An open classroom is one that invites the outside world in and encourages students to interact with the world outside the school in a positive way. Service projects, guest speakers, and field trips are ways to accomplish this. In “Social Reconstructionism for Urban Students”, Davis & Reed discuss how “the great cultural divide” can be an asset by creating multilingual, culturally savvy citizens who can participate in a global economy, and we can accomplish this by helping students to help themselves (1999). Davis & Reed go on to say that service projects give students a sense of efficacy, engagement with the community, and instills a sense of purpose and accomplishment. While this article discusses service projects in secondary education, they can easily be modified for elementary school students.
Open classrooms need not be for the one day a year that schools invite the community to visit, but an attitude that the teacher takes toward curriculum and instruction. Parents and members of the community have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer students and involving them in the classroom gives them a stake in their schools and students’ learning. I intend to incorporate guest speakers into my classroom as often as possible, and have seen it done a number of ways. During a robotics unit in fourth grade, one teacher invited the local Explosive Ordnance Disposal company to bring their robot to the school so the kids could see robotics in action and how their knowledge translates outside of the classroom. During a unit on ecosystems and habitats, a second grade class went salmon fishing and then had an elder from the local Alaska Native community visit and show the students how to smoke the salmon, the students then had salmon for snack ( it was delicious, by the way). Another second grade classroom did a year long gardening project, right outside of the classroom. Members of the community donated time and materials to build raised garden beds and watered them over the summer. In the fall, students who planted potatoes and carrots the previous spring dug them up, washed, and packaged them. Some of the produce was sold to teachers and community members, some carrots were chopped and given to classrooms in the school for snack, and the rest was donated to the local food bank. The money raised from selling the produce was used to buy the seeds for next year’s garden club – these were second and third graders! This was in a Title I, highly diverse school in Alaska, it gave students a chance to get outside, taught them about earning money, responsibility, and caring for the community. I intend to implement similar projects in my classroom, in my experience most children are in awe of and eager to learn about the natural world.