Support for designing place-based learning activities

Documents to help you design your place-based learning activity:

Thanks to Karen Goodlad for posting these!


Posted in modules by activity, resources, why place-based learning? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What the ?#!%* is gentrification?

What is gentrification, anyway?

Activity: In the classroom, or via the course blog, real-time collaboration software such as google docs or piratepad, or Blackboard, students will crowdsource a definition of the term gentrification. In the field, the class will visit a nearby site that represents transition: perhaps an empty lot for sale, a construction site, or a store or restaurant that is undergoing a management change or going out of business. Working in groups or pairs, students will document the current use of the site and assess who uses it and for what purpose. Next they will speculate on the future use of the site; to whom will the site be important, and how will its purpose change? How do these changes reflect any other changes in the surrounding neighborhood? Documentation in the form of photographs, written observations, and audio or video recordings is encouraged!

Learning Objectives: Students will develop their ability to observe a specific site and record their observations, interpret multiple forms of evidence, and present conclusions about neighborhoods in transition as well as offer recommendations for the future. Students will also enhance their abilities to perceive ubiquitous, vernacular urban landscapes. Their responses to the question “what is gentrification?” can take the form of presentations (creativity encouraged), blog posts, or short essays.

Tools: pen/paper, camera and portable audio/video recorder; smartphone/mobile device

Students may find it useful to look up these terms in advance of the field visit, and then offer their own definitions informed by the field visit:

  • gentrification
  • land use
  • zoning
  • commercial
  • residential
  • industrial
Posted in modules by activity, themes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Sixth Borough

Q: What is the sixth borough of New York City?

A: Its waterways.

New York City’s Comprehensive Waterfront plan, Vision2020, describes the City’s plans to reclaim New York’s waterfront by expanding public access, supporting the working waterfront, develop climate resistance, and enhance the “Blue Network” — the potential for New York’s waterways to simultaneously yet safely support recreational boating (including human-powered craft), ferry commuting, and commercial shipping and transport. Yet safe pedestrian access to the water’s edge is often discontinuous, cut off by an esplanade, or illegal. Transportation via water is often inconveniently timed or costly compared with other means of mass transit. Recreation on the water (swimming, fishing, boating) is limited by season or requires special equipment, experience, and knowledge to operate safely.

Activity: Instructor may assist students in browsing current media (print, internet, social) to identify current or recent issues pertaining to New York’s waterways – its working and recreational waterfronts, and also its rivers, harbors, and beaches. When a variety of issues and problems have been identified, students work in small groups to pose solutions. For each solution, students should identify the key stakeholders or affected groups and how those stakeholders will benefit and face compromises. Each group will present to the class the problem they identified, how and what they learned about it and related issues, and the solutions they present.

Learning Objectives: Students will learn to work effectively in groups to understand a problem, negotiate a solution, and present their findings to an audience of peers.





Posted in modules by activity | Tagged | 1 Comment

Resources for placed-based projects

I came across several resources today that all seemed to lead me to think of the Placed-based Learning Toolkit. Please feel free to share, repost, etc.

Storytelling tools: this is a collection of tools, including mapping tools and timeline tools, not to mention photo tools, that would fit neatly into any place-based learning toolkit. Don’t worry–it won’t get tangled around your wrench and T-square (thanks to Matt Gold, who mentioned this resource on his course site).

Calls for Papers related to Place-based research:

Cartography and Narrative

Cityscape as Discursive Node or Character

Literature, Space and Geography

Posted in resources | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Smelling Committee

The Fifteenth Ward Citizens’ organization formed in Brooklyn in 1891 to convince the mayor of Brooklyn to put a stop to the “nuisances and deathly stenches” emanating from the refineries and factories of Newtown Creek. The so-called Smelling Committee was influential in calling attention to environmental hazards caused by a concentration of industry along the banks of Newtown Creek. In New York’s history, there are many examples of similar citizen activism raising awareness of environmental or other injustices; any would be worthy of brief study as a way to frame this activity.

Activity description: This activity offers an opportunity for cross-disciplinary study: citizen activism in New York City’s history, the role of the amygdala in memory and sensory experience,  and basic geography. Students will conduct both field research and research into the scientific literature on senses and memory. We are accustomed to relying on just a few of our senses, sight and hearing, to navigate the world around us. Students will select an area that is personally significant and locate and define the area on a street map (either paper or digital). Over the course of one or a few visits to the area they will record what they sense through all of their senses – smell, touch, and (for the brave) taste, as well as sight and sound. They will carefully note the location or locations at which these sensory experiences occurred as well as the thoughts, feelings, and memories they evoke. If the experience is negative, demands change, or indicates an area for improvement, these findings can form the basis for further study into how citizen activism has effected change in the past and can inform a plan of action for the future.

Learning outcomes: students will collect and organize environmental data; evaluate and display quantitative information; gain familiarity with a specific geographic place and be able to communicate environmental issues located there.
Students can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways: in-class presentations, journaling, blog posts, or contributions to a group or class document.

Equipment, supplies, resources:

  • access to print or online map of the selected area
  • access to reliable, up-to-date sources of information on sensory perception and memory
  • access to historical narratives of citizen activism and environmental justice movements



Posted in modules by activity, modules by discipline | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Role-playing across disciplines

Role-playing has been used effectively in history classes and can be used in literature, philosophy, political science, allied health and life science courses as a means to encourage students to engage with a particular topic, such as a historical event, plot, health status, or philosophical argument.

