Transformative Educational Leadership Journal | ISSUE: Spring 2017The Open Minds model provides a framework for “learning in community”, re-conceptualizing traditional field trips as extended, place-based, co-created learning sites. The 2016 Museum School model embodies the core OECD principles, providing a model from which to “scale out” this experiential, placed-based pedagogy for the benefit of students in BC. By David Barnum
Imagine….You meet your students on Monday morning, their backpacks in hand and faces shining with stories of weekend adventures. They are jostling for position to to get into the classroom. Let’s stop there. What if, instead of opening doors to a classroom, you opened the doors to a local museum, the City Hall, an airport, a university faculty lounge, a recreation center or an outdoor, natural space? What deep understandings and capacities could students develop after a week of learning-in-place? Educators already value to impact of learning “in-situ” and often organize one day or overnight field trips in formal and non-formal learning environments. What if we collaborated with community experts and professionals to design a series of one-week field studies?
Innovation from ResearchGillian Kydd’s dissertation, Seeing the World in 3D: Learning in Community (2005), was based on the Open Minds program she cofounded in 1993. The research presents a framework for collaboratively designing engaging learning environments in the community. The work provides the pedagogical foundation for Zoo School, which expanded to numerous sites within the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic Board of Education: Campus Calgary / Open Minds is an innovative school program that brings the classroom to vibrant community settings. Teachers, students and community experts come together for a weeklong curriculum-based experience, designed to meet the needs of each individual learner. The result is a catalyst for learning activities throughout the year that inspire and promote critical thinking and problem solving. [Links: Campus Calgary Open Minds Telus Spark Lighthouse Award] This framework invites teachers to envision what school might look like within and around the community. Rather than “leaving the classroom” to embark on an extended field trip, the space beyond becomes the classroom. Learning opportunities are based in place, honouring the finding that “children best learn the complex skills and dispositions of adulthood … through keeping real company with the experts they wish to become and … with the real things of the world” (Meier, 2003). This model gives teachers permission to rethink their relationship to educational places. The classroom can be situated in many community locations. As Gruenewald emphasizes in his 2007 work, “place-based and community-based educators advocate using diverse communities as ‘texts’ for curriculum development and engaging teachers and learners in direct experience and inquiry projects that lead to democratic participation and social action within the local environment” (p. 143). For Cathie MacDonell and her students at Henry Wise Wood High School the initiative started with a question: why couldn’t their community eradicate homelessness? Open Minds (conceptualized as a Museum School, a Port School or a City Hall School) provides a practical application for the development of a networked, learning ecosystem envisioned by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The Innovative Learning Environments project emphasizes the importance of schools building connections to formal and non-formal programs, organizations and institutions to create an integrated, networked learning system (p. 64). The transformation of traditional education structures occurs where teaching and learning occur through horizontal connectedness across activities and subjects, from school to community. The Calgary Opens Minds education staff articulates a clear sense of purpose that underpins all the variations this framework:
Mission: To transform teaching and learning by increasing student engagement through community, funder, and educational partnerships.
Vision: Each student experiences personalized learning within a connected community.The initiative has grown to thirteen sites and this year marked the milestone of the 100,000th student participating in Calgary.
Open Minds Framework expandsThe program has moved to sites across Canada, the US and Singapore with a combined, annual participation of approximately 20,000 students. At The Rooms Archives, Art Gallery and Museum in St. Johns, Newfoundland, learning experiences are designed to incorporate local issues and knowledge through partnerships with experts, connecting students to real-world experiences.
Thank you for showing me what’s in my heart and that was sketching and writing. Now you made me twice as smart. Grade 4 studentThe non-profit initiative Beyond Classrooms, based in Ontario, adopted the framework to envision the host site as an extension of teachers’ classrooms, where students can enhance their literacy, critical thinking, and problem solving skills in an authentic environment. With a mandate to “move students & teachers into museums and other community spaces for a week of inquiry learning … where students can slow down their learning, look closely and reflect, through sketching and journal writing,” this program ostensibly aligns itself with the characteristics an OECD Innovative Learning Environments. The staff maintains an active Twitter feed: @BCKYGK . The Museum School in London, Ontario summarizes the key benefits of the framework, after hosting 5,000 students in 10 years of operation:
- Students make real-life applications of what they learn in school
- Students gain a deeper understanding through experiential learning and periods of observation and reflection
- Students are exposed to various careers related to history, science, art, health care and education, giving them a heightened awareness of career choices within the community
- Students, some of whom may not otherwise have the opportunity, are given the chance to explore and discover the magical world of museums in their community
The BC Context and Emerging SitesIf education environments should reflect current knowledge about learning then how can the BC system transform to include more open, engaging and powerful learning experiences for students? In this time of curriculum and pedagogical renewal there are BC Ministry of Education innovation grants, shifts in classroom practices featured on digital platforms, and conversations in schools and board offices that begin with, “What if…?” The BC Ministry of Education has given educators permission to innovate:
What and how we teach our students has been redesigned to provide greater flexibility for teachers, while allowing space and time for students to develop their skills and explore their passions and interests. The deep understanding and application of knowledge is at the centre of the new model… Learning can take place anywhere, not just in classrooms. Many schools and teachers create learning environments that explore the use of time and space in creative ways… that adapt to students’ needs and interests.Two communities are currently providing students the opportunity to participate in the Open Minds model, providing “looks like/sounds like” case studies for other school districts in the province to consider: the Sunshine Coast and North Vancouver. The Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives is based in the waterfront community of Gibsons. Hands-on, interactive lessons place an emphasis on object-based learning, journal writing, drawing, and slow, meaningful contemplation. Students use the site as a springboard to the Public Market, City Hall, the harbour front and many natural spaces. These two video clips feature Dr. Gillian Kydd, Open Minds researcher/cofounder, and a number of examples of students-in-action (2012). The Presentation House Gallery, situated in Lower Lonsdale, recently piloted the model in a truly collaborative effort between Queen Mary Elementary lead teachers Jenny Thayer and Kathryn Larsen and Gallery staff Reid Shier and Michele Smith. For one week, two grade 4/5 classes used the site as a springboard for learning in the local community and installed their work in the gallery for a family viewing night as part of a second term Learning Celebration.
Getting Involved!In this time of increased funding and “education renewal” rather than wrestle with the question, “How do we enhance learning in the school?” why not reframe our thinking to a mindset of “Where in the community might we create the classrooms?” Open Minds is an invitation to be curious and ask, “What would it look like if we truly connected schools to community and place?” It is clear that the Open Minds innovation is moving research into practice through creating engaging learning environments in communities. Educators and/or community organizations interested in starting the program can contact the author. Readers can also contact Gillian Kydd through the Beyond the Classroom Network (http://btcn.ca/) at 604.885.0151 or email@example.com.
Gruenewald and G. Smith, Eds. Place-Based Education in the Global Age: Local Diversity. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008.
Kydd, Seeing the World in 3D: Learning in the Community. Victoria: Trafford Publishing, 2005.
Meir, In Schools We Trust. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.
Istance. The Innovative Learning Environments Handbook. OECD. Paris 2015 draft available at: http://noii.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Draft_Final- ILE-ReportApril2015.pdf
Note: All web links sourced March 2017.