Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Challenge Based Learning

I'm attending Apple Academy this week, a pull-out-all-the-stops professional development event for small cohorts of education professionals.  I'm feeling extremely grateful to be here.  Yesterday was "Day 1", and for me the highlight was a presentation on Challenge Based Learning.  It's a new paradigm for student learning prompted by the limitations of traditional instruction and the exponentially increasing access to digital tools for consumption and creation:
Students today have instant access to information through technology and the web, manage their own acquisition of knowledge through informal learning, and have progressed beyond consumers of content to become producers and publishers. As a result, traditional teaching and learning methods are becoming less effective at engaging students and motivating them to achieve.
 So what is it?
Challenge Based Learning 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. Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, 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.
We watched a video of some students and teachers from Australia who selected the big idea of "resilience" and took on the challenge of helping communities who'd been affected by a natural disaster. What struck me most was that these students, through this process, were empowered and passionate about making a difference in their world, learning their required bits along the way in the framework of the challenge they selected, the solutions they implemented, and the analysis and evaluation they engaged in along the way.  There's more information at this Challenge Based Learning section of Apple's website, including ideas for challenges and many other videos of student and teacher experiences.  We saw a data table that showed that students and teachers alike self-reported huge gains in many aspects of modern goals for learning, most particularly in the realm of leadership.  I have more to learn about this, but from what I've seen so far, it's a very compelling model - not only because students are learning "the material", but more so because it appears that they're learning to care!

What would school "look like" if our highest purpose was to help students learn that they can make a difference?

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