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Using Scrum in Classrooms

When I was in school, science projects went something like this: 

The teacher would announce that there will be a science project and that it will be due in one month. Usually, it was not something that was discussed for the next month. 

Then two days before the project would be due, the teacher would remind us about the deadline, and that was when we would scramble to finish the project. The project would be something we would put together last minute, would be likely incomplete and subpar, and most importantly, something that I would not be proud of. The same would go for book reports too. Scrambling to read and write a book report two days before it was due would be the norm, and we would usually present the first draft we wrote. Of course, it wasn't great. 

The projects were graded, a winner was decided without any critiquing or feedback from the judges, and no one discussed what made a great science project or book report. We also never reflected on what went well during the project, and what we could improve for future projects. This would mean most students would never break patterns or learn from their mistakes. 

In his book the Ethic of Excellence, Ron Berger suggests doing things differently. In his middle school class, Ron Berger would talk about the science project, but instead of announcing it and forgetting about it for the next month, he would compel his class to start thinking about their project as soon as possible. He would present examples of great science projects done by students from previous classes, to set the bar on what he expected from his class. Then he would help them create a list of tasks they would need to do to create their science project, and put it up on a wall. This wall would be revisited often, and the students, along with their peers, would motivate each other to make progress on their projects every day. 

The classroom as a whole would critique each other's work, and provide constructive feedback so that the students would keep revising their work till they were happy and proud of their projects. 

The first version of their projects was never exhibited, and the students knew that if they put in enough effort, and persevered daily, that they could create beautiful projects. 

Anytime you make the work public, set the bar high, and are transparent about the steps to make a high-quality product, kids will deliver. - Ron Berger 

We are proposing that we should use a scrum wall to help breakdown big projects and goals for students into smaller, manageable tasks.

Implementing Scrum in project-based learning 

Project-based learning modules are the perfect opportunity for you to implement Scrum in your classroom. It can be implemented for team-based projects or individual projects as well. 

In this setup, the teacher or guide takes on the role of the product owner. The product owner can then create a backlog for the students. A backlog is a set of deliverables that each student must submit for their project to be done. 

An example of this for a science project could be as follows: 

  1. Create a team (in case of a team-based project)

  2. Submit a project proposal 

  3. Create a detailed list of supplies 

  4. Come up with the budget for your project 

  5. Submit a sketch of your project

  6. Create and test the first draft of the project

  7. Submit the first draft of the project

  8. Create and check the second draft of the project

  9. Submit second draft of the project 

  10. Submit final draft of the project 

  11. Peer review of project presentation

  12. Final day presentation

As you can see here, the product owner has very clearly defined a set of tasks that each student/team needs to do to get their science project done. We could create a "Definition of Done" task list for each task as well, as I have explained in this article.

The Definition of Done checklist gives students a very clear path to achieving their goal and creating a great project on time. 

Creating sprints

Once you have a backlog for each project, we can then divide the tasks into sprints. We would recommend keeping the sprint length of one school week. 

The students or team take ownership of the tasks in the backlog, and they decide how long it would take for them to get each job on the list done. This exercise could be different for each team.

Based on these estimates, the students can then plan which tasks they can get done in each sprint. Every sprint needs to have a set of deliverables. This way, we know that students are making continuous progress each week instead of cramming all their work in the last few days. 

Project wall

Next, we can then set up a project wall, somewhere in the classroom with 3 columns: "To Do", "Doing" and "Done". All of the tasks can be added to the "TO DO" column. 

Daily Scrum

We would also recommend a Daily scrum for each team or class. This is where everyone comes together at the beginning of the day in front of the class wall. In this catchup, students will answer 3 simple questions : 

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?

  2. What am I going to be working on today?

  3. Do I see any blockers or impediments for today? 

Tracking progress on the project wall

Once the student starts working on a task, they should move it to the "Doing" column.

To move a task to the "Done" column, the student/team needs to get a peer review done by their friends, and/or by the teacher as well. If any changes are required, they can make those too. 

Team and class retrospectives 

Running retrospectives within the classroom at the end of a sprint or a project can be a powerful tool. Students reflect on what went well, what didn't and areas where they need to improve for the next sprint or project. They also learn to provide constructive feedback to their peers and thank and appreciate people who helped them as well. 

I hope this article has given you ideas to implement Scrum in your classroom for your next book report or class project. Please do let me know if you have any other questions. 

Have you implemented any of these practices within your classroom? What has your experience been like? 

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