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Promote Problem Solving with Challenge-Based Learning

The world is small, but its problems are big and students can take the lead to solve them through challenge-based learning in your classroom.

Many new approaches to teaching have become more mainstream over the last 10 years, as growth in education becomes more recognized as a standard to measure student success. Challenge-based learning is distinguished from its project-based counterpart by its requirement that students solve real-world problems through working with classmates, educators, and the community to improve the state of the world at the local – or global – level. According to Apple’s “Challenge-based Learning: A Classroom Guide,” which was written in 2010 to promote this method, challenge-based learning “…mirrors the 21st-century workplace. To stay true to its intent, make sure participants:

  • Work in collaborative groups
  • Use technology commonly used in daily life
  • Tackle real-world problems using a multidisciplinary approach
  • Share results with the world.”

Beyond Project-Based Learning

challenge-based learningThough teachers might think challenge-based learning is the same as PBL, this is a misconception that could limit opportunities for students to develop real-world problem-solving skills. Assignments that are project based create opportunities for students to apply knowledge gained during lessons to complete activities. Challenge-based learning takes the concept further, requiring students to examine a problem within the community, think about solutions to solve this issue, and use a framework established by the teacher to implement these ways to fix the problem.

The Pros and Cons

Many teachers feel that this type of approach requires too much time away from lessons that must be devoted to preparing students to meet state standards. According to proponents, educators do not have to choose between addressing state standards and using challenge-based learning. When implemented properly, challenge-based learning can ensure student growth and proficiency.

The formula for challenge-based learning must be planned thoroughly to avoid student confusion and teacher frustration. Before starting, teachers should think of how they can elevate the assignment beyond a project by posing a challenge. To accomplish this, teachers should identify a real-world problem, such as community fuel consumption and emissions due to automobiles. To guide students through the challenge toward solutions, educators will then create a framework through posing questions, such as “How much fuel do the automobiles in our town, county, state, country, or around the world consume?;” “From where is this fuel sourced?;” “What are the effects of this fuel consumption?;” “What are alternatives to this fuel consumption;” and “What benefits will these alternatives produce?” Enlist the help of administrators, leaders within the cause, and parents to maximize student impact, which will benefit the community and increase self-confidence in children.

As it prepares teachers for implementing challenge-based learning in the classroom, Apple suggests keeping in mind informative and summative assessment methods to gauge student progress and mastery. This type of environment is excellent to blend with service learning lessons as well. Through combining the principles of service and challenge-based learning, teachers will prepare students to care for each other and their world while giving them the skills needed to be successful in 21st-century jobs.

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Dorothy Crouch is a California-based writer who has covered many topics such as financial technology, travel and the pet-goods industry. Born and raised in New York City, she pursued her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and an M.S., Publishing degree through Pace University. Combining her love of learning and curiosity of the world, Dorothy studied abroad at Dublin, Ireland’s Trinity College, igniting a passion for travel. Dorothy’s thirst for knowledge and love of learning has led her to travel the world and pursue higher learning, including scuba certification. A lifelong animal lover, Dorothy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their fish and two lovable, spoiled dogs.

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