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Minecraft + scrum = active, engaged literature circles

By Team ISTE
September 6, 2016
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One is a new trend in classrooms. The other is a student favorite. The learning comes when they are combined to invigorate literature circles. 

What's the combo? Scrum paired with Minecraft.

Joe Beasley, a fifth grade teacher at Goochland Elementary School in Goochland, Virginia, is combining scrum and Minecraft with great success — students appreciate both the project management model and the game-based learning.

"For me, it just made sense for literature circles," Beasley explains. "It's hard to do circles with five books and five groups. By incorporating scrumming, it's easy for me to see students' scrum boards, what they are doing and where they are."

What's scrum?

Scrum, a framework for managing complex projects, started with software developers. The method has gradually made its way to other fields and is starting to appear in classrooms as a way to teach kids how to be more efficient and effective.

The fast-paced, collaborative, inclusive project management methodology results in improved communication skills, increased productivity and amped up self-advocacy.

Scrumming also gives students ownership of their own learning — a trait that's key to the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students.

Minecraft matchup

Educators are using the insanely popular Minecraft game to teach everything from math and social studies to team building and cell biology.

"As an educational tool, Minecraft is a wonderful platform for learning," describes Pam Simon who runs an after-school program called Fidgets2Widgets that has incorporated Minecraft since 2013. "You have to have mathematical understanding to build sound structures. Architecture and design features allow for innovation."

Combining the two

Beasley says combining scrum and Minecraft allows students to work together to do big things with literature. "Everybody has a skill they can use to make a project better. Each student brings a skill and each individual’s skills are used to the benefit of the project."

Here's what it looks like in Beasley's classroom:

Students work in small literature circles based on their reading ability and interest. Students read to a certain point in their books and complete literature circle jobs that include discussion director, savvy summarizer and illustrator. Using the app of their choice, students share their projects on a designated online discussion board, where other students comment on them.

After reviewing the content on the discussion board, students get 10 minutes to discuss what they would like to create from their books to share in Minecraft. Beasley provides story points and expectations for the Minecraft creations. Students have 30 minutes a day for three days to work on these projects.

Steps to scrumming

In each literature circle, students choose who will be the "scrum master." That student grabs sticky notes and a manila scrum folder that is broken into four sections: the outside is the cover, the left inside page is labeled "backlog," the right inside page is labeled "doing," and the back is labeled "done."

Students then work on their story points, which might include:  

  • Creating the characters they met in the story, including an informational sign describing the character.
  • Creating new settings with information signs.
  • Creating an important scene from the book to share with the class.

During what's known as a "scrum board stand-up," group members break down story points and add their project objectives to the "backlog" section of their scrum folder.

Working as a group led by the scrum master, students decide who will work on the various objectives. Students then log into Minecraft to work on their creations based on previously mapped out lands. Scrum masters monitor scrum boards and add new objectives to backlog as needed.

Beasley logs into Minecraft to monitor students’ progress, often projecting his screen on an electronic whiteboard for the class to follow.

At the end of each scrumming session, students stand up and review their progress, answering two key questions: What did we get done today? What do we need to work on tomorrow? Answers to those questions drive the next day’s work.

Read a full-length article on how to bring scrum into the classroom in the ISTE member magazine entrsekt. Not a member? Join today.