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!
Click this link for my CBL presentation slides.