Sense of Place

Place and Identity

Robert Guastella, 2016
Natick High School
Natick, MA
English, Grade 9

As Transcendentalism is studied in greater detail during Junior year, this is only meant to be a brief introduction to the concepts, specifically those of Thoreau, with a focus on sense of place and identity, the latter being Natick High School’s focus for 9th grade English. The first lesson of this unit is geared towards priming students with Transcendental concepts on which they have to take a stance, as well as getting them thinking about sense of place by connecting to ideas of home, and how that contributes to one’s identity. The homework applies these ideas to a short story. The second lesson goes over the homework story and then explores the concept of nature and how places in nature can help people feel a sense of home and find themselves. The nature walk during class and the subsequent homework assignment will get students out in nature, away from their usual technology-dependent routines, and more in touch with themselves. The third lesson explores the idea of utopias to get students to think about how and why societies are set up they way they are, and to really contemplate what their individual priorities are and what will make them happy; they will then be asked to think about this happiness in terms of real places, where they feel the most like themselves. The homework is to apply these ideas to a short story, focused on noticing the differences that various places have on in the protagonist throughout the story. The fourth lesson builds on the idea of place and identity, and explores the concept of truth. Students will think about what truth means, what is true for them, and what will truly make them happy. They will begin the final assessment of the unit, a creative project that expresses one “truth” about identity as connected to a specific place, whether it’s nature, home, or someplace else. The project has them interview five people to find out others’ perceptions of happiness and identity as related to place in order to construct their own views on the idea. The fifth lesson comes back to the concept of self, and has students think about what makes them most “awake” and alive. They then get class time to work on their projects, as well as teacher assistance and feedback. The homework is to finish the project.

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Tim O'Brien and Thoreau: Identify Formation through a Sense of Place

Anna Schechinger, 2016
Belmont High School
Belmont, MA
English, Grade 12, College Prep

The overarching theme of my Senior year English class is “The Search for Identity.” At this stage in their high school careers, students are at the advent of a new beginning, whether they are college bound or joining the workforce. We will examine selected stories from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in conjunction with the theme of identity formation. The protagonist of these short stories, Tim, is similar to my students because he is faced with a difficult decision at the outset of his adult life: the choice between fighting a war he does not support or defecting to Canada when he receives his draft notice. As he writes about his moral dilemma and the setting of the Vietnam war itself, O’Brien reveals that our ‘sense of place’ impacts how we perceive ourselves and our actions in relation to the world around us.

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How Did Stone Walls End Up in the Middle of Forests?

Barbara Barker, 2015
Simsbury High School
Simsbury, CT
Environmental Science, Biology, Ecology

The purpose of this unit is to introduce students to the interrelationships of ecosystems and the changes they undergo due to the natural process of succession. The focus will be on forests so that students will understand how a state like Connecticut evolved from being mostly deforested to becoming one of the most densely forested states in the country. This unit will provide a sense of place by increasing student understanding and appreciation of forests which will foster their stewardship of them. While exploring the process of succession, students will learn how areas that are disturbed by natural disasters or human activities can change ecosystems from systems that support a limited number of organisms to climax communities that support a wide diversity of organisms. Students will also learn how crucial the interaction between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem is crucial to its health and sustainability.

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Acknowledging and Embracing a Sense of Place

Lisa Clark, 2015
Arlington High School
Arlington, MA
US History, Grades 9-12

The purpose of this unit plan is to teach students about their sense of place, to embrace the connection to their current location, and to take a closer look at the environment that surrounds them.

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Perceptions of American Dreams and How or If We Live Them

Jennifer Cohen, 2015
Lexington High School
Lexington, MA
American Literature, Grade 11, Honors

The honors American Literature course is organized thematically around four visions of the American Dream:  Exceptionalism, Prosperity, Equality, and Self-Determination and the Essential Question for each vision:  How do American authors extol and/or question the American Dream of __________________________. Because these visions are related and overlap, the distinction affords a convenient method of text organization and is not intended to be a rigid divide among these ideas.  Transcendentalist ideas and texts weave through the last three units, providing both support and criticism of these dreams. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau’s writings  (excerpts from Nature and “Self-Reliance,” chapters of Walden, and “Civil Disobedience”) will help to attune students to their own views of country and their place in it.

The readings and lessons will take place throughout the year and are connected under the big idea of the individual’s relationship to self and country. Individual lessons will focus on developing reverence for place, being present/simplifying, , examining views about race and potential for change in our society, and personal responsibility. Assignments will range from formative journaling assignments to a culminating personal essay.

