Cards and Cookies, Challenge Based Learning

Recently I was very fortunate to attend a session at Apple Canada about Challenge Based Learning.  To say that I was inspired is a huge understatement.  There was so much in-depth information shared.  It would be impossible to do it justice in a blog post, so here is the web page:   It is an incredible resource, I would strongly encourage you to join the community and download the classroom guide.

The structure that I took from the session is:

Big idea, essential question, challenge

So when I thought about how I could incorporate this learning into my teaching practice I decided to give it a try by tweaking a project that I have done in the past.  Every year we give back at Christmas.  We plan a service project as part of our classroom “Winter Extravaganza” that we do the last week of classes before the break.  (Our Winter Extravaganza also includes making gingerbread houses, a swimming field trip on a bus, many, many crafts and usually a food and games afternoon on the last day)

So this year we started planning with the following question:

“How can we make someone’s holiday brighter?”

We talked in general terms as a group about what that might mean (giving background/context knowledge)

IMG_0825Then we broke into self selected groups and brainstormed ideas of what that could look like:




IMG_0824Here is a sample of what they came up with:


The groups shared their ideas.  We discussed our ideas as a class and found out that Ms. Lorrie Felbel (our fantastic EA) was part of a community group that has been collecting coats, hats, gloves and socks to take to people living on the street.  They were going to give out lunches when they delivered the care packages.  We added that idea to our group brain storm as well as Children’s Hospital which the class knows is my favourite charity:


Next we considered some essential questions of: who, what, when, where and then extended our thinking to What do we need to know? and How are we going to do this?

These two essential questions are from the presentation on project based learning by Shelley Wright that I attended the day after the Apple Canada session as part of our Innovative Learning Designs dinner meeting series.  Shelley is an amazing and inspirational speaker.  (Check out her blog by clicking on her name above.)

We let it rest and roll around in our brains over the weekend.  I asked the students to write a note in their planners to talk about the project ideas with their families.  When we were back together on Wednesday we had another look at our project and narrowed it down to one idea that came up in some form from all the groups: making cards and cookies for people living on the street.

We began our planning by looking at the two essential questions again:

What do we need to know?

-we found out that Ms. Felbel will be delivering 150 lunches on December 8th

How are we going to do this?

-we talked about how we were going to get the cookies: where will the dough come from, who will make them, what the finished product would look like (baggies, cards attached)

-we decided to ask for parents to help by donating cookie dough that was either pre made at home or pre made from the grocery store.  A lot of students said they would use their own money to buy cookie dough.

We set a goal of two cookies per bag, or 300 cookies with a home made card for each person.

-we planned to bake on Wednesday and Thursday of the following week and to assemble the packages on Friday so Ms. Felbel could take them with her on Friday afternoon.

-I sent home a notice explaining our project to parents.  I was hopeful that we might have a few families donate cookie dough, however given that our school was inner-city and that a lot of our families are under-resourced, Lorrie and I decided that we would bring in enough dough for at least 200 cookies on Wednesday and then see what we needed for Thursday.

To finish the week, we made 156 cards on Friday.  The students really enjoyed making the cards 🙂

IMG_0870 IMG_0869 IMG_0868 IMG_0867 IMG_0866 IMG_0865 IMG_1171

I returned to work on Wednesday with bags of Pilsbury cookie dough, cookie sheets and tinfoil in hand ready to start cooking.  We baked and baked…

IMG_0905 IMG_0906

and baked…



And by Thursday afternoon all of the cookie dough had been turned into yummy cookies.  We were absolutely stunned at the response from the students.  They had donated a mountain of cookie dough.

Give a child a challenge, embrace their ideas and support them and they will rise to the occasion.

Our students are superstars!  Our goal of 2 cookies per bag was blown out of the water.  We had 796 cookies. (We actually made more than that but the class decided that the broken ones weren’t suitable for the project.  They were sent to the staff room)  We made enough cookies to fill 150 bags with 5 cookies per bag.  So we got to work filling bags!


And then we did some math 🙂IMG_0013

After we filled all the bags with cookies we finished the inside of the cards with messages to brighten the day of someone living on the street.  Ms. Dalzell, our fantastic preservice teacher, shared with the class about her experiences taking part in a “Night in a Box” project where she spent the night on the street to raise awareness for homelessness.

Over the past few weeks we have been having discussions about homelessness.  I can safely say that our students will not be using the terms “Hobo” and “Bum” again.  They have a new compassion for others and are very empathetic young people.  Some of our discussions included how to make positive decisions, how to refuse harmful substances and the importance of thinking for yourself, setting goals and finding supportive people.  (This is the core of our Health and Career curriculum).  We also covered math, social studies and language arts.


I am amazed at how the spelling on each card was perfect and that the students used their best printing.  This is real life writing.  The kids were passionate about their project and took extra care to get it right.


Finally, we stapled the cards onto the bags of cookies and Lorrie took them home with her on Friday and delivered them on Sunday.  I plan to write a follow up post with a few photos of the delivery trucks and some of the volunteers who delivered the care packages as well as some video I took of the students thoughts as they were doing the project.  The students will be blogging about it sometime next week on their Kidblog site.


I want to say a huge thank-you to Lorrie for all her hard work!  Not only on this project, but over the 5 years we have worked together in our room.  I absolutely adore her.  She is an amazing woman!

And my darling grade 3’s…you will be having the best Winter Extravaganza in Bear Creek history 🙂 Thank you for reminding me why I love to teach.


Cards and Cookies, Challenge Based Learning — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Not Only About Passion-Based Learning | It's All About Learning

  2. Diana,

    What a great project for you and your students (actually, for our entire school to be aware of). Your students really understand what is truly important about the “holiday” season. What an important lesson to learn and a young age.

    I love how your students worked in all areas of the curriculum in this one project. I also love the authenticity of the project and how seriously all your students took this project.

    I can’t wait to see what else you are going to do with your students this year!

    Thank you for all you do to make learning meaningful and truly authentic for your kids. This is a year they will not soon forget!


  3. This is amazing. I am so proud of you as a fellow teacher!!! I’m thrilled that this kind of authentic learning is going on. Those kids are going to live great lives thanks to you. Society thanks you. I learned a lot about how to properly understand the multiple possible facets of PBL from your post, so MERCI BEAUCOUP for helping me with my professional development. I’m forwarding this to my local Rotary club and my mom – she’s a retired kindergarten teacher now working with a volunteer group of retired librarians who are gifting shipping-crate ‘libraries’ to the rural native communities in northern B.C. I think her team would love to read about your service project.

    Merry Christmas.

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