Activity Description: In this activity, students enter a what-if scenario, role-play and explore unfamiliar perspectives, those around a topic that is significant to a course text, document or other object of study. Decide on a problem related to the topic of study and determine roles (all roles do not have to be human). One role should be the physical place or location of the topic. How much research on the time or place or other aspects of the roles must students accomplish in advance of the role-playing activity? What goals or ambitions do the roles have, and what negotiations must take place in order for them to be achieved? How is conflict resolved?

Learning outcomes: Through undertaking the research necessary to fully understand their roles, students integrate secondary sources with the primary source or object of the activity. By inhabiting roles of individuals, concepts or institutions central to specific historical events (or fictional plots, philosophical arguments, health statuses, etc.), students develop new and empathetic perspectives that they may not gain from more traditional assignments, such as assigned readings.
Evaluation of the role-playing session can take the form of post-activity short reflective essays, in-class discussion, or other means determined by the instructor. The assessment should gauge whether students were able to empathize with the subjects whose roles they played, thereby gaining new perspectives on the topic, and whether their pre-activity research sufficient for them to develop their roles adequately.

Equipment, supplies, resources:
How to teach using role-playing from Carleton College

Reacting to the Past curriculum from Barnard College




Posted in modules by discipline | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Historic map resources

Old Maps Online
Finally, federated searching for digitized historic maps! Allows the user to search for digitized historical maps across many different academic and research collections.

NYPL Map Warper
Registered users of the map warper can georectify digitized maps from the NYPL collection and export them as KML files for use in a GIS or other geotechnologies. Registration is free and all are welcome to participate.
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
Over 33,000 digitized historical maps online, free and open to the public.

University of Texas
About 44,000 current and historical digitized maps from around the world; most are in the public domain.

British Library
A crowd-sourced effort to georeference historical maps of the UK.

Historical Maps and Charts
Over 35,000 digitized maps and nautical charts from NOAA, all in the public domain and free to download as .jpg files.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Maps of imaginary places

An image can engage an audience and supplement textual information, but a map can enhance a text by illustrating movement, showing where and how simultaneous storylines take place, and by suggesting the passage of time. Many children’s books and sci-fi/fantasy novels include maps of imaginary places. Mass media has adapted the map as plot accessory: HBO’s website features a map for fans of the cult series Game of Thrones.


  1. Review maps from a few children’s books or young adult novels*.
  2. Select a text — a short story, novel, poem, or other work.
  3. Inventory the places named or described in that text, noting their significance to the plot or the characters.
  4. Include land features such as waterways and coastlines, forests, and mountains, as well as features of the built environment such as roads, bridges, cities and towns.
  5. Mark the locations of important events in the text or story
  6. Be sure to label all map features, and do not forget to include a scale if appropriate.
  7. It may be helpful to begin with the key or legend for the map.

This activity can be accomplished by students working individually or in pairs or small groups. An entire class can illustrate the same text, or students can choose from a selection of texts.

Learning outcomes: By studying a text from the point of view of a cartographer, students develop their ability to read closely for specific details and patterns. By translating narrative into image and determining which places are worthy of illustration and which are not, students exercise judgement and creativity that other textual analyses may not afford.

Tools: Books that contain maps (suggestions listed above)
Text(s) for students to inventory and map
preferred analog or digital drawing tools (pencil and paper, software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, Scribblemaps, or any other program for graphics)

key or legend – the symbols that represent a place or feature on a map
scale – relationship between the distance between two points on a map and the actual distance between those two points on Earth

*Fantasy and science fiction often include maps of imaginary places. Here is a short list of a few well-known books that contain maps:
L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
A.A.Milne, Winnie the Pooh
J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit


Inspired by the Maps we Wandered into as Kids.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in modules by activity, modules by discipline | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trip Calculator

“Before GIS, before GPS, before Google Earth, there was the milestone.” So begins a recent New York Times article about an early wayfinding marker known as the milestone. At least 40 milestones pointed 18th-century New Yorkers in the direction of City Hall, the nearest East River ferry, or neighboring cities such as Jamaica (then an independent village).

Activity: Consider your milestones — literal, not metaphorical. How do you know where you are going? How do you navigate when you are somewhere unfamiliar and must find your way? Using paper and pen, your phone and its camera, or a laptop or tablet, draw or otherwise create a visualization of a line of your commute from home to college to work to social or family activities, noting major milestones — those features that help you navigate. Draw one entire day — a 24-hour period.

Learning outcomes: This activity will develop students’ ability to make observations, record data, and analyze data to produce a visual calculation of their daily routine.

Tools & resources: A phone with a camera; paper and pen or laptop or tablet with drawing program.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


Posted in modules by activity | Leave a comment

You may already be a Flaneur

As New Yorkers, many of us get around on foot more than we make use of any other mode of transportation. Traditionally, a Flâneur was a well-dressed gentleman intent on experiencing and observing the city as he walked leisurely walks the city in order to experience the city; a sense of detachment or idle observing is inherent in the original meaning. When you walk the sidewalks and streets, are you observing the spectacle of street life, or participating in it? Do you belong to the crowd on the streets?

Activity: Be a flâneur for a day or an hour; instead of rushing, wander, even if it is just for part of your trip. Take a short detour. Even as you observe, are you simultaneously participating? Take notes and if possible, record street sounds, images, and video. After your experience on the streets, review your notes and field recordings and address the questions above. Report your findings and observations to the class via the course blog or during an in-class discussion.

Learning outcomes: Students will gain competency in observing and assessing the diversity present in New York’s pedestrian life.

Tools: means of recording observations, images, audio, video (notebook & pen, voice recorder, phone camera/videocamera)
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in modules by activity | Tagged | Leave a comment