Synthesis and Creativity


The 21st century opens on humanity coming to terms with a spectrum of global concerns. If we view the earth as one country and mankind as it citizens then each step toward the future – the horizon of change – has to be integrated into specific local communities and at the same time the global community. Certainly this is not an easy or obvious process. The kinds of creativity and synthesis that are required challenge current forms of thinking and accepted behaviors. Viewed in relation to these challenges, profound changes in education (learning) and culture (behavior) are also required.

Given the vast changes in the world, and the shifting responsibility for education across the life span, Howard Gardner proposes in Five Minds For The Future the kinds of minds that will be at the greatest premium in this century and how best to cultivate them.

The mind must be DISCIPLINED in three senses. The person must be able to think in terms of the major scholarly disciplines (history, mathematics, science, and the arts); he/she must have at least one area of expertise; he/she must have those habits of continued application so that learning can continue throughout life.

Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann argues that in the 21st century, the most important mind will be the SYNTHESIZING MIND. Individuals are subjected to huge amounts of information. We must be able to decide what is important; how best to organize it for ourselves; how best to communicate it to others. Almost everything that can be automated will be.

The last frontier for the mind is that of CREATING New Ideas…. thinking outside of the box. Such thinking presupposes a certain discipline and considerable synthesizing ability but it cannot be constrained by what has been thought or done before.

The first three kinds of minds are cognitive. The last two relate to the world of other individuals, and are thus more social and affective.

The RESPECTFUL MIND goes beyond mere tolerance. Respectful persons welcome human diversity, seek to understand and work with others, and cultivate an atmosphere of openness and reciprocity.

The ETHICAL MIND builds upon respect but entails a more abstract attitude. Ethical individuals ponder their roles as workers and citizens. They carry out good work… work that is excellent, ethical and personally meaningful. They consider their roles as citizens of their community, their region, and the globe and act in constructive, non-egocentric ways.

Needless to say, the development of each of these kinds of minds is a formidable undertaking. There is a certain tension between these minds… for example, excessive respect can thwart creativity. Thus, getting these kinds of minds to work together is itself a challenge of synthesis.

The observations Howard Gardner makes in his book Five Minds For The Twenty First Century categorizes creativity in terms of the individual, the cultural domain, and the social field. He also looks at four stages of development in individual creativity and reflects on creativity in small, and large groups, as well as in crowds. He recognizes the relationship between synthesis and creativity and their importance in art, science, and business. However, he provides only general clues for the teaching of creativity and synthesis.

Agile Methods position synthesis and creativity in a process based methodology that contributes to end results. The Agile methods also bring diverse groups into a systematic structure that has capacity building effects on both the group and the individual participants. Daily stand up meetings, demonstrations and reflections at the end of each sprint serve to accumulate the learning from the experience of being creative. There is a unique aspect to creativity in that it is not so much an objective or prescriptive condition as one that is participatory and unpredictable. These features of the nature of creativity are in effect outward manifestations of an inward process that is essentially synthesis. The two attributes-synthesis and creativity- are in a dynamic, reflexive relationship…within the group and within each individual in the group.

The Learning Circle is unique in that it provides an evaluation tool that can be applied to the processes as well as the end results of synthesis and creativity as they manifest in a specific project.

Daily life


Best Practice

Best Practice

The creative process is a challenge to teach because it is not prescriptive. There is no recipe for teaching the creative individual or group because there are always multiple answers to any project or assignment. However there are experienced teachers in the arts that have the ability to develop the creative capacities of their students and colleagues. What are their best practices?

Will you contribute one example of your best practice? This would be a description of a project that has always enhanced the creative experience and insight of the student.

Certain types of structures in the learning environment support the best practices of creative people. These structures are composed of conceptual, administrative, social, financial and physical conditions. These conditions are variable.  As in any discipline these conditions generate understandings that change the practice.  What are the best conditions or learning environments for creative people?

Will you describe a model, framework, or structure that supports your best practice?

Conferences, travel, periodicals, personal networks and institutions are established means for sharing these best practices. Now there is the Web 2.0 environment that can be used to carry on some of the same interests of sharing best practices.

Will you post your best practice with Agile Professor?



