About Amy Fox

Dr. Amy Fox is a computer science teacher at Valhalla High School in Valhalla, New York since 2001. She is currently serving on the board of CSTA.

Scrum in the Computer Science Classroom

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) highly recommended meta-study “21st Century Skills”, schools need to prepare students to have a “future-based mindset” with skills such as collaboration, creativity, and adaptability.  Their answer: project-based learning (PBL). While PBL is gaining much speed in schools, how to manage projects can be a challenge: who is doing most of the work? who isn’t participating fully? how do you assess who has done what?

 In the computer science field, one means of project management is the Agile software development paradigm which, among other aspects, implements Scrum, a methodology for dividing work that needs to be completed into sprints, or stories.  In the Scrum environment, the team is considered capable of completing the task on their own. While the team is self-directed and is encouraged to problem-solve independently, there are two clearly defined roles that facilitate the process.  The first is the Scrum Master (in the classroom, this is the teacher), and the Product Owner (the students). The role of the Scrum master is to help the team when there is some impediment to their completion of a task, such as a bug or a design flaw.  The product owner’s/students job (in schools) is to keep the vision of the solution and manage the daily tasks. Scrum has recently been adopted in schools as a way to manage projects in both computer science and non-computer science classrooms.

Scrum meetings, which are short meetings occurring each day the class meets, consist of asking three essential questions:  What did you accomplish since the last scrum? What do you expect to accomplish before the next? and, Is anything blocking you (blocks are solved outside the scrum meeting)?  This level of accountability for students is essential for setting goals, prioritizing project tasks, assigning roles and jobs for team members, and keeping students on track for project completion. In 2016, The University of the Pacific conducted a study on using scrum in three computer science courses.  Their conclusion was that, overall, students found the above benefits to be true and helpful, while a few found the Scrum process to be cumbersome.

I have been using Scrum in my own classroom for several years now with great success.  Students know what they are expected to do and are held accountable to not only me, but to each other.  There are two components that stand out as key to the process. The first is student articulation and presentation of their project status.  This forces them to really pay attention to what they are doing, how their code is working, and gain an understanding of what they need to do next and with what they are struggling.  These are essential skills for their future as software programmers and engineers. The second aspect is teacher feedback. The daily feedback is essential for keeping them on track for successful project completion and for addressing problems quickly.  

While there are many ways to manage project based learning in an educational setting, it makes sense that in a software development course, learning to work in an environment that mimics the “real world” teaches valuable skills, in addition to preparing students for their future.

Works Cited

“Implementing Agile and Scrum in the Classroom.” GDC Vault, www.gdcvault.com/play/1020769/Implementing-Agile-and-Scrum-in.

“Scrum in the Classroom | Time for Change (Part 1).” Agile Transformation Experts and Agile Coach in New York City, Amsterdam, Miami and Boston, www.incrementor.com/blog/2018/2/18/scrum-in-the-classroom-time-for-change.

Jimenez, Osvaldo, and Daniel Cliburn.  “Scrum in the Undergraduate Computer Science Curriculum.”  Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges,  Volume 31, Issue 4, April 2016, pp. 108-114.

Amy Fox, 9 – 12 Representative

It Takes a Team

When I think of computer science educators, computer science education, and computer science curricula, I think about all the people needed to make it a successful endeavor in a school district and in a larger community as well.  Who are the they? How do you leverage their roles to help further computer science education? Three years ago, my district, Valhalla UFSD, embarked on a journey to bring computer science to ALL of our students, K-12.

Valhalla is a small middle to upper-middle class suburban district outside of New York City.  We have approximately 1600 students districtwide. Valhalla High School has always offered AP Computer Science A, but we needed more.  Once I began teaching the class, I petitioned for an Intro to CS course and was granted the class.  This was the beginning of the expansion, but I still had no one particularly interested in helping me promote these courses. It was up to me to make it happen.

The courses went well, but then in my very small school, AP numbers dropped and the trend in the district went away from AP courses and moved to dual enrollment courses with the local community college.  I taught C++ and numbers slowly increased over a few years. Students were getting hungry for more.

Here is where people matter.  I was approached by my principal, Mr. Jonathon Thomas, who told me that our superintendent at the time, Dr. Brenda Myers (winner of the 2017 CSTA Administrators Award), was interested in offering a game design course and wondered if I would be interested in teaching it.  Bingo! Here were my advocates for computer science education in Valhalla. A little petrified, but eager, I had a year to prepare. The course, as expected, was a big hit. As time went on, I suggested adding to our offerings a Mobile App Development course, which was also very well received.  

So now, juggling all of these courses, I realized I needed some help, in and out of school.  Outside of school, I turned to CSTA to find a local chapter to network with other teachers. To my dismay, there was no local chapter, so I chartered one.  

Inside school, I turned to Dr. Myers.  She was all for expanding CS education to the four buildings in the district, which include a K-2 primary school, 3-5 elementary school, 6-8 middle school, and the 9-12 high school.  In 2015, she called a meeting for a newly formed “Special Projects Team” of 4 computer teachers, one from each building. I looked around the room at my three colleagues, whose CS backgrounds were non-existent (they taught computer applications).  We were told we are all going to teach CS, we are all going to learn together, and yes this is going to be bumpy. I have amazing colleagues. No one blinked – we just did it.

Fast forward to today – I am back to teaching AP-CS A, and we have a comprehensive K-12 computer science, engineering, and robotics curricula, which we are currently aligning to the new CSTA Standards. Our kids are programming, thinking computationally, and problem solving in all grades.  We have the full support of our district Board of Education as well as our building and district administrators, and guidance teams. We have a community willing to approve budgets and offer grants to increase our offerings and expand our programs and invest in the technology. We owe our progress to the amazing people in Valhalla to believe in the future of computer science education.  Our children are the recipients of rich and diverse CS curricula from Kindergarten on.

So find your advocate, find your support, and find your team of players.  Reach out to your administrators, communities, and students to find out what you can do together to move computer science education forward in your district.  It’s made all the difference in ours.

Amy Fox, 9–12 Representative