Academic journal article Science Scope

Field-Trip Pedagogy for Teaching "Sense of Place" in Middle School

Academic journal article Science Scope

Field-Trip Pedagogy for Teaching "Sense of Place" in Middle School

Article excerpt

Go my children, ... burn your books, ... buy yourselves stout shoes, get away to the mountains, ... the deserts, ... and the deepest recesses of the earth; mark well the distinction between animals, the differences among plants, the various kinds of minerals. ... In this way, and no other, will you arrive at a knowledge of things, and of their properties.

--Danish physician Peter Severinus, Idea Medicinae Philosophicae, 1571

Sense of place can be defined as a comprehensive integration of the geology, ecology, and cultural history of an area, and as such it constitutes an objective topic for standards-based, academic instruction (Brown and de Lacerda 1986). Developing students' sense of place is a good and worthwhile goal of education generally, and the middle school years are an excellent time to teach sense of place. Middle school students are ready for increasingly comprehensive instruction, and science objectives for this age group typically include knowledge of geology, ecology, and cultural history.

An excellent method for teaching sense of place is by sensing a place in person, i.e., by taking trips to the field. Seeing rocks and geologic structure in their original setting and observing plants and animals in the wild help solidify concepts such as bioticabiotic relationships. Seeing evidence of human habitation from the distant past conveys the idea that long-term sustainability of communities is a key goal for society.

Teaching and learning any one of the disciplines of geology, ecology, or human-environment interaction is daunting in and of itself. Integrating all three together into a comprehensive understanding can be even more formidable. Field trips facilitate integration of these disciplines (Paradis and Dexter 2007). Indeed, field-based pedagogy has been considered essential for teaching and learning geology and ecology, far better than alternative methods (Fisher 2008).

Field trips have long been touted as highly effective pedagogy, to the point of being transformative (Whitmeyer and Mogk 2009). Hands-on, active learning, which typifies field-based education (Orion 1989), fosters comprehension and retention of course content (McKenzie, Utgard, and Lisowski 1986). Additional benefits that accrue from field-based instruction include self-confidence (McConnell 1979), critical thinking (McNamara and Fowler 1975), self-motivation (Giardino and Fish 1986), and socialization skills (Falk, Martin, and Balling 1978), all of which are desired outcomes of education generally, and all of which serve to prepare students for college and career options within the framework of Common Core State Standards (e.g., Arizona Department of Education 2012).

Unfortunately, field trips are logistically cumbersome and operationally inefficient (Salter 2001). Because of this, field trips are often considered infeasible and reduced in number or dropped altogether from education. However, the drawbacks of field trips are outweighed by their benefits. In this article, we describe a program to carry out field trips at the middle school level for the purpose of teaching sense of place.

Sense-of-place pedagogy

A sense-of-place course is offered at the college level in Tucson, Arizona (Butler, Hall-Wallace, and Burgess 2000). Quantitative analysis of this course showed high comprehension of course content and excellent long-term retention of details of the geology, ecology, and archaeological and cultural history of the area (Sheppard, Donaldson, and Huckleberry 2010).

That's all well and good for college students, but what about younger learners? In theory, sense-of-place pedagogy is extendible to K-12 education, especially to middle school. Developmentally, middle school students are old enough to sustain all-day field trips and to handle more comprehensive instruction, and most middle school science curricula include geology and ecology. For example, science and social studies standards and performance objectives for the middle school level (grades 6-8) include geology (classifying rocks, identifying larger structures, and understanding plate tectonics), ecology (understanding the concept of ecosystems, describing interactions between living organisms and abiotic elements of a place, and recognizing disturbances like fire as a part of nature), and archaeology (describing human societies of the past by evidence of their lifeways and interactions with the environment) (Arizona Department of Education 2005, 2006). …

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