My district starts off every school year with two days of staff professional development, which takes place at the building level. This year, my principal asked me to share with the other teachers what I had learned at this summer’s Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) Summer Institute in Arizona. My presentation took place during the second day of our professional development, and it lasted for about an hour.
The majority of my presentation focused on Apple’s Challenged Based Learning (CBL). CBL is similar to project-based learning, and within a CBL unit students are issued a challenge in which they are asked to solve a real world problem. The process is inquiry-based, student led, and very open-ended. Students gain in-depth knowledge of the targeted content, as opposed to the other extreme, which would be the simple memorization of vocabulary and facts through direct instruction. Most of my time in Arizona was spent alongside six other educators as we created educational content for iTunes U that will help teachers to become more comfortable with the implementation of CBL in their classrooms.
My presentation started with a video in which students are challenged to improve the quality or consumption of water in their community. Such a video would be presented to students at the beginning of a CBL unit. After the video, we took a look at the framework (page 2) that teachers can use to structure CBL units, and the staff talked about how they would complete the form if they were to design a unit based on the water video. Next, we viewed another video that helped to familiarize the staff with the CBL process, and then I presented a completed framework for one of the projects that I plan to carry out this school year. Finally, the staff was separated by grade level, and they were given eight minutes to design their own CBL units, which were then shared with everyone.
As the teachers shared their work, it was obvious that they had quickly grasped how to outline a CBL unit. Many of the teachers incorporated authentic problems, along with multidisciplinary approaches that could be used to solve them. One teacher commented, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished in just eight minutes if you just put your head down and get to work!” I also believe that people were excited to see a way to structure a process that can sometimes feel chaotic and time consuming. Many teachers commented on how much they appreciated the simplicity of the CBL framework. After the planning, I talked about how to make CBL work for all types of students through differentiated instruction, referencing the work of Carol Tomlinson and Jay McTighe in Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids.
I also spent time showing and talking about the work of Colton Shone (a journalism student at Arizona State) and Dan Meyer (an ADE from the class of 2011 who is also a doctoral candidate at Stanford). Dan Meyer’s inspiring TED Talk had to wait until later in the week when we talked about differentiated instruction in math class.
I genuinely feel that the presentation helped to familiarize everyone with CBL, to the point where nobody would be afraid to give it a try this upcoming school year. Also, everyone is now aware of a handful of resources that can help to support this process, a process that aligns beautifully with the current Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiative in our district.
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