Monthly Archives: October 2014

CBL Solutions and What They Might Look Like

-My whole team at the beginning of CBL

-My whole team at the beginning of CBL

My students worked on Challenge-Based Learning solutions in groups for the first time this term. I want to share what their solutions were in order to give readers an idea of the range of ideas students came up with on their own, and their varying degrees of success in implementing those ideas.

When my team first started CBL, it was really difficult to get our collective head around what we might expect students to come up with as a solution, so we pestered our CBL expert teacher, Bec, for ideas on what challenge solutions might look like. She pushed back on this and told us we didn’t need to have the ideas, that the kids would get there. We kept on pestering and eventually she relented and gave us a few examples of what kind of outcome we might see, but with the stipulation that we had to let the students come up with ideas, and not try and feed them our own ideas and make them think it was their own.

Now I’m 3 terms of CBL in, and with Bec’s philosophy in mind, here are some examples of what grade 2s can come up with and do on their own. Without my own brilliant ideas. I promise.

Big Idea: Power
Challenge: Use power in a positive way.

Photo 113 1

Green and Yellow Groups: Body Power

Photo 133 2

Both of these groups independently decided to make a fitness/exercise club that ran at break times. Both groups came up with a plan of how their club would run; one group wanted to play a charades game that would involve participants guessing the exercise, then completing it, and the other group simply had a list of exercises and were going to show participants how to do them correctly, then have everyone complete the exercise. Both groups made poster ads to hang around the school using the Pic Collage app and spoke to grades about the clubs they were running. The clubs started off with a bang but petered out quickly for a few reasons (memory, enthusiasm, students not getting along, etc.). I think the fact that grade 2s can run a successful club for other students without any help from teachers is quite impressive!  One of the groups did a powerful reflection on what went well, what went wrong and how they could change it, and made significant improvements to their plan to help their club run better.

Purple Group: Choice Power


Purple group chose to write a persuasive letter to the Prime Minister of Australia to convince him to hire more builders to build free homes for homeless people. This was quite powerful for this group when they actually received a response from Tony Abbott, which, among other things, congratulated them on being so passionate about important issues and reminded them that as the future leaders of our country, they should continue to champion causes that are important to them. (The letter carefully evaded the issue of building people free homes, but my students are inspired to become PM nonetheless).

Blue Group: People Power

Purple group’s solution was to make an ad that told the world that we don’t want bullies. They wrote and filmed and edited a video using iMovie on an iPad and shared their solution with the world through the class blog. Blog post here.

Pink group: Body Power

Pink group’s solution was also a video. They wanted to make a short video that would encourage people to exercise every day. They wanted to share it with the world by advertising it on our class blog and Twitter. It did not get shared in the end because of the time it took to film and some techie difficulties which meant they had to remake their entire work. Their video involved them doing a range of exercises and some text about the names of exercises and what people should do to get fit.

Orange Group: Electrical Power

This group decided on a persuasive blog post about using electricity sparingly and some tips on how to use it better. Their post can be viewed here.


Where to next

As this was the first time students worked in small groups to complete a task of their own devising, the focus was on understanding the task ahead of them, and on individual roles and responsibilities of the members in each group.  Now that we have a firm grasp on that, the next round of CBL solutions will have more of a focus on the quality of the outputs, rather than just ‘getting it done’. For example, the ‘No Bullies Allowed’ video group might work on coming up with a list of helpful tips for not being a bully, and valuing friendship, and work on making sure the dialogue in their video is easy to hear. Or the exercise video group might contact teachers to see if they could show it to their class every morning for students to get warmed up before starting the day, so that their solution has a genuine audience and will make a difference.

Overall I am really happy with the variety and quality of my students’ (and my own) first attempt at group CBL solutions. I am constantly amazed at the way my students come along for the ride when I think I might be pushing them too far. It is truly amazing what a bunch of 8 year olds can do when you don’t tell them they can’t.

If you have something of your own about CBL solutions, please share. I would love to see it!


Pirate Treasure and Paper Bags: Storytelling in Maths

In my first year of teaching I was sent to a maths PD with Michael Ymer and he stressed that much of maths can be taught through storytelling. I think (but I’m stretching back a bit) that his main reasons for this were 1) It’s super engaging for students, 2) It allows for lots of incidental learning.

This has stuck with me big time. It’s something that seems simple but when it’s not a focus, it can sometimes drop off. This term I’ve started teaching division to my grade 2s. This has the potential to get dry very quickly by way of “There are xx chickens and xx henhouses etc boring boring!” So, I focused on trying to integrate some storytelling into my lessons.

Here is the story I told on day one.


I have something here to show you all today. In my hands I’m holding a wrapped up package which has a mysterious-looking pot inside it. On the holidays I did something special. I went to the airport, got on a plane and travelled to a little island in the middle of the ocean. The island was so tiny I had to travel on a seaplane to be able to land. I swam up to the beautiful, white, sandy beach and crept into the jungle. Interest is mounting and students are shushing each other to hear what happens next. It was very hot in the jungle and insects were buzzing around me. I thought it couldn’t get any hotter when suddenly I came to a beautiful pool of water at the bottom of an enormous waterfall. I swam under the waterfall and found myself in a cave of blue, clear water. At this point, students are bursting to know where this is going and what it has to do with maths. I keep them going a bit longer. I peered into the water and noticed something sparkling. I reached down and picked up… this! I reach into the pot and dramatically pull out a gem that I got in a bag of a billion plastic gems for $2 at The Reject Shop once. I look again and find this many more.  I pull them out and we count them to find 20. I was so excited that I went straight home and showed my mum. Do you know what she said? She said “Could I have some of your beautiful gems?”. Of course I told her she could so we decided to share them equally, so it would be fair. We then get into the maths! We discuss how to share and have all those lovely conversations to elicit their prior knowledge about what it means to share. But do you know what happened next? My brother and sister came in and do you know what they said? They said “Could we have some of your beautiful gems?”. Off we go, sharing between four people. But do you know what happened next? By this point, they know Dad’s about to walk in and demand some beautiful gems so I let them take over. We continue adding people until eventually Lucy the cat walks in and says “mioaw” and it’s all over.


From there, all the kids need is a handful of gems and some bears to act as family members and they are good to go! There is some debate over whether the story is real or not (and how much they could sell the gems for) but for the most part they just want to be part of this imaginative story that seems too good to be true. They are more than happy to tell exactly the same story to their partner as if it were their own, and practice sharing their gems between their little bear families.

They have now practiced efficient methods of counting, equal shares, dividing an amount between various numbers of people, as well as beginning to use sharing language.  Too easy.


Day two was party bags.

I told them they were having a little party with xx people coming. They drew that many people/groups on their paper bag (read “lolly bag”). There’s something magic in being able to dream up any lolly you’d like. Yellow unifix became the most enticing bananas, the white ones were marshmallows, while things formally known as pencils became the highly sought-after lollipops. Students would roll to find out how many lollies altogether, collect that many and then share, and draw to record. We even delved into remainders on the second day of the topic.

Having a story as a premise for a maths lesson is a simple way to engage students but is really effective! It encourages a lot more discussion, language use and reasoning because students all want to be part of the story, and will reason with each other to get it right. It also makes the concept less abstract than just using numbers; students are able to apply the concept to a situation they understand and care about. It’s also just really fun!