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My love affair with Challenge Based Learning

Posted by phourigan on April 30, 2010

Next year I have the opportunity to teach our 8th grade boys twice per seven day cycle.  Our school just started a one to one laptop program beginning in ninth grade this past year, and I’m so excited to get a crack at these kids a year in advance.

The original pitch was to have a tech class to teach skills that the boys could then use in class.  I said no.  After some looks of disbelief, I explained that just teaching tools doesn’t teach anything about problem solving or creativity.  Instead, I proposed that this class be a collaboration between our 8th grade teachers and me.

I would meet with teachers ahead of time (starting this May) and start to outline the major themes in their units.  Together, we would examine how this tool, this computer, could help the students answer the essential questions generated by the themes.

So this is not a tech class, it’s actually a problem solving class.  Instead of a teacher assigning a PowerPoint on the Holocaust (which is kind of like assigning Paper for your MacBeth essay), I’m going to challenge the teacher to get to the core message of what they hope the students learn.  From that core message, we walk through the Challenge Based Learning process and have the students explore how to answer the questions they’ve generated based on the theme.

In the process, they’ll make connections, discoveries, experience failure, join teams, stop and start over, and learn what tools are critical for getting your message across.  The last step is to take the student work to the web and make it public, if it wasn’t already.

This is not a process that I’ve invented, certainly, but I’ve had my taste of the Kool Aid.  CBL mimics what we do every day as adults.  When was the last time your boss gave you an assignment that told you how to solve the problem?  I don’t know about you, but most of what I get from my boss are problems that need to be solved.  It’s up to me to find the underlying causes and questions, formulate a plan, gather resources and deliver  a final project that is scalable and available to the people who need the solution.  I don’t attend boss lectures, take notes and then summarize what he said in 12 point font.

I’m so looking forward to this challenge of my own.  Now I just need to come up with a name for the class . . . suggestions?


2 Responses to “My love affair with Challenge Based Learning”

  1. Really love this post and can’t wait to see what all you (and the students!) come up with! If it can help at all, feel free to check out this link with CBL resources from a recent workshop I lead at: Please share more as you continue on the journey and best of luck!

    • phourigan said

      Fantastic CBL resources! This shift will cause huge ripples in my school, and it certainly helps to be able to show evidence that other schools have been able to implement these kinds of changes.

      Thanks for the link and the comment!

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