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Sense of Place in the Practice and Assessment of Place-based Science Teaching


"We teach earth, ecological, and environmental sciences in and about places imbued with meaning by human experience. Scientific understanding is but one of the many types of meanings that can accrue to a given place. People develop emotional attachments to meaningful places. The sense of place, encompassing the meanings and attachments that places hold for people, has been well characterized in environmental psychology. Its components, place attachment and place meaning, can be measured psychometrically. Place-based science teaching focuses on local and regional environments and synthesizes different ways of knowing them, leveraging the senses of place of students and teachers. Place-based teaching has been advocated for its relevance and potential to attract underrepresented groups to science. We posit that sense of place is a measurable learning outcome of place-based science teaching. We developed an Arizona-based, culturally inclusive, meaning-rich introductory geology course, and used published surveys to assess place attachment and meaning in students who took the course. We observed significant gains in student place attachment and place meaning, indicating that these instruments are generalizable and sensitive enough for use in this context. Sense of place should be engaged by teachers of place-based science, and further explored as an assessment measure."