Masters Thesis

Everyday geography in Humboldt County schools: an exploration of place-based education

This thesis explores the use of Place-based education (PBE) in K-12 public schools. Specifically, I focused on the perceptions teachers have of PBE and the factors influencing the use of these approaches in K-12 schools. Place-based education is a cross-curricular and experientially based approach to studying any subject, providing students with an education grounded in what is familiar and forming a foundation for exploring global concepts and distant places. I relied on qualitative methods, guided by open-ended and semi-structured questioning, to interview 20 educators from eight middle schools within Humboldt County, California. This study found PBE to be a new term among K-12 educators; however, participants revealed that PBE is not a new concept. While the term is not used, participants described PBE based upon their familiarity with its associated forms, outdoor education (ODE), environmental education (EE), and service-learning (SL). Participants identified campus- and field-based resources and guest speakers as prominent place-based resources. However, a variety of administrative, logistical, and academic barriers, such as money, distance to resources, and limited classroom time hinder the use of these resources. Participants identified grant writing, collaboration with colleagues, and guest speakers as examples of strategies to overcome the barriers to using place-based resources. Although used, the community-based resources and activities described in this study are reminiscent of those used in EE, ODE, and SL, rather than PBE. Therefore, I propose four strategies to more fully implement place-based curricula in both urban and rural schools: The first is to develop a set of guiding principles that identify the goals shared among educators and community members. Second is the research and development of curricula that incorporate state standards in a place-based manner. The third strategy is to identify opportunities for pre-service and in-service training for teachers in PBE. The final strategy is to establish a community coordinator position within each school to serve as a liaison between the school and community. This study recognizes that K-12 teachers already incorporate place-based related activities in their curricula. However, these activities are sporadic and are performed by those few passionate teachers that see the importance of using place-based resources and activities. In addition, PBE is not a practice that can be achieved by schools alone. This study identifies the need to create partnerships between the schools and their surrounding communities that are missing in many contemporary schools.