Closer to Home: Place-Based Education & Connection

Closer to Home: Place-Based Education & Connection

By Dakota Dominguez

The Organ Mountains at sunset is one way to remember this place of Las Cruces.

At Asombro, we offer engaging, place-based science education programs, but what does “place-based” really mean, and why is it a worthwhile way of framing science education?


The concept of place is one of those that is at once simple and intuitive but, at the same time, elusive and difficult to ever fully comprehend. Place can be defined in many ways: as the memories communities collectively share in a certain locale or the particular flora and fauna of a given landscape or the unique-human cultures that have developed.


The simplest explanation of place-based, and the one that I offer to students in Asombro programs, is that we take universally applicable science concepts and anchor them in our local surroundings.


Dakota shares about the coyote’s role in the students local place, the Chihuahuan Desert.

For example, in Asombro’s 9th and 10th grade lesson, Matter & Energy Cycling in the Chihuahuan Desert, students learn that different amounts of matter and energy are stored at ascending layers of a trophic pyramid. Students find that there are not as many secondary consumers (predators) in the ecosystem as there are primary producers (plants) or primary consumers (herbivores). This is true no matter what type of ecosystem we may study – be it a rainforest or the ocean. But Asombro chooses to use local examples for each level of the trophic pyramid. For instance, we show to students a real branch of honey mesquite and have them pet a real coyote pelt.


My intent as a place-based science educator is that these experiential moments help students make connections to the wild world of the desert outside their classroom.


My desire is to spark a sense of familiarity.


My hope is that students are able to connect the data from concepts we cover in class to those personal, emotional experiences, and memories they have in this place – like having spent hours sitting by a particular honey mesquite shrub or remembering the excitement of seeing a coyote cross the road.


At its best, place-based education breaks open the figurative (and sometimes literal) walls of a classroom and allows students to understand that their lives in- and out-of-school are directly hinged to the overwhelmingly awesome natural phenomena of place in which we all partake.


A real-life honey mesquite bush that Asombro references in many lessons.

Place-based education assumes that this place is special. No matter where that place is. It assumes that the vast and rocky land we live in is as worthy an example in which to study the phenomena of the universe as any place.


Place-based education means that we can study anything by starting at home, using the immediate and familiar world right in front of us. It means that we develop lessons that adhere big science concepts to our local flora, fauna, cultures, and economy. To take it a step further, place-based science education not only grounds knowledge in the local place, but it can also ground us in place by helping us realize that we are all truly a part of the ecology of our home desert.


If we can build strong understanding based in our home place, we can more confidently explore and find connections all around the world. In a modern world of abstraction and distraction, place-based education can help ground us and help us recall what really matters in our lives: the landscapes that sustain our communities, the relationships we hold dear, and the memories we make in this place we call home.


This place matters.


We can learn a whole lot by just looking a little closer right here in our home.

Dakota is the newest Science Education Specialist at Asombro. He is excited to connect students to their home desert.