The Flipped Classroom and Challenge Based Learning (CBL)

With 30% of high school kids dropping out of high school, drastic changes do need to be made in education in order to engage all learners and keep kids in school. The main cause for dropping out, lack of relevance, seems like an easy fix! Make things relevant!  Challenge Based Learning and flipped teaching are current methods that schools are using to meet the needs of all students as well as deeply engage students in learning and in the community.

Challenge Based Learning (CBL) seems a lot like Project Based Learning (PBL) with a personal community tie.  Students in CBL are doing the same sorts of things that students involved in PBL, except there is always a personal connection with the community at large and students are a bit more self directed in coming up with their own essential questions and project direction.  Students are working toward solving an issue and taking action towards having a positive impact.  I see a lot of this work already in the International Baccalaureate programs we have in Napa.  Students are making a difference in their communities by solving an issue they are passionate about.  I think it would be very easy to move some of our current PBL units toward  more CBL units with very little effort.

 I think that EVERY student in Napa (and everywhere else) should have this experience each year.  Even in the early grades, teachers could guide the challenge. Students as young as kindergarten could be having these types of experiences where they know that their efforts make a difference in the community.  If we start as early as kindergarten, CBL could become a natural way of learning for students.  They might grow up knowing how important their efforts are and that they have the power to make change happen and impact others in a positive ways.  I see teacher guided challenges in the early grades, and students choosing their own challenges as early as third grade, where they are dictating the course of learning.  It is exciting to think what could happen if we were to adopt this type of learning throughout the district!

The Apple study showed that both students and teachers reported high levels of satisfaction with the CBL process.  Student engagement, mastery of content and the building of 21st century skills were all increased.  The Resilience video showcased students working on a relevant challenge with real purpose.  Each group was able to connect with their passion to truly make a difference in helping a community recover after a disaster.  You could see that the students and the teachers felt a deep sense of satisfaction and pride in the work that they were doing. 

I can see the power of this type of learning.  If I go back into the classroom, I will definitely use CBL.  In addition, I will encourage the teachers at my school to try out one CBL unit in the next school year, either collectively or individually.  I think they will be surprised at the level of engagement it will bring!

Flipped classrooms or flipped teaching is another wonderful shift to make learning more relevant and personalized.  I prefer Ramsey’s term, flipped teaching, because it really puts the change in teaching at the forefront.  We are currently holding our class in a flipped teaching manner where we are synthesizing and analyzing the information and content of our classes before meeting online.  If we were to have the classes first and the content after, I don’t think our conversations would be as valuable.  It is great to have all of the background information and then be able to share our interpretations, personal experiences and ask questions. 

The idea of assigning podcasts to students for homework, where they can play and replay it as many times as they need, and then come to class to further explore questions or struggles makes perfect sense.  Teachers are better able to support students who still have questions and need additional help either from the teacher or their peers.  The teacher has more time to assess each student’s understanding and then plan for next steps.  I know that I appreciate having background on the topics that we are discussing.  The conversations are much richer and we learn so much form each other!

The only problem that I see with flipped teaching is that it really does require technology access.  I know that most students do have phones and computers, but we must make sure that we provide access to all students in order for EVERYONE to be successful.  Additionally, I see this as a middle and high school experience.  At the elementary level, it might be more difficult to pull off.  Upper elementary students might be able to handle it, but I don’t see early elementary students using this model.  I would love to find out if anyone is doing this at the elementary school level.


Sebastian Seung’s work with mapping the brain is quite overwhelming.  I cannot fathom how he has done the work that he has done!  Just the idea that you can possibly map neural activity and connectivity and see it in a 3D model is outstanding.  I think his work will take many years, but he is dedicated to it!  The implications to teaching and learning will be powerful.  Especially interesting was the thought that we are a lot more than our genes.  I believe that our experiences and memories make us all very unique. Because students have all had very different experiences, as teachers, we would have to build common experiences for students to enhance their learning of topics.  We would need to build new memories/experiences for them to base their knowledge on.  I think Laura Masters’ work connects very closely here.  She says that experiential learning is most effective.  Students develop better memory with multisensory learning.  As teachers, we need to plan learning experiences that involve as many senses as possible!

John Seely Brown’s idea that we are living in a world of constant flux resonated with me.  There is constant, rapid change and we do not even know what world we are preparing students for.  His idea that learning has more to do with creating the new rather than just learning the old is true.  I feel like our district is on the right path with implementing PBL and the 4C’s.  Our focus is shifting from just learning and memorizing the old, and creating new through projects, inquiry and interaction. 

