Riverpoint Academy in Spokane, WA is an innovative public high school to say the least. Students are given autonomy to pursue the projects that they are most passionate about and create real-world solutions to problems by incorporating the latest technology into a collaborative learning environment that is fueled by community professionals and an inspiring staff.
Two of those staff members are Matt Green and Glenn Williams, who take project-based learning and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to the next level. They teach a class called “Inventioneering” which combines computer science, engineering, and the humanities. It is design focused learning that is part humanities and part makerspace.
Inventioneering is a full-time semester long course, which requires a bit of planning and coordination to make sure that by the end of the semester students have completed projects that are ready for presentation.
To accomplish this, Matt and Glenn have created a collaborative curriculum development process using Google Docs and Trello. “We ask students to engage in highly collaborative work. We must also, as their teachers, engage in this kind of messy and meaningful work,” says Matt. “Collaborating on each educational decision is not something that comes natural to educators, but doing this work closely with one another has produced the kinds of transformative learning experiences we are passionate about. These conversations are impossible without the technology to support them.”
It all starts with a Google Docs brain dump. Sitting at desks across from each other so that they can chat, they create a shared Google Doc and unleash a brainstorm of activities, ideas, and plans for the next semester of their class.
While they do use Slack with their classes to facilitate peer collaboration, Matt says he prefers to have planning conversations with Glenn face-to-face as much as possible. He explains, “We feed off one another's energy and get more from the tools we are using.” The collaborative Google Doc allows them to then clean up and dial-in the ideas from their conversation.
Once the brainstorming session is complete they create a new Trello board that they will use as the structure for implementing the class activities for the semester. Combing through their Google Doc, Matt and Glenn pull out any actionable items and create a new Trello card for each item.
"For an old analog guy who loved the endorphin release of checking off items on a list, Trello provides that same ‘ahhh’ feeling when a task is completed and literally moved over to the "done" list,” says Glenn. “But more importantly, Trello is infinitely more powerful in its capability to be utilized as a content builder, a cache of exemplars, links, tutorials, pictures, and audio recordings that robustly enhance the learning experience for teacher and student."
One thing that Matt and Glenn like about using Trello to keep track of their curriculum and course plans is that each card can represent a lesson and cards are able to contain all of the information and documents for each lesson within it. On the action item Trello cards they assign each other to tasks depending on whose area of expertise it was under.
Matt and Glenn take advantage of the amount of information that can be added to a card’s description and they create very detailed, living cards. Through an iterative process those cards become activities and lessons that can be reused each semester simply by copying the card to the next semester’s Trello board. This process of reuse and refinement not only saves them time each planning session, but also helps them build a stronger course by building a repeatable yet adaptable process.
“At the Riverpoint Academy, we have the charge to wrap content standards and state requirements around student interests and passions. It is the work we believe in and it would be very difficult to do without access to powerful tools like Trello.”
- Matt Green, educator at Riverpoint Academy
Checklists are very important to the workflow since it not only gives perspective on the tasks that need to be accomplished for a lesson, but it also gives them the visual satisfaction of seeing the work that has already been completed.
Matt and Glenn enjoy the fact that they can also see the progress of the quarter as they continually drag cards across lists from To Do, to Doing, to Done on their board. By the end of the semester, all of their cards are typically in the done list. As Matt puts it, “Using trello feels more physical than digital which sets it apart from all other to-do list managers I've used.”
Innovation doesn’t end in the classroom for Matt and Glenn. Last year they decided to bring parents into their collaborative environment by creating a public Trello board of what was being worked on in the classroom. They simply copied their planning board and would update it to coincide with their internal board. This way parents could see what their children were working on, and comment on cards to interact with the teachers.
Both Matt and Glenn are grateful for the new tech tools that are reshaping the learning environment. By harnessing the power of apps like Trello, Slack, IFTTT and Google Docs they are changing not only the way they teach, but the way students learn and collaborate. Educators get to reap the benefit of having more powerful tools that allow them to work together anywhere in real-time, while students learn the hard skills required in today’s workplace.