Place-Based Education

Definition: “Place-based education (PBE) is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases learning.” David Sobel, Place-based education: Connecting classrooms and communities. 

Why use PBE: PBE has the potential to engage students and participants in their local community by forming meaningful relationships and connections between their school, themselves and members/organizations of the community. PBE starts with learning about the self, then expands to larger communities. In PBE learning is tangible and students can experience their learning by becoming involved in their place. When students understand concepts and ideas on the local and individual level, learning can then be transferred to national or global topics.



Instead of teaching a student about a tropical rainforest, which they have probably never seen/ may never see, teach them first about local ecosystems and species that the student can experience.

  • Form relevance by drawing on the students’ previous experiences and knowledge base .
  • Use local topics to teach big concepts and ideas. 
  • Take students on a trip to visit a local green space or protected area, and arrange for a local conservationists or biologist to speak with students.
  • Have students plan a community clean up project to foster their feelings of ownership and empowerment in the community.

When students understand the dynamics of his or her local ecosystem, they can apply the concepts and learn more readily about the dynamics of a far away rainforest ecosystem.

Best Practices: Principles of Place-Based Education:

  • Learning focuses on local themes, systems and content
  • Learning is personally relevant to the learner
  • Learning experiences contribute to the community’s vitality and environmental quality and support the community’s role in fostering global environmental quality
  • Learning is supported by strong and varied partnerships with local organizations, agencies, businesses and government
  • Learning is interdisciplinary
  • Learning experiences are tailored to the local audience
  • Learning is grounded in and supports the development of a love for one’s place
  • Local learning serves as the foundation for understanding and participating appropriately in regional and global issues
  • Place-based education programs are integral to achieving other institutional goals




  • Sobel, D. (2004). Place-based education: Connecting classrooms and communities
  • Smith, G. (2002). Place-based education: Learning to be where we are
  • Sobel, D. (2008) Childhood and nature: Design principles for educators
  • Smith, G, & Sobel, D. (2010). Place and community-based education in schools 
  • Wurdinger, S. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2010). Teaching for experiential learning. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Figure: Concentric circle approach. (Teton Science Schools, TSS Framework Curriculum Guide, Unpublished manuscript, 2016)