Planning for EduScrum | Jessica Cavallaro | 6 Min Read

Jessica published an earlier article describing EduScrum on July 9, 2021.

Last summer, I was struck with a lightning bolt of inspiration. After being beaten and torn down by distance learning during a pandemic I knew that my teaching needed to adapt to our changing lifestyle. 

I found SCRUM and Agile by accident, but that accidental moment forever changed my life in and out of the classroom. 

Agile is a lightweight framework where self-selected teams collaborate to create small increments of work to achieve a large goal. There is constant communication through visual tools like a kanban board. There is constant reflection, flexibility to change as new issues arise, and the ability to fail and rebuild without severe consequence. 

It was clear from the moment I began my research that this was going to be the way to embed a standard curriculum with the essential skills that all students need to be successful in our ever-evolving world. Most importantly though, having no idea whether we would be in school, remote or hybrid, this was how my kids would stay connected and build community through this stressful time. 

Building background information is never my problem.  I am a speed reader that rips through books and consumes articles all day long. However, just like the students, I struggle with application. 

The real question facing me as time marched towards the incoming school year was how do I implement agile and scrum into the classroom? How would my students feel about this new system? How could I create connections when I did not even know where my students would be?

The HOW had me running in circles. 

First I decided to implement EduScrum. This framework was built for educators to adapt to their classrooms. Like SCRUM some rituals had to be taught and executed. These rituals: Sprint planning, Sprint, Daily SCRUM, Sprint Retrospective, and Sprint Review, helped me to frame out my first unit. It felt safe knowing that there was a system to follow as I dove into something completely new.  However, I still did not know what this looked like.

I created the driving questions, the task statement (The unit hook), and the celebration criteria (standards in student language). I made a template for the Flap (visual work board). I still had no idea where to start.

Do I tell kids we’re doing eduScrum?

How exactly do I let them plan their own project?

I know my role is Scrum Master and Project Manager, but…. HOW?

I began to panic. Cold sweaty palms and a pit in my stomach followed. My response? Twitter. Of course. 

I started to look for eduScrum on Twitter and luckily found @eduScrum. After diving deep into their timeline, I decided I needed to have some guts and just reach out. Hoping that there was some compassionate soul on the other end of the @eduScrum handle I typed out a DM asking for help, half hoping someone was there and half thinking my request would never be answered.

Five minutes later Willy Wiljands messaged me back and we set a time to answer my questions through zoom. I had questions about how to start, my role, curriculum, but mostly how to guide students through this process. He had exceptional answers for everything.

Mr. Wiljands developed EduScrum from the basis of SCRUM. He is an incredible veteran teacher that has dedicated his time to bringing SCRUM into the classroom because of its benefits for the entire educational system. 

The HOW

Everything starts with WHY. It’s not just a Simon Sinek book, it’s a way of life. Students need to know why. Why are they learning this content? Why are they tackling these issues? By starting with why students will buy-in. They are naturally inquisitive and want to be respected enough that you take the time to explain WHY. If I could figure out the “why” to each piece I could find a way to bring it to life for my students. 

I began generating my WHY questions. 

Why are we studying social contract theory?

Why are we discussing power in society? How does it affect us?

Why am I giving you celebration criteria? How can we use it effectively?

Why do we use a flap? What benefit does it provide for us?

Generating the WHY questions helped me plan my unit and introduce each piece to my class. I started with the purpose and then scaffolded the HOW.

My students didn’t know they were practicing eduScrum. They only know I gave them the power to create their own project. They know this framework because I taught it to them, not because I handed them the eduScrum guide. I framed this as an adventure into developing skills that would lead them through life. Wide-eyed, and probably scared the students knew they were going to experience a class as they have never taken before. 

The biggest piece of insight Mr. Wiljands shared with me was how to create stories and tasks. I was completely confused as to how to describe this to students. I wanted them to be independent, but if I am hands-off, nothing will be done. 

Mr. Wiljands explained the analogy he uses that you can see in many of his Youtube talks. He explained the project is a mountain that the students are climbing. The mountain is made from boulders which are the stories. Each boulder is made from rocks and the rocks are made from sand. These are the tasks and activities that need to be completed. I can help define the boulders and even rocks that must be completed, but students can have control of the order to complete them and even add more rocks and sand.

This analogy cleared up most of my confusion. I can guide students and make sure they are making the necessary connections, but I can still leave them in creative control.

In class, I drew the same picture of the person climbing a mountain filled with boulders, rocks, and sand and explained the analogy in the same way. It was not without its bumps. The students struggled with how to break down big ideas into stories and tasks.

To clarify, we broke down the first story together. We discussed how each story is made of tasks. The tasks are actionable pieces of work that can be completed independently of each other. For example, the first task is to annotate and marginally notate a reading. That can be completed and put into the done section of our Flap. After that is complete students can use their reading to synthesize information into a graphic organizer. That is a task that can be fully completed and placed in the done section. Both of these tasks build to the same knowledge, but they are separate tasks.

Once we worked through our first story together students were able to launch into their projects together. Some jumped in, others meandered a bit, all were successful. The flap really helped them organize their thoughts and ideas. It led to interesting conversations, the sharing of ideas, and brainstorming about where the project could take them.

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.

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