David Sabine deals with a backlog

I asked David if he would post this piece - instead he gave me permission to do so. I thought it was a very creative piece of work.

Read and enjoy:

” I’m no expert, but I have an idea which might help other Scrum teams who are struggling with a giant backlog.” -David Sabine
Background Information:

  • A needs assessment was performed at our College about 20 months ago (prior to my arrival in this job) and the consultant identified 120 deliverables which would comprise a full-featured “Web Portal” and provide all our stakeholders with the functionality they desire. These deliverables/ideas vary in scope and purpose — like ‘online enrolment’ to ‘Podcast/RSS feeds’ to ‘discussion forums’ to ‘online tuition payment’ — some are projects in and of themselves but others can be easily converted into “user stories” with bite-sized workloads. Hence, we’ve decided to call that needs assessment our “Product Backlog”.
  • Our team was formed very recently. And because our team is forming within the confines of a very bureaucratic institution, we’ve appointed a Product Owner (our C.I.O.) and by circumstance he has not had time yet to study and prioritize those 120 items in our Product Backlog. He’s the person who has both the expertise and authority to keep our team focused but his responsibilities at the College go way beyond our little team; so I expect that we should help him maintain the Product Backlog as objectively as we can (if not objectively, then at least collectively).

So, what’s the problem exactly?

Well, according to Scrum’s rules, the Product Owner is supposed to inform the team of each item’s relative “value” (thus ordering the Product Backlog). But to expidite our process (we want to get started!) and to assist our Product Owner, I wondered if I could devise a reasonable method to distill the backlog and make the most valuable items rise out of the murk.

The activity (the solution):

Our team is 3 members + 1 product owner + 1 chicken (let’s call him a “primary stakeholder”). So, with the 5 people in the room I determined to:

  1. Have the people line up aside each other - in order by their ‘length of employment at the College’. I knew that this would place my manager (our primary stakeholder) at one end of the line.
  2. I handed him a stack of paper — 120 slips of paper with items from the ‘needs assessment’ printed in giant font.
  3. I gave these instructions:For each slip of paper:
    1. pick up the paper and read the sentence.
    2. within 12 seconds, consider the statement carefully and answer this single question: “Do I know this task to be ‘impossible’ by this team at this time?” (That might mean technically/financially/politically impossible.)
    3. If ‘yes’ then discard the slip of paper face down and pick up the next.
    4. if ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure’ then give the paper to the next person (who then performs the exact same instructions).

Some items made it through to the end. Many were discarded. That’s the whole idea.

Simple, right? Well, at the end of this routine we had temporarily eliminated about 80 items from the backlog. I say ‘temporarily’ because those items may still have value at a later stage in the project and we’ll have to revisit them of course.

But there were still too many items on the surface and I felt the we could whittle the pile further yet. I suggested we repeat the activity but alter the question slightly to: “Do I know this task to be ‘utterly trivial’ at this time?” We did and it worked.

In effect (and within only 24 minutes!) we had narrowed our pile from 120 to 12 and had eliminated all items that were either extremely difficult or totally useless. As well, an excellent fringe benefit I think, our primary stakeholder (my manager) has now had 12 seconds to contemplate each and every item in the backlog; until this week I believe he has had some difficulty understanding the gravity of the expectations set upon this team.

Then, with some discussion we were able to order those 12 by their relative “value” and, voila!, we have an effective Product Backlog.

While I may have bent Scrum’s rules a little, I believe that the activity was invaluable. Time will tell.

Daily life


Agile and Universal Education

As we enter the 21st century with increasing levels of universal interdependencies, we need to provide tools to review and restructure educational systems. This is in order to provide a means for universal education. One of the means that would contribute to this process is the Agile method used in software development. This is partly because the Agile concepts are relatively straight forward, and in large part allow for continuous change to be integrated into a planning process.

Whatever measurement we finally use to frame an educational system it needs to provide for an increase in the capacities of the individual in an evolving relationship to those around themselves.

Structures of education vary across economic and social strata and from one nation state to another. Analysis of this variety is not always helpful in terms of developing models for success. In a sense what is measured is often more of the same, that is, one educational model in terms of another. Instead it may be helpful to measure educational systems against models that are not so specifically focused on educational objectives. Measuring against mechanical or factory methods may be useful in some respects and measuring against organic and ecological processes may be useful in other respects.

