How Kanban boards transform project-based learning | Jessica Cavallaro | 5 Min Read

The year begins with a bang. Students shuffling in with crumbs of summer still in their eyes are staring down the project to end all projects. 

Their first topic in a U.S. Government course is about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The Social Contract theory, an idea most of us first experienced in high school is the first topic to be tackled by these new 8th graders. What’s worse is that they are being asked to answer an unanswerable question: How Should Power Be Distributed in a Stable Society?

Confused about the content, the students look for structure, but all of this is new. Students will tackle this content and answer the essential question in self-selecting teams. They will navigate their learning through teacher chosen resources, but then they choose an area in the real world to apply their knowledge. Looking down the scope of this project seems like an impossible task. So much to do, so many moving parts, and ugh… working in teams. 

When asked to share their feelings, the number one feedback is that they do not want to work in teams. They complain about pulling others through, unfair workload, confusion, and arguments. In their experience teamwork means some kids slack, some kids work, and in most cases, it ends in a Hail Mary to the teacher’s desk. 

I promise them this time will be different. Eyes roll and not one person actually believes me. Then the Kanban board is revealed. 

The first step is determining a definition of “Done.” Student teams work together to determine when work is considered done. The definition will differ for different teams. It should fit the team and the personalities within it. 

If you know you tend to procrastinate how will you address it? 

If you are detail-oriented, how can that benefit the team? 

How will you determine deadlines, and, most importantly, stick to them? 

These are the important discussions that need to occur before a project is launched. Our students all know each other. They have worked with each other in some way throughout their educational career. What could be better for them than to pull the skeletons of past projects out of the closet, address the elephants in the room, and set intentions based on the realities of their teams? 

When the definition of done is complete, the real questions begin. 

Why were you asked to set a definition…

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Jessica Cavallaro

Jessica Cavallaro is the co-founder of The Agile Mind, which interweaves Agile frameworks into K-12 education. She is passionate about the benefits of project based learning and creating purposeful education to drive innovation through inquiry. She is an advocate for developing systems that give students agency. Jessica earned her Bachelor’s degree at Pace University and Master’s in Education from Mercy College.