WHAT EXACTLY IS CHALLENGE-BASED LEARNING: According to Apple, “Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems. [It’s] collaborative and handson, asking students to work with other students, their teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to develop deeper knowledge of the subjects students are studying, accept and solve challenges, take action, share their experience, and enter into a global discussion about important issues.”
THE CHALLENGE: As a P.E. teacher, Kevin Morrow believes that you can be the best student and get the best grades, but if you don’t take care of your health, nothing else matters. “I always tell the kids, it doesn't matter how smart you are,” says Kevin. “I don't care if you're the best student in the school, if you don't take care of yourself, who's that going to benefit in the end?” He began using CBL by challenging students to volunteer to promote fitness within their school. Out of this challenge came the Physical Education Production Company. A group of 5th and 6th grade students took on the challenge and formed an exercise group for all students to participate in two mornings a week before school. They performed skits at all school assemblies, and created interactive podcasts and published them so others could share. Having seen great success with CBL as an extracurricular activity, Kevin decided to bring the methodology into his 25 minute class. Starting with the 5th graders, he challenged them to form healthy habits with their families.
THE CHAMPIONS: Teacher Kevin Morrow and his wife Katie Morrow, teacher and technology integration specialist at O’Neill Public Schools and participant in Apple’s ACOT2 program (from which the solution of Challenge Based Learning was born), a forum to explore the use of technology and CBL in making studies relevant and real for students.
THE SOLUTION: Talking about healthy habits is one thing, but how to do you ensure that students adopt these habits when they go home at the end of the day?
Recognizing that the traditional model of teaching was generating good – but not great – results, Kevin decided to really motivate one class of 5th graders while teaching valuable problem-solving skills. Using the Challenge Based Learning model, he issued a challenge: Improve your family’s health habits.
THE RESULTS: Students worked in teams and talked with their families about their current health habits, agreeing on areas for improvement. They shared ideas with their classmates and conducted research to learn recommended courses of action to solve these problems. They then took those solutions back home and put them into place, all the while tracking their progress, measuring what was and wasn’t working.
From caloric intake to daily exercise, reduced soda consumption to better sleep habits, the teams identified solutions for their personal situations. The students presented their final results in a variety of formats; from video to keynote to PowerPoint and posters.. According to Morrow the presentations showed “how they started, how they finished, and everything in between. So, it's not just the answer, it's the whole path to getting there.”
According to Jennifer T., mother of Julia, a fifth grader at O’Neill Elementary School, “this challenge had an effect on her and then it's affecting others because it's affecting our family, and just having us be more conscious of being healthy, I think that's really cool.”
Katie has expanded the reach of Challenge Based Learning to other classes and extracurricular activities throughout O’Neill.
THE HOW-TO: In the Challenge Based Learning model, students learn just as much from their failures as they do their successes. Although the technique is a “framework and not a recipe,” Katie recommends following six steps in any challenge-based learning lesson:
- Start with a big idea. At O’Neill this idea was health and fitness.
- Ask questions and brainstorm. What issues related to the big idea could the challenge address?
- Research. What questions do we need to understand to solve this issue?
- Either in teams or as individuals, students devise solutions and put them into action.
- Throughout the process, students keep track of, and measure their progress.
- At the end of the implementation process students share their results in a solutions presentation that is either published online to be shared with their peers as well as globally.
The key in Challenge Based Learning is not to skip ahead to the answers, but rather to encourage students to ask questions and think through how the topic impacts their lives and communities.
RESOURCES: For more information about challenge-based learning, visit:
- Apple Challenge Based Learning: http://challengebasedlearning.org
- Kevin Morrow’s blog: http://coachmorrow.com