4 Tips for Creating Powerful Challenge Based Learning with Students - Digital Promise

4 Tips for Creating Powerful Challenge Based Learning with Students

August 18, 2022 | By

In 2021, Digital Promise and Ciena launched the Ciena Solutions Challenge, a global design challenge inviting middle and high school students to design solutions that address the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals within their communities. This blog post is the first in a series in which educators from around the world share their experiences facilitating the Ciena Solutions Challenge with students. Featured below are lessons from Jobert Ngwenya who facilitated the Mystery Munch Nutri-Bar student team at Eveline High School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Being a 21st century educator comes with many perks, including continuous opportunities to learn from learners. Some of my best moments as an educator have come from taking on the challenge to learn alongside students. Challenge Based Learning (CBL) has provided me with an added impetus to reflect on what meaningful education for 21st century learners can look like and reconsider my own pedagogical practices.

Since becoming a teacher in 2009, I have always dared to improve educational outcomes for my learners by introducing things like entrepreneurship education and financial literacy to my school. Combined with Challenge Based Learning, this type of real world learning increases learners’ motivation by pushing them to find a mission, to develop that mission, and to impact the world in the process.

“The journey has changed my perspective of life from being money-oriented to being problem solving and to realize my responsibility and duty to help save the planet and people.” 

– Student 

Involve People Most Impacted by the Problem

During the investigation stage of Challenge Based Learning, encourage learners to involve those who stand to benefit most from the solution. In our case, the primary stakeholders were other teenagers, so they needed to have teenage voices represented in the development of their solution.They also looked beyond their target audience and considered other stakeholders such as the wider school community and parents. Using a variety of tools, students were able to gather information and come up with an objective view of the challenge itself and the solution that they were working on.

Students seated in a circle engaged in a discussion.

Learners discussing how to promote healthy eating among teenagers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Jobert Ngwenya

Let Learners Lead and Teach

“In Challenge Based Learning, teachers take the role of an advisor and coach, which gives learners the opportunity to lead…and to come up with appropriate solutions to the challenges that they and their peers are facing.” – Jobert Ngwenya, teacher at Eveline High School

Challenge Based Learning allows me to be a lifelong learner, not just through more common formal professional development, but everyday in the classroom alongside my students. Having grown up with technology, most of my learners have the sixth and the seventh senses that make them appreciate technology far better than I could imagine. To build on this, I encourage them to teach others—including me—whatever new knowledge and technology skills they develop. What joy this brings them to see themselves as a teacher to teachers!

Two students standing in front of a large group of students at a school assembly.

Learners promoting the nutri-bar at a neighboring school and recruiting product ambassadors for the Mystery Munch Nutri-Bar. Photo credit: Jobert Ngwenya

Make Use of Networks

Challenge Based Learning takes learning outside the classroom and brings the world into the classroom. Throughout the Ciena Solutions Challenge, I used my contacts in media, civic, and business spaces, to invite guest speakers in and to take learners out on field trips to gain real-world knowledge to see examples of successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

Two students wearing Mystery Munch hats and standing in front of an exhibit table

Learners participating in the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair under the Ministry of Youth Affairs exhibition stand. Photo credit: Jobert Ngwenya

Celebrate Teamwork

Some learners may be working behind the scenes during the development phase of a product and not receive the spotlight they deserve. Consider what types of communication platforms you can use to capture and promote the overall story and contributors to the project, from its earliest development stages to the end. In that way, learners can see that the project becomes successful because everyone is involved.

Students posing for a photo in front of a monitor.

Learners organized a breakfast meeting where they shared their vision with the Bulawayo Junior City Council members from various schools in the city. Photo credit: Jobert Ngwenya

In all of these ways, Challenge Based Learning gives learners control over their own learning as well as opportunities to acquire conceptual knowledge and develop soft and hard skills. Ultimately, from my experience, the key ingredients for successful Challenge Based Learning were a supportive school environment, a strong network of community connections, engaged parents, and an educator willing to take risks to gain new understanding.

Learn more about the Ciena Solutions Challenge

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