Sustainability through Place

Kate Martinson, Art and Art Education, Luther College
Sonja Darlington, Education and Youth Studies,Beloit College


To prepare future educators (k-12) to experience place (a place of learning, cityscape, park, agricultural area etc) using a variety of lenses. The purpose of the activity is to sensitize the individual to the environment thus increasing connections to issues of sustainability. Over a period of time students will select and return to a single location in order to create a series of journal entries based on specific assignments which will be complied as a book. Depending on the focus of the methods class, the assignments will vary.

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Learning Goals

Through field experiences students will react to the place, using a range of critical thinking skills, close observations and creative interpretation.
Students will gain a chance, through discussion, to broaden their concept of sustainability.
An additional expectation is that these future teachers will adopt this activity as a tool in their own classrooms.

Context for Use

This activity would be suited to introductory methods classes in a variety of subject areas and is especially well suited to a liberal arts institution. The exercise ties the students to different ways of learning and to a heightened awareness of sustainability issues in a specific place.
In addition, it might also be used as a tool in a variety of classes across the college curriculum. Faculty could easily vary specific assignments to tailor to class needs.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will have sheets of paper on which they will complete individual assignments while on site. These assignments might include but are not limited to the following:
  • Thoroughly describe in a short essay the place you have selected using direct observation and specific words: background, fore-ground and middle-ground.
  • Through direct observation draw the location you have selected. Include as many details as possible of shape, line, scale, overlap and texture.
  • Imagine the history, man made or natural, of this place. Write a short story or biography of this space.
  • What physical materials have gone into the creation of this environment? What kinds of energy crated and continue to sustain this place.
  • Students must construct two different pie charts reflecting what they observe in their space.
  • Describe an incident. What has just happened in the location prior to your visit? Use creativity to imagine the story and characters involved and write it out.
  • Examine the place for texture differences. Observe first then fill the page with a collage of texture rubbings. Consider carefully placement of the textures in relation to one another.
  • Sit quietly and listen to sounds of the environment. Using a pencil and paper create abstract lines or shapes to signify the sounds you hear. (NO PICTURES) Using these make a map or pattern of the sounds as you experience them.
  • Write a creative story about two people from different cultures meeting in this place. What might they be inspired to talk about? What might they teach one another?
At the conclusion of field experiences the student can construct a simple rubber band book from the individual pages.
The resulting book will be a Japanese side sewn book in which the writing is only on the outer surfaces of the folded sheet. 8,5 x 11 sheet. These are stacked and laced together on the non-folded side. The book comes apart and can be added to at will. Journal entries can be added to the insides of the folded sheet by dis-assembling the book.

This technique can easily be seen at on the following website though it is shown with flat pages which are not as sturdy: (inactive)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This idea was written by two methods teachers to encourage direct observation and learning experiences related to issues of place, thereby encouraging the concept of sustainability. The assignments are to illustrate the process and are not definitive.

Faculty from different disciplines might use this place-based journaling to meet their own pedagogical needs by varying assignments.

Some entries lead naturally to class discussions as follow-ups to the individual activities.


Th pages will be examined by fellow students and discussions will be moderated to encourage sharing and reactions based on topics of sustainability.

References and Resources (inactive)

Sustainability by Design, Sobel

"The Machine Stops", E.M. Forester
Beyond Eco Phobia
Going Away to Think
Forbidden Knowledge Schaddick
"Hope for the Hunter" ,Saunders
"Seeing", Dillard
The Conquest of Nature, David Blackbourne
"Earth's Future", Duncey
Nature's Metropolis, Bill Cronon