Students locating “places” in the world

Posted on 06.20.2011


I really believe that it should be a priority to help students develop a sense of place.  Having a sense of where you are in the world increases confidence and provides additional perspective to make better, more thoughtful decisions.  For high school freshmen, this issue of developing a sense of place is central to their year.  They enter high school as a default without a sense of place; especially at a big school like Northeast.  They can’t locate anything, let alone where they feel comfortable.  Even outside of school freshmen are are considering a wealth of questions about where they belong.

Some people are more able to develop, locate and have a better sense of place than others:  they have the opportunity to travel and haven’t had to move all that often – they live in the same house their whole life and have the opportunity to see far away places.  It feels good to know what’s out there while also having the continuity of a central location to return to; this knowledge and experiences provides those with a “sense of place.”

An understanding of geography – where things are physically located – is of course integral to developing this sense of place.  It’s not enough however, you also need to associate memories, information, stories – a narrative of some sort – to the physical location.  So it’s not enough to simply memorize locations on a map, and it’s certainly not enough to “tell” students about a place.  They need to physically locate it while also linking some sort of opinion about the place as well.  Through this process students will hopefully develop a greater sense of place – or at the very least, be exposed to the opportunity to have a sense of place.  Who knows, maybe eventually they will make use of the process and eventually have that sense of place.

Over the past two years I have tried to come up with ways to promote and provide opportunities for reflecting on a sense of place.  To be completely honest: I haven’t done a great job, especially trying to convey an understanding of where things are physically located.  UNTIL NOW….

Here is the plan:

Students will receive a blank map at the beginning of the year, throughout the year they will be responsible for labeling locations as we learn about them.  Each time a location is referred to students will be responsible for labeling that location on the map.  I am hoping this allows students to connect to the physical location and make a more emotional (or at least intellectual) connection to it through what they have learned in that unit.

There are a bunch of things to play with here… throughout the year we will have check-ins (maybe random?) to keep students accountable: at the check-ins students will have to have a certain amount of labels.  Each label must have a journal entry attached to it; it’s not enough to just label the location, they must also create some sort of connection to it.  A perfect way to start this out is with my first project, Family Histories.  Students already have to label locations on the map – I think this is the best way to introduce this idea.

I am still in the “building” stages of this idea, you can watch this project grow by reading the project description on a gdoc I created (I have linked to the entire folder, who knows what types of handouts I might come up with).

Any suggestions or comments?