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Professional Development - Challenge Based Learning

“Teachers are worried about being attacked by flying Dinosaurs. How can we protect ourselves?” This was the question posed to all Primary and Early Years Staff at the first of two Science Professional Development sessions, facilitated by Jenny Ball and Paddy McKenna of the Secondary School Science Department.

At first, such a question might appear a bit baffling. What relevance could this have to best-practice Science Teaching and Learning? Quite a bit, as it turns out. This question is an example of a problem, which could be used as a jumping off point for a Challenge Based learning project on the topic of Camouflage.

Challenge Based Learning is an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning, which starts not with content-heavy, teacher-driven instruction, but rather with a problem – in this case, the need to camouflage students and teachers, to hide them from the flying dinosaurs. Once the problem has been posed, learners move into small groups (ideally 4-5 children). The group assigns roles – Leader, Tutor, Scribe and Group Members. Every member of the group has a unique and essential role to play, ensuring that all students are actively involved and engaged in the process. The group defines the problem, brainstorms ideas and discusses possible solutions. Based on this process, they identify their own learning needs, followed by a period of independent study, during which they utilise the technology they use in their daily lives. Once the group members have gathered the information they need to solve the problem, they reconvene to share ideas, decide on the best possible solution and initiate their project. Once their project is complete, they present and evaluate their results. This process provides an authentic, collaborative learning experience.

So, does it work? Academic research indicates that “CBL students generate explanations that are more accurate, coherent and comprehensive…they transfer the reasoning strategies that they are taught and are more likely to use science concepts in their explanations.”  (Hmlo, 1998). All year groups across the Primary School will be implementing Challenge Based learning projects over the course of the rest of the year. In fact, Year 6 have already begun, searching for ways to camouflage us from those pesky dinosaurs!  

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