Connecting Challenge Based Learning to Learning Standards 

Subject Area Standards and Practices

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The College and Career Readiness standards for English Language Arts & Literacy anchor and define general, cross-disciplinary literacy skills to prepare students for success in college, career, and life by the time they graduate from high school (source: English Language Arts Standards from the Common Core State Standards Initiative). Below are just a few ways that Challenge Based Learning aligns with these standards. 

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 

Text Types and Purposes: 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 

Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. 

Comprehension and Collaboration: 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. 
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. 

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

The NGSS Science and Engineering Practices describe practices scientists use to investigate and build models and theories about the natural world, and engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems. Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves formulating a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves formulating a problem that can be solved through design. Strengthening the engineering aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards will clarify for students the relevance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the four STEM fields) to everyday life (source: NGSS Science Engineering Practices from the NSTA National Science Teaching Association). Below are some examples of how Challenge Based Learning aligns with the NGSS Practices.

The C3 Framework is an inquiry-based approach to teaching social studies. This framework aims to prepare students for the challenges of college, career, and civic life. By focusing on inquiry, the framework emphasizes the disciplinary concepts and practices that support students as they develop the capacity to know, analyze, explain, and argue about interdisciplinary challenges in our social world. It includes descriptions of the structure and tools of the disciplines, as well as the habits of mind common in those disciplines (source: College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards from the National Council for the Social Studies). Below are some examples of how Challenge Based Learning aligns with the C3 Framework.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Students are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process (source: ISTE Standards for Students). Below are just a few ways that Challenge Based Learning aligns with the ISTE Standards. 

1 - Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. 

  • 1a: Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them, and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
  • 1c: Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. 

3 - Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts, and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others. 

  • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions. 

4 - Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful, or imaginative solutions. 

  • 4a: Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts, or solving authentic problems. 
  • 4b: Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks. 
  • 4c: Students develop, test, and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process. 
  • 4d: Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems. 

6 - Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats, and digital media appropriate to their goals. 

  • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication. 
  • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations. 
  • 6c: Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations. 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. 

7 - Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally. 

  • 7b: Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts, or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints. 
  • 7c: Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal. 
  • 7d: Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.

Additional Learning Methods and Goals Addressed by Challenge Based Learning 

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A key component of Challenge Based Learning is empowering students to collaborate with others on coordinated tasks towards common goals. As with any good project manager, students engaged in Challenge Based Learning learn to set goals and deadlines, choose and deploy resources effectively, and collaborate with others to complete challenges successfully. Through Challenge Based Learning, students develop key project management skills, including skills of time management, communication, and flexibility.

Computational thinking comprises both foundational skills and applied practices. Students utilize problem-solving skill sets which include dividing problems into smaller parts, filtering aspects of a problem for what is most important, iteratively testing, finding errors and fixing them, organizing steps in a sequence, recognizing recurrent patterns, and selecting the right computational tool(s) for the task. Computational practices are the application of these foundational skills to (1) collect, analyze, or visualize data, (2) automate procedures or processes, or (3) use models to understand systems. The Investigate phase offers opportunities to integrate computational thinking skills and practices during the inquiry process. The Act phase offers opportunities to apply computational thinking skills to address the challenge, often resulting in a computer program, a data visualization, or computational model that could be used to solve related problems in the future.

Design thinking applies the core concepts of design to problem-solving and organizational improvement. There are clear parallels between design thinking and Challenge Based Learning and a variety of opportunities to use the frameworks together. While the traditional design thinking steps (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) overlap with Challenge Based Learning phases, they are particularly applicable in the Act phase. Once a solution concept has been identified, the design cycle is an excellent way to develop an effective solution. The iterative approach allows for the development of new guiding questions, ongoing improvement, and better solutions.

Maker Learning is a hands-on, design-centered way of engaging learners that can enhance learning in both formal and informal environments. Maker learning encourages the use of digital design and production tools to create new products and iterate on existing designs. Identifying community needs and developing challenges that result in real products as solutions is a powerful integration of maker learning and Challenge Based Learning.

Challenge Based Learning shares many similarities with project-based learning (PBL). The Challenge Based Learning framework was informed by project-based learning, and over time the differences have decreased as both approaches have learned from each other. Initially, a significant difference was the origin of the project and the role of the teacher. In the original project-based approach, the teacher identifies the project idea, does the majority of preparation work, and then manages a series of events that would lead to a product. Challenge Based Learning, on the other hand, starts with the teacher and student as partners who plan and implement the journey together. With the new Gold Standard PBL, these differences are diminished. If the goals are to engage all learners, share responsibility, and address real needs in the community while deepening subject area knowledge, then a project may be included in Challenge Based Learning, and a challenge may be part of a Project-Based Learning Experience. In the end, the goal is that students and teachers share the responsibility for and ownership of the entire learning experience. 

Pedagogical approaches related to PBL (e.g., problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning) share common features. They: 

  • pose an authentic problem or question; 
  • engage students in investigations or design activities; 
  • result in a final product; involve student collaboration; 
  • and, in many cases, use learning technologies. 

Project-based learning is not a new idea. Starting in the early 20th century, education philosophers and researchers—from John Dewey to Jean Piaget—advocated for active, experiential approaches that placed students at the center of the learning process.

The practice of service learning, popularized in the 1980s, is now a standard requirement for many high school students. Service learning and Challenge Based Learning share a foundational connection with experiential learning. In practice, service learning has become more passive than originally intended. For many students, community service is no longer about learning and is not connected with the academic curriculum. It is simply an item to check off the list, rather than an active learning experience. Combining community service learning with Challenge Based Learning allows students to work with community members to actively address real problems and make a lasting difference.