place, as well as ways in which they interact with the place and come to know it.  Then students are introduced to the Western scientific concepts that explain the place’s natural phenomena.

The department teaches the discipline both in and about these places.  The presenter makes a great point:  “Places populate the cultural landscape, just as landforms and biota make up the physical landscape” (slide no. 4).

Place means different things to different peoples, of whatever culture.  Place can have aesthetic, economic, ceremonial, historical, spiritual, scientific significance.  People even develop emotional attachments to places.

In place-based teaching, place defines the curriculum instead of global standards.   It is local, trans-disciplinary (it takes into account history, art, geography/geology, hydrology, etc), experiential (students work in the actual place or in the community), cross cultural.

Each slide lists ways in which students’ meanings can be incorporated into the learning of earth sciences, including using the names for places that students know and already use.  Slide 24 contains a few points to consider when offering a place-based course for the first time.

The presentation concludes with an extensive bibliography, which will be helpful to researchers interested in place-based education.


Smeken, P.  (2010).  Place-based teaching and learning.  Retrieved from http://semken.asu.edu/teaching/cp10place.pdf


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