An Agile methodology is not usually understood as related to an educational process. Rather, the Agile methods are applied to organizational structures usually in terms of some aspect of software development. However, along with creating a system for getting work done, there is an inherent learning structure that comes along with Agile methods. This learning is in terms of teamwork that is independent from the project requirements. Within this team development learning occurs in a variety of ways and at levels that we are not used to measuring. While efficiency is measured in terms of the time it takes to get work completed and passing tests, the learning related to team work may not be so easy to get a grip on even if it is deeply felt.

Agile methods can be used for developing a learning environment that evolves as it is applied to large or small-scale projects. Certainly, alternative processes for a whole or universal system of education are difficult to entertain without the weight of past experience imposing serious and well-intended limits and constraints on the development of that process. The last hundred years show how difficult it is to break out of any particular system and view it from a new angle. Traditions with cultural habits and current knowledge with very rich detail to draw upon both present resistances to change.

The current acceleration of climate change in itself presents an inescapable and urgent requirement for change of educational systems. The simple fact is that universal education presents an exponential increase in human resources that are ultimately the means for an intelligent evolution of global action. If Agile methods will help in that intelligent evolution why not use them?

[Note from Mishkin: This video underscores the need for dynamic or agile educational systems: ]

Daily life


Improvements from consultations about the backlog

The last entry outlined a relationship between the backlog and learning in the context of course work. Further to that consultation our team ranked the ten projects in terms of which ones provided the most learning for them as individuals.

We had ten projects so the number ten was given to the project with the most learning and the number one for the one with the least learning. The three that ended up at the bottom of the rankings were then discussed. The discussion centered on how these projects could be improved to become more useful as learning experiences.

The discussion proved to be valuable as students brought features of their norms of engagement to light. In effect they were engaged in “pulling” and shaping the course work for the next group of students.

As planning is a developmental and strategic part of the learning circle these contributions from students give insights into how the backlog can be used in contributing to each part of the learning circle. Action, reflection, learning and planning as an integrated process provides more focus as the team participates in consultations that concern both the backlog and the sprint backlog.



Symbiotic learning

Symbiotic Learning between the team and the individual.

After being with Mishkin for a three day Scrum training I saw the possibility of using the backlog as a model for a review of coursework. As the instructor or product owner of the course I bring to the class a backlog of requirements. When the class acts as a team they can be seen as participating in a series of sprints that make up a project. The project is the completed course.

This is an outline of steps taken to try out that possibility.

The first step was to arrange seating around a table long enough for each person to be seated comfortably with writing materials. This is comparable to a collocated team.

The second step was to outline the purpose of the session as the learning part modeled by the Learning Circle. The Learning Circle presents a sequence of Action, Reflection, Learning, and Planning carried out in terms of guidance.

The Action part of the Learning Circle can be compared to the sprint activities and the Reflection part of the learning circle is comparable to the demo and retrospective in the sprint.

The third step was to have the team list each of the main elements that were worked on in the class through the semester. There were ten Media Activities, ten Movies analyzed, and six Handouts. Each of these elements could be compared to a sprint.

The fourth step was to have each person spend between one and two minutes to write what he or she had learned from the first of these elements. After finishing the writing in this time-boxed manner these thoughts were shared with the group. This simple process was used for each of the twenty-six elements that composed the main features of the course work in the semester.

The fifth step was to remind the individuals to take notes and to recognize the learning that is acquired through having the team focus however briefly on the whole of the course in terms of each of the main elements. This is to indicate the symbiotic relationship between the individual and the team.

There was excellent feedback from students after this exercise.

It may be that after a demo and a retrospective the team would benefit from such an activity as outlined above in order to make what was learned more evident to each individual, including the product owner and Scrum Master. This kind of review of each of the pieces of a backlog would take some time when applied in terms of either a finished sprint of a completed project. The results would be of benefit to the team as they advance into the next sprint or whole project with increased understanding of each other and the work.

NEXT: a mapping of the Learning Circle and a sprint/project.

