Place- and Pursuit-Based Learning: Pathways to Service Learning

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To provide learners of all ages with relevant and authentic opportunities to meaningfully engage in service learning through place- and pursuit-based learning experiences. 

The estimated time for this activity is 25 minutes.

Watch this Video

What motivates an individual to want to learn? Dr. Nancy Sulla, author of It’s Not What You Teach, But How and Reinventing the Classroom Experience: Learning Anywhere, Anytime, says, “We all learn best when we are motivated to learn, and the intrinsic motivation of interest, pride, and ‘felt need’ works much better than the extrinsic motivation of rewards, peer pressure, and fear!” (Anchoring the Learning, 2020). 

“From this perspective, learning is rooted in the lives and experiences of people and cultivated through activities that people find meaningful. When teaching is not rooted in students’ lives, student learning suffers” (NYSED CRSE Framework, p. 11). Place- or pursuit-based learning provides a space for students to tackle real and relevant needs within their immediate communities and throughout our global society. 

Watch this video to learn more about how place- and pursuit-based learning in a remote or hybrid environment can serve as a pathway to servicing communities and addressing social issues relevant to student interests and experiences: 

Place- and Pursuit-Based Learning (YouTube)



Stop & Think

Key: T — Teachers, SL — School Leaders, DL — District Leaders)

  1. When has learning made the greatest impact on you? (T, SL, DL) 
  2. How much of your own learning and professional growth do you attribute to experiences you have gained versus information you have been given? (T, SL, DL) 
  3. What opportunities exist or can be created for students to partner with adults at school, at home, and in their communities to help solve problems or tackle challenges? (T, SL, DL) 
  4. What community assets (such as local businesses, organizations, museums, libraries, landscapes, events, groups, cultures, etc.) could serve as possible partners for place- or pursuit-based learning? (T, SL, DL) 

Brainstorm & Design

What might place- or pursuit-based education look like in a remote or hybrid setting? Use the examples below to think about ways in which current content or curriculum can connect to opportunities within and throughout student communities and among community partners. 

Below is a list of examples to get you started.

Pursuit-Based Opportunities

In pursuit-based learning, a problem or challenge is identified by students based on a personal interest they wish to pursue. The options may be narrowed to the curriculum or, if broader, the teacher would help the student see how the curriculum could fit into the problem or challenge.

  • Write an online newsletter or blog post for community distribution. 
  • Plan and host online community forums or events (e.g., online concert, fundraiser, info session). 
  • Have students participate in online games that teach civic responsibility such as 
  • Create a social media campaign to bring about awareness of current social issues. 
  • Conduct a phone, video, or socially distant interview with small business owners or professionals in a field of interest. 
  • Conduct research on important issues and email stakeholders advocating for change. 
  • Host a Math-a-Thon, where students can use content and engage in grade-level standards in order to meet a specific need in a specific area (here is one example). 

Place-Based Opportunities

In place-based learning, students look to solve an open-ended, real-world problem or challenge that is specific to a location, which could be the classroom, home, local community, town or city, state, country, continent, world, or even outer space!

  • Have students create and record videos about environmental observations within their community or surroundings. 
  • Create artwork to be displayed throughout the local community such as sidewalk chalk art, murals, and posters. 
  • Connect a life-science unit to plant life and allow students to grow their own plants that will eventually be donated or placed in a community garden. 
  • Set up online peer/group tutoring services between neighboring schools or schools overseas. 
  • Engage families and students in local opportunities such as roadside cleanup or a community garden.
  • Create and send virtual birthday or greeting cards to local housing shelters, senior centers, or service members. 
  • Allow students to go on virtual field trips to learn about a specific place or topic.

Questions to consider as you brainstorm and design:

  • How can a curricular unit, lesson, or topic connect to a place- or pursuit-based education opportunity?
  • What is the expected impact or outcome you would like to have on students?
  • What potential partnerships will be needed in order to fulfill these opportunities (e.g., parents and families, professionals, local businesses or nonprofits, etc.)? 
  • How will you measure the impact this experience has on student learning?