I’ve been working on some single page info sheets that explain ALC and some of our tools. Over the past several months these pages have grown into a nice little package. I’ve just given them a design pass to spruce them up a bit based on the work I’ve been doing developing the ALC Style Guide.
I’ve been binge watching Mark Brown’s Game Maker’s Toolkit series on YouTube. Mark is a game critic that has been creating these video reflections on games, typically on aspects of their mechanics. I’d like to discuss one of Mark’s videos called Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design in which he looks at the super successful level design of Super Mario 3D World. Have a look:
The game introduces a dazzling amount information to the player. Looked at as a whole it might seem overwhelming yet, according to mark, it works really well. I’ve been seeing this idea of overwhelming game mechanics a lot lately. Some of us at ALC recently consulted with a school who wished to introduce self directed learning to their students. This is like going from a linear 2D scroller—where everything is spoon fed to you—to a massive open world game. In ALC we have a number of games (or tools) such as Kanban boards, Set-the-Week, and Gameshifting that support self directed learning. When put together all these games seem, to the uninitiated, as overwhelming and complex. Just look at the Kanban, with it’s infinite variations and ability to expand to fit almost any situation.
The teacher at this school was keen to introduce our tools to her students, but it was clear to the ALFs present that this would be too much too fast. I wanted to support her in doing this, but more level heads were able to “limit the work in process” and we ended up suggesting a super simple Kanban and Gameshifting board to start.
I think that we can look toward Super Mario for inspiration when trying to introduce our games.
The 4 Step Game Design
As outlined in Mark’s video Mario is using a “four step” design principle.
This provides a useful template for introducing our tools, let’s focus on the Kanban, as it lends itself to this methodology.
One: The introduction
When Mario introduces a play mechanic it will typically do so in a safe environment with low stakes for failure. The player can then try and fail without risking a life while they feel out the mechanic.
The introduction to the Kanban can happen in two ways. First, it can be simplified into it’s most basic form, which I would describe as a two column board with these headers:
What I want to do today
What I’ve done today
I use the word want very deliberately here. It’s lower stake than will and makes failure a bit less sharp (changing a players perception of failure is for another level). The instructions are absolutely clear in these titles. Hand this Kanban and some sticky notes to someone and it’s instantly clear what they are going to do with it.
I’ve used a method like this when introducing ALC or our tools to people in the past.
By using a kanban to manage the presentation I am able to model the tool in a useful way. This, again, is a safe way to introduce people to it. They are participating with the tool, but not having to take care of it themselves.
Two: The development
As we move through our Mario level we are challenged by a slow development of that mechanic. More complexity is added as the player moves through the development.
With our Kanban it’s easy to see how to do this. We can just start adding columns. In the example of introducing Kanban to a school we might start with a two column and after a few weeks add a third column then a fourth.
The idea is to develop the tool over time with the player. Add new columns as the player realizes new needs.
Three: The twist
In Mario the twist is typically the addition of an unexpected challenge that makes the player have to interact with the mechanic in a different way.
With our Kanban the twist can come in the form adding elements that expand the functionality in unexpected ways. For instance adding rows (“swim lanes”) to group tasks.
The twist, I think, should be drastic and complex. It’s meant to show where such a tool can go. The twist opens up the players imagination to possibilities.
Four: The conclusion
Now we are done. In Mario the conclusion consists of one last use of the mechanic to show mastery by the player. Like a pat on the back for learning a new skill.
For our Kanban the conclusion can come from having our student walk away with their own modified Kanban. After seeing the “twist” they might well be inspired with a concrete way to improve their Kanban.
We expand the possibilities then conclude with an appropriate application of the flexibility.
Games as tools, tools as games
I think there is quite a lot to learn by thinking about our tools and practices in the context of games and game mechanics, especially video games. For the past 20+ years video games have been teaching people a wide variety of skills. Video games are coming to be the dominate storytelling medium in our society. Modeling our own pedagogy from the best that games have to offer gives us a powerful ally in expanding the reach of our ideas. I will certainly be looking more at game development and its practices to see how I can leverage it in my own practice.
This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief
Within our daily cycle the Afternoon Meeting closes the day. It is where we reflect on the intentions set in the morning meeting. The act of reflection is as important as setting intentions because it allows us to measure our success or failure to achieve what we set out to do so we can adjust our next cycle of intentions. The afternoon meeting, like it’s morning counterpart were the only required daily meetings in ALC Everett.