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"Let Us Consider the Way in Which We Spend Our Lives": Thoreau and the Autonomous Learner Model

Karen Downing, 2015
Valley High School
West Des Moines, IA
English, Grades 10-12, Talented and Gifted

Students in this unit will use ideas from Thoreau as an extended metaphor of self-reflection throughout the semester in partnership with the course program model of Autonomous Learning to better understand their interior/exterior sense of place.

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Thoreau and the Art of Journaling

Rebecca Jha, 2015
Shrewsbury High School
Shrewsbury, MA
English, Grade 12, Honors

In order to become a strong writer, students need to learn how to develop their “voice” and to begin to feel confident in the ability to have something worth saying and expressing.  Journaling provides students with ample opportunity to hone the skills associated with developing their persona, their voice, their writing style in a format that is more creative, more stream of conscious, and less formulaic than formal essay writing.  With this in mind, this unit will use both the journals of Henry David Thoreau and his piece entitled “Walking”, as vehicles to reveal to students the value of journaling and being attentive to the world around them, for both personal and educational reasons. Additionally, this unit will provide students with opportunities to read some of Thoreau’s less- read works, with opportunities to feel and discover a bit about Thoreau’s sense of place, and with opportunities to use the works of Thoreau as springboards to learning more about the writing process, more about the art and purpose of journaling, and more about themselves as participants in the overall human experience.

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Nature in Our City: Engaging with an Urban Environment

Colette Morton, 2015
Gateway STEM
St.Louis, MO
English, Grade 10

The St. Louis metro area is very large and exploring the woods can be nearly impossible for poor, urban teenagers.  The purpose of this unit is to inspire students to interact with nature in new ways, all while developing a sense of place.  First, we will examine writers who have inspired many to step out into nature.  The reading list will include selections from Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and Hard Place, The Wilderness World of John Muir edited by Edwin Way Teale, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  Throughout this unit, the students will journal “in the field,” using classical field notes in their urban environment.  Finally, we will Skype Yosemite National Park, attempting to get Shelton Johnson to speak with our students (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelton_Johnson).  Finally, we will invite the last mayor of Times Beach, Marilyn Leistner, to speak with our students about the ecological disaster that occurred only a few decades and miles away.

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Sense of Place and the Creative Process: Looking at Where You Are and Where You’re Going

Dana Phelan, 2015
Ridgefield High School
Ridgefield, CT
Visual Art, Grades 9-12

This unit will guide students through a process of finding and attending to the sound of their “own drummers”. It is inspired by the seven iterations of the Different Drummer passage gathered by Jeffery Cramer.  This collection of quotes is a fascinating example of how creative minds play with and work out ideas and develop them over time.  Students will observe, reflect on, and interpret their local place through a series of discussions, journal entries, contour drawings and photographs.  Along the way, they will consider passages from Thoreau and the visual images (and creative processes) of artists such as Hokusai, Albrecht Durer and Helena Emmans.

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Awakening Our Senses: Discovering Place, Discovering Self

Lindsay Dent, 2014
St. Pius X Catholic High School
Atlanta, GA
American Literature, Grade 11

This unit is designed to be taught at the end of the first semester of a year-long American literature survey course. The overarching theme for the semester concerns living mindfully and intentionally: what it means to the fictional characters we meet, what it means to essayists (such as Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard), and what it means for us. My students explore this theme in each of the major units of study; since the semester concludes with Transcendentalism, they are uniquely positioned to reflect and reconsider this theme in light of both the individual unit and term as a whole. In this unit, students will explore the notion of mindful and intentional living through a variety of texts and experiences ranging from a “tech toss” to a sense of place field trip to a sustainable community outside of Atlanta. The goal is for them to consider ways—big and small—in which they can more authentically connect to their natural environment and gain self-awareness and quietude in the midst of a chaotic world.

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Henry David Thoreau, Walden, and Myself in this Place

Heather Ellis, 2014
South Hadley High School
South Hadley, MA
American Literature, Grade 11, Honors

Students will engage in this ‘unit’ throughout their entire 11th grade academic year. In the beginning of the year, students will learn a basic understanding of Henry David Thoreau and the New England Transcendental period, particularly 1846-1847. Throughout the year, students will not only come away with a rich understanding of Thoreau, Transcendentalism, the Transcendentalists, and the New England Renaissance, but also a deeper understanding of themselves as human beings, as well as their sense of place in a complex world. Journal writing, creative writing, and outdoor experiences will take place throughout the unit.

