Learning Framework Overview

The term place in socio-ecological systems refers to both geographical locations as well as communities’ lived experiences in and with the natural environment. Our understanding of place is shaped by family and cultural histories, knowledges and practices, and consists of interdependent and powered relationships across local and global scales. Place, put simply, is where and how culture and the environment are co-constructed. As an educator, it is important to be aware of the multiple histories of a place, and to recognize that you, learners, and their families and communities may have very different histories and relationships to that place. This is critical to educating and designing learning opportunities in and with places.

Designing with place, sometimes referred to as “place design” or “place mapping”, is the process of preparing for field-based instruction. Central to designing for outdoor instruction is to take a walk or spend time in a place prior to outdoor learning. This provides an opportunity for the educator to identify features of lands and waters that they are unfamiliar with, identifying and becoming familiar with a phenomenon to observe, and how it is connected to the seasons. This preparation allows the educator to do some research prior to taking learners outdoors.

Why is designing in and with outdoor places important for learning?

Socio-ecological phenomena are everywhere! In field-based science learning, place does not exclusively mean large green spaces and annual vegetable gardens. Field-based learning in place can also happen in a neighborhood park, an alleyway, a forest, or the strip of grass between the curb and the sidewalk. No matter the place, educating and learning in outdoor places is inherently different from the indoor classroom, and requires different ways of designing instruction. This is where designing with outdoor places is a crucial step for preparing to support generative opportunities to observe, learn, and explore outside. For example, an important place design technique is developing attentional scaffolds, which are observational prompts for learners such as temporal toggling (what do you think this place will look like in 100 years?), spatial toggling (zoom in and out, look up and down), perspective taking, noticing relationships, seasons, features of the land, and open-ended questions. Designing with place includes identifying phenomena learners can observe and how, what types of investigations learners could conduct to better understand those phenomena, who might be a good resource to consult and why, and what wonderings learners might have. Learning about and holding many dimensions of place–such as histories of place, nature-culture relations, and socio- ecological systems–provide context and meaning for learners’ question-asking, observing, and data collection.

Designing learning in and with outdoor places graphic with practices woven together
Designing learning in and with outdoor places

Suggested Citation

Learning in Places Collaborative. (2022). Framework: Designing Learning in and with Places. Bothell, Seattle, WA & Evanston, IL: Learning in Places.