In the largest study to date of the practice anywhere, new findings from the New Media Consortium's K12 think tank confirm that challenge-based learning is extremely effective with 9th grade students, including those most at risk of dropping out. The report, entitled Challenge-Based Learning: An Approach for Our Time [PDF, 38 pp, 672 kb],
Challenge-based learning is not a curriculum. It is a strategy to engage kids in any class by giving them significant that have real-world implications. More than 320 students and nearly 30 teachers in the schools, all of which had implemented a policy of providing full-featured notebook computers to every student, worked together to research, formulate strategies, and ultimately implement local solutions to problems of global significance. Students used their laptops for just-in-time research, to document their rationales, and to present the outcomes of their strategies. The outcomes of the three-week experiment, conducted last fall, were overwhelmingly positive.
The study revealed that both teachers and students found challenge-based learning significantly effective and engaging, even with the students most at risk of dropping out. Teachers noted that students learned more, and produced more than expected. Students reported learning skills that overlapped almost completely with the critical competencies identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
The project was organized by and built on work by NMC Platinum Partner, Apple Education, where the concept was initially developed. (For more on the approach, see Apple's site at http://www.challengebasedlearning.org.) The NMC's role was to assess and evaluate the outcomes of the work.
The teachers, students, and staff that participated agreed to allow their experiences to be exhaustively chronicled and researched. The students, primarily 9th and 10th graders, were chosen based on the desire to represent not only a variety of urban, suburban, and rural settings, but also private, public, and magnet schools, richly diverse schools and relatively homogeneous schools, and both affluent and low socio-economic status schools.
The report traces the development of challenged-based learning over the last several decades, and makes a strong case for why it is needed in schools, especially in programs serving ninth graders. (Studies from the National Center for Education Statistics show that more than 30% of students will drop out before the end of their first year of high school. Challenge-based learning is offered as a strategy to reverse that growing trend.) In addition to reporting on the outcomes of the experiment, the report extensively details teacher and student experiences throughout the project. Recommendations are provided for schools that wish to try the approach themselves.
The 38-page research report is available free of charge and has been released with a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution.
The report is online at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Challenge-Based-Learning.pdf [PDF, 38 pp, 672 kb].
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