Daily life


Learning: Set the Table differently - each time is an iteration.

One way of setting the table (quick) is for our selves, another way (flowers) is for a loved one, another is for the routine (place settings) family meal, another way (spectacle) is for guests, and another way (random) for parties. Each form reveals an intention and provides insight into felt relationships between all the things and processes, the person who makes the placements, and the responses of the people at the meal.

The description or definition of a type of relationship between objects/processes is in itself a new class of relationship between those same objects/processes. This is a form of relationship that is derived from the participant/observer. This form and the evolution of the form may be understood as learning.
Another example:

First: I have students bring three or four objects from home to paint in primary colors including white and black. The purpose is to develop a pair of tondo (round) paintings from a still life.

Second: I put a blank canvas on the model stand, 6 feet by 4 feet, and have students place the painted objects (12) one after another in turns until there are twelve objects on the surface.

This step has three parts, the first is to move one object of the twelve into a better configuration with the rest. Taking turns the students then move two of the objects to sweeten the relationships between all the objects. They are then instructed to move two objects and subtract one from the surface if desired. Another person with their turn can bring back an object someone else has removed. The configuration of ten to twelve objects is now complete. It is a 3D configuration or sculptural setting.

Third: The next step is to draw lines of force between the objects on the surface of the canvas. Each person using a charcoal goes in turn. Two turns are used to draw these relationships with any kind of line that serves.

Fourth: Then we remove all the objects. What remains is a drawing on canvas that is unique in itself. The drawing refers to the objects that were once on the canvas but is now an object in its own right.

Fifth: Have each person place a dot where they believe the center of the drawing is. Then to place four marks on the perimeter that would be where the circle would be if it were to be painted on a tondo form.

Sixth: After these points are set down we replace the objects that had been removed. They are placed in a new way, keeping in mind the sculptural relationship between the objects and the drawing in charcoal that is on the canvas.

Seventh: After the colored objects have been placed and shifted for better relationship in a similar way to the first cycle of placements a final piece of drawing is done. Each person has a chance to draw a complete circle around the objects in any way they choose. This completes the process of building a still life.

Eighth: Realize the objective of painting two tondo forms from two vantage points 180 degrees from each other. Zoom in if need be and paint a detail of the still life or zoom out to get everything on the model stand.

The process is reviewed and discussed with the students in order to help them understand the flexibility of change and how the relationships between objects can be described by the lines which in turn establish a new order of relationships.

The conclusion is in effect that: to describe or define a relationship between objects will probably require a new arrangement of relationships between those same objects.

You can see how the drawing elements show a relationship from a former placement between the objects as the lines would normally touch the objects. Now the objects are placed a second time and the drawing exists as a separate entity equal in its influence to any of the objects.

This is something we all do when we set the table for a meal.
In this exercise the drawing or lines are comparable to words as descriptions of relationships. The description or definition of a type of relationship between objects/processes is in itself a new class of relationship between those same objects/processes. This is a form of relationship that is derived from the participant/observer. Over time this form reveals an evolution of relationships. This evolution may be understood as a form of learning.

Daily life


Agile, ISW, the Learning Circle (The Bridge between the workplace and pennies)

On Nov. 7th, I presented a ten minute version of the relationship between individual and group learning and how important that can be in the workplace. To do this, I used a presentation model from the Instructional Skills Workshop.

I used the learning circle in the first two minutes to illustrate the objectives. Action, Reflection, Learning, Planning in light of guidance is amplified in the relationship between the individual and the group/team.

For a project I used the penny exercise used in illustrating the differences between a waterfall, a lean, and an agile method of moving pennies. A good way to illustrate the power of a “flat” organization in dealing with this type of problem.

At the end of the ninth minute I asked how the Lean and the Agile methods could be used in a real work situation by the participants, in their own work place. This proved to be difficult for all the participants but one who had been to a longer presentation on Agile methods.

What I learned was that most of the participants needed the example provided by the penny exercise but even more they needed some further examples to help them bridge what they had learned to their own work. Only then would they have any answers to my two questions.

There was further discussion around how ISW methods could be brought to the attention of the faculty as a potential method for professional development.



