Ready for the Challenge: Challenge Based Learning

Before completing this week’s readings and research, I’d never heard of Challenge Based Learning. I was quite familiar and have experience with Problem Based Learning and Project Based Learning but, Challenge Based, was new to me; so I decided to consider my third grade team’s current units of inquiry to determine if we could strengthen one of our units by using a Challenge Based Learning approach.

The video (below) which I found as I was looking for further resources provided me with a concrete unit example and helped me as I reflected on our current units of inquiry.


According to Challenge Based Learning’s website, the first key component of a CBL unit is:

Engage – Through essential questioning learners move from an abstract big idea to a concrete and actionable challenge.”

Upon reflection, one of my team’s current units of inquiry could easily be morphed and greatly enhanced by utilizing a, Challenge Based Learning (CBL) approach.  Specifically a mini-type Challenge. Our current unit of inquiry is titled “How Can We Best Manage the Earth’s Natural Resources?” There are some Challenged Based components that are already in place to support this change. The unit has a broader big idea in place. The big idea is sustainability. As we know this provides students with a broad overarching topic to explore. Also, upon my reflection I felt the enduring understandings provide that larger picture for our students to explore.

The enduring understandings are for our unit currently are:

  • The earth has a limited amount of natural resources.
  • Individuals must use these natural resources responsibly.

After reading this book about Challenge Based Learning, I see that our unit of inquiry is missing the connection between our lives and the essential question. Our current the Essential Questions are:

  • What are the earth’s natural resources?
  • How does the use of natural resources affect the earth?
  • What can I do to help protect the earth’s natural resources?

Currently the final essential question provides a way to complete a project but I wonder if revised these questions above or listen closely to find something that arises authentically to our students, such as what’s done in the video example about geese above, we would be able to have a Challenge Based unit versus Project Based unit.

During the Investigation stage of our unit, students currently inquire into one natural resource they want to help protect. They can choose any resource. What we find is that due to the diversity of possible resources:

  • water,
  • air,
  • plants,
  • animals,
  • rocks and minerals,
  • sunlight and
  • wind,

the scope of the unit is too broad.  The background information that all students need is so great that the unit becomes rather shallow in terms of science content instead of focusing on one resource and learning that one well. Due to this, students may become disengaged in some of the resources as they don’t have interest nor the memory to recall all of the facts about such a diverse number of natural resources. By being more specific, as a class or across the grade level working in small groups around one common resource, then this problem could be eliminated.

Some possible new essential questions might sound like:

  • How can we reduce our paper waste at school? or
  • How can we decrease waste during our morning snack and lunch?


The change to a Challenge Based Learning unit would also strengthen the inquiry phases of Going Further as well as Acting and Applying which are part of Kath Murdoch’s and my school’s beliefs around inquiry-based learning. Unfortunately we cannot change the unit focus to one particular resource but I believe teachers will need to listen carefully during class discussions to cue into which resource the students are interested in the most, this could be possible. I’m excited to share this slight change with my team as we complete our unit reflection this week.

Does anyone else have a unit that is similar regarding natural resources? Do you have any suggestions for how to refocus it for a Challenge Based Learning experience? I’d love to hear your suggestions.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *