Could you buy ingredients and create a healthy meal for four people for under $1.50 USD?
Jane Ross’ students can. This is just one of the provocations Jane Ross shares in her book “Challenge Based Learning in Indonesia”.
Challenge Based Learning in Indonesia, Jane Ross, available on iBooks
As a year 5 homeroom teacher, and Apple Distinguished Educator, Jane describes the process she and her collaborators undertook to outwork one Challenge Based Learning (CBL) project with a class of 5th graders from Sinarmas World Academy in Jakarta. The book is free from the iBookstore as an interactive, visually rich illustration of exemplary teaching and learning. Educators will appreciate the depiction of this student-led, inquiry-based approach providing meaningful, relevant and engaging learning opportunities. Full of photographs, slideshows and video, this media-rich book takes you on the student’s learning journey and shares with you their investigations, reflections and deliberate actions to solve community problems.
The teachers posed the challenging problem:
“It is our shared responsibility to ensure resources are more evenly distributed”
and guided students through an inquiry process where students took the lead posing and investigating their own questions. They were given the opportunity to think deeply about meaningful world problems and respond locally by taking action in a nearby community. To better understand the resource needs, students collaboratively investigated:
- life on a limited budget
- life in a local “Landfill Community”
Visiting a local community with so many resource needs led students to identify real issues facing this neighbouring community and further inquire into new challenges, problems and opportunities to solve problems with lighting, safe shelter and clean water; all problems that are difficult for governments to solve let alone school children!
Students became problem-solvers, inventors and advocates posing real solutions. More importantly, they gained cultural understanding and empathy within their extended community. Their reflections indicate that they see themselves as global citizens who are able work in teams and with help from around the world, to tackle the world’s problems.
I recommend this book for teachers interested in fostering student-inquiry, empowering students to take meaningful action, or publishing for purpose.
What I loved about this book was:
- the clear illustration through example of transdiciplinary learning where many “subjects” were explored in-depth “just in time”,
- the clarity of the role of teacher as activator, facilitator and learner with students clearly in the driver seat of meaningful learning they won’t soon forget; and
- that it is freely shared with the world and encourages global perspective!
I agree with Ross on the power of student-led inquiry and applaud her for sharing her experience in this accessible way. However, I expect teachers in Australia and other developed nations will face a few of their own challenges implementing learning in this way:
- Do privacy policies limit us from sharing work in this way?
- Would risk assessment plans prevent us from accessing communities in these conditions?
- Would our subject-based national curriculum veer us toward set achievement standards and sacrifice depth of learning for breadth?
- Do we have the agility in our learning spaces, timetables and pedagogies to take learning in new directions based on learners’ wonderings?
- Are our communities too insulated to look at the needs of our neighbours near and far?
- Will we step out of our comfort zones and model ourselves as learners to extend learning in unfamiliar contexts?
- Will students score as well on national tests and impact school ratings negatively?
- Does a national curriculum designate a ceiling for student learning and cap it or does it have the same potential Ross outlines to create a launchpad for learning?
There are many implications for school leaders related to culture, however the greater challenge may lie in imposed national curricula. In Australia, the 2014 Australian Curriculum Review final report poses some of these concerns at a national level, particularly around fragmenting and overcrowding the curriculum and giving preference to discipline-based pedagogies. My hope is that we can find ways to empower rather than overwhelm innovative practitioners who wish to follow Ross’ lead.