Challenge is a positive component of any science learning environment; in fact, without challenge, growth does not happen. The right level of challenge, i.e. one that requires investment of effort but where success is within reach, is often perceived as highly enjoyable and engaging, thereby boosting concentration and interest. However, challenge is perceived subjectively and changes as skills grow, and therefore it is important that science teachers continuously assess their learning environments to ensure that these are optimally challenging for their female and male students. You can read more about this and the impact of challenge on student engagement in chapter 9.
Resources to support teachers in challenging students can be found by clicking on the links shown at right. Those resources include handouts and activities, further reading, links to recommended websites, and short (~ 3 minute) video clips illustrating the importance of this concept to practicing scientists and showing exemplary high school teachers who practice the strategies recommended in the book.
1. Positive Challenge and Optimal Engagement
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi talks about flow in his TED Talk (especially relevant from 14:47)
Article on Flow in Education: Schmidt, J.A. (2010). Flow in Education. In E. Baker, P.P. Peterson & B. McGaw, (Eds) International encyclopedia of education, 3rd Edition. London, Elsevier.
2. Growth Mindset and Perceptions of Challenge
?“Encouraging Girls in Math and Science” is a practical guide for doing just that. It offers suggestions on helping girls manage challenges, develop a growth mindset, and build skills in areas like spatial reasoning (by Halpern, D, Aronson, J., Reimer, N. Simpkins, S., Star, J. & Wentzel, K., 2007).
Resources that support implementation of the recommendations in the guide can be found here.
3. Challenge Awareness
A downloadable Challenge Checklist that students can use in class to rate class activities. Teachers can customize with their assignments. Local pdf file
The “What Kids Can Do” website offers reminders to teachers about the types of challenges adolescents can handle. Browse the site to learn of amazing student accomplishments – many of them in science.
Websites: General and science specific differentiation tips.
- General information about differentiation – focus is on laying a foundation.
- Improving science education with differentiated instruction.
- Differentiation Central contains a wealth of information and resources to help educators differentiate instruction. Featured in this link are a number of videos designed to help instructors differentiate instruction for a variety of situations and grade levels.
- Chart on science differentiation strategies.
- Six ways to differentiate using PBL.
- Carol Tomlinson’s website. Many links and resources about differentiation are provided.
Books about Differentiation for Science Teachers:
- Differentiated Science Inquiry by Douglas Llewellyn is available through Amazon or through NSTA
- This free book, Science differentiation in action, is geared towards students with special needs in the science classroom.
Further Reading about Differentiation:
- Article about highly able learners and appropriate levels of challenge Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). Quality curriculum and instruction for highly able students. Theory Into Practice, 44(2). 160-166.
Practical solutions for differentiating in science:
5. Staff Development
In “Challenging students… and how to have more of them” by Alfie Kohn, Phi Delta Kappan, November 2004, useful strategies for bringing positive challenge into the classroom are presented. This article could be used for staff development. Posted with permission.
6. Additional Readings on Challenge
Article on flow in schools: Shernoff, D. J. & Csikszenmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow in schools: Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In R. C. Gilman, E.S. Heubner & M.J. Furlong (Eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools (pp. 131-145). New York: Routlage.
7. Videos about Challenge
?Links to videos about concepts and strategies described in this chapter are found on this page. To learn more about the scientists and teachers featured in these videos, click here where you can read a description and/or select a link to find all video clips of them.
Regina talks about the importance of challenge for instilling a sense of accomplishment.
Sheri stresses the importance of viewing mistakes as learning opportunities in science
Laura talks about how positive challenge in a class sparked interest and engagement.
Georgia discusses the value of challenge for success in computer science.
Teachers and Classrooms
Mike believes that challenges are opportunities and his students attest to the fact that his class is demanding which has led them to learn more and be more interested than they are in other classes.
The reflective experiences that Mike provides for his students in natural settings allow for differentiation, deepens students’ learning, and challenges them to think.