Monday, August 30, 2010

Challenging the Challengers-- A Challenge Based Learning Meta-Challenge for Staff

On August 25, 2010, the entire MHS staff has embarked on a unique journey. I mean this literally. We are immersing ourselves in the Challenge Based Learning process. Our challenge is to devise project challenges for our students:

The Challenge: Collaborate departmentally to design a challenge based learning project which develops [Tony Wagner's Seven] "Survival Skills" for at least 15% of the students that your project team serves.

As
Katie Morrow put it, MHS has adopted a "meta-challenge." Here's how we launched this ambitious project:

1) The entire staff and Board read Tony Wagner's Global Achievement Gap over the summer.

2) On August 25, the staff broke into small groups for an hour and discussed the implications of the book (the Board held a separate discussion). The entire staff then shared the groups' reactions and joined in a conversation.

3) After lunch, I made a presentation on the CBL process. Then after a short break, I presented the staff meta-challenge and took questions.

4) Excitement, anxiety, delight, confusion, etc., reigned.

As I write about this only few days later, I can already say that it's been quite a trip. Here are a few reactions:

*The confusion and frustration are completely understandable. In my experience it's intrinsic to the process. Besides, the directions and notion of a meta-chalenge were rather complicated.

*I was unprepared with how "overwhelmed" many folks felt by the challenge. Naturally, they had the sense of being given a major assignment before they had even started school. I have the advantage of knowing that if true collaboration occurs, and they engage in a shared, worthy goal, individuals not feel burdened as they go through the process. However, collaborating to this extent will be a challenge to our school culture.

*Interestingly, throughout the morning no one really disputed Wagner's claim of an "achievement gap." In the afternoon no one really doubted that CBL might present a road map to Wagner's "seven survival skills." Instead, I heard reasonable concerns about Wagner's failure to provide realistic solutions to the "gap." The paradox of "planning" a student-directed curriculum piece was probably the toughest issue I dealt with in the afternoon.

* I contributed my fair share of confusion by misunderstanding staff. While I was generally happy with my presentations, I wish I could have a couple of do-overs from the Q & A.

* The morning's discussion of the book was pretty amazing. I agree with staff members who remarked that it was refreshing to really grapple with educational philosophy and the school's direction.

*Of course we are not issuing the staff challenge and then walking away. "Professional Cluster Groups" have been set up to facilitate the CBL process and provide professional development of tech skills which enrich the CBL process. Staff has been scheduled into five such groups. Each one meets with me every six school days in my classroom. They fall at different periods during the school day, but they essentially constitute a fifth class for me each semester. Pardon the pun, but I expect this to be the most "challenging" class I have ever taught. . . . .and I will be blogging the dickens out of it!

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Click this link for my CBL presentation slides.

4 comments:

Katy Koskela said...

Yep, I agree with your assessment of staff reactions! I've been trying to figure out where our library presence will fit into the mix. I don't think either Cheryl or myself have been scheduled into a PCG session. It's been too busy to try and correct that the last few days, but it's on the agenda! Using the digital resources we promote to students (paid and free sources) as well encouraging the use of actual books (!) in research needs to be a facet of any research in school. It's like learning any skill: you receive some instruction, try things out yourself, discover what seems to work best and what you have problems with, ask questions, try using it different ways, and after a lot of practice, become proficient!! Let the challenges develop!

Larry Baker said...

Wow, Katy, we've got to get you and Cheryl into the cluster mix. You're perspectives would be invaluable. I also think you would be interested in some of the cloud applications I am presently exploring with the groups.

We need the Media Center hard wired into the new curriculum that will be designed since it is so research oriented.

Chris Eldred said...

This sounds awesome and difficult at the same time! I wish I was part of your staff so that I could learn about CBL with them. Been thinking about learning more about CBL ever since your presentation at MACUL. What are some CBL resources you are giving your staff? I suppose details will be in future posts, I can't wait!

Larry Baker said...

Thanks, Chris. I needed this injection of enthusiasm. This is definitely the biggest "challenge" of my career-- exciting, daunting, frustrating, stimulating at the same time. Yes, more resources on the way that I will share. In fact, I will be going to Cupertino, CA, in three weeks to participate in an Apple "group think" on CBL which will should contribute support to enthused folks like yourself.

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