The Challenge Charter Middle School education program consists of three key curriculum and instructional design elements. They are as follows:
1. School-Wide Essential Questions
Challenge Charter Middle School (CCMS) provides and utilizes a set of school-wide essential questions that serve as foci, modeled and integrated within and among all subjects of study.
- Example #1: Students are guided and encouraged to use essential school-wide questions as generalizable and applicable metacognitive tools to conduct the 21st century learning processes of thinking critically, collaborating, applying knowledge to new situations.
- Example #2: Teachers use school-wide essential questions within student projects or challenges inspired by interdisciplinary consideration of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) embedded in universal or globally related themes. Explicit and contextualized examples of ten such themes may be found within the CCSS for Social Studies at www.EngageNY.org.
- Example #3: Other school-wide essential questions are derived from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills at http://www.p21.org. This approach promotes high level understanding of academic content by weaving perspectives drawn from five sets of interdisciplinary themes.
2. Blended Learning with Ubiquitous Technology Tools
Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace. While still attending a “brick-and-mortar” school structure, in this case CCMS’s middle school, face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-mediated activities. To make this possible, CCMS provides ubiquitous Internet access and individual tablet technology to each student. Students and their educators have 24/7 access to information, resources, and technologies that engage and empower them to do background research, information and resource gathering, and data analysis, to publish with multiple media types to wide and varied audiences, to communicate with peers and experts, and to gain experience and expertise in collaborative work. (See also Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT ). CCMS is using Google Classroom.
Additionally, CCMS reinforces the use of technology resources with simultaneous attention to students’ development of essential 21st Century learning skills. This requires the development of lesson plans and units of instruction that blend teacher and student roles in shared responsibility for learning, and provide for deepening applied student responsibility for that learning based upon the structure and opportunities supported by the teacher.
Supporting the Blended Learning model is the Curriculum and Technology Integration Specialist who works closely with the Principal and Content Area Lead Teachers to ensure that learning experiences are incorporating blended learning applications are effectively delivered and promote student growth and achievement.
3. Challenge Based Learning
The final key curriculum design element is Challenge Based Learning. The NYS CCSS curriculum modules, particularly and initially in ELA and Math, are used and adapted as needed. These are yearlong in nature and deeply and extensively prepared with content, resources, assessments and curriculum maps. The use of Essential Questions and Blended Learning are supplemented by other applied learning experiences that are cross-disciplinary and longer-term school-wide investigations and studies undertaken by the students, and facilitated by their teachers. This is the essence of Challenge Based Learning.
The Challenge Based Learning Model provides the framework through which our scholars engage in the core curriculum.
Challenge Based Learning emphasizes exploring topics from many angles and through the lens of multiple disciplines, which allows scholars to appreciate the natural connections between subject areas that might not always be evident. Although teacher involvement throughout the Challenge Based Learning process is crucial, it is a fundamentally different relationship and changes as scholars progress through its stages. Early on, when teachers introduce Challenge Based Learning to scholars and set up the challenge, they are actively guiding the process by making decisions, communicating information, teaching skills, and answering questions about how the process works and what is expected. In the middle stages, scholars take charge of planning and researching their own work and teachers serve primarily as a mentor working alongside the students, helping them through the rough spots and keeping them on track. In the later stages, scholars are deeply engaged in their own work while you monitor the mastery of required knowledge and skills through appropriate assessments. Finally, teachers transition into the role of product manager supporting the students as they implement, evaluate, and publish their solutions and results.
Scholars start by identify the big idea; one that is important on a global scale and that students can work with to gain the deep multidisciplinary content knowledge and understanding that is required by the standards for their grade level. Next, they work together to formulate the essential question, which serves as the link between their lives and the big idea. The question should be answerable through research, help focus students’ efforts, and provide a framework for the challenge.