Tuesday, May 1, 2012

PBL Diary – Three weeks in. Ups and Downs

It’s been a busy three weeks in my BTT class. The teams have started their projects and are running fast with them.

I love watching kids struggle. No – not because I want them to suffer, but because wrestling with an idea or task both deepens their learning and develops true self-confidence – nothing like succeeding at something hard to make you believe in yourself.

They started with charters, and then plans. The parts of the plan they had the hardest time with were the Assumptions and Risk sections. My fault, perhaps, since I focused their project management training and practice on requirements and task analysis. At 13 years old, they have some trouble making abstractions into unfamiliar territory without being explicated taught how.

We got a good lesson on Risks, though. Nobody identified the risk that we might lose our wi-fi connections. Although we have a computer lab to use, it is quite ancient, and many of the students bring laptops, pads, smart phones and so on, - and use them like crazy. I guess we just take ubiquitous wi-fi for granted, because we were thrown into a tizzy when the school’s wi-fi went down and stayed down. Apparently, TDSB is putting too much load on our service provider. Anyway, we have all had to adjust to making do with our painfully slow lab computers and WITHOUT instant in-your-hand communication and file movement. If we want to tweet, we have to sign on to a computer! I was tweeting 30 times a class from my ipad. Now I have to interrupt and make announcements – it’s distracting for everyone. It’s been very annoying, but also a very instructive event in terms of how overlooking a risk can impact a project.

After getting the planning done and approved, the teams have started sprinting. And they are building good stuff. An internal student resources website is already complete and in use. Likewise, the Project Office website is serving as a repository for all our work. The documentary teams are making everyone’s lives interesting with all their filming, and this week they started interviews and some editing.

There is a lot of action!

The interpersonals on the teams are also interesting. On one team, the scrum master and film director are at each-other’s throats, but today they actually sat down (without my prompting) and had a heart to heart and appeared to work out their differences. We’ll see in the next couple days whether they genuinely managed to come to an understanding.

One team (the team that had already delivered the student resource website) is like a well oiled machine – I’ve seen professional software development teams that weren’t as organized and that didn’t communicate as well as this lot. I give the leader a lot of credit – she is doing an amazing job - but I’m also impressed to see how other members of the team have stepped up and taken initiative.

This team did have a bit of a bump today. The websites are quite accessible from inside the class since there are groups of people working on them, in what we thought was a trusted environment. Someone thought it would be funny to add some rude commentary to the website, as well as an inappropriate video. The kids whose work was defaced were really, really upset. I think they genuinely felt violated that their honest work was treated with such disrespect by someone in their own class. They had been so proud – not only of the good job they had done, but because the site was being used daily for something real - by all the grade nines to help them with their summative projects. We were able to fix it quickly and easily, of course, but I think the kids were really hurt. My next job is to track down who the perpetrators were. I have a pretty good idea who, but if they lie when I ask them, I don’t have any proof.

My second well-oiled machine is the Library site team. I put all the ESL kids on one team. This was a slightly eccentric choice. The usual is to spread the ESL students out to force them to speak as much English as possible. I decided in technology class that I wanted them to put their energy into their projects, rather than into language acquisition, and it’s been amazing to me how the students have bloomed, and how fantastic their work has been. Without the language barrier to invest their energy in, they have been free to be creative. They all speak Mandarin, and there are two team members that speak Mandarin and English fluently, so they are able to translate instructions and questions. They are like different kids. Instead of being all quiet and reticent and not participating, they are all chattering a mile a minute – exchanging ideas, discussing solutions, laughing and getting excited about their work. The best part is, they are completely organized (their project management artifacts are all in English, and they are excellent!) and their site is looking fabulous – they didn’t just cobble things together – they actually innovated and came up with some amazing ideas. This would never have happened if they had been forced to work in English.

I have also noticed this week that the teams are beginning to exchange information and resources. My experience has been that this step represents a new and better phase for team working, but that it doesn’t always happen. But yesterday the PR team overheard the documentary team moping about some film they weren’t be able to get, and jumped in with an offer to provide the film – which they had been able to shoot, but for a different purpose. Today, the two teams agree to pool all their film and they set up a Google Docs space to make it available to everyone.

Within the next two weeks, I should be seeing nearly done work from all the teams. I am excited. But more important, so are they!