Grand Challenges at The UCL Academy


Grand Challenges draw together cross-disciplinary research activities at UCL.  The UCL Academy has adopted this approach to unify its own ‘Connected Curriculum’.

Students will study a range of GCSE subjects.  While the importance of excellent GCSE grades cannot be underestimated, at The UCL Academy we must develop students who can think beyond inert GCSE knowledge develop students capable of critical thinking and an ability to problem solve.  At best some of the authentic GCSE knowledge, understanding and skills (KUS) are implicit.  UCL Grand Challenges allow us to unify the curriculum and help students to make connections between their accrued KUS and the real world.  This means that KUS can be applied to novel problems and situations that are of paramount importance in a rapidly changing world.  Students can make connections between their academic subjects and to challenges facing localities and people.  The 6 Grand Challenges will help students at The UCL Academy to be better citizens, i.e. those who are empathetic to issues such as environmental degradation, inequality and injustice for example and who will then want to participate in society.  UCL Grand Challenges are accredited and students are awarded a certificate based on completion of various projects throughout the year.   

Year group Term 1 Term 2 Term 3
Level 1+ Big Ideas Big Ideas Transformative Technology
Level 2 Sustainable Cities Global Health Cultural Understanding
Level 2+ Human Wellbeing Justice and Equality Exams

Level 2 students partake in Grand Challenge work Wednesday period 3a.

Level 2+ students partake in Grand Challenge work Thursday period 1a.

Facilitators Guide to Grand Challenges

Level 2 Grand Challenges – collaborative resources

Level 2+ Grand Challenges – collaborative resources 

Grand Challenge products and projects

Students work as a learning set to create a final product that is exhibited to a wider audience.

Transformative Technology:  

Grand Challenges are launched in the summer term (term 3) of Level 1+ as students transition into key stage 4.  

Driving question: How can existing and emerging technologies be used for the improvement of societies and human wellbeing? 

Purpose-Process-Product:  This will take place as an Entry-Exit point activity. Students will use a ‘design thinking‘ process to come up with novel ways in which technologies can be used.  New ways to use drone technology such as for aid drops would be one example. Students will learn about disruptive technologies and discuss how they can potentially have both positive and negative impacts on society. 

Some possible themes to discuss in house time include;  

Sustainable Cities:

Term 1 Level 2,

Students work towards an ‘academic poster fair’.

Driving question: What can be done about the challenges our own and other communities face as more of us live in cities?   

Purpose-Process-Product: Students design a research question around how an issue affecting cities such as London can be solved.  Throughout the term, students will have opportunities to discuss and learn about challenges facing global cities where the vast amount of the worlds population live.  Students will produce an ‘academic poster’ for justification to an authentic audience that shows the cause-impact-solution of an issue facing cities as they urbanise.  

Possible workshop themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;


Student work – Academic poster fair December 2017

Global Health:

Term 2 Level 2.  

Driving question: What are the major global health issues and how can they be eradicated?

Purpose-Process-Product: Students design a research question about a Global Health issue e.g. ‘What is ebola and what can be done to eradicate it?’  Students will apply their learning across the curriculum to design a presentation highlighting their thinking.  Students will learn and discuss a range of global health issues throughout the term.  Students will demonstrate a thorough understanding of a specific global health issue via a formal presentation of learning (POL).  

Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

Cultural Understanding:

Term 3 Level 2.  

Driving question:  How can we heal our humanity?  

Purpose-Process-Product:  Students will aim to have a richer understanding of different cultures and issues associated with cultural understanding.  They will explore a range of issues internationally around race, gender, immigration and discrimination.  The final products of learning will be a written piece displayed in a magazine about an issue that matters to you.  A summit that brings together our learning to help answer the question ‘how can we heal our humanity?

Human Wellbeing

Term 1 Level 2+ 

Driving question: How can we all thrive in a complex and changing world?

Purpose-Process-Product:  Students will explore how adolescents and other generations can live well and better. Grand Challenge sessions include a range of workshops to help students understand issues around Human Wellbeing and their own personal wellbeing. Students will work through a design process and ethnographic studies that allow them to think about how an environment can be improved for a person with a particular need.  They will create short presentations of learning (POL) that demonstrate their ideas to an authentic audience.  

Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

Justice and Equality:

Term 2 Level 2+.  

Driving question: In what ways can we make our global society more Just?

Purpose-Process-Product: Students will understand the democratic process and discuss and learn about current and potential injustices in a series of workshops in their Grand Challenge sessions.  This will present an opportunity for Level 2+ students to work with younger students on the Big Idea of Justice.  Students will ultimately produce an ignition speech for an authentic audience on injustices they care about.  

Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;


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