The ALC Everett afternoon has gone through a series of upgrades. In it’s early form we would meet at 5pm, our end of day, after cleaning up the space. With our kanbans out we would reflect on the intentions we completed and didn’t get done. We would move items from the Group Kanban to done or back into ready. After we reflected on our intentions we would move to a candle ceremony adapted from the NYC ALC.
The candle ceremony or “Gratitudes Ceremony” was a ritual where we would light a candle and take turns reflecting on things we were grateful for that day.
On Fridays we would set aside time to blog about our week, as per the student agreement requirement:
> Sharing of your work and play through weekly creative and reflective blog posts
Upgrade to daily blogging
Through our Change Up Meeting we decided to implement a daily blogging routine. We would start blogging around 4pm then start clean up at 4:30 and move into end of day meeting at 5. After a few cycles of this we decided to change the whole process around. It made more sense to reflect first then write about those reflections in our blogs.
We upgraded the process to come together at 4pm for a reflective meeting where we would look over our kanbans, reflect as a group, then enter into focused blogging time.
After we finished blogging we would then clean and do the candle ceremony to end the day. Later, through another change up, we implemented a rule to stop blogging at 5pm.
This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief
Culture creation is a central focus of Agile Learning Centers. We want to create and hold space that is safe for children to explore their passions. To create intentional culture we employ a weekly Change Up Meetings to build, update, and remix the culture inside the school. The central tool which makes this process explicit is the Community Mastery Board.
Community Mastery Board
The CMB is a Kanban style board that normally has four columns:
Topics enter into the process as an awareness. Community members share something they are aware of. This could be a problem or an opportunity available to the community. At any time anyone can leave a sticky note on the awareness column of the CMB.
Each week in the Change Up Meeting items from the CMB are discussed as a group. As we reflect on each item in the awareness column the group attempts (if needed) to imagine a way to deal with the item and select one to try and move the note to implement. If we don’t have any ideas then the item stays in awareness.
Once a solution is implemented we try it out for the week or two. The items in the implement column are limited in number because we don’t want to be introducing too many new rules or procedures at once. Each week we reflect on how well each particular solution is working. Are people abiding by the new procedure? Is the community happy with it?
Rather than have a long processes driven meetings about the implemented solution where we voice concerns and attempt to codify a community agreement in one sitting we do rapid testing of our agreements. Over the course of the week new agreements are tested and community members can “vote with their feet” where if they like a particular agreement they can promote it during the implementation week, remind people that we are trying it out, and build support for it.
Once an agreement has been implemented we revisit it at each Change Up Meeting where we either:
Demote it back to awareness if the implemented solution didn’t work
Keep it implemented for another week to continue testing
Change the implementation and try it again
Promote it to practicing
Agreements in the practicing column are both in practice and being practiced. Each week we quickly review all items in this column to determine if they need to be demoted because they aren’t working or if we have mastered them.
If an agreement has reached a point where it has passed a certain threshold defined by the community it can then be elevated to the mastery column.
We ran our meetings by reviewing items in practicing first then implementation and finally awareness.
The following diagram illustrates how an item might move through this process:
The items in the mastery column can then be presented to new people entering the space so they can understand the community agreements. This makes integrating new people into the community much easier because they don’t have to learn what our implicit rules are because we have made them explicit.
This process also helps keep our Student Agreement’s rule section short. There are only a few “base” rules which each student agrees to including this one:
Respecting community agreements we implement and practice from “Change-up”
Which allows us to collaboratively update agreements as needed without having to amend the Student Agreement.
As you can see, from Today column to the right is much the same as v1. The new areas are labeled with letters.
Ideas under exploration
Active ideas (doing)
Tasks goals for current month
Task goals for current day
Tasks completed this week
I’ll go through the rough workflow for the rest of the board, you can follow along with the numbered “notes” on the above illustration:
Add an idea – A project, activity, or goal idea is added to the board in the idea (A) column. The “Term Goal Area” rows are optional subject areas that the community outlines before hand. For instance they might be general subject areas like science, math, and art. Ideas are then asked to fit into one of these goal areas.
