June 13, 2018

Scrum in the Classroom (Part 3) | Learn more while the Grades remain at par

By Jochen Krebs (jkrebs@incrementor.com) and Nils Oud (noud@incrementor.com) 

Nothing better than to use your profession and passion for 'Scrum' for a much higher goal: improving education so that our youth is better prepared for the demands that current society places on our knowledge and especially on our skills. In February of this year we started a special experiment: the 'Scrum in the classroom' intervention. A first evaluation shows that there is a lot of enthusiasm to continue with Scrum in the classroom. There is also room for improvement. A detailed evaluation is expected after the summer when we have analyzed our objective, 'semi-scientific' measurements.

Why Scrum in the Classroom?

For those who missed the previous articles (part 1) (part 2), the reason for this intervention is that current education does not focus enough on the development of the so called 21st century skills (World Economic Forum, 2015). Scrum as a 'project-based learning method' can address this neglect and develop skills like curiosity, initiative, perseverance, adaptability, leadership and social cultural awareness skills. Skills that are of great importance to be able to function well in an ever faster changing environment.

Scrum in SchoolsThe Scrum Intervention

In broad terms we have conducted an intervention in the Netherlands with three groups of students in secondary education (ages 13-14 and 14-15) :

Group 1: Two classes that followed education through the traditional method of teaching (also called the neutral group)
Group 2: Two classes that followed education through the Scrum framework, where the teacher was not supported by an experienced coach in the classroom (control group 1)
Group 3: Two classes that followed education through the Scrum framework, where the teacher was supported by an experienced coach in the classroom (control group 2) 
All classes followed the same course with the same learning objectives. The intervention took place from early February to end of April 2018. A total of 172 students were involved. Within the groups that followed education through the Scrum framework, we were curious to find out what the effect is of on-the-job coaching in the classroom as literature shows that this way of coaching is very productive.

The 21-st Century Skills

The teachers were unanimous: the students have really taken steps to improve the skills that are important in the 21st century. The teachers saw the groups working together, planning ahead, reflecting on the group process, but above all teaching each other and learning from one another. In this way, leadership emerged among students, which ensures that results are achieved. Sometimes the teacher rejected an intermediate product and the perseverance was put to the test. Because the intermediate products to be achieved differed in nature, e.g. from presenting to the makings of a video clip, Scrum called upon the curiosity of the students.

The Teachers

Although the focus of this intervention was not on the teachers, some surprising effects emerged. The teachers collaborated more than ever and cross-learned from one another. When the students increasingly started to work independently, there was more time to pay attention to the team and for individual coaching. Most pleasant experience was that the responsibility for achieving the learning objectives was transferred completely to the student. As an example, no homework was given.
The students

Scrum sometimes seemed better suited to the one than to the other, but the group process ensured that even the less motivated still continued to contribute. Once again we want to quote the example of a student with learning disabilities who suddenly started to participate actively in this setting!

Scrum in Schools

Coaching ‘on-the-job’ in the Classroom

There is a general consensus that coaching in the classroom makes a world of a difference. The coach sees to it that the Scrum ceremonies are actually done and that increases the level of effectiveness. For example, if you skip the Retrospective ceremony, the team will most likely not improve itself. Furthermore, the coach learns the teacher to coach. Instead of telling students what to do or how it works, the teacher encourages the student to take that initiative and to reflect on it.

The Test Scores

Within Scrum we work in teams and therefore every form of measurement should take place at team level. However, because current education still focuses on individual achievements, we still felt we should investigate the effect of Scrum on the final, central test scores. The general impression is that Scrum does not have a negative impact.

Other Effects

As a school it is of course wonderful to see that more attention is being paid to develop other skills than just the traditional subjects. A school can really stand out and it gets noticed by the parents. After all, many parents today also come into contact with the agile mindset in their work. It may very well become a determining factor in choosing the right school for your child. The school of this intervention already had a working group called 'Agile Learning'. Fantastic!
New insights

There are, of course, also things that were less successful which lead to new insights. For example, there is the idea to combine certain subjects with the help of Scrum, e.g. to combine French and Geography. Attention is paid to the length of the Scrum period. ‘Block hours’ also seem to work better than disparate hours throughout the week. And then there is digitization; gathering and managing the physical Scrum boards was sometimes experienced as burdensome.

In conclusion: Learn more while the grades remain at par

In this short article we can only address some of the highlights. The most important takeaway is of course that the school remains enthusiastic and will continue to experiment with Scrum in the classroom. But clearly with the aid of an experienced coach 'on-the-job' and taking into account the many other learnings. Scrum is a framework and as such, the school has enough possibilities to make changes where they see fit. For the skeptics among us: if the results of the students remain at par, why should you deprive your students to develop their 21st century skills at same time?

A big thank you goes out to the schoolboard, the teachers, the coach, the Scrum trainers and the students who made this experiment possible.Introducing Scrum into the classroom is one of our passions. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or if you are in need for assistance (www.incrementor.com).