I especially enjoyed his cohort group findings where he explained that these kids were successful because they were all very driven to learn through play.  They had a passion, they had a collaborative group to work with to learn and perfect their skills, they failed and tried again, and then got it right.  I do believe Brown’s idea that “we need to create a culture of learning that thrives on participatory life-long learning.”  When students enjoy what they are doing, they are motivated to learn more.  And with the support of others, the opportunities for learning are exponential!

Howard Gardner talks about the 5 minds of the future.  I especially connected with the idea that we need to teach students to have synthesizing minds.  There is so much information coming into our brains daily.  Students need to be taught how to sift through it and know what to pay attention to.  They need to be taught the skills to hold onto the important information and let the not so important information go.  Working with students to become “teachers” to convey the information to someone else is a powerful tool in holding onto important information.  We do this with our Power Teaching Math program at our school.  Students all learn a new topic, and together they are “teachers” to reinforce the learning and help each other master concepts within their groups.  I have seen very powerful teaching and learning happen through the use of this model.

Daniel Pink’s talk on motivation really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.  As a teacher, you always want your student to have that intrinsic motivation to learn, and many students do have it.  For those who don’t, we have used many external motivators to get them to be more motivated.  My mind was blown when I learned about how business was built on the reward and punishment system and how unmotivating this approach was to employees.  Research results proved that this was not a good model to improve motivation and creativity, but most businesses continue to rely on this method today.  Pink goes on to explain how his findings prove that autonomy, mastery and purpose are all highly motivating.  Some businesses are moving toward using a model where employees are given time in the workweek to work on whatever they want! Their productivity, engagement and job satisfaction have all increased.  This is an easy model to replicate in schools…..and many of us already are through project based learning.  By giving students the opportunity to follow their passion, (autonomy), letting them get really good at something (mastery), and working for an audience larger that the teacher (purpose), student motivation and creativity will increase. 

Sir Ken Robinson talks about how our linear educational system is not longer any good!  It’s not going to work for us any longer!  We need to build a revolutionary system that creates conditions where diverse talents and aptitudes are encouraged.  We, as teachers, (and I strongly believe that parents have a big part here) need to help our students develop a passion or help to support the passions they may already have.  We need to encourage students to take chances and try again if they fail.  Robinson says, ”If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  Many of the speakers reinforced this same idea. I do believe that most students do not want to be “wrong” and will not participate in the classroom if they feel their ideas are incorrect.  We need to create a culture in our classrooms that encourages and values new ideas and risk taking in thinking, and supports all student contributions.  Kids need to feel safe to share ideas and know that they are valued.

My insights from this analysis: The ideal classroom: Students are in a classroom where they are encouraged to think, work with others on a regular basis, and be able to follow their own interests.   They need to know that risk taking in thinking is encouraged and that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process.  They need to be actively involved with others and learning activities need to incorporate as many senses as possible.  Teachers need to facilitate and support each child instead of direct, as well as create multi modal experiences for learning.  Students need to be given challenging problems to solve and be given time to practice.  Students are given clear goals, feedback, and are assessed on their learning over time. 

A lot of this can be accomplished through Project Based Learning and a focus on the 4 C’s!  It is a huge shift for teachers to let go of the “old” way of teaching and embrace this new shift.  I see this great work in many classrooms across our district.  In speaking with teachers, they see the amazing benefits that this type of learning has for students, but they also talk about how difficult the shift in pedagogy was.  They were going into the unknown.  They have become the risk takers! Many have classrooms that are now models for the rest of the district.  I believe this shift will take time, but through working together and sharing successes, we will all be moving in the right direction.

Mobley’s 6 insights were fascinating.  I have never really thought about “developing” creativity.  I just thought you either were or were not creative.  I always felt that I was I the non-creative category!  Mobley describes our current teaching practices as linear and leading to an answer.  We are “locked” into that kind of teaching.  I am seeing great success around the district in classrooms where teaching has been upended.  Many teachers are teaching with project based learning, inquiry based teaching, and infusing the 4 C’s, which really do allow for more creative ways for students to think, interact and present their learning. 

Allowing students voice and choice in their learning also helps to support creativity.  They are following their passion instead of a teacher’s!

I have noticed a huge shift in the quality of teaching and learning by allowing teachers to work together to develop units instead of working alone.  The work is challenging, but often times, two or three brains are better than one and the quality of the units are much higher when teachers collaborate!

