Challenge Weeks

At the end of every term, we will throw down the gauntlet to our children and use a different approach to reinforce learning. Children will have spent the term honing their core skills – not only maths and literacy but communication, learning how to think critically and work with others. They will have been practising, on a smaller scale, the skills of meta-cognition and self-regulation (in particular, planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning). Teachers will set a challenge. In groups, children then complete that challenge and present their achievements.

According to the Buck Institute of Education, during project based learning children not only understand content more deeply but also learn how to take responsibility and build confidence, solve problems, work collaboratively, communicate ideas, and be creative innovators. They develop critical thinking, communication in a variety of media, and collaboration.

Every child takes part in two challenges per year, with the third taken as holiday (see flexible holidays).

The technical bit:

The key difference between the thematic curriculum and our termly ‘Challenge weeks’ is how they map to the National Curriculum. During the Challenge weeks, we turn things on their head, putting the children in the driving seat and the teacher as the role of facilitator and observer. The teacher still maps what the children have achieved to the National Curriculum and broader skills, but by observing their activities, not by directing them.  This mapping demonstrates the value of the project and any areas needing more work are used to inform the following term’s planning – nothing will be neglected or forgotten.

Giving control to the children gives them ownership of their learning and their success in a way that is incredibly powerful. Children are experiencing first had what they can do when they work together, work with imagination and work hard.

The Challenge Weeks fit together with the thematic curriculum to form a creative curriculum that will be exciting for teachers and children and highly effective at developing individual skills and interests.

The easiest way to demonstrate what we mean is with an example…

It has been a wet term. It has rained, and rained, and rained. The children are fed up. It looks like the holidays will be a wash-out.

On the first day of the Challenge Weeks, the children are ushered into the hall. They are shown a video of floods in different parts of the world, ending with some pictures of when the River Pinn burst its bank and people could canoe along the roads!

And now for the challenge:

A ‘river’ has appeared in the school grounds, and it is in danger of flooding! The children have two weeks to research, plan and build the prototype for an idea of how to defend the school against the flood. They will also need to think about the houses and community around the school – can they protect them against the flood too?

At the end of the two weeks the children will need to present their ideas to parents, the local community. A representative from the Environment Agency and Harrow Council, who will decide which scheme wins their approval. There are also other prizes, such as recognising creativity and excellent team working.

Each group is given a teacher to help them and a budget to buy resources from the ‘resources shop’. But the teachers are not there to direct, they are there to observe and facilitate – the children are in charge of deciding what should be done.  For younger children, the project may evolve around thinking about how water flows and how to contain and channel it. For older children they may begin to think in a more sophisticated way about different types of soil and the effect of building on land.

The challenge begins with research trip to see flood defences around London and then the groups begin working out what they will do next.

Will the school be saved from a soaking?

Project-based-learning has a growing following amongst the teaching and academic community for the benefits it brings to children’s development. We are really excited to be able to incorporate this approach into our school.

Next page: Language and Communication