Promote idea to explore – Through a weekly or monthly meeting new ideas are discussed and a manageable number are promoted to the exploration (B) phase. These ideas are then put through a goal setting process. The goal setting process aims to determine if the idea is do-able and what things need to be done to achieve the goal. Ideas are either demoted back to the idea pool, removed, or pushed forward to…
Ready idea – After an idea has been explored it is added to the ready column. Other “sub” tasks or milestones are added to a stack of stickies with the idea on top. This stack of stickies represents a well formed idea that is ready to begin working on.
Start work – Once the group is ready to start working on the goal it is moved to the doing (D) column. The same principle of limiting the works in progress applies to this column, the group can only have so many active goals. This is one reason for the ready (C) column.
“Task out” the goal – Every month (or cycle) milestones are selected from the goal (if there are any) and the tasks needed to accomplish them are laid out in the month (E) column. This provides a visual representation of what we want to do for the month (or cycle).
Add tasks to the daily column – Each day tasks can be pulled from the month (E) column into the today (F) column. Alternatively if any individual wants to take a task from the board and add it to their personal kanban they most certainly can.
Complete the task – Once a task is completed it is then added into the done (G) column and saved their for the reflection process
Note: this process was never fully implemented and is thus untested.
This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief
The kanban is one of the most iconic tools in the Agile Learning kit. It is both simple and capable of great complexity. Kanban is a Japanese (看板) word that translates to signboard. At its core it is a to-do list that limits its user’s work in progress (WIP).
Each student used a personal kanban to track their tasks. Their kanban typically had four columns:
“On your mark” or “possible” or “backlog”
“Get set” or “ready”
“GO!” or “doing”
“Finish” or “done”
Tasks are written on sticky notes and enter on the left and move right across the board. These tasks are possible things that need to get done at some point. Every day we choose some tasks from the pool of possible tasks and place them into the ready column. These are the tasks that we are prepared to do today. Any time you are working on something it is placed in the GO/doing column. By limiting the number of things in the ready and doing columns we keep our work-in-progress at a manageable level.
By splitting out projects into bit sized tasks and tackling them only a few at a time big projects seem more manageable.
Once a task is completed it is moved to the done column. Keeping finished tasks on our board allows us to reflect on what we’ve done.
This tool forms the visual underpinning of our cycle of intention, play (doing), and reflection.
The personal Kanban is used as part of the morning meeting’s intention setting phase and the afternoon meeting’s reflection.
By adding extra columns and rows a kanban can be personalized and modified to go with many different workflows.
One common column addition is the “penned” or “blocked” column where tasks that can’t be moved forward are placed. As an example consider my task “print document” is blocked because my printer is out of ink, so I can’t move that task forward until I complete the “refill ink” task.
Adding rows can help focus tasks that are part of similar topics. For instance my personal has a row for self care. These are sometimes called “swim lanes” because tasks will “swim” down them to the “done” column.
The kanban can be modified into really wild configurations to complement unique workflows. For instance let’s say your trying to go camping. You might make kanban with the following columns:
I have – list of items that are currently owned
I need – list of items that are needed
optional – list of optional things that can be packed if there is room
Packed – list of things that have been packed
Here’s my highly modified personal kanban for some inspiration:
We played an awesome game of Two Boots today at the park. I had the kids help me add engine oil to my car, though I’m afraid I might have overfilled it… I’ll check tomorrow.
I started to map out some of my 2015 goals. I’m expanding my Kanban to manage goals, I’ll write a blog post about the goal section when it’s out of beta. Right now I’m putting all my goals on stickies on a page 2 pages before my kanban.
Goals move through a processes where they start as ideas then move to ready, when I’ve documented them on my wiki. This process is basically writing a description of the goal using the SMART method and writing out why the goal is important and what obstacles I might face. The obstacles influence what steps I need to take to finish the goal.
Once a goal is ready I write out the “action steps” that needs to be taken to achieve the goal. These action steps go on the next page, which is my monthly kanban. This then feeds into my weekly and daily kanban. I’lld document this better soon (it’s on my kanban)
I really like the kanban. Before I had any idea what to call it I was using it. This was back in 2010 when I was a freelance web designer/developer. I had struggled with task management for some time, tried out all the different apps and computer based programs. From the nerdy command line tool Task Warrior to online task managers like Remember The Milk and Gmail’s often overlooked and underdeveloped Tasks feature. I had tried everything! The most successful I’d been with digital tools was a complex filter and labeling system in my Gmail inbox but it only worked for tasks generated by emails!
