Place-Based Education: Theory and Practice in Florence

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Concept by: Sheila Corwin


Place-Based Education (PBE) aims at creating an immersive learning experience for students by placing them in local heritage and cultural environments. This educational philosophy isn’t just about visiting; it is about investigating, participating, creating, exploring, and contributing through engaging activities and reflection.

The course explores how PBE can be used to promote critical thinking taking the Renaissance city of Florence, Italy, as its stage location.

One of the best things about the proposed thinking activities and formulas—inspired by Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education—is that they can be easily incorporated into any situation where learning happens, and modified to fit students’ needs, interests, and/or the school curriculum. Hence, the course will foster ideas, strategies, and frameworks for teaching that can be used in different settings—i.e., virtual classrooms and/or onsite learning; along with educational experiences that can take place either indoors, outdoors, or both. Various routines, which will be practiced during the week, can be also adapted to different age groups and can be done individually, in pairs, in a small group, on a team, or as an entire class.

During in-class activities, participants will be prompted to employ, analyze, and discuss the application of various thinking routines (e.g, compare and connect, explore viewpoints, find complexity, observe and describe, question and investigate, reason), and receive suggestions for their use with students.

In outdoor activities, participants will visit four well-known neighborhoods in Florence’s historic city center, and learn how to incorporate additional thinking routines and PBE strategies to the sites visited.

By the end of this course, participants will understand how experiential learning through place and community can be included in any educational program in a whole new way. They will have also explored and experienced a variety of new powerful creative tools to add to their teacher toolbox in order to encourage the development of thinking, reflecting, noticing, and observing carefully; all of which will support student learning across age groups, disciplines, competencies, and populations.

Learning Outcomes

The course will help the participants to:

  • Incorporate “place” into their lessons in an entertaining and motivating way.
  • Find ways to include the local community in collaborative learning.
  • Learn to use appealing thinking routines that are easy to incorporate into classroom lessons.
  • Engage learners in activities that get them to slow down, think, and notice.
  • Encourage critical thinking skills that inspire students to reach a deeper level of observation.

Tentative Schedule

The schedule describes likely activities but may differ significantly based on the requests of the participants, and the trainer delivering the specific session. Course modifications are subject to the trainer’s discretion. If you would like to discuss a specific topic, please indicate it at least 4 weeks in advance.

Day 1 – Course introduction

  • Introduction to the course, the school, and the external week activities.
  • Icebreaker activities (face-to-face and online).
  • Expression of needs and interests.
  • Discovering Place-Based Education and what it means to think critically
  • Presentations of the participants’ schools.
  • Engaging activities to get students ready for thinking about place (Florence’s historic city center) and reflection. Looking at Day 1 -Florence’s historical timeline. A Bucket List. Engaging in the first Thinking Routine.

Day 2 – Reasoning, exploring, and investigating

  • Participants will take part in a reasoning task, work on creative questions, and learn how to explore viewpoints across time. They will also engage in tasks for observing and describing along with comparing and contrasting.

Day 3 – Observing, interpretation and justification

  • Includes a routine for making careful observations about sound/music, ideas for creating thought-provoking questions, routine for encouraging interpretation with justification.

Day 4 – Reflecting on developing empathy and slow looking

  • The lesson will emphasize more critical thinking formulas, deeper learning routines, experiences, and reflection. Includes a routine for developing empathy and a routine devoted to observing colors/shapes/and lines.

Day 5 – Learning from the past and the present

  • How to look deeply at past, present, and future events through visuals and other objects. Final reflections on how best to use thinking routines in every classroom.

Day 6 – Course closure

  • Course evaluation: round-up of acquired competencies, feedback, and discussion.
  • Awarding of the course Certificate of Attendance.
  • Excursion and other external cultural activities.


  • Teachers: primary, secondary, vocational, adult, special needs;
  • Teacher trainers;
  • Careers officers, educational guides and counselors;
  • Headteachers;
  • Principals;
  • Managers of schools.


  • Activities: All courses include at least one guided city tour and one full-day excursion (usually on Saturday).
  • Certificate: Certificate of Attendance guaranteed for participants who attend at least 80% of the course.
  • Lessons: Classes take place in the Morning (9:00 – 14:00) or in the Afternoon (14:00 – 19:00).
  • Price: 480 €

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