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Be Thoreau: Naturalist Journal & Wildflower Garden to Measure Climate Change

David Albano, 2013
Fox Lane High School
Bedford, New York
English, Grade 12

This unit will build a sense of place through the study of Thoreau’s writing, wildflowers, phenology, and climate change. The study will enable students to interact with nature on the school campus, then at local nature preserve and ultimately in a wildflower garden; these places are focal points for observations as a way to use a naturalist approach to journaling and ultimately witness the impact of climate change. The first part of the unit (lessons #1-#8), focus on writing and building the skills of a naturalist. The second part of the unit, focuses on the garden, gathering data, and climate change. Students will explore the scientific concepts of ecological succession, phenology, and conservation while also working to enhance their observation skills, interpretive thinking, and collaborative skills. Subjects included: environmental science, art (drawing and photography), writing and literature (creative nonfiction).

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The Symbolic Significance of Place in a Narrative

Laura Kerr, 2013
Walpole High School
Walpole, MA
English, Grade 9

This curriculum unit explores the symbolic significance of place in various literary works. The goal for the unit is for students to consider the deeper meaning of place, location, details of the exterior and interior landscape and its function in a narrative. For each text, students will ponder and reflect upon the following overarching essential questions: How do the settings of a literary work inform the identities of the characters and the narrative itself? How does the narrator manipulate the setting to express the symbolic meaning of the narrative? The students will respond to these questions in a journal that I will hold onto throughout the year and then return to them prior to their final assessment. Individual lesson objectives will vary for each literary work (please see lesson plans). The unit will span the entire year and will culminate in an analytical essay that asks students to compare and/or contrast the significance of place in two works from the year. One of the two works that they choose must be one for which we did not explicitly analyze the significance of place – i.e. a literary work that is not included in this unit.

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A Sacred Place: Exploring the Concept and Importance of Place in Human Experience

John Finneron, 2012
Wellesley High School
Wellesley, MA
English, Grade 11

This curriculum unit explores the significance of place and how a place can impact one’s development as an individual. While the term “place” might appear general or generic to students, this unit forces them to look more closely and see that a place consists of many things, some physical and some more abstract, perhaps even spiritual. Students will consider that a place is also the people that comprise it as well as the experiences in which these people participate. In fact, a place is as varied and dynamic as each person who lives there; places are perhaps sacred, and students will begin to consider whether they might have their own sacred place. Additionally, many have asserted that “we are products of our environment,” and this unit attempts to investigate the extent of truth in that statement. In order to do so, students will approach the concept of place in literature and through their own lived experience.

Students will read Michael Patrick MacDonald’s memoir, All Souls, in which the author revisits his childhood city, South Boston, recalling the people and events of his youth. As MacDonald remembers the joy and camaraderie, the hatred and the suffering, students will begin to see the complexity of place and will start considering all of the possible characteristics that make a place unique. Using All Souls as the starting point, students will then begin to investigate a special place in their own lives. While they are welcome to choose any significant place – town/city of childhood home, town/city of favorite vacation spot, town/city of grandparents’ house, etc. – students must focus on one particular place for the extent of the unit. Beginning more generally, students will investigate historical and cultural aspects of the place such as famous figures, important events, a common custom or tradition. Going further, students will ultimately reflect upon what role the particular place has played in their own lives.

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Developing a “Listening Point”

David Nulf, 2012
Fairfield Ludlowe High School
Fairfield, CT
English, Grades 11 and 12

This unit asks students to engage in some of the “slow and difficult / Trick of… finding” (Mary Oliver, “Going to Walden”) Walden in a local open space. Following the example of naturalist writers like Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, Sigurd Olson, Hal Borland, and Henry David Thoreau, students will establish and develop a close relationship with a parcel of designated “open space” in their home landscape. To do this, they will visit this space many times over the course of the semester, completing a variety of lessons designed to help them observe closely, getting to know some of the flora and fauna, and to record their observations and reflections in their field journals. They will also do some research about the ecological and more recent social history of this space, tracing its story as they are able. After they have come to know this particular open space in a richer way, they will publish an informational pamphlet (or, alternatively, a web document on a “Wikispace”) including a map and visuals (to be kept in a Call of the Wild classroom repository of local places to hike/explore), as well as a short piece of creative non-fiction which communicates some of the highlights of what they have observed and learned from this process over the course of the semester, about the place, about themselves, and about their home environment.

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Experiencing John Brown's Kansas

Cortney Kinyon, 2011
Central Heights High School
Richmond, KS
Language Arts, Grade 11

Students often overlook the history in their own neighborhood because we, the schools, teach them history lessons from a different part of the world.  This unit forces the students to interact with the Bleeding Kansas history by reading pieces of literature, examining a painting depicting the scene, and writing nature / impact journals while at the historic battlefields.  Students will read pieces of literature expressing the importance of Bleeding Kansas, will see a copy of a painting depicting the battle, experience the history in the local museums, and will write in a variety of forms from graphic organizers to student questions to journals to academic essays.

