I’ve always been a fan of super heroes. I guess that’s why I became a teacher; I aspired to make a difference in the lives of others. This past weekend, I took my wife, Lorrain Croy, to see The Avengers. Wow! The movie was great, and I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between the path of assembling The Avengers, and implementing challenge based learning.
As much as I want to be an Iron Man, a Thor, or The Hulk, I’ve come to realize my job is more akin to that of the character Agent Coulson, the unassuming SHIELD Agent who appeared in each of The Avengers’ individual prequels, and whose job it was to assemble this team of extraordinary heroes. (Agent Coulson, pictured to right with eye-patched Nick Fury/Samuel L. Jackson in the background.) His gift? He had the vision of what could be if only they could be assembled together.
My students are the heroes. I’m like Agent Coulson, the mild-mannered assembler.
The Avengers and students involved in Challenge Based Learning both need:
1) An Authentic Challenge: The Avengers could train all day if necessary. Captain America could go through punching bags like Will Ferrel goes through Doritios. (Sorry Will.) Nothing great happens without an authentic challenge. Students can tell when something is made-up. They know if what they do really matters or not. Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is about students working to make a difference. What they do needs to be meaningful. Challenge your students and teach them how to challenge themselves.
2) A Genuine Audience: The Avengers were a mess before they had people that really needed their help. They needed a genuine mission. The same is true of our students. In short, they need an audience. A real one. No one gets excited about a worksheet or a paper that is shared between student, teacher, and maybe the fridge. Students need to impact real people with their work. Build that in, and encourage them to respond to real people. This is also where we need the implementation of social networking. Get the students’ work in the eyes of the world. It’s possible. It’s easy. It matters.