June 11, 2021
It’s the end of the school year — our COVID year — and I don’t want the year to end anymore. Yes, that’s what I said. This is the first year in a very long time that I don’t want to stop teaching for the summer. I don’t want to lose my momentum.
Why? In a word: Agility.
This last quarter (nine weeks) of school was a game-changer for me. My friend and colleague, Jessica Cavallaro, asked me the question that would change my life: “Hey Ros, do you want to do this thing called ‘Agile’ with me?”
At that time, I had no idea what Agile was. But I know Jessica. I know that she, like me, is passionate about providing students in her class with real, authentic, challenging, and fun opportunities to learn and push boundaries. So of course my answer to her was “why not”?
Learning Agility is mind-boggling, but only at first. It’s a new way of thinking. You identify an objective, an end goal. You identify key results and outcomes that will show proof that your goal or objective has been achieved. Then the work starts. You have to establish tasks to do that and actually make those key results and outcomes happen. If your completed tasks work — great! Mission accomplished for that part of the objective. If those tasks don’t work — pivot, try a new alternative to reach the desired result. I know this seems to be common sense, right? But you honestly have to practice doing this, going through these steps to create that muscle memory in your thinking, so to speak. The visual interface that helped me get there was using Kanban boards through Kanban Zone. Kanban Zone is a website that helps you to organize your objectives and goals, using prioritization, categorization, scheduling, and more.
After a few training sessions with our coach, Jeff Burstein at L-EAF.org, on how to use the Kanban boards, things just started to click. No, I can’t see the green code from The Matrix yet, but I do understand the beauty of using Agile methodologies to reduce waste and increase the flow of achieving goals in my personal life. If it could work well in my personal life, could it be this effective everywhere? You know where this is going, right?
Jeff gave Jessica and me a challenge: use these same methods in your classroom with your kids — THIS YEAR! Well… challenge accepted. My students began using Kanban Zone boards in mid-April. They used them to plan out and reach this objective: to explain the differences between rocks and minerals and how those differences can affect their use in the real world.
After much tinkering, frustration, and experimentation, they became familiar with and more comfortable using the Kanban boards. And each team used the boards in a way that helped them set specific goals for the lesson they were designing. The collaborative planning kept the teams on track with their presentation deadlines. No two teams’ processes were alike. And that is ok. The purpose of Agile is to help the team accomplish more without wasting time, not to accomplish goals in the same way as everyone else.
But the most notable outcomes were how engaged the students were when designing their lessons. They took responsibility for completing tasks and took the lead in keeping teammates on track to meet stated goals and objectives. This definitely showed a level of student agency that I, honestly, had not allowed them before. Now I see my mistake. They are capable of more. For example, in one group, they designed a lab in which the class was to recreate various crystal structures for minerals. At first, they had no idea where to start. Honestly, they’d seen a version of this online. They came to me to ask how to do it. When this happens, my standard response is, “I don’t know,” which challenges them to figure out how to solve the problem.
Developing critical thinking skills involves students having to tinker, experiment, fail, pivot, tinker again, experiment again, etc., until they find a solution. Most times, they resist this procedure at first. So yes, initially, I got the teenager “eye-roll,” but then I heard them start planning it out. Student A to Student B: “Ok, you find more videos about how we can make models of minerals.” Student B to Student A: “Ok, cool. But what are you going to do?” Student A to Student B: “ I want to identify the main types of crystal structures of minerals.” Student C to Students A and B: “We need to write the instructions for the lab, right? How will they know how to do this? Don’t we need to show them an example?” From that point on the questions and planning took on a life of its own — without me. All I did was stand back, watch, and nod my head at the great ideas that were being shared.
As a result of this journey, my mind is blown. The effort they put into their final projects revealed so much. They were engaged. They were interested. They were invested. They felt empowered. And they accomplished this because they were in charge of their own learning.
What teacher wants to stop for a break (even summer break) when the stars align like this?
I, for one, do not. Stay tuned for more from my partner, Jessica Cavallaro, and me, about how we implemented Agile skills and Scrum this year. We will also walk you through a process for how you can develop a plan for your own Agile classroom next year.
Stay connected with us and our progress through our website, The-Agile-Mind.com.