Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Science Show

Year 9 students demonstrate the effect of surface tension
to some Year 3 students: VIDEO
Having been appointed the Year 9 Dean for next year, I knew the end to my term was going to be manic. Additionally, having finished exams, I wanted to offer a genuine learning opportunity for my current Year 9 class. What to do...?

Something I have been wanting to do for a while is to get a class to put on a Magic Show or a Science Lesson for a Primary School class. When I visited Camberwell High School in Melbourne earlier this year, a teacher there was doing exactly this. He told me about how successful and fun this was for all. So, I decided this was a great thing for my Year 9 Science class to do.

Having done it now, I have been reflecting upon the success and value of it. In a nutshell, here is what I have identified as some of the key "wins":
  • Students understand what it is like to teach others
  • Fosters a link with the Prep School
  • Exposes younger students to Science
  • Students get enthusiastic about Science
  • Students learn about forward planning
  • Students learn about laboratory safety
  • Students learn (a little) about the Science behind their chosen experiment

While this was done late in the year, it would actually be a great thing to do very early in the year instead (or as well…). Chaos did reign a little in the laboratory with so many students but there was a real “buzz” of excitement and interest the whole time.

Fun with Dry Ice - only one has remembered the
discussion we had about safety glasses, though.
Interestingly, two groups had disasters on the day. One group did small-scale trials for making slushies. When they tried to do it large-scale, their timing for the freezing process was completely wrong. We talked about this afterwards and it was a lesson well-learned. Another group was doing a baking soda and vinegar volcano. They ran out of vinegar during the dress rehearsal, so brought a different brand the next day. For some reason, its reaction rate was totally different leading to a "fizzer", sadly.

What was the planning/preparation process?


One of the most important parts was to establish a relationship with a junior class and its teachers. We are lucky to have a Preparatory School, so I was able to email the two Year 3 teachers and they were wonderful in organising a meeting with me to discuss the timing for them to visit. I was also able to send "previews" to them to make sure the experiments would actually be things their students would enjoy seeing. From the previews, they could also check that the explanations were not too technical for Year 3 students.


Baking soda and Vinegar Volcano. Sadly this was a
"fizzer". Luckily, we have a VIDEO of it working.
My students were given time to find experiments on YouTube etc. that they may want to try. They were told to create a list of required resources/equipment and to be aware of the safety considerations. I warned them that some experiments may not be feasible, so it would be wise to plan for more than one experiment.

Each group had to show me a video of what they planned to do, give me a list of resources and explain to me the safety considerations. If I was happy that the experiment was legal for them to carry out, we then went over their resources/equipment list and I told them which resources/equipment the school would provide and which ones they needed to bring to school themselves.


If, after all of this, they still wanted to do their original experiment (some did change their experiment), they had two lessons to trial it, culminating in a preview in front of another group. The other group was encouraged to ask questions, which would help the demonstrating group prepare answers for what the Year 3 students may ask.

If the trials went well, we filmed a "dress rehearsal" and this was made available on the Class Blog. I sent the link to these previews to the Year 3 teachers and asked for feedback from their expert perspective. If the trials didn't go well, these groups used the rest of their time to get it right, rather than making a preview video etc.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Start with the Pedagogy

In October this year, I was allowed to go to Melbourne with my Head of Department and the 2014 Head of Mathematics. We went to four very inspiring schools: Camberwell High SchoolJohn Monash Science SchoolDandenong High School, and St Leonard's College. What an inspiring trip!

We are initiating a BYOD/One-to-One Computing programme with our Year 9 in 2014, phasing it in for the entire Secondary School over the next five years; this trip to Melbourne (along with a recent Twitter discussion via #edchatz) has reinforced something about incorporating IT more and more into the classroom: Start with the Pedagogy!

At all four schools, there was a real range of IT in use, from one-to-one devices to media studios. What struck me, though, was that the IT was not "in your face"; it was just part of how the students learned and created.

At St Leonard's and John Monash, students seemed to work almost exclusively on their devices for keeping records of their lessons and for research. This is not to say the lessons seemed to be computer-centred; this could not be further from the truth; these schools seem to to have embraced the idea of blended learning very well. Their approaches were quite different but both worth exploring.

John Monash did not seem to prescribe a device, nor did they prescribe apps/programmes. The students were given tasks/inquiries and they networked with each other to discover/share ways to achieve the task. This is the kind of freedom I try to give my students, but with so few bringing their own device to class, it has had limited success - bring on next year so I can see if it works for me or not!

St Leonard's have a much more prescribed approach; the departments decide on the apps and online resources they want for their students. As the teachers know exactly which apps and resources the students have, they can plan their tasks and lessons around these. Of course they can add free apps to these. I do like this idea for introducing one-to-one computing or BYOD, and would (personally) expect students to go beyond the prescribed apps and resources as they got into the senior schooling years.

