Month: July 2013

Agile Education

My recent post about advice to a new teacher got me thinking more about how the “agile” method of doing things: using feedback loops to make iterative improvements, generally quickly and on a small scale, is a theme of how education can be improved at many levels.  I think I need to explore this idea more.  In fact, I gave some thought to using the idea for my doctoral thesis, but I don’t think that is the right platform, as doctoral theses are more “waterfall” in how they are done, with formalization and committees and other bureaucratic factors all over the place, which is in some ways the antithesis of agile…   But does it have to be that way?  Is there a way to have education be both agile AND accountable?  Software development has seemed to have found a way to do both, and one can make the argument that agile software development is more accountable to the end-user.  Could agile education be more accountable to the student (and parent(s)?).

This is just a start to the idea.  There has been only a little written about the idea in education, at least with the term “agile education” (Although I’m sure the concept probably exists under several other terms, and it will take work with the literature to find these.)

But following agile educational principles, I think I will try to develop my ideas on the topic in an agile way.  Such as starting with this blog entry.

An Email to a New ICT Teacher aka My “Letter to a Young Poet”

Recently a first year ICT teacher contacted me about the class he is about to teach, looking to learn as much as he can before starting that course.   Like many CTE teachers, he has a wealth of experience in industry, but not in being a teacher.  Here is an excerpt of the email I sent him with my advice, which I hope is both valuable to him, and valuable to other first year teachers (and maybe even veteran teachers).  I hope to further expand upon the concept of “Agile Education” in the future, as it seems to be an idea whose time has come:

The following advice I’m going to give you is only my personal advice, and is not the advice you would normally receive from most people in education, and is contrary to what you will likely be told be others, so beware following it. 🙂

The first year of teaching will have so many unknowns to it, that I think you should design your curriculum to be as flexible as possible.  For instance, keep your syllabus being basically your course description, and don’t try to detail every day of it.   Don’t try and write lesson plans for the whole course.  At least not yet.   The reason I say this, is that it is inevitable that some of the assumptions you are going to make right now about how the students will learn, will be completely wrong, and if you detail everything up-front, you will either need to stick with the detailed plan that will fail, or change it on the kids, which while changing things is quite valid, it is often confusing for the kids and their parents, and unfortunately while it should logically increase the validity of your as teaching, changing things from what we originally said may make you look less reputable.   But this doesn’t mean I’m advocating doing no planning or prepping.   But think of your course more as agile development than “waterfall”, and develop it in weekly chunks.

With this development process in mind, the first week should be about getting to know your students.  Some of the critical things to learn about them is:

  • What background do they have academically? (how are they in math, logic, communication, etc.?)
  • What are their current interests?
  • What do they see as their future after high school?

Use both “quantitative” and “qualitative” data to make this judgement.  For instance, if you can get a hold of their transcripts, to see their past classes, that is a good starting point to know their background, but don’t rely on it alone, a good or bad grade in a previous class often has as much to do with the teacher than the student. So talk with your students, have them type up their answers in a word processing program, and pay as much attention to how they use that program (typing speed, style, software knowledge, and willingness to try things) as to what they say.

Also, be careful to not have this process of evaluation become one where you judge their chances of success. Your job is to help each one to become a success, and while it will be easier and more difficult in different cases, and while realistically you won’t always reach the level of success of teaching you may want with each student, your goal is still for success.  So in other words, gathering this data should not be for “filtration” purposes.

Also, remember the answers to these initial questions for each student won’t necessarily be the same after they are done with your course.  Very often students will only have a vague idea of what their future after high school will be, and it is that one teacher in their life that inspired them to go on to do great things.

But, the answers you find from this first week will be invaluable to your curriculum, as it can give you ideas for projects you will do with the whole class, or for projects that the students will do individually or in groups.  It will also help you structure your curriculum.  And it will help you later with how you create groups for group projects, as I recommend you try to balance groups.   Your skills in management will be extremely valuable to you with all of this.

Then after your first week, decide what to do your second week.  And when you do it the first day of the second week, and you find “bugs” in your methods of teaching, then fix them, even if that means basically repeating a day, but don’t repeat it the same way, as obviously if one method didn’t work, you will need to try another.

And be honest with your students about this process.  You may even want to explain how your teaching style is like troubleshooting technology problems or debugging.  By using this analogy with them, it will form a congruence that will help them educationally and help them to accept your mistakes, and hopefully accept their own mistakes, because we know in the ICT world, that often we go down several wrong paths before we get to the right one, and the world is really iterative not linear.

I hope this helps, although if you follow my advice, be prepared to defend the logic of it, as again it is not the usual methodology told to new teachers.

The Email for FCMAT and CSIS is still down

Last week I posted about how when I tried to reply to an email from Support@fcmat.org  of FCMAT / CSIS that I got an error back that “The email address you entered couldn’t be found. ”  Well, I’m still having this error, and of course, I can’t seem to email them about it! 🙂

It is important to recognize that this is the organization that is supposed to help school districts and others to have improved practices, and also manages the database of all the student information in California.  If they can’t get their email to work after over a week, it gives me some potential concern over the private data of nearly every child in our state.

I am going to try and call them today, and see if they can graciously acknowledge their issues, and fix them.  As that is the true sign of whether we should be concerned or not.  An organization that only tries to cover up and blame away their problems is one that obviously won’t fix the issues, and this is quite dangerous for the public when they are the keeper of your private information.  At this point I’m not making that accusation, but from my dealings with public agencies (and quasi-public agencies), my experience suggests that this could be an accusation that would need to be made, depending upon future evidence.