“Project Managers, I need to meet with you in ten minutes,” I called out to the classroom.  “I need a progress report on your drafts, also on your posters.  Additionally, I need to know if your team is having any problems.”

It was time for our daily stand-up meeting.  After getting their teams going on today’s work, five students circled around me.

I’ve stolen the ideas that I’m about to share with you from my former wife.  She works as a Project Manager for a Silicon Valley software company.  Before I go further, this disclaimer: I’m sure I’ve got most of these techniques “wrong” in terms of real-life “Agile” management and “Scrums.”  What I’ve borrowed are simply my interpretations of these techniques as I’ve listened to the “How was your day…” conversations she and I had.  However, as “wrong” as I might be about running Agile project management in my classroom, I’m very happy with our results.

This is our fourth essay of the year.  When we worked on our first three essays, every student worked on the same topic: Roanoke; Anne Hutchinson’s trial; and, the Congressional Election in Philadelphia, 1794.

This time, I Jig-sawed the room.  Each table was working on one of the following topics:

  • Louisiana Purchase and the definition of citizenship
  • Sunday Mail
  • Cherokee Removal
  • Women’s’ Suffrage
  • Slave Narratives
  • Lowell Girls and redefining femininity
  • Texas Annexation

Each team needed to decide who would do each job.

  • Project Manager – the team leader who held ultimate responsibility for all aspects of the team’s project.  PM’s would meet with me each day at our Stand-up and brief me about how their team was doing.  They would tell me what the team had finished; what they planned to accomplish that day; and, if any team members were causing problems.  Project Managers had the power to influence their team’s grade.  If a PM told me that a certain team member wasn’t pulling her/his weight, then that person’s grade would suffer.
  • Senior Editor –the team’s lead writer.  The senior editor assigned smaller writing tasks to the group, made sure that each team member came through with their part, then edited and revised the essay to make sure it had one smooth voice.
  • Senior Analyst – While ever member of the team had to help with research and analysis, the senior analyst was responsible to lead this process and make sure that the evidence and analysis that the team would use in their paper was gathered, organized, and complete.
  • Graphic Designer – In addition to their paper, each team was charged to produce a poster, graphically representing what they have learned for the other students in the classroom.
  • Cartographer – Each poster needed one or more maps to help tell the story of the team’s topic.  The Cartographer was in charge to making this map and making sure that the legend and caption helped the viewer see the story the map was intended to tell.

The Daily StandUP

During the first week of the project, I had daily tasks for each team. I would ask  each manager if their team had accomplished the prior day’s work. Then, I would let then know what I expected their team to do that day. Finally, I would ask if the team was experiencing any problems, or if they needed any help from me. 

During the second week, I let go of control. I don’t think my managers even realized what had happened. Instead of telling them what I wanted their team to do, I would ask, “What is your team going to accomplish today?  Are there any problems?”

Sometimes… there were!

One team lost a member to three days if In-School Suspension. Undaunted, the team’s manager asked for a pass to the ISS room to check in with his team member, collect work, and distribute materials. I wrote an e-mail so our suspension supervisor knew to expect him.

On another day, another project manager looked angry as he walked out the door. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he had completed his Analyst’s work for that day, because his teammate was wasting time. Spotting a teachable moment, I asked him how he could have gotten what he wanted. “I could have spoken up more,” he replied. “I could have also asked other team members to help me get _______ back to work.”

Running class this way takes a lot of trust, because I’m not micro-managing each student’s work.  I’m not grading everyone’s daily worksheet. There are no quizzes on Fridays. Instead, I’m counting on my project managers to keep me up to speed on any problems. It’s not a perfect system. One of my mangers discovered that his team member had been lying about getting work done over the past few days. That was another teachable moment. My manager learned to periodically check his team’s work.

Not all of our problems ended in teachable moments. On a Friday, one team’s graphic designer was out sick. The manager was perplexed. The team needed the graphic designer to work on their poster. “I guess I’ll drive it by her house,” grumbled the manager. Another team’s PM suddenly piped up. “My team member lives right next to her (the graphic designer).I’m sure she’ll drop the poster off.” Problem solved.

Last Monday, every team had a rough draft of their paper ready for editing and revisions. In my next post, I’ll share with you how our revision process went.

How about you? Have you ever tried applying business strategies to your classroom?

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