Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Greatest Hits: Using Challenge Based Learning in an AP Class - Critical Thinking

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As the year ends, I will republish the Drive-thru's five most viewed posts of 2012.  This is  #2.

When I give presentations on Challenge Based Learning, I often drawn examples form my AP American Government and Politics class.  Occasionally listeners are skeptical about being able to "fit" this kind of sprawling project into such a structured curriculum. 

It's a fair question, and I frankly find framing a challenge more difficult for a College Board course.  This year, I made a conscious effort to bake some very challenging critical thinking into the CBL.  On the surface this challenge was the most simple and board: "Make a Difference".  But the challenge was qualified in two critical ways:  A) The students were challenged to make a demonstrable difference.  B) Students were called upon to use knowledge they had gained in this particular class.

The latter condition was poorly conceived by me and poorly executed by the students.  While the students were working through the CBL process, they were not given any kind of check point for assuring the the solutions they were moving toward were based on the course concepts.  When they were asked to account for these in their presentations to class after the their solutions had been implemented, it was clear that often the course concepts were applied retroactively-- In other words they did not form an explicit part of the solution development.

On the other hand the demonstrable difference condition notched up the challenge several levels and forced the students to think of their solutions as experiments rather than good works.  It might strike the reader as strange that I would explicitly instruct groups not to turn their CBLs into "service projects."  But given that I teach an political science class, data analysis is a fundamental part of this course, and I wanted them to grapple with it in the field.  For me, the methodology of assessing their solutions was nearly as important as the "good" they intended by them.

Frankly most of the measurements they used were greatly lacking.  However, through this failure, they clearly learned about proper assessment and since the challenge was so difficult, I considered their failures an instructional victory.  I'll discuss this in my next post.

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