Imagine on Monday morning the students arrive, backpacks in hand with stories of weekend adventure, anticipating a new week. But what if, instead of opening doors to the classroom, students walked into the local museum, the City Hall, an art gallery, a university hub, a recreation center or an outdoor space? They begin a week of learning in the community, alongside experts and staff of local organizations and agencies, working collaboratively with the teacher to create powerful learning experiences.

The Community as Classroom framework provides a powerful, engaging way to move students into your local community; urban or wild spaces. This initiative, now running in cities across Canada, embodies innovative learning environment principles promoted by the Organization for Economic Development; providing a concrete solution to the question, “How can I create place-based learning opportunities for my students?”

We invite 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 community 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). Read more.

Programs & Pilots in British Columbia, Canada

Three exemplary programs are running at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, the Polygon Gallery school in North Vancouver, and the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives. In 2019 Aqua School, based at Ocean Wise (the Vancouver Aquarium), will begin three week-long, pilot classes.

Chilliwack Museum & Archives

The Polygon Gallery School (North Vancouver)

Sunshine Coast Museum & Archives (Sunshine Coast)

A Few Exemplary Programs Across Canada & The USA

Campus Calgary: Open Minds

With over 17 different community-based learning sites, the mission of Campus Calgary is to transform teaching and learning by increasing student engagement through community, funder, and educational partnerships. Each student experiences personalized learning within a connected community. Learn more here.

City Hall School (Calgary, Canada)

Ice School (Edmonton, Canada)

Beyond Classrooms at the The Rooms Archives, Art Gallery and Museum (St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada)

Beyond Classrooms is a non-profit that moves Gr3-8 students & teachers into museums & community spaces for a week of slowed down, inquiry learning. Students journal, sketch & explore.

Classroom in Residence at the Hammer (Los Angeles, USA)

Rethinking Learning Environments: Community As Classroom

A Few Resources

Observation Skills: Drawing

Observation Skills: Writing

More information:

Chilliwack Museum & Archives Classroom-in-Residence Information Package

Calgary City Hall School Report 2016-2017 (Written in partnership with Campus Calgary)

Open Minds (Calgary) Zoo School Report 2016-2017 (Written by Andrea Beaty, Zoo School Coordinator)

Interested in trying it out? Here’s a guide:

Implementing The Open Minds Education Concept In Your Community (Prepared by Campus Calgary/Open Minds for the Max Bell Foundation)

Contact David Barnum

Email: /

Phone: 604-741-1812

Twitter: @davidbarnum