"Our discussions of standards and curriculum frameworks and outcomes still have not touched seriously upon the matter of our purpose as a society; upon what it means to educate live persons, to empower the young not simply to make a living…but to live, and along with others, remake their own worlds." 

- Maxine Greene, 1995


Elements of Curricular Purpose

Kids making map


While this variety makes for rich learning it can cause confusion when teachers are called upon to align their work to specific outcomes. We need to clarify the structure and purpose of our work.There are a myriad of ways teachers choose to use the local environment in their practice. One may seek a stronger connection to the subject while another may hope to cultivate a student’s personal commitment to service. Or a teacher might see the benefits of real-life experiences to enhance understanding of a concept or an idea.

I have come to see four recognizable, although seldom distinct, elements at work when teachers engage the local.  In designing curriculum with big questions in real places, teachers consider the learners’:

    • past and present experience
    • understanding of subject
    • understanding of place
    • sense of agency in regards to civic engagement and community 


Primary colors
Just as there are three primary colors that make up the rainbow of possible colors in the world--
these four approaches allow us to see more clearly the elements of place-based education.
Just as artists rarely use only pure red, blue or yellow, a teacher seldom uses one of these
elements in its pure form.

These elements portray a span of purpose from a very basic strategy to deep content knowledge to a highly generative way of engaging students in solving authentic problems. It is not a progression of one approach to the next, nor is it linear in any way. Experiencing a curriculum of place is a moving matrix of spiraling, iterative movement as teachers use the easel to create “works of art” in their classroom and in the community.

Teacher thinking by self