Are we there yet? Challenge Based Learning as the next step on the journey for 1:1 schools

So you’ve implemented a one to one device program in your school and worked with your staff over time to build their capacity. Your staff are utilsing applications in workflows that are integrated across the curriculum. The use of technology in the classroom has shifted from no use, to substitution, to augmentation, to modification and at times redefinition.

What’s next? 

How do you continue to innovate beyond this point and continue growing in your technology initiative?

Earlier this year the OECD’s Future of Education and Skills Project released a progress report on their work. This project aims to help member countries identify what knowledge, skills, attitudes and values are needed by todays students, if they are to thrive in 2030 and beyond. The report challenges schools to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented and to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.29.38 am.png

As part of this report they have released a draft list of constructs to be incorporated into future curricula. Some examples of these constructs include critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, justice, mindfulness, proactiveness and trust. A full list of the constructs can be found in appendix two of the report. If these constructs are what our students need to be successful in 2030 and beyond, how do we make this part of our classrooms today?

Challenge Based Learning (CBL) provides a powerful tool to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values encapsulated in the 2030 draft constructs. The CBL framework, and it’s underlying foundations, provide learners with opportunities to work on authentic challenges with real world audiences. Learners begin with the ENGAGE phase, identifying a big idea, and then use essential questioning to develop a concrete and actionable challenge. They then take the time to INVESTIGATE, asking guiding questions, participating in learning activities, exploring resources and analysing information. Finally, they are in a position to ACT, designing, developing, testing and refining a solution with real world application, seeking feedback as they go. During this process everyone is a learner, not just the students but the teacher too, as learners are challenged to exercise agency in their learning.

Case Study: Wandina Primary School

I recently had the opportunity to co-facilitate a day of professional learning at Wandina Primary School along with Sarah Hill from Lumos Learning. Wandina Primary School, located in Geraldton, Western Australia, has a 1:1 iPad program and were recently invited to apply to become an Apple Distinguished School. Far from resting on their laurels, the school was looking to see how they could further develop their technology initiative through the use of Challenge Based Learning.

In this workshop we began with the why, looking at the 2030 draft constructs and connecting them back to current needs in each classroom. We then gave the participants a taster of being part of a challenge. They were given a morning tea challenge, where they were asked to utilise two mystery ingredients, along with a small pantry of other supplies, to create a plate of morning tea for the staff. They had a number of constraints, including not using any heat, and had only fifteen minutes to complete their recipe. Along the way they had to use their technology to research recipes, film the creation of their snack and create a recipe card. This challenge had real world accountability as no other morning tea was provided at the school, what they created was what we would eat!


The staff rose to the occasion, collaborating to meet the deadline and creating a tasty morning tea.


While this was not a true CBL challenge, it gave them a sense of the agency needed by the participants to be successful, and an idea of issues that might crop up along the way if they implemented a challenge like this with students. We then unpacked their experience, reflecting what they had done against the twelve foundations of CBL:

  • Everyone is a learner
  • Moving beyond the four walls of the classroom
  • Learner inspired, learner directed
  • Challenges
  • Content and 21st Century skills
  • Boundaries of adventure
  • Space and freedom to fail
  • Slowing for critical and creative thinking
  • Authentic and powerful use of technology
  • Focus on process and product
  • Documentation
  • Reflection

As a group we then explored an overview of CBL and the different types of challenges we could undertake, depending on the age and experience of the students. We then began working on how we might implement a whole school big idea: Listening. We explored the WA curriculum for connections to listening, so the challenge became part of their program rather than a bolted-on extra. 

We worked in K-2 and 3-6 clusters to go deeper on how this big idea might play out in classrooms and identified potential activities for the investigate phase. We took the time to share our thinking for each year level across the school so all staff could see how a challenge might look in different phases of learning. Teachers had time to begin developing resources to begin their program before we all came together at the end of the day for a final challenge. 

IMG_3121 2.JPG

Our final challenge involved using Breakout EDU kits where boxes are sealed with multiple locks. Participants had to draw on their knowledge of the content we had completed over the day to solve the challenges to open the locks. This competitive challenge brought out new team dynamics and was a powerful way to reflect on the conditions for success needed in a challenge focused environment.


The staff left the day ready to implement their new challenge, and with an understanding of the knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions their students needed to develop to be successful in this space. 

Wandina Primary School recognises that one-off professional learning events are rarely successful in creating long term change and this particular event was part of an ongoing sequence. Staff had already been introduced to the broad concept of CBL prior to this event and their leadership team had led a staff challenge. Sarah and I will be returning in Term 3 to provide coaching support as staff continue to embed CBL in their work.

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians is now in its final year of implementation, and we can anticipate a new declaration in the near future which will shape our future curriculum in Australia. The recently released Gonski 2.0 report ‘Through Growth to Achievement’ prioritises equipping every child to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world. It recommends a greater emphasis on teaching the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, which include critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability and information and communication technologies capability. 

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.30.20 am.png
Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.29.23 am.png

When you combine this with the direction of the OECD 2030 report (noting that key ACARA executives are part of that working group) you begin to get a sense of where our future curriculum expectations may be heading. The CBL framework and foundations are a powerful tool to support schools in implementing these curriculum expectations.

Through their ongoing journey of implementing CBL, Wandina Primary School will be well placed to respond to curriculum changes and prepare their students to thrive in 2030 and beyond.

You can find out more about challenge based learning on the digital promise website or through this multitouch book in iBooks.