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  • Mark Nichols


Moving from the challenge to the solution is a critical element in the CBL process, and tends to be the most challenging phase as the learners want to move directly to solutions. If the learners think deeply about the challenge and carefully go through the guiding question, activity and resource phase they will be presented with a significant amount of learning opportunities, and will set a firm foundation for their solution.

As the teacher you have the responsibility of guiding the process to make sure that there is a methodical and thoughtful journey from the challenge to the solution. CBL is not about turning the learners loose to see what happens, and it is not a competition to see who comes up with the best solution. It is a learning process that you both manage and experience with the students.

Here are some ideas and exercises for ensuring that the learners stay within the guiding question, activity and resource phase long enough to obtain the foundation of knowledge needed to develop a thoughtful solution.

General Recommendations

Providing specific expectations, due dates, resources and processes helps to keep the learners in the challenge and prevent them from rushing to solutions. The students want to know what is expected of them and it is your responsibility as the project manager to provide structure for them.

  • Set up a calendar/project timeline with due dates for guiding questions, activities and resources. Make it clear that no solutions can be presented until a specific date or until specific requirements have been met. Display these timelines and requirements in a common area (digital or physical) so the students are are always aware of the deadlines.

  • Utilize the Guiding Questions, Resources, and Activities Matrix from the classroom guide or a similar process (examples attached) to organize and document the work of the learners. Solutions can not be presented until the workflow has been satisfactorily completed.

  • Work with the learners to help them recognize when they have moved too quickly to a solution and show them how those early solution ideas can be turned into more guiding questions. For example:

The Challenge: Reduce water consumption in your community

Team Member 1: So what are our guiding questions?

Team Member 2: I think we should create public service announcement videos about changing people’s water use habits and have them play on the local cable station.

Team Member 3: That is a specific solution so lets “table it” for now, but it raises some great questions like: what makes people change their habits?

Team Member 4: Yes, and what habits use the most water? What habits save water?

Team Member 1: And before we start these questions we need to ask what is the consumption of our community? is it high, low? Where does our water come from? Why don’t we have an endless supply of water? What are the different classifications of water and what can they be used for?

Team Member 2: I get it, before we can even think of solutions we have to learn a lot more about the challenge. Here are some other questions: Where does our water come from? and where does it go? Where is the most water wasted? is it an infrastructure issue, a technical issue, a personal use issue? How is water quality measured? What is reclaimed water?

  • Set up a solution proposal day where students defend their solutions in front of a committee of peers, teachers, parents and community members. To have their proposal accepted they will need to document and demonstrate that they have done the necessary foundation work, including research, to defend their ideas. Once they have successfully defended their work, they can further develop their solution details , implementation plan, evaluation process.

Guiding Question Recommendations

The guiding question phase is important because it sets the foundation for all further learning. If there is a half hearted effort at creating questions, or the the questions are too simple the process will begin to fall apart. Do not assume that the learners know how to ask good questions, like anything else it takes opportunity and practice.

As a teacher, resist the temptation to ‘feed’ knowledge to the students during this step. Traditionally, brainstorming questions involves the teacher in the lead answering student questions as they go. Instead empower the students to identify quality questions that will uncover knowledge about the Big Idea, Essential Question and Challenge.

  • Review and understand the different types of questions and processes for guiding the questioning process. Provide instruction and the opportunity for the learners to learn about different types of questions.

  • Explore the difference between when, where, who, what, why and how questions, closed vs. open questions, etc. Which ones stop the discussion, which ones raise more questions. Practice asking each type of questions.

  • Another way to look at the layers of questions is through Blooms taxonomy: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. What do questions look like at each of these levels? Practice asking questions at each of these levels.

  • Before tackling the guiding questions process with the actual challenge have the learners practice with a topic they are familiar with, break down the types of questions, analyze what worked and what did not in the process.

  • When teams are generating guiding questions, encourage:

  • asking as many questions as possible.

  • no stopping to discuss, judge, or answer the questions.

  • writing down every question exactly as it is stated.

  • changing all statements into questions.

  • In the guiding questions process make sure that teams of learners ask questions at all of the levels. Have them provide a visual (mind map) of the questions and identify the level or type of each question (color coding).

  • Utilize concept mapping software to group and prioritize questions.

  • Have the teams review other team’s guiding questions and add any they feel are missing. Mix up the teams and have them generate guiding questionsand share with the entire class.

  • Provide enough time, and a process to allow for the deep level of questioning necessary to frame the learning experience. Cycle in and out of the questions providing time for reflection and discussion in between.

  • Do not be afraid to move from a small group to a large group setting for the guiding question development. In a whole class setting, one question often sparks other ideas and the question grow quickly.

  • Align the Questions to standards or course expectations – A great way to make connections between the CBL questioning activity and the overall learning goals of the class or classes. This allows the learners to see the context of their learning and to begin to see how their questions not only lead them to a solution but also to the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

  • The learners should all read the course curriculum guide and/or the state or national standards applicable to the appropriate grade level and subject matter.

  • Take each of the questions and determine if it aligns to a standard or course expectation. Analyze where there are gaps and strategize how to fill them. Are there missing questions?

Guiding Activity Recommendations

Once the learners have generated an exhaustive list of guiding questions the goal is to answer them through research. Guiding activities and resources are the process and tools for doing this research. Once again the challenge is to make sure that the learners do not jump to solutions. The goal is for all of the learners to become experts on the content inherent in the challenge. Here are some suggestions for keeping the learners in the process.

  • Walk the learners through a concrete example of how to move from a guiding question to an applicable guiding activity and resource. Show them how the activities and resources are connected to the guiding question and lead to gathering information that will help to identify the solution.

  • Make it clear that each guiding question requires an activity and a resource and that the information learned needs to be documented.

  • Have students utilize the attached matrix (also in the classroom guide) to keep track organize their activities/resources and to record what they learned. They should also be encouraged to use mind mapping tools to visualize their progress.

  • Utilize your online environment to track progress and to make recommendations for activities and resources. Insist on formal updates at least one a week. These updates could be audio, video, or written.

  • Allow groups to divide up the labor by having groups focus on different areas of the research, but insist that they share/teach what they learned with the others.

  • Provide opportunities for them to learn how to conduct different guiding activities. Do not assume that they have the skills to identify and carry out appropriate activities.

  • Walk through quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.

  • Review proper research techniques and how to determine the reliability of information sources.

  • Demonstrate how to teach a concept.

  • Demonstrate and provide resources for documenting sources throughout the process.

Guiding Resource Recommendations

The guiding resources are anything the learners need for their research. The resources can be data, documents, videos, audio, etc. – anything that will help them answer their guiding questions. In order to become experts the learners will need to do a solid review of the general literature around their challenge as well as primary level research into their local context. Some tips for guiding resources:

  • Review the different resources available to the learners. Include both local (libraries, universities, organizations, government archives) and online resources (iTunesU, journals, libraries) and demonstrate how these resources can be accessed, utilized and cited.

  • Utilize your online community to have the learners share resources with each other. This will allow you to evaluate the resources and make recommendations.

  • Require a specific number of each type of resource to be included in the solution proposals.

  • For younger learners, providing a subset collection of resources from which they can choose can be a good practice.

  • Never underestimate the power of human resources. Find adults and experts in your community or beyond who are willing to be used for students to practice their research skills in the form of interviews, conversations, or email exchanges.

  • Use video chat to bring experts directly into your classroom.

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