Beauty For Jaun - the classroom outside

Beauty may be understood and experienced as the highest form of order. Go and look at a stream of water beginning to freeze -ice forming- sun shinning on both ice surfaces and the deeps. Clouds reflected on the surface movements and stones waiting for snow.

In the broadest sense we live and move in a matrix of names and attributes.  Our efforts to acquire insight into the realities that we perceive generate a multitude of names of specific things and their attributes. The attributes of these things are typically discussed in terms of relationships, as gradually we recognize a connectedness between these things and the various degrees of interdependence that pertain to them. As the physicist David Boehm has observed; clouds are known as nouns but are better understood as verbs that are constantly changing manifestations of the evaporation cycle and temperature differentials.

Change is natural and tends towards either integration or disintegration. The balance between integration and disintegration is dynamic and can be thought of as an axiom of existence.  A metaphor of this balance is the cycle of the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The seasons occur because of the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the sun, and as the cycle repeats itself the surface of the planet is modified annually and over the millennia. Change is natural.

On any one-day we normally don’t pay too much attention to how the cycle of seasons is making a change to the planet, rather we think about how the weather will influence our personal plans. However, if you grow crops more attention is given to weather patterns and how they might influence a harvest. Or, if you are a sailor weather patterns are also given due consideration for charting a course across an ocean. You do the best you can with weather, as it is often a bit unpredictable. The metaphor attempts to show how change is predictable on a large scale (seasons) for the whole planet and not predictable at small scale (daily) for the individual human being.

The cycle of seasons developed an effort in many cultures to predict weather patterns and events related to movements of the sun, moon, and stars. The ability to predict when to plant a crop and when to expect migrations of animals lay at the foundation for secure food production.  Secure food production is a hinge point for developing a civilization.  Civilizations rise and fall. The current anxieties developing around the evidence of climate change will not doubt precipitate changes in the individual and collective lives of people on the planet. How will these changes create a new awareness of our relationships to each other and to the planet as a whole ecology?  Among other things we will require a reformation of educational strategies to cope with the magnitudes of change.

There is a requirement for educational processes to be reconsidered.  Establishing a set of relationships that are integrative rather than disintegrative will require a good deal of experimentation and a more profound insight into what it is that enables human beings to create beauty. Beauty is indicated here because for human beings not everything has a material cause, and not every material cause has a material effect. Art and science, the private life of the individual and religion each contribute to the achievement of beauty. There is an implicit and explicit set of relationships between these features of our individual and collective lives. How do we educate for all of these relationships in a good way?

A feature of Agile methodology that is most important is the relationship of the individual to the group or team as a means of learning, and learning fast.  In education it seems critical that we adopt strategies that enable us to learn in groups, which provide learning based on short cycles and processes that can be modified to suit requirements. Agile methods can contribute a great deal to these strategies.

The comments above are only a small part of what the discourse needs to address.

On the matter of development of education and its relationship to consciousness see:

Bateson, Gregory: Steps to an Ecology of Mind
Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity

Paul Hanley: to participate in an ongoing discussion about the future of agriculture both locally and globally and to read the latest postings on sustainability strategies.




What about tomorrow morning? Continue with the project? Keep at it? How?

The Creation - the whole thing - continues being created…stars being born, sub-atomic events dithering in and out of existence, and us working away at whatever we do. Besides cash, there is the innate joy of making something, fashioning a thing or a relationship that moves things along just a notch or two. The payoff is there, in the joy. The act of creating is joyful, ask a composer, a poet, an artist, or just ask a Nobel prize winner.

What comes before the act of creation may be a long period of difficult processes, often without either a highly defined problem or an end point to provide a focus. In the middle is the muddle that has a hidden order waiting to make itself clear. The requirement for realizing what lies in waiting is a structural change in the way we view the muddle. This structural change lies at the heart of how the creative process becomes an integrating or unifying experience. Further, it is considered artful when it induces a similar experience in others.

Here is an activity you can try with your colleagues, students, children or agency art directors. The purpose of this experiment is to underline the creative power of a group. Try to have at least six people working together in a group.

Provide each person with six stickies and have them draw up a story-board that shows a simple set of actions. Make it clear they can tell any story but suggest that it could be as simple as brushing hair or peeling an orange to get them started. They have five minutes to sketch out the actions and use all six of the stickies.

