Case Study: Islington Council Primary Schools Put Agility Into Education

Originally posted by Agile Business Consortium in August 2019. Source

Islington Council strives to prepare children to take their place in a technological world that is constantly evolving. This has led to the Council’s focus on computing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning, giving children the opportunity to build skills for a fast-changing world and create a generation of agile thinkers. The children that will become #GenerationAgile.

Challenges:

  • Educating to build skills alongside knowledge
  • Giving space and opportunity for learning by doing
  • Opening young minds to real life challenges
  • Closing the gap between educators and industry
  • Teaching skills for the workplaces of the future

Results:

  • Use of agile principles and practices in education
  • Hackathons, Scrum and student-led learning opportunities
  • Tinkering and experimentation encouraged
  • Challenges, projects and goals given to students
  • Annual Computing Celebration at the Emirates Stadium

Education for a changing workplace

Nearly twenty years ago, Katy Potts was appointed as champion for Computing and Online Safety for Islington Council, and works with almost 50 primary schools.
She explains, ‘Education isn’t only about knowledge anymore as this is readily available online. What children will need to thrive in the workplace are skills such as problem solving, agile thinking and resilience to survive amidst constant change.’

For Islington Council Schools, teaching computational thinking and Project Based Learning (PBL) are key. ‘We make best use of all the resources at our disposal,’ says Katy, ‘We use a wide range of free resources, including codeclub.org, appsforgood.org and barefootcomputing.com which support creativity, problem solving and digital skills. We also have partnerships with a wide range of organisations such as Microsoft, BT and Google. Our challenge is to give Islington children real life experience, to allow them to learn by doing, and make the connections that bring real purpose to learning.’

Islington schools all subscribe to a service agreement that demonstrates their strong commitment to this style of education and learning, which is typically delivered through focus days and sessions that are built into the standard timetable.

Practical solutions for learning

Katy emphasises the value of educational approaches such as PBL which give children the chance to solve real problems and produce results that have tangible value. ‘Predictions about the skills needed for the workforce of the future increasingly identify problem solving ability as a foundational skill,’ Katy emphasises.

“We aim to bring purpose to learning, so that children understand the “why” behind the theory, bringing traditional fact-based education to life and giving it relevance. Computational thinking is a fundamental skill that teaches children to work through and explore problems logically and algorithmically. Learning should be hands-on, concrete and applied to real life. To achieve that we need live connections with the world of work, which we get from STEM Ambassadors who give their time and energy freely to help demonstrate how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) abilities offer practical value to industry.”

‘Education isn’t only about knowledge anymore as this is readily available online. What children will need to thrive in the workplace are skills such as problem solving, agile thinking and resilience to survive amidst constant change. 

Katy Potts

Sharing student success

‘People generally need a purpose if they are to finish things. They need an audience, and feedback – an opportunity to both give and share.’ To give this to children, Islington’s Computing Service presents an annual Computing Celebration at the Emirates Stadium. The 6th event in 2018 saw over 500 children from 45 primary schools showcasing their digital projects. More than 25 tech industry leaders including Google, Microsoft and the Institute of Imagination also attended the event, exhibiting the latest developments in education technology.

Agility in the classroom

Aga Gajownik is a STEM Ambassador, passionate about educating for the workplace, and highly involved in the programme. ‘We need to champion an agile approach to learning,’ she suggests. ‘Learning by doing, and an experiential approach to learning is closely aligned to agile techniques and agile values.

‘For many children, it’s difficult to focus in a traditional “chalk and talk” classroom environment. Their brains are used to heavy stimulus from multiple electronic devices and exposure to rich media material that engages multiple areas of the brain. Research has shown that simply handing over knowledge and leaving it to the child to internalise this, to paraphrase in exams, just doesn’t work. What the workforce of the future will need are skills such as being able to collaborate effectively, inspire and motivate oneself and others, and retain a calm head when overwhelmed by change. Educating for the future requires new and appropriate tools, and agile techniques are an important part of that.

‘I use Scrum and hackathons to help children work as a team, learn to focus on one thing at a time, to complete a task before starting another, and evaluate their work through a retrospective approach. This review phase is critical for moving the subconscious learning, that comes from gamification and experience-based approaches, to the conscious mind. The retrospective makes the learning sustainable. Agile has an important and evolving role in education, and I value how the Agile Business Consortium’s Generation Agile initiative is supporting this.’

Real results

Demi Cornell is a STEM Ambassador Coordinator for North London. ‘Aga is an amazing role model for the children,’ she comments. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women and the Computing Celebration initiative gives all children a chance to develop and apply technological thinking. ‘This is a great way of learning,’ says Demi. ‘Children learn to take their place in a team, and they get involved with some really cool things. They develop robots, drones and game simulations – one group even designed a smart fridge.’

Agile principles focus on learning by doing, empowering teams to both take decisions and influence outcomes. Applying this to education leads to a process of learning that is critically student-led, and fosters the collaboration and communication skills that will set children up to thrive in the workplace. They learn to understand challenges and problem solve through exploration and experimentation.

Praising the work of Aga and her team, Katy Potts stresses, ’Children have to learn to tinker. When Aga is giving them the chance to tackle Project Based Learning, they have to accept mistakes. It won’t be right first time and they learn the resilience to continue; to tinker until they have something that works.’

This is how children can learn the elements of agile working – breaking tasks into increments and being prepared to iterate to improve, collaboratively, responsively and adaptively. These are the fundamental skills that Generation Agile will need to flourish in the working environment of the future.

For many children, it’s difficult to focus in a traditional “chalk and talk” classroom environment. Their brains are used to heavy stimulus from multiple electronic devices and exposure to rich media material that engages multiple areas of the brain.

Aga Gajownik

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