Story: CBL @ Carroll Magnet Middle School - Challenge Based Learning

Story: CBL @ Carroll Magnet Middle School

Carroll Magnet Middle School

December 12, 2017 | By

Carroll Magnet Middle School

Since 2014, Digital Promise has partnered with the Wake County Public School System and Carroll Magnet Middle School to use the Challenge Based Learning (CBL) framework to support the core tenants of the school and district to prepare students for success in school and beyond. At Carroll, CBL provides the overall structure for connecting a variety of initiatives and serves as a framework for classroom learning.

Starting with a meta-challenge to “provide an immersive CBL experience” the framework is used to guide the entire professional learning experience. During the first year, a core group of teachers learned the basics of CBL and contextualized the framework to the unique Carrol environment. A key component of CBL is that it is designed to be flexible and allow for customization. Digital Promise supported the initial group of teachers with on-site and on-line mentoring.

Over the next two years, CBL became further integrated into the school through summer institutes, the co-development of challenge based units and lessons, and the integration of content-based challenges in the classrooms. Driven by current events, curriculum goals and the interests of the learners a wide variety of challenge experiences the teachers integrated CBL into the learning environment. Big ideas included Innovation, Infectious Diseases, Belonging, Geography and Engineering. This wide range of starting points allowed the teacher and students to use the framework to meet curriculum goals while providing the space for creativity and innovation. Through these experiences, the students also acquired the 21st-century skills needed to be successful in school and beyond.

An essential element of CBL is that it allows the learners (administrators, teachers, parents, and students) to begin with the Big ideas they are passionate about and then build out challenges leading to deep investigations, personalized learning, content mastery and the development of success skills. Finally, the learners have the opportunity to put their ideas into action in their local community and learn from the successes and failures. They get the chance to make a difference and to do meaningful work while learning.

Throughout the process, Carroll uses the framework for continuous improvement. By asking guiding questions and exploring new opportunities through the lens of the core values the school meets the ongoing challenges of a changing community.

The videos below provide examples of how CBL has become part of the Carroll environment and resulted in deep learning experiences for all of the stakeholders.


Learn how the students used CBL to learn content and success skills while making a difference in their school community during their final challenge in 6th grade. In the midst of all this the teachers and administrators learned how teaching and learning can be transformed to create ownership.

Kathryn, a 6th grade student, had an experience in elementary school that made her feel that she wasn’t being treated fairly. Her male teacher was moving furniture around the room into small clusters. The girls were told that the desks were too heavy, and only the boys could help. In 5th grade, Kathryn had a physical education teacher that let the boys use footballs and basketballs, while the girls were told they could use foam footballs and jump ropes so they wouldn’t get hurt. These stories inspired Kathryn to form a group of girls that could work toward promoting gender equality at Carroll by writing plays that they would perform in front the entire 6th grade.

A team of 6th-grade girls developed a challenge to plant more trees on Carroll’s campus. After further Investigation, they realized that in order to plant trees and receive support from outside organizations, they first had to become an eco school. The first step in becoming an eco-friendly school was to create a butterfly garden. The girls got approval to dig in front of the school, asked for help from the technology education teacher for correct measurements, and talked with plant experts on amounts of soil and how and when to plant the milkweed seeds. They also raised money for soil and supplies. In this video, you see their thought process and how their ideas changed over time.

A team of students had the challenge to reduce waste at Carroll Middle School. Through conversations with the custodians and cafeteria workers, students discovered that they had a compost bin on campus that was not being used. They pulled together to spread the word about excess waste and collected food waste weekly for the compost bin. Students in this video talk about how they made a difference and how they hope to inspire other middle school students along the way.




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