When the five minutes are over have each person hold up the story-board they created but have them resist saying anything about it. Then advise that each person will have the benefit of the group working with them to give more dimension to their story, without knowing what any of the stories are.

Identify the first person who will put their story on the line. Have them describe what is in the first frame/panel of their story-board and then in one minute have each of the other five people write down what they imagine the scene to look like, including an action of the characters, setting, costumes, make-up, lighting, camera position, and sound. Have these each read aloud after the one minute is up. Ideas and details start clicking and a lively discussion emerges. Keep this discussion to about a minute. Then do the same one minute response to the next stickie frame/panel. More ideas and details come out that connect to the first frame, in the form of a reflection on what was noted previously. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth frames/panels are handled the same way with a one minute write down of what is imagined by each person in the group followed by a brief observation of connections back and forth across each of the panels/frames. By the end of the process the coherence and excitement of an integrated story-board are very intense.

Each person then hands over their written comments to the person whose story-board was reviewed. The process continues with each of the six having a turn with the group focused on their story. After that they draw up a new story-board and shoot it.

In essence this is an Agile process. It is composed of;

One true metric = a good story

A product owner with a backlog = six frames/panels of a story

Team work in iterations for each story = five one minute iterations as views on frames written by team members

Reflection meetings = integration of ideas across the whole set of six frames/panels

Meeting with the product owner = important feedback for the team/group

The process is as natural as a conversation and as effective as thoughtfulness, humor, and helpfulness can make any group/team activity be.

It is important to note that the structure of the creative process shifts back and forth between the individual and the group/team. In doing so it provides a concrete example of a creative process that advances learning, trust, thought, imagination, and further action. There is a joy in the process as the product owner lights up with new thoughts and ideas triggered by the gifts received from the other members of the group/team.

For deeper/denser reading on these matters I would suggest the following:

The Hidden Order of Art by Anton Ehrenzweig

The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde



We are creative…with effort

One of the : We are creators.

It takes a certain effort to contemplate mystery and bring an idea into the realm of thought. When this happens it may be considered a form of inspiration. It takes further effort to bring an idea from the world of thought into the realm of words. Texts and discourses may take years to produce and refine. More effort is needed to move from words into manifesting an action or an object that is derived from those words. Experience with materials joined to ideas in such a way as to inspire and assist others by the results is the domain of artists and scientists.

The linked sequence outlined above, of an idea coming to the realm of thought, then to words, then to action is essentially the creative process. It is not obvious, it is not easy, and you cannot force it. Then how on earth do you get it?

Creativity in individuals is ultimately reflected into the community in a variety of forms, and as cultures composed of many communities evolve over time there is an effect on individual creativity that is progressive and transforming. The collective result is that civilization advances or in other words without creativity it does not.

Today at lunch, eating curried noodles, we talked at length about factors that influence the capacities of our students. Learning habits and skill sets acquired in public school over twelve years are only one part of what each student has to work with when they come into our art program. Other factors are related to peer group pressures, media portraits of life, family experiences, teacher training, government funding for schools, and training designed specifically to meet and pass tests. Because our art program is taught at the university level students are not always prepared for the demands of the course work. Our hope is that we can become focused on using our observations to become more astute in refining our methods to teach creativity.

The Agile strategies of using iterations (cycles, sprints), reflection meetings, a queue of work (backlog), one true metric, and group work to move a project forward are valuable notions for dealing with the following questions:

  • How do we break down learning habits that are formed mainly in terms of following specific steps, as in following a recipe, to get a predetermined result?
  • Imitation is one way of learning but what happens when there is no longer anyone to imitate?
  • How do we help students design their own problem sets and carry forward a variety of plans to tackle those problems?
  • How do we prepare them to take risks and have no fear of failure?
  • When they have successes how do they continue learning in an environment that is changing everything around us all so rapidly?
  • In the moment of success or failure how do they maintain their dignity?

Our discussion ended with a reference to who was able to develop a learning environment based on her observations of how children with learning disabilities were learning in terms of herself (they loved her), each other, the classroom setting, and with their senses. When her methods were applied to normal children they took off like rockets.

