Scrum for School Inquiry Projects (Part 2)

I’m gearing up to use Agile principles to help my middle schooler with his 3rd quarter inquiry project.

Agile principles were created for software development teams. His inquiry project differs from software projects in three distinct ways.

First, this project is an individual endeavor, not a team effort. However, the idea of using Scrum for individual projects is not new. Dustin Wax gave a good overview of how Scrum increases individual productivity in his Scrum for One post on Lifehack.

Second, instead of creating software, the project is defined as deeply researching a subject and then creating a polished presentation to showcase the research. Credit is based on both the quality of the research and the actual presentation. Again, this is not a unique application of the Agile principles. Scrum has been used effectively in both scientific research projects and team research efforts.

Finally, while there is growing interest in using Scrum in the schools it is usually viewed as a system-wide solution or used to help students manage their learning through group projects not as individuals. To learn more, check out the pioneering use of it in a school in the Netherlands.

Despite the differences between an individual research project by a middle schooler and a team software development project, Scrum techniques and rituals should help improve his end product. User stories, daily scrums, burndown charts, and sprint planning all can create better time management, less stress, and a more focused effort.


Scrum for School Inquiry Projects

My middle schooler attends a self-directed, inquiry-based alternative school. Every trimester he is responsible for choosing a subject, researching it deeply through various lenses, and presenting his findings to his teacher and other students. There is a great deal of freedom in the process from topic choice to presentation style. Over the years students have researched everything from baseball to the color blue, from Hitler Youth to physics. While PowerPoint presentations abound, students have also created videos, historic reenactments, board games, and dioramas.

Every trimester my student struggles with decision fatigue, time management, and organization. Can Agile principles and Scrum/Kanban practices help him produce a better inquiry — on schedule and with less stress? We are going to find out.

Two weeks ago we put together some quick and dirty pseudo User Stories and a Kanban board showing what needs to be completed for his second trimester inquiry on Mars, as a test run. The trimester ends next week and already, as his coach and scrum master, I have some ideas on what may work 3rd trimester for backlog planning and task lists, sprint time blocking, and trying to help him maintain a steady velocity.

Lessons Learned so far:

  • User Stories provide an excellent way to view the inquiry topic through different lenses.
  • Story tasks, as much as possible, need to be broken down into chunks that can be completed during school work blocks of 45 minutes and 1 hour
  • The shippable product at the end of each sprint will be in the formate of the final presentation. This is to both give more presentation practice and to avoid endless research rushed at the last minute into a sloppy presentation.
  • Invest in post it notes and index cards

Third trimester starts in a short couple weeks. Follow along as we apply Agile principles to the last inquiry of the school year.