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Trello for Teachers

by Andrew Roush
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Online tools can make teaching and learning more efficient and effective — regardless of the circumstances. Today, many teachers are looking for ways to stay organized and communicate efficiently. Trello, the online project management tool, is one way to do that.

A number of free or low-cost project management apps are out there, like Asana or Basecamp. But let’s take a closer look in this post at Trello, a free (with premium plans available), card-based project management tool that you can start using to organize, encourage participation and communication, and even ramp up your students’ project-based learning. And if you’re teaching from home while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then Trello is a great solution for you.

Getting to Know Trello

Trello allows users to create boards, like a bulletin board, to organize teams and projects. Each board consists of a number of user-generated columns with cards that can be dragged from column to column, for example, to track student progress. Looking for quick guidance? Trello has a quick user guide for educators.

Then, check out the video below from James Kieft on the basics of Trello for teachers.

Organization and Participation

As a tracking tools, Trello can be a useful way to not only organize tasks — whether for yourself or for students — but also to track participation. Students can move their task “cards” through a project process in a shared board, giving teachers real-time feedback on where students are in the process and access to student work.

Trello allows teams to create and organize to-do lists. The tool is much like a big digital board that anyone can create and pin post-it notes on. The features follow a fairly simple logic:
Each board contains lists, which can be big questions, projects or groups of activities.
Each list is made of cards, which are activities or steps related to the list
Every card can include checklists, due dates, links, media files, and the person responsible for completing the card.
Both lists and cards can be rearranged on the board by simple drag-and-drop.

“No Slacking Off! How Savvy Teachers Are Turning to Trello and Slack” by Tony Wan, Ed Surge

Emma Trentman, an Arabic professor at the University of New Mexico, uses Trello to organize her classes weekly. Her website includes a template board, a great place to get started. In a detailed post on her blog, she explains how she uses Trello for many aspects of organization, including keeping track of “little details,” tracking beginning and end-of-semester events, scheduling time for grading and assignment preparation, and coordinating with her fellow educators.

For me, the primary benefit is freeing up mental energy to spend my teaching time on more creative things, like designing lesson plans or implementing genre-based approaches or translanguaging pedagogy.  It also lets me prioritize research (necessary in a tenure-track position) by letting me know that if I get behind on the details, it’s easy to be reminded of what I missed. 

Using Trello to Organize Teaching” by Emma Trentman

Alison Ryan, a K-2 reading consultant, outlines ways to save time in the classroom on her blog, Learning at the Primary Pond. Her focus is on recording anecdotal data on student participation to help future planning, tracking regular prep work, and even organizing student assessment information.

Lesson planning is another crucial aspect of teaching that Trello can help with. The Australian website Fizzics Education lists five different ways of deploying the app for organizing and planning.

This is the kind of app that allows you to keep track of tasks and their due dates, assign these task to students or colleagues and provide resource links to further support material. The best bit is that Trello is collaborative, which means you can invite all of your students onto the platform where they can then see clearly what is needed and learn not only be organised but also learn to work together as a team.

“5 solutions to classroom organisation & lesson planning using Trello” by Ben Newsome, Fizzics Education

Communication

Organizing your students, their work, and even an educator’s lesson planning through Trello can make teaching and learning easier. But there’s more to Trello. Consider using it not only as a communication tool with colleagues and students, as outlined above, but with parents, too.

On her blog, Erin Wing discusses how educators can use Trello to communicate about major school events, share student progress, post homework assignments, even create volunteer sign-ups and more.

On each card, you can add text descriptions, checklists, images, files and more. You can color code each card if you want, and you can assign a due date to each card as well. You can choose to view the cards in list form, or you can see the cards with due dates in a calendar view. It’s a collaboration tool, so you can add other users to view and edit certain boards. But you can also just use it on your own, minus the collaboration.

“Trello for Teachers: A Parent Communication Tool,” by Erin Wing

Project-Based Learning

Trello is, after all, a project management platform, so it’s no surprise that it’s a helpful tool in guiding, observing, and assessing project-based learning. With the ability to track and customize cards, keeping up with large projects is simpler for both teacher and student. Here’s how educators are using Trello for PBL.

Biomedical science educators Michael Burke and Josh Clemmer are teaching an entirely project-based classroom as part of a national initiative called Project Lead The Way. The entire class culminates in one large project at the end of the semester focused on a topic in the biomedical field. …Since the entire class is based completely on projects, some key aspects of the students’ grades are around organizing the project, creating a timeline, and executing on their responsibilities. Given the nature of the project planning needs of the curriculum, Trello felt like a natural fit. Each group of 3-4 students collaborates on their project using a shared Trello board where they can assign tasks, communicate back and forth, and, most importantly, move each task to a “Done” list.

“Trello for Teachers: A Roundup Of Trello Boards For The Classroom” by Lauren Moon, Trello blog

Project-based learning gets a jump start by having accessible ways of tracking like Trello. A number of project-management tools can also be used in a similar way.

When engaging in group work, it is crucial that team members communicate and collaborate with each other. Teachers can more easily track participation across group members when collaboration tools are used to track activity. Use of project management tech tools encourages students to be responsible and timely in their work performance, and prompts each individual to participate equally.

“5 Project Management Tech Tools for Students,” k12teacherstaffdevelopment.com

Conclusion and Best Practices

One of the greatest strengths of a tool like Trello is the ability to customize your boards. So don’t be afraid to experiment. Add-ons like Boosted Boards can help you tag, categorize, and add calendars to your creations. Trello can even integrate with tools like Slack.

Itching to get started? Check out the Online Tools for Teaching and Learning from the University of Massachusetts. It includes an exhaustive review for Trello for education and is a great place to learn the basics, get inspired, and get started.

Are you using a project management tool like Trello in your class? Let us know in the comments!

unsplash-logoPhoto: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

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