Like her, we also need to document what we are learning about teaching creativity but not with young children, rather at the level of these young adults. Their potential for change is close at hand…their dignity gives rise to the destiny of our community.


We are Creators

Reality is Perceived

Change is Natural



More Stand-up

October 18th, 2007

Last night Sky and I talked about how a stand-up meeting can work with thirty students. Work with five or six students in a group for about five minutes. Work with five or six groups one group at a time. This way each group only misses five or six minutes of class time during their meeting. Everyone else stays at work. Ask each student what they are doing to advance their work and how you can help if they need help. If a discussion seems needed carry it out with the student sometime after the stand-up meeting. Otherwise schedule help sessions on the spot.



Agile Learning - Existing Articles

There are a few good articles already out there about using agile methods in an educational context. This is a summary of some the can be found quickly.

First, on Agile Advice:

And then all the rest:

[pdf] (poster format)

(blog, Dec. 2006 - Sean Keesler)

(a presentation and a one-pager on agile education)

(a discussion thread about agile, programming and homeschooling - use “Next in Thread” to continue reading the discussion)

If you know of other examples online, please let us know in the comments so that we can add to this list! Thanks!



Classroom Stand-up Meetings

October, second week, 2007.

At a faculty meeting I outlined how a stand-up meeting can be a useful way to have students begin a class with a greater degree of focus. The method I suggested was to stand in a circle with a group of about six students and ask them two questions: “What did you do since the last class that develops the project we are working on, and if there are problems, what can I do to help overcome them?”. This can be done without much fuss and in about five minutes another group can be handled in the same manner. At the end of the class period a second stand-up meeting with the same groups is scheduled and the questions now are; ” What are you going to do to advance your work on the project?” and “What can I do to help?”

The faculty thought this was a worthwhile idea and agreed to try it out.

I found that my students responded easily to this simple format and that they got to work faster than usual and sustained focus through the six hours we were together. At the end of the class stand-up meeting, one student asked for help, we agreed on a time to meet, and completed a task in half an hour that would have been difficult for her to do alone in a couple of hours.


I had spent the Thanksgiving week-end driving to Fort McMurray, AB in a vehicle we had bought in Denver, CO. Several times on the trip I had thought about how a stand-up meeting might just possibly be the thing to help students stay more focused on their work. At the same time it would give me a more specific way to help them in a strategic way, rather than just from moment to moment during class times.

Our weekly faculty meeting was held in the print making studio during lunch. The discussion around student activities, engagement, and completed work, prompted me to outline what I had been thinking about over the week-end. After I finished outlining the reasons for the stand-up meeting the delight in the voice of Robin, our printmaker, was a real confirmation of how useful this tactic would be. I went on to attribute the idea to , and suggested that in addition we create an “” that would be for our faculty team. At first this would be our assignments, course outline and class logs, in other words our documentation of activities that we bring to the studio course work. Again, after sorting through the benefits to ourselves and to the students we agreed to do this.

My Tuesday afternoon class is in sculpture, and I began this one with a stand-up meeting. The students responded with a bit of a surprise but took to the procedure very easily. Each of them indicated what they had been doing since the last class and none of them had hit any real obstacles that required my help. As we completed the six hours of sculpture class that evening - it goes from 2PM-5PM and 7PM-10PM- one of the students asked for help. This was in terms of fixing a pair of wooden blocks, that had to be formed, to the interior of a metal mesh armature she was constructing. She is building a figure that will have a crank to make wind and sound effects emerge from the torso. I was able to show her how to construct a template and map it to the wood we would use as blocks. Also this involved showing her how to use a skill saw, change blades, clamp the material and cut it out. When she finished using the air staple gun to fasten the blocks to the mesh and stood the figure up - she just beamed!

This is normally a stubborn student who will balk at suggestions and decline advice from any of the faculty members. I think the stand-up meeting gave her the opportunity she needed to ask for help in a new way. Learning habits prevent students from asking for help in certain classroom situations and I think that engaging them in the stand-up meeting puts the responsibility for learning and action squarely into the students hands. The resulting sense of self determination is subtle but very much a sweet moment for young adults.