We are nearing the end of our first rotation in our Design Challenge course. Our students have been working on their first challenge for the past two weeks. The students chose to focus on athletics/sports for their first challenge. Since our course is built around challenged based learning (CBL), students follow a process where they select their big idea, in this case, sports/athletics. In the next phase, they generate what is called an essential question that students connect to the big idea. The essential question is open ended, complex, and provocative (we defined this as a question that makes one think). We stress that essential questions are not simple yes/no answers that can be found by using google. Instead they are the questions that ultimately drive the challenge that our students develop.
We have stressed that the role of the teacher is very different in CBL. Traditionally, the role of the teacher is the dispenser of knowledge. However, in CBL, the role of the teacher is drastically altered. Teachers now learn along with students. Teachers are no longer the definitive experts. For example, I have learned that high school athletics receive no funding whatsoever from the school system. Instead. athletics must be raise their own money. This means that every uniform, bus ride, and piece of equipment must be purchased out of athletic funds. Athletics must generate their own income which is usually accomplished through gate admissions and booster clubs. Further, only a handful of sports contribute to necessary revenues of the entire athletic program. Basketball and football generally carry most school's athletic revenues. Without their revenues, other non-revenue sports such as tennis and golf would not be supported. I had never realized how important gate receipts and booster clubs were without being part of this CBL.
In our CBL process, we also work to provide experts in the field for our students. We had two guest speakers visit our class. One was a former athlete at North Rowan High who is now playing both basketball and baseball at Catawba College. He shared the importance of having AEDs available to athletes as well as being determined and always pushing forward. Another guest speaker was the district's athletic director who is a former Division 1 basketball player who has served as a coach, teacher, and principal. He shared the importance of making sure that high school athletes have access to quality athletic trainers who can assess and diagnose any problems that athletes may experience. He also stressed the important of safety in sports especially in football. One key component of CBLs involves onsite visits to facilities and organizations that are connected to the Big Idea. We visited Catawba College and spent a few hours with the school's athletic director and lead athletic trainer as they responded to various questions that our students generated. Several of our groups are working on challenges associated with making sports safer for athletes especially for concussions. When asked about what is necessary for athletes to be safe, the head athletic trainer responded the number one way to improve the safety of athletes is research. I found his response to be particularly interesting and not what I expected to hear. I would have presumed that the focus would have been more on better protective equipment. However, his response was spot on. If more research is done, then it is more likely that better ways to protect the athletes will be developed. He also added that we need to consider how to change the game so that athletes are not as likely to be hurt. This illustrates another particularly insightful way to improve the safety of athletes that I would not have considered if researching this challenge. We also explored what gender equality really looks like at Catawba College. The athletic director explained how he ensures that the sports, despite their differences, was treated alike. For example, if the baseball team takes a bus to Tennessee for a game, the softball team takes a bus to their game in Tennessee. In doing so, this guarantees that all teams are treated equally. We also learned about athletic scholarships. Catawba made it very clear that almost all colleges first look at academic scholarships to support athletes before evening considering athletic scholarships. Athletic scholarships are much more limited and there is only so much to go around for each sport.
Had our students not chosen this big idea, I never would have learned these things. Further they would not have either. In implementing Challenge Based Learning, our students get to see a seldom exposed side of their teachers. Teachers cannot be experts in all subjects and areas. I would also dare say that they should not be either. I feel that if our students are able to see their teachers learn along side them, then the students benefit from seeing that learning is nonstop. Our students see a cycle where we continue to learn and expand on previous knowledge while leveraging resources and other individuals to expand our understanding. In Challenge Based Learning, teachers work to support the learning needs of their students as a "just in time" model where students tell us what they need and we work to find the resources or individuals to support meeting that need. I left school Friday thinking about powerful it is for our students to see us, their teachers, learning alongside of them. I hope and pray that this will be a transformative model that will encourage students to realize that learning never truly stops for those who wish to continue to learn.
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The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.