Challenge Based What? Engaging students through authentic learning experiences.

It was early in the 2014-2015 school year when I first heard of Challenge-Based Learning; a pedagogic approach to education pioneered by eimageducation staff at Apple, Inc. Through CBL students are encouraged to harness the power of every-day technology in order to solve real world issues. Learners engage with their peers, teachers and community members as they develop innovative solutions to social issues. It sounded engaging, authentic and I was intrigued. I decided to explore CBL further and consider how I could incorporate it into my classroom. While I was excited about the concept of CBL I wasn’t entirely sure how I would introduce this into my grade 2/3 classroom. When concerns for too many of my students centre around safety and food, how could I expect them to become engaged in this process? It was during a conversation about food banks that it became blatantly clear to me that THIS was their real world issue. Food security in many of their own lives. With a deep breath, I dove in. What I didn’t realize is that it would take on a life of its own. I had no idea how completely it would transform our learning experience. The journey that my students and I embarked on was one that did not include a clear road map. I wasn’t always sure what direction we were headed in, and not every path led us where we needed to be. We still haven’t reached our destination, but this process is definitely all about the journey. The work my students have done around Food is well documented in a LKDSB iBook co-authored Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.57.13 PMwith Sharon Drummond titled, “Community” that can be found in the iBooks Store. I have had several educators ask me how I plan for CBL. There isn’t a cut and dry answer to this, for me. It absolutely requires me to be flexible and responsive to my students and actively involved in the topic. I provide articles, videos, written texts and community experts to share ideas with the students and I follow their lead when they have an idea that they would like to explore further. I reference my curriculum AT LEAST once a day, in order to ensure that our work meets expectations. I loaded  our class Twitter feed with reputable food organizations and farmers. We talk. A lot. Students share ideas, ask questions and challenge each others thinking. A common phrase in our class has become, “That’s a problem, so what can we do about it?”. image We have met expectations through Language as we respond to texts, create public service announcements, blog, tweet and engage in Grand Conversations. Math has become meaningful as students created and surveyed an audience of over 150 through social media and Google Forms, determined the quantity of soil needed to grow food for our food bank and the best value based on price and measurement. Local artists assisted in meeting visual arts expectations as we created artwork to make our food bank more inviting. Science units about plants, soils and air and water are addressed though the growing of produce and in Social Studies some students choose to explore the impact of food waste created by residential and commercial land use, on our environment. Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.53.30 PM Additionally, my students have developed remarkable collaboration skills with their peers and community. They have demonstrated responsibility, built relationships and become innovative problem solvers. They take initiative and they seek opportunities to help, just for the sake of helping. They are kind. A fellow teacher recently commented to me that this will be a lot of work. What I plan and teach this year can not be used next year. This is true. I am okay with that. When I see the excitement in my students, their passion and their commitment; that is well worth rethinking how I share curriculum with next years students.

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