Feb 6, 2012

Schoolhouse ScrumMaster

This is an exciting week. Kim Mills, the innovative 4th grade teacher using Scrum in her class, is going to a Certified ScrumMaster training. I can't wait to brainstorm with her about applying Agile to the classroom for Extreme 21st Century Learning after she is armed with some serious Scrum know how.
Maybe we can get her to blog here about the experience.

John Miller
The Agile School Blog

Feb 5, 2012

Many Eyes Make Education Bugs Shallow

If you search the Internet, it seems everything in education is broke. I am not one of those who think everything is broke.  I see great things happening in schools everyday by teachers.  I do see problems with education, but it is usually not "fat cat" administrators or teachers who do not care.  There are myriad interplaying causes that play into such a complex system.  Because the issues are so complex and diverse, we need many perspectives at the local, state, and national levels to innovate in schools. "Many eyes makes bugs shallow".

Schools tackle their issues behind their own walls.  Educators try to solve their own problems.  Principals, teachers, and administrators gather.  Board members, parents, and students get involved.  This is the root of the issue. Not many fresh ideas come from one group of like minded people. It is too susceptible to group-think and viewing the problem from very limited perspectives.  Some ideas are creative, but usually, they are slightly outside of a very narrow box.  The gravity of the culture and the "way we do things" are sure to keep many creative ideas from launching.  

In addition, the specialities and expertise are education specific in a school or district.  Yet, we need interdisciplinary approaches and expertise.  Schools need experts in marketing, engineering, business, sales, technology, arts, and pretty much everything else.  There is no way a school district has all of these expertise at highly competent levels, nor, can it afford to hire a set of diverse consultants on call to collaborate with.

We need a continuous circulation of ideas and a diverse set of perspectives in an environment that allows for wild collaboration to happen.  Schools, Districts, and their Departments need a safe place to discuss and collaborate with a diverse and passionate crowd who care about their community and education.  They need a place to interact, discuss, brainstorm, laugh, and learn with many others outside of their walls.  

That is why I am very excited that Gangplank is opening up in Avondale, Arizona, a few miles away from my office.
"Gangplank is a group of connected individuals and small businesses creating an economy of innovation and creativity in the Valley. We envision a new economic engine comprised of collaboration and community, where industries come together to transform our culture." - www.gangplankhq.com
What if we add to this,  "a new education and economic engine comprised of collaboration and community, where industries come together to transform our culture and schools".  Imagine a place where experts and innovators are gathered just to talk and collaborate about opportunities and challenges for schools with District leaders and teachers.  To help shape policies and programs.  To get creative ideas to save money. To find unexpected support and opportunities for students and learning. That circulation of fresh ideas outside of the constraints of District walls, could bring fresh innovation, insights and energy into these walls.  Our biggest opportunities in education lie in the cross-pollination of ideas from other industries and areas. There are benefits of copying and pasting solutions from other Districts, but real innovation happens when exploring and exploiting insights and ideas from outside of your own industry.

Of course, it needs to be a safe environment, not one where reporters and mad bloggers are trying to get a story to rub the school's or District's nose in.  It must be able to be open and have vulnerable-based trust in the collaborators.  Perhaps nondisclosure agreements or some other measure of protection. The quickest way for Districts to retreat and fortify behind their walls is bad press.

Gangplank Chandler - Collaborative Space
I have visited and spoke with Gangplank in Chandler many times.  It is an experience which is hard to describe.  People gathered in small groups, sometimes moving between different groups, working on podcasts, playing guitars, designing a new product, or launching a business. A self-organizing primordial ooze of creativity, passions, and ideas.

In fact, I cross-pollinated many of the ideas I saw there into the Technology Department I lead.  I took their collaborative space concept, based on a Cave and Commons approach, and organized our department space in a similar fashion.  When Heatsync Labs, a hackerspace, was setup at Gangplank, is when I first saw kids talking about geometry, without a teacher around or homework assignment due, as they were using a 3D printer and Arduino broads to create real things.  I quickly saw how powerful that could be in the classroom. Today, students are creating and making real things at one of our middle schools with 3D printing. My department was already heading down the road to use Scrum, but, Derek and Jade, who have used Scrum for many years, let my team come to see how they did Scrum at a master level.   Gangplank also triggered my idea of Student Innovation Centers. I thought, "Why can't every school have an open, interdisciplinary, and  collaborative space like this at their school?". If Gangplank was not an opensource environment, I never would have had these insights.  We would be the "same old" department you can see in any District, not a hub of collaboration and innovation. Schools and Districts do not need more of the "same old".

