What I Learned From My Daughter’s First Grade Classroom

The new school year is beginning and my daughter is starting first grade. I had an opportunity to go to her elementary school open house the other day. A word to the wise: never let an Agile development geek into a first grade classroom. I thought I had died and gone to information heaven. I took a camera with me and took some pictures of the kinds of information that they put on the walls in a children’s classroom. It was amazing! In the meantime, my wife fervently denied that she was with the dork taking all the pictures of the walls. Here’s what I discovered before I was escorted from the building:

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The first grade classroom is the prototype for a learning environment. These folks are the undisputed masters of the information radiator.  Everywhere you look there is information being displayed. The variety of different kinds of information displayed is amazing! The density of information here is incredible! In one corner of the room I see the following information:

  • Monthly calendar
  • Weather graph
  • Password(???)
  • The alphabet
  • A tally of how many days they’ve been in school
  • Numbers from 1-10
  • Days of the week
  • A chart of all numbers from 1-200
  • A list of who has lost a tooth (Try that on your team! If the number is greater than five, you may be working in a biker bar)
  • And a few other things I can’t quite interpret

What else can we see going on here? Well for one thing, there is LOTS of color. It catches the eye, calls attention to certain details, and livens things up quite a bit. It’s like an interior decorator went nuts in the place. Next, you may observe that much of the information is presented using multiple modalities. Multiple modalities? OK, they use pictures AND words AND color AND shapes. A lot of effort is being made to transmit information in a variety of different ways. Now, just for giggles, what if you were going to put together this exact same board for your team at the office? What would it contain? Here’s how I might do it:

  • Monthly calendar – team vacations, releases, events, barbecues
  • Release graph – How many releases per week are we doing?
  • Word of the day (“Spurtle” – yeah, it’s a word)
  • A quick reference containing all of the major Ruby commands (pick your API/Language, etc)
  • A tally of how many days they’ve been working on a project/sprint/release
  • Numbers from 1, 0 (hey, it’s computer science, you only need two numbers!)
  • List of major business holidays (they always sneak up on me)
  • A chart of all error codes used in our project
  • A ladder of World of Warcraft names/rankings

Hmmm. That’s actually not a bad list. Give it a little color, play with the “modalities” and I just might have some pretty compelling information there. I wonder what else the first graders have to teach us? How about this:

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I see at least three things here that I could try out with my team back at the office. First, there is information about today: we have the date, and then  below it is the day’s schedule. Now, I don’t know about you, but back at the office, I don’t have anything like a daily schedule posted on the wall with my team. We all have outlook, and perhaps some would say that’s enough, but for me it’s not quite the same. Outlook reflects MY schedule, not the team’s schedule. And there are significant team events that could use some advertising: Planning meetings, releases, retrospectives, reviews, scrum of scrums, and so on. I know that where I work, everyone is left to their own devices to manage these things and show up or not. Nothing wrong with that, but what if we had a daily schedule, a reminder if you will, that sat next to our task board at our standup meeting? Frankly, I think it might be useful. As a scrum master, it might be a way for me to rather subtly remind the team of the big commitments for the day. Or not.

Let’s move on from the schedule stuff. What’s up with the bottles of ketchup, mayo, and mustard? OK, it may be a little cheesy, but if you look at the image closely you will see that these are clever little symbols for “Catch-Up”, “May Do”, and “Must Do’s”. Do you track Catch-Up work on your team? No? Me either…wait a second…we do keep a list of technical debt. Isn’t technical debt a kind of  Catch up work? So keeping that list of catch up items makes a lot of sense to me. Also, the “May Do’s” and “Must Do’s” make a lot of sense to me as well. I think that defining work as “Must Do” will help the team prioritize the work that is most important (assuming you don’t abuse it) and the “May Do’s” gives the team the ability to identify the things that are available to be pulled on their own initiative. Adding may do and must do to a team’s daily activities would certainly be interesting to try out. I can see pros and cons to doing it. Maybe we could even use these criteria to categorize our backlogs? It’s a possibility…

How about the noise level trumpet off in the corner there? In the wonderful Agile Open Space that you work in, do you ever have issues with noise? Here is your answer! I wonder how well that actually works in a room full of first graders? OK, I’m not going to give them grief for this – it’s probably an experiment.

Here’s another gem that I captured before being chased out of the room by a rather menacing looking old battle axe with a broom (where DO they get these people?):

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Would you look at that! They use the “Fist of Five” in first grade too! I was wondering where that technique came from! I need a copy of this poster for my team!

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Ooh! Look here! They are graphing their moods over time! Cool! I’ve seen other teams do this, but I’ve never tried it myself. It seems like an idea with some real merit. It certainly makes sense to track the teams mood. It would be very interesting to review information like this at team retrospectives. It would certainly provide an interesting metric to compare against recent “improvements” or other team experiments. One other thing I want to point out here: these teachers seem to think that these information radiators are so important that they will try and cram them just about anywhere! Anyplace is game: the backside of a bookshelf, the side of a locker, the face of a cabinet – any place they will fit. Look around your office. Are you using all the space you have available?

Here’s a quick challenge: So what do you think this is?

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Well, as my daughter ever-so-patiently explained to me, this is their “Job Wall”. I like the beehive image – after all we Agilista’s like to “swarm” don’t we? It seems that everyone has regular tasks that they are responsible for. These are tracked here. I like the way it makes responsibilities explicit for everyone involved. It makes me wonder where the teachers get all this stuff? Of course if I were to show up with this silly little beehive, I’m pretty sure that the team would laugh me out of the room. Of course that never stopped me in the past…

You know, if they ever  lift the restraining order and let me back on school property again, I’m definitely going to take some more pictures of the classroom walls. How come more offices don’t look like this? Why aren’t the environments we work in as information rich as the ones that children work and play in? I presume that in the office we are learning too, right?

3 Responses to What I Learned From My Daughter’s First Grade Classroom

  1. […] What I Learned From My Daughter’s First Grade Classroom « Agile Tools […]

  2. Soumya says:

    What a wonderful post. I love it when ‘Tech geek’ meets ‘learning tools for a child’. You are right. Who knew there was so much real world tools to use in a first grade classroom.
    Note to self: Keep eyes, ears open while visiting school. Learn.

  3. […] few rules. Take a step outside your normal boundaries and seek inspiration elsewhere, for instance see how they use visualization in a first grade classroom – the prototype for a creative learning environment. Some elements might be useful for your […]

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