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

Facilitators Guide to Grand Challenges

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 of Level 1+ as students transition into key stage 4.  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 an example.  Students will learn about disruptive technologies and discuss how they can potentially have both positive and negative impacts on society.  

Sustainable Cities: Term 1 Level 2, students work towards an ‘academic poster fair’. Students design a driving 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. Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;


Global Health: Term 2 Level 2.  Students design a driving 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.  Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

Cultural Understanding: Term 2 Level 2.  Students work through a design thinking process each week.  This includes ethnographic studies and identifying problems, brainstorming and then prototyping.  This will culminate in a pitch and prototype of a product that can have significant cultural value.  The Design for Change website is used to help  Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

Human Wellbeing. Term 1 Level 2+, as students move closer towards their final examinations, we explore how adolescents can live well in challenging times. Grand Challenge sessions include a range of workshops to help students understand issues around Human Wellbeing and their own personal wellbeing.  Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

Justice and Equality: Term 2 Level 2+.  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.  Possible themes of this Grand Challenge are outlined below;

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