Keeping it REAL

Students interact with challenges that address a real-world problem, creating a workable solution and presenting this to an authentic audience.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Progress so far...

I thought, after one semester of trying out challenge-based learning that it would be a good time to stop and take stock of how things have gone. In this post I will share with you some of the things that my students have reported back, along with my own thoughts on the progress so far.

Challenge-based learning has certainly lived up to its name so far - it has been challenging. It is great to see what students can create when given time and space to do it. At the same time, it is hard to get used to the idea as it also means that sometimes students do not pull off the dream they had and both they and I need to be ready for that. That has been one of the more difficult things to get used to. As a teacher the norm is to work really hard so that all students are able to succeed in what they do. I don't think that changes in challenge-based learning but the word 'success' needs to be redefined.

As adults, we know that when we have a time limit and task to achieve, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When it is children who have the time limit and the real task this is made more extreme by their inexperience and the fact they are still learning how to stay focused on a goal, how to work together and how to achieve what you set out to achieve.

What it comes down to is this: Success as a teacher in challenge-based learning can't be measured on whether every group is able to fully realise their goal. That is not going to happen unless all the goals are very safe, which in my opinion takes away from some of the benefits of the approach. So the question is, what does a successful challenge-based learning classroom look like? This is an important question for me as I want it to be successful but I also do not want to invent a definition of success that simply makes what I'm doing look successful. It is a question I have not found the answer to yet but one that I will continue to research, test, apply and seek to answer through the coming months.

So they are my thoughts. Let's flip it around and have a look at some of the things the students have said when they reviewed the term. Below is a 'Word Cloud' showing some of the things students stated when asked to list words that describe Integrated Learning, the name of our challenge-based learning subject.

I have also included below some graphs showing student responses to key questions. All up I think it backs up my feelings so far. The subject has gone fairly well. It has not been as successful as I would like, but certainly it has not been a complete failure either.

These graphs show that most students found what they were doing in Integrated Learning valuable and were happy with what their group were able to achieve through the unit. It was also nice to see that students felt that they were learning and improving in areas such as creativity, collaboration, research and goal setting - though I would have liked  to see a higher results in this final one.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Goals: What are they striving for?

Goals are a simple thing but I believe they are a major part of success as a learner, in fact for many areas of achievement. Setting goals gives us something to aim for and a bar to reach for. In the same way, in order for students to be as productive as possible it is important that each student has set themselves a goal to achieve in a lesson. Because of this, I have begun to start lessons by having the Director of each group to negotiate with each member what their individual goals are for the lesson. At the end of the lesson the group is then given time to analyse whether each person has achieved their goals.

By doing this, it seems students have approached their tasks with a renewed focus and have a new sense of pride with what they have achieved in the lesson. Hopefully some of my students will also add their thoughts and comments on what they feel about the new lesson structure and the fact we begin by setting goals.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Stop underestimating our kids

One of the things I've found most frustrating through this project has been the unwillingness of organisations to let students get involved. Everyone is happy to organise someone to come and give a lecture to students or give them factsheets but no one so far has been willing to look at ways they can really get involved and make a difference.

I've called organisations, who then don't call back. I've emailed lots of organisations to receive no reply. Those that do reply have given options such as another organisation to try or the option for them to send a speaker out to the school but no one has helped get students actively involved in making a difference.

Challenge-based learning doesn't only require a change of thinking in the minds of students and educators, it requires a change of thinking for our whole society. There is still this idea that kids are empty vessels to fill up with information and ideas rather than people who can make a real difference, if given the right information and the opportunity to get involved.

I firmly believe our kids can change the world. Us adults just have to get behind them, empower them..... and let them.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

IL Students at the Middle Years of Schooling Association Conference

The Virtual Classroom

I was so proud of all the students who went to the MYSA conference on Friday, 24 May. I had so many people mention how amazing they were and how well they upheld themselves. They interacted with people from a range of organisations including Apple, Furnware, and Oxfam just to name a few. They also interacted with lots of teachers, not just from Australia but from around the world and everyone who spoke to me had nothing but resounding praise for them. Well done!
Interacting with teachers

I found the whole thing really inspired me to see the power of students taking part in real events and situations. Time and again students prove that they are capable of much more than they are often given credit for. I was also really inspired to keep trying to make Integrated Learning the best it can be and to keep encouraging students to dream big in the ways that they can change the world.

I came away with some great practical ideas for our new classroom next term too.
Ideas like:

  • Desks with whiteboard tops;
  • Computer monitors for students to mirror their iPad screens to so that collaboration becomes easier and;
  • A range of seating and desk styles for groups to choose from.

Thank you to the students who came along to the conference but I also want to encourage those who missed out this time - there will be other special events in the future, your turn may be next.

A parting message