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Kanban in the Classroom

When I first introduced EduScrum into the classroom students created FLAPs out of the materials available. In class, students worked with painter's tape and post-its, hybrid groups preferred using a template I had created on Jamboard. Each group found a way to break down their epics and stories into color-coded tasks and move from the backlog, to do, doing, and done.

Learning this method was not an easy task. To build the FLAP for our first unit students struggled to understand how to break down stories into tasks for over a week. As my student's guide, I rotated from each small group listening to their frustrations and gently guiding them with questions. We would talk out ideas. For example: What are the steps of writing an essay? What do you need to do first? Second? And Then…. They know how to write an essay, but to literally break down the assignment into “doable” tasks was extremely hard. They struggled quite a bit but, by the end, all students were able to read their Celebration Criteria and pick out stories and break them down into doable tasks.

Through each unit, the students gained the skill of creating a FLAP and breaking their large stories into tasks that can be moved through the board. What once took them over a week, was now completed in under a class period. Students would gather around their FLAPs at the beginning of each class and discuss the movement of their projects. They would hold their stand-up meetings while ensuring that the work was documented on the board and moving cards as they felt was appropriate. During their meetings, I tried to keep my distance. Lurking in the corners of the classroom I would pace to overhear, but not interrupt. The students were in charge and I was only there to guide them.

The entire energy of each project seemed to hit states of flow. Often I would be pacing in my room with no one to talk to. All groups would be buzzing in their own state of creation. 

Of course, this is when I chose to implement agile and kanban. The students were already used to the system that I had introduced in August, but I felt that there may be an opportunity to explore new tools in our last quarter together. Disrupting a system that is working is a hard choice. Should I alter the path in the home stretch? Is there enough learning opportunity to alter directions? Would agile and kanban develop more transparency, communication, and adaptability? These questions circled my head like a dazed cartoon character. I never mind taking a risk, but is the risk worth it to the kids? Of course, I accepted the challenge and so did the students. Again, they were ready and willing to change like my truly agile partners.

Introducing Kanban

Before introducing a new system to students I was already neck-deep in it. A few weeks earlier Jeff Burstein at had introduced me to my first kanban board. I had been working with a SCRUM board for several months so the idea of a visual tracking system did not bother me. What I didn’t realize was how different the systems would be. 

I was fortunate enough to be working on, which provided me with unlimited boards and all of the editing tools you could imagine. My first steps were baby steps. How do you make a card? What domains should the colors represent? Building checklists, linking cards, and pulling them across the board was work that fits the definition of done. This was all a piece of cake. The ease of gaining knowledge in seconds, the multi-function of the cards, and the transparency of movement. I loved it all immediately. 

When it became time to build boards I became more concerned. I was engaging in LearningFLOW, but I did not know how to create a board that flowed. Luckily, came with over twenty templates for everything from SCRUM board, basic Kanban, and even how to plan a wedding, which is 20 years too late, but would have saved a lot of organizational mess. Thankfully, Jeff built a basic flowing board for me that would enable students to pull their work through the board.  The board visually made sense to me and I could see the kids bringing their schema of knowledge from the FLAP to Kanban. Excited and full of energy I dove into personalizing the board. 

Still concerned about the student's feelings I wanted to make sure the board worked well. I knew my students would be upset that I was changing systems, but I wanted them to see that there were options for how they could build their time management, organizational, and communication skills. I did not want them to become overly dependent on just one system and with the freedom of choice that they were going to have they needed the maximum level of transparency.

I was interested to see after three-quarters of teaching kids to be flexible and agile in their mindsets if they would be as frustrated as they were at the beginning of the year. Would they take their knowledge and adapt or stay stuck in the system they first learned?

On the first day, students were asked to explore the board. They had chosen their groups and their topics already. They had an end goal to build a museum exhibit, now one last time they needed to break down their project into doable steps and pull it through the board. This time they had so many more tools. As the kids explored their own boards I kept mine up on the SMARTboard. As questions flew out other kids answered using my computer to show everyone. There was a real sense of community learning. We discussed how building checklists can further break down tasks, or assign work to members of the group. How to assign cards, color code for greater communication, and when cards should be moved to “DONE”.

At the end of the first class, each group seemed to have a good idea of how to use the boards. Don’t get me wrong they were not thrilled with me, but they all could function on the board.

In the following few weeks movement on the board was explosive. The students used their boards to organize their research and generate ideas for their exhibits. They created high and low-priority tasks by moving cards and communicated through comments on each card. When workflow began to slow down I could see it visually through the metrics. It was a prompt that I needed to be checking in with a group, ensuring there were no impediments and helping move them forward. 

By the end of the unit, there were the students were logged onto daily. They researched, brainstormed, prototyped, and created interactive museum exhibits with other students in different classes by using the boards.

In their retrospective, one of the prompt questions was about implementing Kanban. Here are some of their reviews:

“The kanban board I think was very useful because it acted as an organizer and helped put everything into place. I like how many features it has to help be more organized and be able to just transfer the information on it, to something else easily.” – JL, 8th grade student

“I think the Kanban board was really helpful because my partner was in a different class and it helped us know what to do in each class. It helped us organize all our work and know what to get done. It also was great when we were breaking our project into steps because we could see what needed to get done.” MD, 8th grade student

“We organized many different types of cards including one’s made for each of our to-do’s, due dates, things we must include, and ideas to add on to different parts of our project. I made sure to check the kanban zone board and alter it at least once every class and to check up on it to see what work must be completed by who and when. I found the kanban board very useful as it kept us all organized and sure on what we needed to do. I believe our use of the kanban board affected our overall project since without it we would have been much less organized and more confused on what we needed to complete.” EB, 8th grade student


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