Explore, Uplift and Reflect

Keys to an engaging classroom where Agile-mindset thrives

Basically a mix of having the kids build on their strengths, exploring the doing project based with and goal and within a context of the student’s choice. The project-work uses many agile processes*, one step outside their knowledge/comfort,

  • Agility in this context means small-teams that work with small aspects of a bigger objective and build their knowledge / project iteratively and reflect (on demo suggestions (feedback) AND their own learning process) to inform the next iteration and enjoy the exploration of knowledge.

Teacher’s Responsibilities & Activities

  1. UPLIFT BUILD SUCCESS AND CONFIDENCEI personally like to borrow from the concept of the Hero’s Journey - Help the student have a context and need to learn & apply knowledge to the point where they can SOLVE A COMPLEX CHALLENGE to meet the goal within the context of the learning objectives of the class (or unit).
  2. Uplifted Atmosphere - guide kids to encourage strengths
  • re-enforce activities that builds the student’s confidence and joy in learning
  • re-direct distracting /destructive activities toward helpful actions
  • exploration create an atmosphere where learning can be fun, meaningful and exploratory (like young kids) and not stressful and time-based
  1. Natural Assessment & Motivation - whenever possible & allowed - I avoid grading, assessing and correcting students. Instead, I encourage nature assessments and motivation. For example, while building boats, have a pool and criteria for “tracking”, “load”, etc. and have the students test the boat in the pool - where everyone can see and test the qualities. To that end, I find it very helpful if the students work will be publicly viewed and seen by others - preferably with the students present to “show” their product & experience the pride (or embarrassment in their work). That’s often much more ownership than a grade. If a state or other external final exam like an AP test is part of the course – then I suggest after covering the material in the project based way – then spend the last part of the class doing practice exams until the students are comfortable with the exam aspects of the knowledge. This mixed approach has been very successful in teaching AP Computer Science (nearly all students received the top score 19 of 20 students).
  2. Teaching Activities - guide kids to learn the materials (rarely instruct)
  • guide students to other students who can help them
  • help the students smallify their work to find something they can research & solve (the next doable step just beyond their skill-level)
  • help the students with keywords, concepts and vocabulary to do the research for their next step
  • help the students understand and interpret their research they found but don’t fully understand
  • help the students apply their research they’ve understood conceptually, but unsure how to implement

Student’s Responsibilities & Activities

  1. Choice - of goals and context within the context of the learning objectives of the class (or unit). For example to teach middle school students 3-D Analytical Geometry & Fluid Dynamics - students create companies and design a boat of their choice (and print versions of it as they refine it). Each boat will need a specialty with a specialty (stability, comfort for people, speed, tracking, efficiency, load, …) and can overcome some adversity (wind, waves, currents, …)
  2. Context - students need to create a context they own for their chosen goal. This means creating a story (an explanation / real or imagined) for the importance of their chosen goal. For example when teaching Earth Sciences students could choose to make an Earthquake alarm system to help people in stay safe. To that end they also have to consider the consequences of their system if people rely on it - and choose at least one failure condition they can mitigate.
  3. Natural Assessment - Students need to learn to take ownership for tracking their own knowledge, resources and quality. To that end, I avoid personally telling them what to correct, instead they need to get peer-reviews, do demos and get feedback from others and assess their work against their stated goals. To that end I almost always require a public display of their work with them present. Either a presentation or demos where people come by and they demo / explain their work. I also have them practice within the class with each other - where they can see the quality and ideas of others with enough time to adjust their own work to meet their own standards or pride and avoid a sense of embarrassment (or not).
  4. Demos & Constructive Feedback - ideally I have the kids have a project journal and demo notes and reflections need to be recorded
  • Demos are IMPORTANT - putting students in the learners driver seat. Students need to learn to get / ask for (pull) their feedback to assess and adjust the quality and progress of their work (with help from the Natural Assessment as a reality check – not the teacher - ‘What does the water say?’)
  • Students must learn to give & hear & accept feedback in their work. To that end there are 4 rules to make this work - with more experience these can be loosened some:
    1. plan what and how to present the demo (& what the feedback might be - both likes and changes)
    2. present the demo & receiving feedback - listen & take notes (no challenges - keep it safe to give feedback, further explanations or clarifications of misunderstandings - simply note ones reaction and reflect on how to improve the demo - theres no problem with doing a second demo with another group if the first group didn’t understand).
    3. Giving Feedback - includes two aspects:
    • what is liked and how that matches what is understood about the group’s goals
    • what they think would make the work even better (if something should change then is needs to be worded as - “I like this ‘pointy bow’ and think it would be even better with a rounded bow”) - constructive and positive feedback (this takes practice – kids (and teachers) are not well versed in “Pixar’s yes and …” feedback process
    1. using a suggestion each project must accept at least ONE suggestion from another group (and credit them) and explain how they made the suggestion their own and integrated it into the project. Without this - they cannot submit the project (its incomplete)!
  1. Exploration - kids should learn to enjoy learning
  • DO VERY little direct instruction (if any) - have the kids explore until they get a bit stuck (but don’t make them beg for help, just be patient and help them get unstuck - DON’T TELL THEM SOLUTIONS)
  • learning need to change (as much as possible) from an external “death march” pushed by the curriculum, but instead turned into a lean pull system by the students own needs, interests and desire to fulfill their own chosen goals within their chosen context.
  • ideally students track what they research and learn in the project journal. Then all kids on the team have access to all the info (& is responsible to know what is known by others on the team - that is the homework - to know what others have done and be aware and understand it). Occasionally, I look at the journal and ask other kids in the group to explain what another has researched and if the kids doesn’t know the material then the ‘researcher’ is responsible to ensure the others on team ‘catch up’
  1. Path - The Hero’s Journey & Smallify - initially students are unfamilier with solving big complex problems without one clear ‘Googable’ answer
  • smallify - students need to learn to find the next workable step just beyond their knowledge – but doable (initially kids need help with this!)
  • small enough - where its easy to have false starts, make lots of changes and explore and after feedback – make changes without being upset at the invested time. Small enough means that it is fun to explore and make changes!
  • Hero’s Journey - each project needs to involve complexity (that has no one right solution) but involves a complex compromise to arrive at one’s goals. This helps the students really learn the depth of the material and the compromises needed to accomplish their goals. (there have been recent studies showing that people only fully understand a topic and its related implications when they go through process of exploring complex compromises)
  1. Reflection & Change
  • another form of reflection - done ideally daily, they asses their progress (initially I like to review their burn-down on their way out at the end of class with them and help them reflect on and verbalize what skills they are using to make progress & contemplate if its possible to build even more on those strengths and to reflect on whats hinder them (& see if they can replace that activity with something more helpful). Over time I like to encourage the kid to just update me their progress and reflections on their way out of class.
  • students need to get regular feedback on each phase of their work (ideally at least weekly) & at some point each group’s project must have at least on change inspired by feedback from another group or individual outside their group - and credit that person / group. Even if & in-fact ideally - they take the idea and adapt it to their needs needs and goals.
Bill Tihen
Bill Tihen
Developer, Data Enthusiast, Educator and Nature’s Friend

very curious – known to explore knownledge and nature