This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Using Design Based Research to Influence How Middle School Students Visualize Local Communities and Sense Belonging to Local Communities




Cunningham, Chad

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


Many social studies teachers seek to serve democracy by empowering students to become transformative citizens (Banks, 2017). This goal requires teachers to meet students in their development and growth. Middle school students, particularly, are just beginning their journey toward more social and public lives. Opportunities for transformative action among young student-citizens may be found in their own local community. The context and content of the local community, however, is far from settled. So, too, is students’ own sense of place and belonging within the local community. For many of these students their experiences have been limited, presenting a challenge to expand students’ sense of the community to encompass the local. Further, kindling a sense of belonging and attachment to the place is critical for fostering inclusion, which is the foundation of meaningful, transformative action. This study explores how a cohort of middle school students envisioned their communities through in-depth community mapping and history projects as part of a 7th grade civics and geography course. The projects sought to understand the extent of students’ sense of their community, their sense of belonging and unbelonging to places and spaces within their perceived communities, collaborative group community mapping projects, community asset catalogues, and group community history projects.