I plan on bringing my team to Gangplank frequently and often, discovering new and diverse ideas, and attracting other creatives at Gangplank to brainstorm how to innovate learning through technology.  I hope other schools and Districts do the same, not just at the Tech Department level, but principals, teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  Let's make educations bugs shallow by stepping outside of District walls and allowing innovations and solutions emerge in a collaborative and immensely diverse community space, one that encourages wild ideas, like the one Gangplank offers.

John Miller
The Agile School Blog

Obvious Disclaimer: These opinions are my own, not that of my employer, wife, daughter, state, country, political party, the barista that gives me my coffee, hair stylist, gardener, etc...

Feb 4, 2012

Over the Rainbow to Extreme 21st Century Learning

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more"

The world of today is very different than that of the 20th Century, which much of our education system is based.  The 20th Century was a much simpler world, although not necessarily easy.  People worked individually on singular tasks, through top down command and control structures.  You had little collaboration or creative thinking by the general workforce.  Problems were solved primarily through defined process controls, in which defined inputs entere a repeatable process that deliver specific and expected outcomes.  The great strides of the industrial revolution was based on such processes, such as Taylor's Scientific Management and Henry Ford's Mass Production System.  The brains of management directed hands and eyes of the worker. Just as Dorthy was swept out of her simple Kansas farm, into a radically new world of Oz, we have left the 20th Century world for a brand new world, operating under different and novel rules, that our schools need to quickly adapt to in order to prepare our students for.

If I Only Had a Left Brain...

In the 21st Century, the Knowledge Age was born with the advent of digital technologies and the Internet. The worker was lifted out of the shop floor to the cubicle, putting her brain to work.  The skills required by the knowledge worker resided primarily in the left brain, such as analysis, logic, computation, and fact retrieval. The paradigm of the 20th Century management still remained the defacto standard, top-down command and control utilizing defined process controls for knowledge workers, called knowledge management.  

If I Only Had A Right Brain

The world is very different today in America from the Industrial Age.  As schools, and many businesses I might add, were just coming to grips with thr Knowledge Age, we already entered a new age.  The Conceptual Economy or Conceptual Age, was initially described by Alan Greenspan in 1997, and later made popular in Daniel Pink's bestselling book, A Whole New Mind. 
"The growth of the conceptual component of output has brought with it accelerating demands for workers who are equipped not simply with technical know-how, but with the ability to create, analyze, and transform information and to interact effectively with others." -Alan Greenspan (source:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_age)

Conceptual Age skills reside in the right brain, such as, creativity, empathy, collaboration, design, and meaning.  Where knowledge work was about left-minded individuals working individually and together, conceptual work often needs collaboration of diverse whole-brained team members, taking divergent paths to creative solutions.  It is about designing for meaning, emotion, connections, and beauty, as well as function. Take a look at this toothbrush holder design in the image below which transcends commodity function into a design that expresses beauty and fun for the owner.
Conceptual Age Style Toothbrush Holder
From "15 Cool ad Unusual Toothbrush Holders"

"The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate" -http://www.danpink.com/whole-new-mind

Not only is the Conceptual Age growing, but, Daniel Pink describes how the left brain knowledge work is being eroded in America due to automation of these skills and the outsourcing to cheaper labor overseas. This does not mean we can abandon these skills, since the left brain skills are still necessary, but no longer sufficient in the Conceptual Economy. Our sense of urgency to implement 21st Century Skills should be at code red!

There is No Yellow Brick Road in a Complex & Flat World

The world today is increasingly more complex.  I use the term complex as defined in the field of Complex Adaptive Systems. Complexity is defined as one that is connected, interdependent, diverse and adapting. The 20th Century was not complex, it was relatively stable and predictable, which is why defined process controls and top-down command and control approaches worked so well.  A complex system generates novel and unpredictable phenomenon, with entities constantly adapting to one another in an interconnected world. Look around, from the flattening of the world, the Cloud, to financial markets, our lives are filled with complex interactions.  The 20th Century model fails miserably in a world of novel and constant changes.   