Mobley states that creativity is highly correlated with self-knowledge.  I think that reflection on learning will be big in personal awareness in the development of creativity in students.  After or even during a learning experience, asking student to reflect on their thoughts or their learning can be crucial to opening up their knowledge about themselves.  I like the sentence starter:   I used to think___________, but now I think___________________.  It is an easy way for students to see how their thinking has changed through their learning.

I believe the most powerful insight that I got from Mobley was the idea that we need to give students (and ourselves) permission to be wrong!  The old saying “We learn from our mistakes” is totally true!  I believe it is the most powerful way to learn.  If you are too afraid to make mistakes, then you won’t put yourself out there in a way that would lead to creative thinking.  Like Howard Garndner says, “We need to get kids to deal with things that don’t work out and continue working.”  That might be one of the most important skills we can give to kids!


Click on the link to view my prezi for 4th blog on what a 21st century classroom looks like!
A.  This video is about a teacher who uses technology as a tool to  differentiate learning for his students during his math time.
B.  This teacher uses computer and ipod programs to differentiate the learning for his students.  He has found websites that allow his students to practice their skills in an engaging way so that he can spend time reteaching concepts to students who are not understanding the topic yet.  The math games allow for independent practice and there is a 80% achievement goal before students are able to move to another level.  The computer programs reinforce the skills of the lesson and they give immediate feedback to students, so they are able to retry until they get it right. Students are able to work at their own pace and the computer monitors their progress.  Less work for the teacher!
C.  It was great to see the differentiation in action.  Students were very motivated and responsible with the equipment.  They were excited when they made it to a new level and were on task the entire time. The teacher gives benchmarks every 6-8 weeks and he said that as a result of integrating with technology, his class has increased performance at a greater rate. They were using games called Planet Turtle and Game Box....which I plan to check out!
D.  I could absolutely use these types of games to differentiate with math.  We use ST Math at our school which essentially does the same thing.  The games on the video were very strategically chosen to practice the new skills, which is possible to do with ST MAth as well.  I love the fact that the teacher got uninterrupted time with the small reteaching group because the rest of the students were so ngaged. They are playing "games" which makes the learning more fun.
rating 5 out of 5
A.  This video was about integrating technology with integrated learning at  Ferryway School near Boston.
B.  The school followed 5th grade students through a 6 week Ironworks Project  based on their fifth grade science, history, math, language arts, and art standards.  The project was designed around a number of hands-on, standards based activities and experiences  that allowed students to stamp their "passports" after completing.  When their passport was completed, they were ready for the learning they would encounter on the field trip.  Students used the computer as a research tool as well as a presentation tool.  The culminating experience was a field trip to a local museum where they learned about history through the experience.  They took photos with a digital camera and when they returned, they uploaded the photos onto a wiki and wrote captions for the photos.  Everything was done in cooperative groups.
C.  The useful information I learned was the key to successful technology integration is having the adults and students work together as learners.   Luckily, the school has a technology instructor who works with the classroom teachers to incorporate the technology.  The students are then able to help each other as needed.  The children were learning with and through the technology.
D.  I could see the power of designing a PBL unit around this type of passport activity.  The students were engaged and excited to complete the activities.  I could easily see letting the students take the pictures on the field trip, having them  download them, share them in a creative way.  They then own the experience!  There were other elements in the video that were powerful...the student used response systems to answer a question whole class, and then they were asked to justify and explain their reasoning.  Very powerful!  
Rating 5 out of 5
A.  This video was about a school named Forest Lake Elementary in Columbia, South Carolina. They use technology to differentiate the learning for their students.
B.  This school seems to be on the leading edge for technology use as far as any elementary school I have seen.  They have a TV broadcast that students use to make school wide  announcements and show student projects.  There are interactive white boards, laptops, desktops, palm pilots for recording student reading, student response systems, video cameras, and the use of Skype for authentic audiences with their NASA partner. Students are all working on different tasks at different stations.  The teacher is acting as a facilitator and meeting individual student needs while others are working. 
C.  It was great to see a  model of instruction that showcases technology and differentiation.  They must be a well funded school to have all of the tech equipment that they have. It was useful to see what an elementary school classroom could look like in the 21st century.
D.  This would be a great video to show our school staff so that they were able to see what they could potentially do with their students.  It would take a LOT of teacher technology training school wide to get to the level of this school.  It was inspirational in that even taking one of the tech integration ideas would result in greater student engagement.
Rating 4 out of 5