Scaffolding an Agile Learning Experience

150 years of content in five weeks? Yeah, no problem. The students were in charge. 

In a lightning speed brainstorm with the founder of L-EAF, Jeff Burstein, the way unit planning was typically done flipped on its side. 

Instead of spending weeks meticulously planning every movement and learning path in the classroom I developed one big idea. 

8th grade students that had be unknowingly employing SCRUM all year to backward design and execute their project based learning units were now in sole control of the classroom.

Each student group picked a topic from history to become experts in. They did the heavy research, sharpening their skills to dig deep into their time period and dig out the must know facts, people and connections. They had to prioritize the information, break it into meaningful chunks that were engaging and age appropriate for middle school kids in a hybrid classroom. Finally, they needed to prototype and build for the grand unveiling of an American History Museum in 5 weeks. 

Piece of cake.. 

Self-Organizing Groups

The difference with this project was that students were  creatively in charge. I did not make nice balanced groups, choose the time periods, create rubrics or give any creative directions. Instead my role was of a student guide. I will met with small groups to keep track of their momentum. Checked their kanban boards where they organized and designed their project. In past projects students have had control, but I always designed the rubric. I have picked a broad type product and the students have had the freedom to choose how they will fulfill  my requirements. In this project the students had full creative control. I stepped back from my role as leader to guide. 

Students self-selected their groups. No frustrating social decisions from me. They were able to choose to work with any other students in the grade, whether in their class period or not. They were able to have this freedom because we were introducing a new classroom tool to help them have greater transparency and collaboration. The Kanban board from Kanbanzone.com would serve as a giant visual radiator of information. The students needed to learn how to navigate the new tool, but it opened up endless possibilities for them to have greater control of their LearningFLOW.

With freedom came more responsibility and this was explained to the classes. Working with people outside of the class added deeper levels of complexity that they had faced before.

None of that mattered. The kids jumped for joy at the idea of real choice. Throughly excited to have freedom to pick their own groups or work alone. They had been in the same classes all year long, and there are only so many combinations you can make of 18-23 kids. The chance to work with new students from other classes was exhilarating and immediately added a “buy in” that is always hard to get in the fourth quarter.

Self – Selecting Content

The designated time periods were American History 1800 – 1945. Each student group would have options about the topic they would like. The most democratic way to assign these time slots was to create a google sheet. I entered all of the time periods and left the sheet locked for students to look through with the intention that they would plan ahead. After the project was explained it was announced that the following morning at 7:45AM the sheet would be unlocked. This was strictly a first come first serve basis. If you forgot, you probably were not going to get what you wanted, but if you employed your time management skills and set an alarm you would be ready at 7:45 when the sheet opened for editing.

At 7:45 the sheet exploded. All 97 students seemed to join at once. Incredibly it was seemless. Everyone got a topic and most were pretty happy. There was no arguing, no emails and no frustration. Given choice the kids worked it all out themselves.

Research

Learning sound research techniques is a cornerstone to social studies work. It is one of the fundamental skills that all students must master especially as media has becomes more complex. Every project this year has required in depth research. Previously students have made their research cards on a google doc, but because we are working on implementing LearningFLOW and more agile methodologies into the class students did all of their work on the kanban board.

Students tend to think about school based on grades. In this instance they want to know how many research cards are enough for an A. In the past I was happy to oblige them, setting a minimum requirement and letting them submit when they were complete. This time my attitude was shifting to a healthier way. This time it was announced cards would be screened for quality over quantity. For example: If your topic is the causes of the Great Depression could you possible be an expert with five research cards? Probably not. However, when I assigned 20 research cards maybe 15 were done well and the rest were simple google searches. That wastes student time and my time grading. In a more agile approach students were told this project was purely about quality over quantity. When they felt they had gathered enough information they could submit their cards and I would read them. If there were main ideas or central people missing in their research I would let them know and they could continue to research.

Rubrics

     I love rubrics. I have them for everything. Writing rubrics, project rubrics, video rubrics, collaboration rubrics. Believe me I have them all. But this time I could not make my students rubrics. I did not want to have any part in defining what their product would be. There was also the challenge of students studying wildly different time periods that involved nuance and context. This time students were to create their own rubrics. They could base them off of my large library of rubrics that they had access to, but they needed to create one just for their project. The only domains that were required was a detailed explanation of their physical exhibit and their learning goals.

    This was a double win for me. The students were really free to define what success would be for them, but they also had to  put down concrete ideas about what they were going to build and what key pieces of information other students would be able to learn from their exhibit. It was a goal setting exercise that I could use to gauge their vision that doubled as a grading system. 

WHY?

Throughout this year my goal has been to keep kids connected, collaborating and making new connections. The only way I could find to meet these goals in a hybrid classroom was integrating agile methodology. I would like to say I chose agile, but in reality agile chose me. I found it just as I hit a new low in desperation in my teaching career. I was reaching complete and total burn out and questioned how long I could stay in the classroom. Design thinking and problem based learning have always been the main drivers in content and skill delivery. Students always loved coming to class for hands-on interactive learning experiences, but there was a nagging thought that kids needed to develop more independent skills and really own their education. 

    Implementing agile into my classroom has forced me to rewire my brain. The traditional way of lesson planning and setting learning objectives dissolves when you scaffold learning experiences in which you are the guide and not the leader. Developing an agile mindset means you need to come unstuck from “the way it’s always been” to  “what if” reflective thinking pattern. What if my students had complete control? What if I trusted them to set their own definition of done (quality control)? 

     Learning to become agile as a veteran teacher is like escaping quicksand in a mystical forest. Not impossible, but there will be struggle. However, if the agile principle and mindset were taught in K-12 education it would be second nature. It would BE the way we think, not how we have to re-train ourselves to think. 

    The WHY drives me to be a better teacher and implement new learning systems in a year of a pandemic, major election and social unrest. Our world is moving so quickly, if our students do not learn how to be agile now they will enter the real world and the job market woefully unprepared. Another generation lost to the bureaucracy of a system. 

These 97 students had unwittingly dove into EduScrum in August and have become more lean as the year wears on. They did not learn agile, they are agile and I am just reinforcing and encouraging the way they already think.

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