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Cape Cod, A Place to Call Home: Connecting to a Sense of Place on Cape Cod through Literature, the Environment, and Cultural History

Elaine Aschettino, 2011
Chatham High School
Chatham,MA                                                                                                                       American Literature, Grade 11, Honors

This unit is a local journey, both physical and metaphorical, for grade 11 students.  It is a trip that will enable them to discover a sense of place on Cape Cod by exploring some of the area's natural environs and an historic landmark and relating those discoveries to the work of Transcendentalists and other writers.  The goal is for students to better appreciate and understand the richness of the place they call home.

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Writers & Their Worlds:A Journey into the Landscapes of Wordsworth, Thoreau, & Whitman

David Paul Heller, 2009
Sharon High School
Sharon, MA
English-Language Arts, Grades 9-12

This curriculum unit is sculpted and woven together to reveal a single key truth about the literary world: writers are bonded – regardless of their disparate visions – to the worlds that minted them. This is to say, quite simply, that the environments and settings, which coat writers as they grow into their role as artists, do have a major impact upon their work. The power of landscape is clearly evident as a force revealing the deeper thematic threads of literary texts. And it is for this undeniable reason that students should cull the full implications of this dynamic – place impacts people, people give shape to place. This unit, delineated through four lessons, will help young scholars access how this premise is fully realized through the study of the work of the following writers: William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.

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Boston – Where the Wild Things Are

David Kujawski, 2005
Boston Collegiate Charter School
Dorchester, MA
Environmental Science, Grade 12

As Thoreau states in Walden, “Things do not change; we change.” This simple, yet poignant statement speaks of how humans, as individuals as well as a community, grow and change greatly during our lifetime. The people we know and the places we experience seem to change over time largely because of the personal and cultural transformation of our perceptions (for better or for worse!). This unit uses journaling and mapping as a way to build an appreciation and understanding between students and their natural surroundings and local history, as seen through the students own set of personal and cultural lenses. Students will develop a greater understanding of map interpretation and the mental associations they may conjure, as well the ability to read and interpret maps. The transcendentalists will be used throughout the unit to reinforce the purpose of the exercises and serve as models. Through encouraging students to discover and see their surroundings in a new light, they will eventually make a detailed map of their home towns.

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The Mathematics of Space and Place

Janet Platt, 2005
Boston Day and Evening Academy
Roxbury, MA
Math, Grades 9 and 10

This lesson plan is a math unit for 9th and 10th graders who are developing and improving their 8th grade skills while they study algebra, geometry and trigonometry. This mathematics unit will try in a very concrete way to examine the role of PLACE in community, and trying to quantify a place. Students will use pace as a measuring tool to draw the school yard and city blocks to scale, and to analyze the use of property and other space in a block or two of the city. Property use will be categorized, converted to percent, and presented in a pie graph. The data gleaned from these activities will be used to describe the types of businesses and activities that occur in that place. Ultimately, all of this information will be used to try and answer the “essential question” - What does community mean?

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The Academy of Art, Science, and Technology and Henry David Thoreau’s Life

Nancy Flasher, 2005
Provincetown High School: Academy of Art, Science and Technology
Cape Cod, MA
Interdisciplinary, Grades 9-12

This unit is designed to cultivate student interest in the life of Henry David Thoreau not only as a local resource to draw upon, but especially as an excellent and timeless model of a spirited self-directed and lifelong learner. It is composed of three core lesson plans: the first focuses on some of the initial activities that will assist students in creating a "toolbox" of lifelong learning skills, knowledge and habits; the second focuses on teaching and guiding students to keep a lifelong learning project journal, a thorough, reflective and relevant documentation of their individualized study; the final plan focuses on using the journal to review, isolate, choose and further develop key information and inquiries found in imbedded in project journals (editing, revision, and exploring a variety of means for presenting info).

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Forbidden Places and Forgotten Spaces

Bill Goncalo, 2004
Bishop Connolly High School
Fall River, MA
American Literature and Composition, Grades 9-12

Young people like to get out of the classroom, and this lesson will provide ample opportunity to do so. Not only will students be outside, they will be in a wooded space not usually accessible to the public. The area contains the ruins of a 19th century ice house and two old homes, one of which that had elaborate gardens surrounding it, the remnants of which are still visible. Students will also be able to create media that will be used to eventually promote the area and educate the public concerning the resources there. Students will read Tunnel Visionary, an article written by Stephen P. William for Smithsonian Magazine, April 2004. The article describes how "Intrepid explorer Julia Solis finds beauty in the ruins of derelict urban structures." Students will journal about the "derelict urban structures" which fascinate them and why.

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