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So what does Challenge Based Learning look like?

There is a great deal of interest surrounding Apple’s Challenge Based Learning program due to its potential for creating authentic learning experiences for students. But what is it really? How is it structured? What are the benefits? How do you go about it?

Representatives from Ringwood North Primary School in Melbourne, Australia were lucky enough to be invited to Dallas, Texas in January 2011 to attend a Challenge Based Learning Project with schools from the USA and Canada. To be able to collaborate and work with so many talented and dedicated educators was an amazing experience. But this was only the beginning of our journey.

We were faced with implementing a new program that we were still coming to grips with, a program that needed to cater for 138 Year 5/6 students, kicking off at the very beginning of a school year, a new teaching team and a new building. While waiting for leases and equipment to be finalized, this project was completed without desktop computers or projectors/screens. Fortunately our students have their own iPads - so this really was testing what was possible with these new devices.

We decided to focus on the Big Idea of ‘Resilience’ and after much questioning, came to the Essential Question of ‘How do communities overcome adversity?’ With so many devastating natural distasters occurring in Australia at the time, we felt it was important that our students investigate this topic. In a time of great adversity, the human spirit often shines, and out of something horrible, there are stories and examples of strength and bravery. The final step was to issue a challenge, a statement - ‘Help a community recover from a natural disaster.’

From this point, student groups brainstormed ‘Guiding Questions’ and developed activities to investigate the answers. They then presented their findings to one another.

We setup collaborative working spaces in Edmodo, which was a vital ingredient. This space allowed our students to easily collaborate, share ideas, links, resources and ask one another, not just the teachers, for help. This allowed them to work on the projects when they got the chance to. The way our students are now working within this secure space is amazing. They are taking care with their spelling and punctuation, while being supportive, resourceful and creative - all the while learning about the etiquette of working in a digital environment.

Students then present a number of proposals for their solutions. We set up an interview space where they would run through their ideas, how they were going to measure their successes and what were the steps they needed to work on next. We used Google Docs for sharing these solutions with the students and other groups to ensure we knew where all of the groups were at.

Online galleries were used to share images and videos. Teachers and students became experts at gathering a variety of data, from work samples via the student ePortfolio or website they created, to photos and videos of student learning in progress, to audio and video reflections by the students.

There was such a variety of solutions embarked upon, it was truly inspiring. The students had creative and exciting ways of tackling the challenge - most of which we as teachers would not have come up with or thought possible. Digital books, websites, friendship bracelets, murals, artworks, tree planting ceremonies, bake sales, and book collections were just some of the solutions the students were responsible for.

Once their solutions were implemented, the students began to piece together the evidence of their learning and their experiences to create reflections on their content, process and product.

The key to the project is the questioning and investigation that takes place prior to any solution being implemented. The process is just as important as the content and any product that is produced. Getting our students to reflect along the way and not just at the end of the challenge was also an important part of their projects.

Another key focus is on challenging and supporting the students, getting them to take responsibility and being aware that they may not reach their ultimate goal. This in itself is a lesson to be learnt. If we didn’t complete our challenge, why not? What needs to be done next time to ensure it is achieved?

We have created this film as a snapshot of our journey over the first term through our involvement with Apple’s Challenge Based Learning Pilot Program. This movie was a part of the requirement of being in the program, but has proved to be an amazing snippet of how our students approached this task. It does not have every challenge covered, as it would have turned into a feature film! But hopefully, even with its shaky camera work and rough edges (which was captured and collected by both students and teachers), it manages to capture the spirit of what CBL is all about.

We are so proud of the way our students approached this challenge, and the way in which they have become more aware of life beyond themselves. Their collaborative work, leadership skills and desire to succeed was inspiring. More importantly, it has been the fact they now realise they can do something to help those more unfortunate than themselves, even though they are still in primary school.

Congratulations to our talented students, dedicated teachers and supportive parent community for their enthusiasm and support with this program.

Kids can make a difference!

Technical Stuff:

I have had a number of people ask about the actual making of the movie. Out of interest, the movie was made using flip cameras, iPhone , and a Sony HD camera, the video was edited in iMovie 11 and the music recorded with Garageband. The last music track was my first go at recording real instruments in Garageband on the iPad. Using an iRig, I recorded 4 guitar tracks, a bass guitar track, and then added the drums. The last track took about 20 minutes to finish. Love the iPad!