Tue. Nov 24th, 2020

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Managing Your Kid’s Distance Learning With Trello

7 min read

Just a heads up, this is a wordy post but it’s personal to me and I hope it helps other parents out there.

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The current situation that all of us are endearing has added new complexities, frustrations, and stress to being a parent with school-aged children. Chances are that your children are now in a distance learning mode at home. Aside from the reasons of the situation we all have to work through this together to ensure that our kids still get the education that they need. Being away from the classroom, from hands-on instruction at a time when they need the most help is a great challenge. As a parent, we want to provide the best for our kids but we now have to balance that with our own day jobs and responsibilities.

Distance learning is only possible in today’s world through technology enablement. Had this pandemic happened in the 80s when I was a school-aged child, my ongoing education would not have been possible at the level that it is today. We can consider ourselves fortunate, or unfortunate depending on your point of view, that the education can still proceed near the level of detail that in-class instruction can provide.

The unspoken negative side to this situation is managing the workloads both as a parent and as a student. Elementary school-aged kids have it a little easier as their workloads are far simpler. Once you hit 6th grade and beyond things change drastically. Honestly, working with my child I never remember having this much homework, even before the distance learning when I was in the same grade. That aside, it all needs to get done and this abrupt shift has prepared the kids and parents on how to properly organize and structure the work.

I understand there are tools the schools use to facilitate the school work for the classes. Schoology, Infinite Campus, Edpuzzles, IXL, and various other services spread across the Internet has created the digital classroom but there is one major flaw with this approach. There is no consistency and I can’t put any blame on the teachers as they were thrust into trying to plan for this work and it’s new for them as well. Each teacher plans things differently on different schedules, some use the services more than others, different due dates spread across the week, some classes themselves are not suitable for online learning and on the back end the kids and parents have to put it all together.

Since last spring when distance learning was started I have tried many methods to help get a picture of what a week would look like. I started with a note pad with a checklist. I then moved to create a calendar and printing it off. I tried to let him do it all on his own, that didn’t work. What was happening we were thinking the work was getting done but little sub-tasks were getting missed, assignments submitted wrong, and on Sunday’s we were seeing Missing assignments and grades in the toilet. That missing work then leaked into the next week on top of the new work and the stress levels just kept going up.

There has to be a better way.

I then reflected to my career life and what I deal with every day and a lightbulb went off.

What if I introduced an Agile methology into this?

If you are unfamiliar with what Agile is you can read about it here but simply it’s a method of taking very complex projects and breaking them down into small chunks on short schedules.

The full Agile process wouldn’t fit obviously, and as a parent, I need to focus on my day job too, so I worked over a weekend to build a process that could work.

In order for this to work, it had to be a process that my 7th grader would accept and want to use. Like many things in development and especially in cybersecurity (my day job) if people don’t accept it, they won’t adopt it and it will fail. So I felt a Kanban board would be the way to go.

 

A Kanban board is one method to organize an Agile project. I first thought of getting a big whiteboard and post-its notes. Logistically that was going to be a nightmare and messy. There had to be a digital service outside the big platforms I used that could work. That’s when I found Trello.

Trello was acquired by Atlassian, the same company that has Jira and Confluence if you are familiar with those. The best part of Trello is that it’s free. Free enough to work for your family on one board. In addition, they have a mobile app. Perfect.

I played around with it, a few different layouts and came up with a structure, and tried it out. To my amazement the first week we used it, no missing work. Each day’s work was done 100%. The next day was clear as a bell that was coming and easy to see. It being a Kanban board there is a sense of accomplishment as you move those assignments into the completed column.

Here’s how it works.

Create an account

You will need to sign up and create an account – https://trello.com/home

Other people in your house that will be collaborating on the board will need to create accounts as well.

For your child, I would recommend you DO NOT use any school email for this. Go and create a new Gmail account for them and use that instead.

Create Your Board And Invite

When you log in you will be taken to the main screen. It’s simple and clean. You will see a button ‘Create new board’ click that to get started.

Setup Your Board

When you create your board this is where it can be organized however you want. You could do each day but I chose to do it by subject.

Each column is called a list. As you can see in my example I have a list for each class with a ‘To Be Reviewed’ and a ‘Completed’ list. My idea is that work that my son finishes if moved to Reviewed and at the end of the week myself along with him will make sure the work is submitted per the teacher’s instructions and then it’s moved to completed. It may seem like work but it’s a 10 minute task or check it throughout the week as work is being done. The point is you have a process to ‘release’ the assignment to ‘production’. 🙂

Add your assignments

This is where the parent and child will go through each week, like Sunday nights, and plan out the week for each subject. Are you work through Schoology and the other services you add each assignment as a work item. Don’t clump all the work from one day into one task, that’s not the point of Agile. You want each work item to be it’s own. In Trello you can then add due dates to each work item.

This is where the parent and child will go through each week, like Sunday nights, and plan out the week for each subject. Are you work through Schoology and the other services you add each assignment as a work item. Don’t clump all the work from one day into one task, that’s not the point of Agile. You want each work item to be it’s own. In Trello you can then add due dates to each work item.

At the top of the picture, you see an icon. You can drag that person, each team member will be up there, to the task they are assigned to. Parents can and should have tasks on the board as well for check-ins, plan the week, and such to help create a sense of collaboration and organization with your kids.

Getting Work Done

As the work tasks are completed, remember the smaller the tasks the easier it is to show accomplishment, you simply drag them off the class list into the Reviewed list. Throughout the week the tasks slowly get shopped away and at the end of the week, you archive all the completed tasks and get ready for the next week (or Sprint).

Here is what my actual board looks like at the time I wrote this post. You can customize the background. As you can see each little assignment is broken down to an item even though it might be in one Schoology day item. It may look overwhelming but with each task having its proper due date the flow to accomplishment goes very well. He can move the tasks on his phone from the Trello app. I can see his progress and review the submissions and there are no mysteries to what is expected to be done.

This is not a perfect process. You still need to treasure hunt through your school’s apps to make sure you see all the assignments. However, getting them into a centralized, clean, business professional methodology of Agile and Kanban it has worked for us tremendously well.

We’re in this for the long haul whether we like it or not.  Being an uber geek I am all about finding simple, efficient ways to make complex aspects of life easier. There are so many technologies and software solutions many people have no clue exist and most are not as complex or hard to learn as you think. That’s why I put this post together and I hope you find some guideance to bring organization and sanity into this crazy mixed up world of being a parent.

There is also a bright side to this type of approach. You are teaching yourself and your kids skills and methodologies that are used in the business world today and equipping them with organizational skills that will benefit them in the years to come.

End of line.

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