Place-based learning
Nov 20th, 2014 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Placed-based learning is a relatively new term in the inquiry-based learning literature. I am currently working with a student examining place-based education. Here is a brief excerpt from something that I recently wrote:

Place based education (PBE) and its conceptual model was first described in the literature by Smith in 2002. He suggested that that PBE manifests in five major ways: (a) cultural studies, (b) nature studies, (c) real-world problem solving, (d) internships and entrepreneurial opportunities, and (e) induction into community processes. Tying all of these processes together is the common thread of the concept of place (i.e., location) exercising a critical influence in the design, execution, and outcomes of curriculum and instruction. PBE finds its roots in the work of Dewey (1938), whose broader impact laid the foundation for inquiry learning.

Simply defined by Miriam-Webster (2014), inquiry is “the act of asking questions in order to gather or collect information” (para. 6). Inquiry also refers to activities of students in which they acquire knowledge and understanding of concepts, as well as problem-solving skills. High quality inquiry teaching and learning requires learning to do and learning about at the same time: knowledge, skills, and process are all linked (Shore, Birlean, Walker, Ritchie, LaBanca, & Aulls, 2009).


Habits of mind associated with inquiry learning include: asking questions, designing and conducting investigations, using relevant tools, techniques, and technology to gather information, determining relationships between evidence and explanations, analyzing alternative explanations, and communicating claims and findings (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). Educational benefits of the use of inquiry learning include improved higher order thinking skills (Mao & Chang, 1998; Smith, 1996), gains in student learning (Jackson & Ash, 2012; Kanter & Konstantopoulos, 2010; Shore, Aulls, & Delcourt, 2007; Shymansky, Hedges, & Woodworth, 1990) and increased engagement (Spronken-Smith, Walker, Batchelor, O’Steen, & Angelo, 2012; Summerlee & Murray, 2010). Because inquiry learning leads to development of imaginative, evidence-based explanations, students’ creative and problem solving skills are simultaneously developed (LaBanca & Delcourt, 2008; LaBanca & Ritchie, 2011).

In the classroom setting, inquiry instruction classically manifested in science instruction in the form of experiments and investigations (Llewellyn, 2013). However, as educators recognized the benefits to inquiry instruction across the disciplines, a broader use of projects emerged. Project-based learning is a comprehensive approach to instruction designed to engage students in the investigation of problems (Blumenfled, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991). The necessary components of effective project-based learning are (a) a question that organizes or drives the activity; and (b) activities that result in authentic products and artifacts. Schneider, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway (2002) and Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, and Chinn (2007) demonstrated that inquiry-rooted project-based work increases achievement.
PBE similarly utilizes an inquiry and project-based approach, however the context of projects are consistently rooted in the theme and location of the place. “Place-based education stands apart from project-based learning in that the community is often the project context of first choice. This feature enables students to pursue, with a passion, a project linked to their locality” (Lewicki, 2007, para. 3).


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