Continuous attention to technical excellence
One of the fundamentals of teaching any agile methodology, such as scrum, is the principles of the Agile Manifesto. These concepts go to the core of agile: relying on the strength of the individual team member rather than that of the process.
In previous classes I have included these concepts as slides and required reading, sometimes going as far as having each student read a principle to the class. Last semester, I decided to try something new to get a little more engagement in my upper-level agile process class.
First, introduce the manifesto and the principles. These should be assigned reading, the students told of their importance, and some illustrations pertaining to individual methodologies given. Next, have students divide into teams, put the principles on the projector (or share the URL) and give the following conditions:
- Choose one of the principles (so that there are no duplications within the class).
- Present that principle creatively to the class – the more creative the better. Interpretive dance, a skit, slides, whatever – as long as it demonstrates the principle effectively.
- You have anything in the room at your disposal – computers/projector, white boards, other students, anything you happen to have in your bag, etc.
- The presentation must be under 5 minutes, and you have 10 minutes to prepare.
Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done
Most of my students have chosen some sort of skit, using things like the rolling white boards as props. Others have chosen to draw on whiteboards (two examples are illustrated in this post), and some have used online resources or videos. I believe that this activity has increased retention at test time, homework, and activities later in the semester.
Although some team’s presentations are likely to be better than others, the hope is that engaging the students directly in the ideas will improve retention, and perhaps even recreate – in a small way – the original meeting of “The Agile Alliance“.
Use Post-It Notes
We all remember that first day – when teachers “got to know us better” by asking each student in turn to introduce themselves and tell a little about themselves to the class. The truth is I’m not sure how effective these practices are or if they are worth the effort (I did find some sources that seem to indicate that it is useful); nonetheless, I have developed my own version of this activity that also serves to automatically take attendance as well. Start by handing out post-it notes to each member of the class. I typically do this ahead of time, sticking them to lab computer screens so that they aren’t missed and to add a little bit of mystery for those that arrive early. Once you have introduced yourself and whatever else you have slated beforehand, give the students these instructions:
- Take the post-it and flip it over. Write your first and last name on the back (the sticky side).
- On the front write a question that you would/could ask someone who you are trying to get to know better (i.e. not “What is your name?”).
- Once you are done, place your post-it randomly on the whiteboard in the front of the room.
The next step is similar to what you may have done before, but with a twist. Once you have explained that the placement of the post-its is not, in fact, random because there are no overlaps and all of them are right-side-up, have each student answer the standard “What is your name and what are you most looking forward to this year?” boilerplate. After each student, choose a post-it randomly from the board and read the name from the back. The named student then should ask the question they had previously wrote. This makes it less of a teacher-student interaction, and more of a student-student interaction. After the activity or at the end of class, collect the post-its and you have already taken attendance. What you do with the post-its after this is up to you. Some may choose to put them all on a wall with pins and newspaper clippings and crazy photos like an obsessed criminal – and that may be compatible with your teaching style. I have been known to put them on the student’s final exam as a bonus question back to the original author or have otherwise brought them back later in the semester in some way. This activity has some benefits – it sets up an environment where students are accountable to each other as well as to the instructor (In a later article, I intend to discuss the group accountability model I use for class attendance). It also allows you, the instructor, to get to know each student in more than one context: the question they chose to write on the post-it, the way they ask/interact with the other student, and they standard way that they introduce themselves to the class.