Sense of Place and Place-Based Introductory Geoscience Teaching for American Indian and Alaska Native Undergraduates
Abstract: Places are localities given meaning by human experiences in them. Sense of place refers to a set of meanings of and attachments to places that are held by individuals or by groups. The cultures and educational philosophies of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples reflect rich senses of the places that make up their traditional homelands. However, sense of place does not manifest itself in proportionate enrollments in undergraduate geoscience by American Indians and Alaska Natives. This is because mainstream geoscience teaching emphasizes global syntheses over exploration and in-depth understanding of places that have prior meaning for Indigenous students, and may even depict such places in culturally-inappropriate ways. Many teachers and researchers with experience in Native educational systems recommend a greater emphasis on the study of local places, synthesis of local cultural knowledge, and community-directed activities in science education. Such a "place-based" approach is used by a small number of school systems, nearly all outside of Native communities. Place-based geoscience teaching could potentially enhance science literacy among American Indian, Alaska Native, and other underrepresented minority students, and bring more of them into the geoscience profession. However, this hypothesis has not yet been rigorously tested. Empirical and descriptive studies of place attachment and meaning among different student populations, and clearer definition of place-based teaching, are prerequisite to more authentic place-based geoscience courses and programs. Five characteristics of place-based geoscience teaching are identified here and illustrated with suggestions for implementation in diverse educational settings.