Ringwood North Primary School is situated in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  The school aims to constantly improve the learning outcomes for students in an atmosphere that is caring and supportive and in which successes are shared and celebrated. Students experience a comprehensive curriculum inclusive of a range of extracurricular activities.

Ringwood North Primary

Ringwood North, Victoria, Australia

When the educators at Ringwood North Primary put fifth and sixth graders at the helm of helping Christchurch, New Zealand and Queensland, Australia recover from natural disasters, they knew the challenge was lofty. Ringwood is a one-to-one school known for being progressive in technology use and in experimenting with student-centered learning approaches, so principal Michael Green understood the preparation and guidance needed to make it work. The results were overwhelmingly positive — as the students embraced the challenge as a way to effect real change in their community.

“It’s always about the students at the forefront,” Green shared. “The creative uses of technology in Challenge Based Learning actually make the technology disappear.” The 10-12 year-old students demonstrated this notion throughout the project, using a variety of technology and software to execute solutions that had been meticulously brainstormed with mind maps and other organization methods.

In Ringwood’s one-to-one learning environment, all 138 of the participating students had 24/7 access to their own devices. They took full advantage of this resource, setting up their own iTunes accounts and email accounts, as well as downloading helpful apps and videos. “The technology enables all team members to have their collective work at hand wherever they are,” Green explained. “ The students have their designated jobs, can work on their part of the project when they are able, and then share their progress with peers. They audit their progress against their team plan. “

Personal devices proved to be the key tool in their Challenge Based Learning activities, used for everything from research to communication to recording project reflections, which generally included creating movies and soundtracks.

The videos created by the students educated their surrounding community about what it takes to help resurrect a community in crisis. Learning to use this vast assortment of tools and technologies afforded more opportunities for genuine critical thinking. “The students have access to a range of technologies and they are experts at selecting the right tool for the job,” Green remarked.

One particular video that featured the students collaborating and implementing their solutions received worldwide attention, and ultimately was ranked as the “Number One Educational Video of 2011” by EdReach. In this video, students are seen using their iPad devices to call organizations in Queensland to interview them, assess their needs, and then formulate the solutions to address those needs. For example, they organized a book drive for a Queensland library, donated food and supplies to Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, participated in tree plantings, and produced a concert fund-raiser.

The technology enabled them to connect with people in surrounding communities that they would never have met otherwise. As a result, the students began to see that they did not have to wait until they were adults to drive real change around them. One student in the video particularly captured this notion, commenting, “I felt like being a kid in school still learning how to do math and stuff, I could never do… a big project that could actually help. But, this has been like wow, we can actually do something through school. It makes me feel like I’m making a difference. I’m not just feeling sorry for people — I’m trying to help people, and it makes me feel like a better person.”

The collaborative nature of the Challenge Based Learning project and the enabling technologies provided the opportunity for each student to share his or her talents and skills. This group dynamic helped drive forward the challenge while keeping it exciting for the students. In more traditional classroom situations, students do not get the same opportunities to switch gears and experiment with new roles. “Solutions to challenges can come to mind anywhere, anytime,” Green said. “Students are not restricted to the school day, or timetabled class time. The student’s email traffic demonstrates their ability to collaborate when the ideas flow. There is no need to wait until the following day or when a shared class occurs with team members before collaborations continue.”

Green and Ringwood’s CBL educators noticed an increase in students’ self-esteem and confidence, and an overall improvement in teamwork — not just for the students who were already performing well, but also for those who had previously struggled with class assignments. They are learning that not everything goes according to plan, and that that mistakes should be highlighted as long as students learn from them.

Due to the success of Ringwood’s implementation project, Green has decided to integrate Challenge Based Learning throughout the entire school, and now even the youngest students are participating in solving local and global issues. They are also introducing more Apple technology into the classroom, including the iPhone. “All of the Challenge Based Learning projects have a visual component to them as students need to express their findings,” Green explains. “This year, we’re focusing more on photography and students are using their devices to capture and share these visuals.”

Equipped with different types of technology, the students are exposed to whole new worlds of 21st century methods for learning. “For administrators, technology can be a nightmare,” admits Green,  “But for students it’s seamless. It’s not technology; it’s just there, it works, [provides] access to information, and communications with peers. Feedback from mentors is immediate — and right by their side.”