solvers rely on both prior and new
knowledge to structure the uncertainty
5 Launch Never-Ending Projects
Projects provide great opportunities
to address complex challenges. Unfortunately, most projects don’t go far
enough. Regardless of what form
projects take, most are confined to the
walls of the classroom and almost all
have a predetermined end date. Once
a project is over, it’s over; the science
fair trifold is recycled or stored in the
basement, and the 3–D printed fidget
spinners are shelved.
What if instead of limiting projects
to the classroom and viewing them
as coming to an end, we engaged
students in projects that address
authentic complex challenges and that
make a lasting contribution beyond
classroom walls, what I call legacy
challenges A legacy challenge represents an issue, problem, or situation
that requires us to develop an ongoing
solution and pass that solution on
from one group of young people to the
next (Beghetto, 2017; forthcoming).
For instance, suppose a group of
bilingual high school students recognizes that non-English speaking
members of their community aren’t
receiving important health, education, and other public information
in Spanish, their native language.
These students work with their
school language department and local
businesses, nonprofits, and com-
munity centers to develop a service
that translates public information into
Spanish and delivers it to people in
the community. The service would be
sustained as each incoming class of
bilingual students helps translate and
disseminate key information.
As this example illustrates, legacy
projects are a way for students to
respond productively to complicated
challenges facing them, their school,
or their community. Designing
such a project starts with working
through four deceptively simple
design questions (Beghetto, 2017;
1. What is the problem? Identifying
a problem that’s relevant to students
is the first step. Potential challenges
or problems can emerge from what
students are learning in class or what
they’re experiencing in their lives,
schools, homes, or neighborhoods.
2. Why does it matter? Once students have identified a challenge,
they need to understand why it
needs to be addressed. This includes
learning more about the challenge,
obtaining feedback and perspectives from various stakeholders, and
becoming able to articulate to others
the importance of addressing this
3. What are we going to do about it?
Students must start developing a plan
for addressing the problem by drawing
on their existing relevant knowledge,
identifying areas where they need
additional information, establishing
external partnerships, and identifying
initial steps to take.
4. What lasting legacy will our work
addressing this problem leave? This
question distinguishes legacy challenges from other kinds of problem-solving efforts. It requires students to
take a long view of the challenge and
identify how their work will be sustained, curated, and passed on from
one generation of students and project
partners to the next.
These questions are filled with
unknowns. The idea of inviting this
much uncertainty into the classroom
may initially seem terrifying. Again,
the key is to invite students to take on
these questions within a structured,
supportive learning environment.
Break down each question into smaller
subgoals, distribute the work across
teams of students, and guide teams to
accomplish it over time.
By working in this way, we support
learners in moving from an ill-defined
starting point toward a more clearly
defined resolution of the challenge.
Such efforts can go a long way in
helping students learn how, why, and
when to unleash their problem-solving
skills on complex challenges—and
even when it’s better not to do so.
The Beautiful Risk
Let’s return to our opening question:
What would happen if we invited
One way to help students learn to tackle
complex challenges is to let them learn
from accomplished problem solvers.