Challenge-Solving Projects – What and Why?

I have seen over and over, and research confirms, that when students are involved in finding answers to relevant challenges their motivation and learning deepen. In Challenge-Solving Projects, problem-based learning combines with project-based learning so not only is learning deeper but learners are addressing a relevant challenge.

Whether it was my:
– New Hampshire primary students who had pen pals in Cambridge, MA and helped organize a visit to their pen pals’ school
–  South Boston fifth graders who, in order to promote United States regions while role-playing travel agents, contacted chambers of commerce and objective sources
– High school students who worked to increase the culture of respect and kindness in their school
– College psychology students who addressed challenges of sounder sleep and better memory in part by interviewing  peers about dreams and about memory strategies
– Graduate education students who create learning strategies and units to meet the needs of their own students

HPIM1197What are Challenge-Solving Projects and why are they a good thing?

Think back to all your learning from the time you were very young through all of schooling, clubs, sports, adult education, continuing education, workplace training. Learning both inside classrooms and outside- what learning do you remember most vividly?
When I ask workshop and class participants this question they usually remember something that was experiential – hands-on where they found answers for themselves.

Learners of all ages and abilities are motivated when we are confronted with real challenges to solve and when we present solutions to an audience.
For example:
. How can new students best be welcomed to our class?
. How can our school’s energy consumption and related
costs be reduced?

. What needs to go into our proposal to a  local company to provide their new computer system?

. How can we let our penpals know about ourselves and our community -history/geography of our community?

. How can we plan a sustainable practices garden within a budget?
. Role playing new leaders of a nation that previously was a
dictatorship – how can we set-up and sustain a democracy?
. How can a local business or non-profit best use social media for

. Should organic foods be included in the menu we are planning for our own cafe?
. Role playing stakeholders, how can we bring peace to two warring
. What is the best design for a solar chocolate melter?
. What can be done to increase the voting rate in our community?
. What can be provided to ensure our classroom plants will thrive?

. How can we help our partner community/sister city know about our community and its history?
. How can we increase a climate of respect? How can we increase a
climate of kindness?shapeimage_3
. How and to whom can we best present whether or not nearby land should be developed by a company that is proposing development?
. How can we reduce speed of vehicles that drive on the street in front of our school?
. How can we, role-playing “New World” colonists, create a thriving colony?
. How can we design bags that meet our customers’ needs?


When working on real-life challenges, not only are students motivated but they gain confidence in their abilities to affect positive change in their lives and the lives of others. Challenge-Solving Projects include a motivating challenge, hooks to pique students’ interest, students’ inquiry and research, students’ products and presentations. A Challenge-Solving unit often is for eight class periods, over two and half weeks; but it could be two class periods or months-long.
Structures, for example, stated learning goals, assessments, scaffolds and schedules are important for effective Challenge-Solving units. Challenge-Solving units forward strong learning of curriculum standards and objectives and deeper learning such as critical thinking, problem-solving, self-directed work, collaboration, communications, creativity, and growth mindset. Challenge-Solving Projects and other experiential, deeper learning approaches aren’t the only viable way to learn. Varied teaching and learning practices work together to forward different kinds of learning and to affirm and stretch a range of learning styles. But experiential, deeper learning is missing for many students – and we know from research and practice, the more people are directly engaged in creating knowledge and learning, the more we learn, integrate and remember content and skills and develop positive attitudes towards learning.

Thanks for reading.  Please comment below with thoughts and questions related to Challenge-Solving Projects and feel free to contact me.
Copyright © 2015 Lee Anna Stirling
All rights reserved.

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