An empirical process control approach, in which exists variable inputs, a variable process, with emergent outputs along with a bottom-up self-organization style of management, is the approach we should for the 21st Century. Emergent processes in a complex system rely on adaptive decisions of those closest to the action.  Think of the game of chess, where you must adapt and make iterative decisions based on the move of your opponent.  You can not go into a match of chess with a specific, step by step plan, because one must continuously adapt to his opponent's moves.  The gameplay emerges, it is not defined.   A simple path to follow like the Yellow Brick Road can not exist in a terrain that is constantly moving and shifting. One must constantly explore and exploit this dancing landscape and learn to dance with it.

Over the Rainbow to 21st Century Skills
"Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain... [begins to sing 'Over the Rainbow'] " - Dorthy

Permission granted. Source P21.org

21st Century Skills is an attempt to develop students who can tackle 21st Century problems in a complex and conceptual world. It is a great foundation to build on.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills outlines a framework for 21st Century Outcomes and Support Systems.

Learning and Innovation Skills
  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving 
  • Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills*
  • Information Literacy 
  • Media Literacy 
  • ICT (Information, Communication, and Technology) Literacy
[*John's side note: I believe these Information, Media, and Tech Skills  falls short, which we'll discuss in a future post]

Life and Career Skills
  • Flexibility and Adaptability 
  • Initiative and Self Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills 
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility

Extreme 21st Century Learning

 "Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma." - Wizard of Oz aka Man Behind the Curtain

Like many adoptions of new innovations, we approach the future from where we are, with legacy approaches.  In this case, I fear most schools will be approaching 21st Century Skills armed with 20th Century instruction and tools.  Many of the books and training for schools to adopt 21st Century Skills do just this. We run the risk of walking our students backwards into the future. For example, in a wonderful and free online course created by Intel, 21st Century Assessments**, it suggests for students to keep a problem-solving log so the teacher can assess the skill of problem solving. This 20th Century approach of documentation over demonstration still lingers, serving as a disincentive to student self-directed problem solving & creativity, the explicit goals of 21st Century Skills.  20th Century style burdensome compliance through documented reports and logs kills 21st Century Learning. Our students need more than a diploma. [**Don't get me wrong, these Intel Elements Courses are great, but, there is enough legacy creep to demotivate students to be true 21st Century Learners]

I argue that we must immerse our students in 21st Century environments with a toolkit that has proven to innovate in this conceptual age and removes the impediments toengage in 21st Century Skills. It can not be seen as another standard to adopt or a module to be taught in isolation to the curriculum. It must be taken to their extremes and engrained as the only way we teach and learn, displacing legacy learning that does not add value to an empowered 21st Century Learning environment. 

We have a model of this in the software development world, called Extreme Programming.  Software projects were failing at a staggering rate, being run from a 20th Century engineering approach.  Extreme Programming was born from the question, what if we took the things we know about teams and practices that make great software, and take it to their extremes, and threw out the legacy approaches.  Extreme Programming is uniquely a 21st Century approach, adopted by software teams around the world, due to the amazing success it helps teams achieve. 

We can draw parallels from Extreme Programming to 21st Century Learning. Just as a new 21st Century discipline such as software development, failed miserably when it was managed from a 20th Century paradigm, so will 21st Century Skills fail if instructed and learned in a 20th Century classroom paradigm.  21st Century skills require approaches, environments, and resources that are native to the 21st Century environments. What if we took 21st Century Skills to their extremes? What if we took innovative approaches, environments, and tools that were developed in the real world 21st Century to solve 21st Century problems and applied it boldly to the classroom?

No Yellow Brick Road, yet, There is Still a RACE

The 21st Century landscape dances before our bewildered eyes. A defined path of the Yellow Brick Road crumbles beneath our dancing landscape. In a dancing landscape, we are in a race to adapt and relearn and to toggle between exploration and exploitation. Extreme 21st Century Learning cross-pollinates innovative 21st century approaches to challenges in the real world to the classroom. These 21st Century approaches, combined holistically, is called R.A.C.E..  Real power in Extreme 21st Century Learning comes from using these approaches in an integrated combination, although each component could be used independently.   
  • R is for Real and Relevant
  • A is for Agile Based Learning Environment [see "Scrum in the Classroom" for a teaser]
  • C is for Creative and Makers
  • E is for Engaged Passions and Strengths
We'll take a deep dive into each of these in a series of upcoming posts and map how each takes the 21st Century Skills to the extreme using innovative 21st Century approaches. We'll explore the innovative approaches in todays world, such as crowdsourcing, gamification, agile, makerspaces, and design thinking, and cross-pollinate them into Extreme 21st Century Learning. I am very excited to be able to share these ideas and hear what you think!

John Miller
The Agile School Blog