What finally worked was sticky notes on my wall. I fashioned a super simple system that moved tasks across the wall from the left to the right. It was a giant amateur kanban!
Now that I don’t have a home I need a more portable kanban. Lucky for me I carry around the perfect thing everywhere I go, a sketch book!
I really like using my sketchbook as a kanban because I can keep my notes, doodles, and tasks all in one place. I just recently used up the last pages of my previous sketchbook. It was the first one that I applied the kanban to. It was the beta test sketchbook + kanban. Now that I’ve learned a thing or two about what works I get to try sketchbook + kanban version 2! Here is the result:
This is the main kanban page. It sits at the back of the sketchbook and consists of three columns and some rows.
Left column: Current cycle column or Ready Column. This space is for all tasks I wish to complete in the current cycle. A cycle is typically a week or a month depending on my current work load and life style. I will get into the cycle process further down the page. This column is split into 5 rows, the top two are dedicated to self care and education. Any tasks that fall into these categories will live here. Under those are two flex rows. I’ve left space on the right to label them if need be. The grey row at the bottom is a flex space for overflow and tasks that come up mid cycle.
Center column: Now column. This is for the tasks I am currently working on and will work on next and soon there after. It holds the tasks I am currently doing.
Right column: Done column. Once a task is finished it will go into the corresponding done column. Note that it has that same row color scheme. At the end of every cycle I remove tasks from the done column and reflect on them.
If you are familiar with a typical ALC kanban you’ll surly notice that I’m missing a column, the backlog or possible or “ready” column where all my loose tasks live. I’ve decided to move that onto its own page. In my previous kanban (v.1) the possible task column really cluttered up the kanban with tasks that I might never even get to or were a long way from getting started. Now I keep all possible tasks on their own page, seen here:
I call this The Task Pen. Here’s how its all put together.
For this example I’ll be running weekly cycles. At the start of each week I clear out the done column and reflect on the tasks I’ve finished. Then I review any tasks left over in the ready or now column. I’ll either keep them in place or demote them back to the pen. Next I review the tasks in the pen and decide what I will try to complete this week. I move those tasks into the proper rows of the ready column thus setting my intentions for this week.
Each day I’ll review the ready column and move tasks into the now column which I will attempt to complete that day. Anything I don’t finish goes back to the ready column (or stays in Now for tomorrow).
As I go through the week if any new tasks come up I’ll add them to the current cycle or stick them into the pen.
That’s the basic general use kanban. Because I also do freelance projects from time to time I have dedicated project kanbans in my sketchbook as well. I’ll write up a post about them soon.
Our school schedule is Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. The majority of time is set aside for play, be it going to the park, learning to code, making 3D prints, drawing, watching YouTube, or just generally playing.
One of the few requirement of students is to participate in our morning and end of day meetings. Below is the general structure of those meetings:
Check-in: let the group know how you are feeling so they know how to interact with you today.
Personal Kanban: we take a few minutes to write down personal intentions for the day. This can be done individually or in small groups.
Transition Game: something to change the energy level and get everyone standing up!
Set the Day Scrum: Coordinate with other people you want to play with, set times for activities, etc.
Set the Day: Set individual and group activities for the day.
Share Individual Intentions: while we set the day also share our intentions.
Reflections: We talk about successes and failures in achieving our intentions.
Blog Question: Decide what we are going to blog about today, we come up with a question and a list that aid in our reflection process.
Write Blog Post: We write on our blogs till 5pm, and finish later if need be.
Closing Circle: For the very end of the day we choose a person at random to light a candle and ask a reflective question, like “what are you grateful for” This closes our day.
Start of Week
Review Possible Stickies: We look through the offerings that are on our group kanban
Add/Remove offerings: After reviewing current sticky notes we then remove stale ones and add new ideas or offerings.
Set the Week: Once we have an idea of what can be done we set the week.
Continue on to normal set the day…
End of Week
Awareness (“Change up Meeting”): This is where we review awarnesses and review our newly implemented solutions as well as check in on implementations we are practicing.