Using Trello in project-based learning

Agile in the classroom

Martin Redigolo

As is usual with all good ideas, the students introduced me to Trello. A small group was using it to build a computer game. They were able to break down activities, delegate tasks, track progress, and tick off completed jobs. They suggested I use it for an event we were planning to run and sure enough, it made organizing everything a cinch.

One of the things I did when I worked in FE was to promote creative thinking as a key element of computing and asked a graphic designer (albeit a confident programmer) in to teach some of the units. It wasn’t until I saw Trello being used by students on the Graphic Design course that I realized ideas had cross-fertilized and immediately recognized the versatility and usefulness of this platform to many different courses.

Project-based learning really needs to be what we’re all doing now. It doesn’t just test ideas and application but builds soft skills, critical thinking and resilience, especially when you have to collaborate and work with others.

It’s the doing way of learning.

Project-based learning leads to tangible outcomes that students can use to demonstrate what they’ve learned. The best projects encourage students to be innovative and original, to stand on the shoulders of giants and still produce something they are proud to call their own.

Trello might be a means to an end but it’s the simplest most effective way to project manage that I’ve come across. I’ve seen cards infused with ideas, self-reflection, encouragement, references, tangents. I’ve seen students take responsibility, recognise the importance is to the project, no matter how small.

Of course all this happens in teams that use Trello, and that’s precisely the point. Students need to treated not like students, but as practitioners and professionals in their own right.

My current team is using Trello and I’m learning to relinquish ownership in a way that might be familiar to other managers. How we use it has certainly evolved since we first built a board for our work. I’m never good at giving up control of an idea but I know it’s important and it’s a mark of the success of introducing it in the first place. It’s not my board, it’s our board. I’m not even the chairman of the board.

There are so many parallels between teaching and management, as you can tell, it doesn’t come easily and needs to be worked out. Having a space that communicates ideas, stimulates cooperative working and isn’t completely autocratic (ahem…microsoft) is a good thing, believe me.

I recommend bringing Trello into the class room, let students work in an agile way and you’ll gain insight into the way they work and more importantly, how they work together.

Further reading

Desire Paths in Digital Spaces

It is a lovely thing to follow a dirt track across a park from one side to the other. It feels wayward, it satisfies a delinquent urge to deviate from the suggested route.

There are few maps as we wrestle to make sense, establish order and chart courses through online spaces, and it’s time to remind ourselves that there are good reasons to carve our own connections and pathways and perhaps even, create digital desire paths.

London Fields desire path With Associates CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Urban planners try to anticipate the paths which will appear naturally as people decide for themselves the most direct and convenient routes to take. We see them most usually across parks and open spaces, linking buildings, as shortcuts or routes to common destinations.

Desire paths are formed from an act of simple disobedience, often we don’t walk in straight lines or turn at ninety degree angles and if we want to go from A to B then we do. These routes are democratic, open and sometimes kinder. It’s common to see a path down a slope adjacent to steps. As the name suggests, there’s frisson of pleasure, a moment of delight in walking a desire path, a little hit.

Even the motorways that cut through the countryside started out as simple paths, animal tracks across fields that were paved as the traffic increased, as the loads people carried increased, as we moved from walking to horse and cart, carriage, bicyles, cars, lorries and trains.

Is this something that we’re still doing? Are we creating digital desire paths? Lines of communication, systems, ways of working that are simpler, quicker and easier? Does the internet enable us to link ideas in the shortest most simple and seemingly obvious way? We find ourselves removing something, refining something, changing something or creating something entirely new.

I like the idea that art can be made anywhere, perhaps seen by few people, or not recognised as art when they do.
Richard Long

Our start and end points aren’t usually as clear as in geographic spaces. A desire path never meanders, it never takes a winding course. Although it’s a psycho-geography, no desire path was ever created without knowing where it was leading to.

We see these paths appearing in education and technology, between the commercial and not-for-profit, between individuals and groups. Let’s try to create networks that are as desire paths, democratic, connected and emerging, chosen by the people using these spaces, shaped through the structures built for us and by us.

It only takes a few people to create a path, they form when we see a common solution, a route that just makes sense. We need to find better ways to communicate and talk to each other, send messages and deliver ideas. We need to find ways to better establish relationships between spaces, collaborate and share as much as possible.

Further reading:

Teaching in Time

Teachers need to be empowered to manage their time and adopt new ways of working.

I’ve noticed at conferences, teachmeets and online that one of the recurring barriers to the adoption of new ideas and new technologies is time. We’re anxious that we might waste it, lose it or simply can’t find enough of it to try something new. It keeps coming up, this idea that we don’t have enough time, it’s something we need to take a moment to deal with.

Remembering my previous role in teaching how much effort went into managing time. Timetabling, for instance filled my waking hours, occupied sleepless nights; usually at that crucial time when I should have been supporting my staff as they approached the start of term. I should have been looking at the content, the curriculum, the encounters and experiences that teachers were planning for their students; instead of sitting in the office with marker pens, printouts and spreadsheets. I felt already compromised, there simply were not enough rooms, not enough hours or too many hours, not enough teachers, too many students but too few students for a second group. Seemingly hundreds of combinations locking and unlocking. Then the first few weeks would be spent sorting out the inevitable clashes, as forces elsewhere shifted into the time and space I’d so assuredly firmed up on the system.

We move to varied beats, but the rhythm of days, meetings, aims and objectives, feedback and report, seems locked down. Where there used to be one workplace and place to relax, there now seem many. Our Mondays to Fridays, 9 to fives, the pencil lines that define these time zones are increasingly fuzzy.

Despite rapidly adopting new technology, the workplace itself seems slow to adapt, few of us are afforded the luxury to shape our hours, decide when to come and go and how long to spend at work. Our notifications might be switched on and keeping us up to date, but in reality we’re saying “not now”.

What we need is an understanding. We are worthy of freedom and we will repay that faith. We need managers who don’t tap their watches or look out of the window to see who’s leaving early. Instead, we need flexible working that offers equality for all; for learning, volunteering, caring or at different stages of a career.

We might suggest giving teachers more control over their time. Choices about hours, whether they spend them at work or at home, on their own learning and contact hours and preparation.

Perhaps we can learn from the business sector? Some companies recognise that in a competitive and stressful climate, they have to encourage their workforce take care of themselves. Companies experiment with shorter days, email systems that can’t be accessed away from work and common closure days, all in the name of wellbeing. I believe that we need our school leaders to be radical and make brave choices in order to help teachers achieve a better balance. This might be one way to halt the numbers leaving the profession.

And what about the role of technology? In my current role, I support educators to create learning for their students through adopting new technologies: organising their work online, gathering feedback and stimulating discussion in new, connected ways. If we’re thinking about a new way of teaching then it must be possible to devise new working structures. Let’s disrupt timetables, silence the bells, blur the distinction between the classroom and homework precisely to reclaim our evenings and weekends.

Blended learning challenges assumptions that we have to pack students into the same space, following the same learning programme and learning in the same way. If some of the delivery, evidence, assessment and feedback moves online, then we claim back the time spent in flabby meetings or in the staff room locked into a time-draining conversation.

It’s time for the profession to have courage and challenge these models of how the classroom looks and how the working day feels.