Shared Learning in Collaborative Spaces – Duffy Primary School Excels with Challenge Based Learning

After a successful year six pilot, CBL was introduced to teachers and students in years four through six.

Initially, the teaching teams were skeptical and resistant to the change, seeing CBL as something added to their responsibilities and already busy schedule. And to be honest, creating the environment and skills for autonomous learning, required for CBL, can be additional work. However, now mid-way through the term, the motivation and engagement of student learning is a true reward for the effort. The connections between what students learn are becoming more apparent, as one teacher shared that “students can now make correlations between subjects and subject content.” A parent informed us that their child is more excited to learn with the line between learning and life more blurred.

Last year the year six class looked at Food Sustainability and Health as big ideas, and nearly a year later, projects that the students begun are still running in the school. A healthy lunch program in the canteen for students who come to school without something to eat, is one such example of how the students influenced and sustained change in their community.

This term the year four and five classes are exploring materials and questioning the effects materials have on their environment. The students selected  a material that interested them and their choices are diverse: including cotton, plastic, copper mining, lead, paper waste, coal, and many others. The teaching team scaffolded student learning with resources exploring the Story of Stuff, and the research skills to explore what the materials were and where they came from.

The year five and six classes are looking deeply into the topic of Asylum and why people would choose a life in Australia. This topic covers Australian history to current affairs, encompassing the curriculum goals for history and cross-curriculum priories.

During our recent visit to Duffy Primary, the students presented to us a ‘challenge pitch’ related to their topic. The four/five student groups used Glogster to express the importance of their chosen material and effects of using the material to the environment.

Glogster Presentation


The five/six group presented their pitches using iMovie. The iMovies demonstrated the diversity of student interest on the topic of Asylum, some exploring the home countries where people flee from, or exploring the journey, and some exploring services provided in Australia or by international organisations. Each student group had to convince us that their challenge was the most important to solve and back it up with facts and emotive connection. Each of their challenges are action statements, such as “List the challenges asylum seekers face in Australia,” “Identify how asylum seekers are treated in detention centres,” and “Describe the conditions of the asylum seeker journey on boats to Australia.”

iMovie Presentations


After each film and Glogster the presenting students asked for feedback from their peers. Every time, nearly every hand shot up to provide honest feedback. I was blown away by the considerate, articulate, and constructive feedback students gave one another. To share in an open group requires trust, and these groups of children demonstrated outstanding diplomatic skills. They knew to deliver their feedback beginning and ending with a positive. “I like that you gave us some information about where asylum seekers come from, I think there could have been more about what happens in Australia, and your song choice was really good.” Seriously, these children all shared and listened to one another respectfully and thanked each other for their feedback. I was impressed.

Collaborative Reflection


Reflection is an important element of Challenge Based Learning (CBL), to provide students opportunity to develop metacognition and critical thinking about what and why they are learning. The group reflections that Duffy Primary School facilitate so well are part of this process, along with each student taking time for self reflection either by video, audio or text. The students share these reflections with their teachers privately on Edmodo. Edmodo is the platform the teachers and students use to manage their CBL projects and communicate with one another.

The five/six teacher team commented that the students were getting better with their reflections, but thinking about their learning was still a challenge for some of them who are used to being told what to think and what to learn. The skills for autonomous learning, such as reflection, are embedded in the process and over time, the teacher work load will lessen as students develop capability and take on more responsibility.

Next, the students unpack their challenge with as many questions they can think of and begin to answer their own questions with research, polls, phone calls, and visits with community experts. All the information or data that they gather is analysed for a implementable solution. The solution is something they must be able to do, because with the CBL process, they actually do DO the solution.

Neither student or teacher at this point know what the solution will be. But all that work at the beginning scaffolding the skills of research and sharing, both teachers and students have the confidence to continue learning without a known outcome. Isn’t that life, not knowing what will be discovered?

Looking forward to seeing what these exceptional students come up with. For more information on the process get in touch.