Regardless of the approach towards BYOD or one-to-one computing, it was crystal-clear that all of the schools had started by looking at the learning and social outcomes for their students, then looked for suitable apps, resources, programmes, devices, learning spaces etc. to cater for these educational needs. This is probably why their classes looked like Biology lessons or English classes etc. and did not look like Computing classes. I think you have failed if you cannot quickly tell which subject (or task) the students are working on because the technology is dominating, rather than the learning dominating.

This pedagogy-focus (along with digital citizenship) was made explicitly clear in a recent #edchatnz discussion on Twitter as well. Rather than asking which apps etc. are best, start by asking, "What are my desired outcomes?" Then look for the apps etc. that make those outcomes more meaningful, more real, or more accessible. The other key thing that I think is important is to consider, "What can't I do with a pen and paper?" followed by, "Will the students' devices be able to do that?"

Along with my Science-based outcomes/themes, I want my 2014 Year 9 class to have a few other key overarching themes:

  • connect and collaborate
  • learning also happens outside the classroom
  • contribute positively to all of your communities
  • digital footprints are permanent
  • high trust, high consequence

Do Traditional Subjects Need a Shake-Up?

In October this year, I was allowed to go to Melbourne with my Head of Department and the 2014 Head of Mathematics. We went to four very inspiring schools, including Camberwell High SchoolJohn Monash Science School and Dandenong High School. We all agreed that we learned a lot from this visit. There were things we wished we could do, but our architecture will not allow that in the same way as the schools we visited. There were also a lot of things we thought we could adapt and/or adopt without needing to change much at our school.

One of the things that got my mind racing was that Camberwell HS have combined their Science and Mathematics Departments into one faculty. Another was that John Monash SS teaches most subjects via scientific contexts. Then, there was the team teaching at John Monash SS and Dandenong HS. This made me think about the current format of our subjects, primarily at the junior level but also our NCEA subjects.

In New Zealand, we actually have a very useful Curriculum document which allows for a lot of individuality, both for teachers and for schools. It has allowed me to explore things with my classes in more abstract ways and to focus on the things they care about more than what the old NZC prescribed I had to cover. I have always thought that NCEA was overly prescriptive, so contradictory to the new(ish) NZC. However, in talking to others on Twitter (thank you #edchatnz!!), talking to my colleagues while in Melbourne, and looking at the things being done at those schools in Melbourne, I have realised that it is my own myopia that was making me see NCEA as a barrier.

My Year 11 students are delighted (sometimes they are just relieved!) that they get Level 1 Numeracy credits from an Internal Assessment we do in Science (Physics 1.1). I am delighted that the skills my students learn in Mathematics help them analyse their experiments. I appreciate the English and Social Sciences Departments for the work they do with students so it is easy for me to get them to do research in a scientific context. These were the catalysts that got me thinking...

In the junior school, there are so many areas we see cross-over. In Science, we often use the film Gattaca within one of our biology topics to spark debate about the ethics of DNA Fingerprinting. English and Social Sciences often do the same thing. So why not look at some cross-curricular inquiry? Each subject could have their own marking criteria/rubric for the actual assessment, bu the students could be working on their inquiry up to three lessons per day. This is just one example, but there are many more, such as: Sustainability; Conspiracy Theories; and Catastrophes.

In the NCEA years, I can see this being more challenging. However, combining Mathematics and Science could be a feasible possibility. A lot of the Science Achievement Standards involve mathematical skills; a lot of Mathematics Achievement Standards could be taught and/or assessed using experiments. The learning could be a lot deeper and the links between subjects made a lot more explicit. The students could have up to two lessons per day learning and applying the same skills, ones they often find challenging when taught exclusively in Science or in Mathematics.

Is it time to look at other ways to guide our students on their educational journey? Is it time to say goodbye to some of our traditional subjects? Timetables and architecture may prove barriers to this in secondary schools, though. There are a lot of considerations, of course.

I am not sure what it would look like, but I see it as being worth the time to explore. It was interesting that at Dandenong HS, the junior classes were the only ones with more integrated courses and their teachers did not also teach the senior subjects. Would teachers here be happy with this? They also had very regular meetings between teachers to agree on how they would team teach the students. Do schools have enough time to allow for this? I don't have any answers; I'm just bouncing ideas around to get them out of my head!

Team Teaching

In October this year, I was allowed to go to Melbourne with my Head of Department and the 2014 Head of Mathematics. We went to four very inspiring schools, including John Monash Science School and Dandenong High School. We all agreed that we learned a lot from this visit. There were things we wished we could do, but our architecture will not allow that in the same way as the schools we visited. There were also a lot of things we thought we could adapt and/or adopt without needing to change much at our school.

At John Monash SS and Dandenong HS, we saw a lot of team teaching. They approached it in different ways and both were real food for thought for how we might adapt the teaching and learning at our school.

At John Monash SS the levels are where each House is based. The learning spaces are primarily open-plan, except for the laboratories. We usually saw one teacher leading the instruction while the other moving around providing support to the students. The supporting teacher was also able to add extra details to the instruction. They had built a culture where the teachers were collaborating, not correcting or undermining each other.

A view of a few of the Houses at Dandenong. I can imagine
NZ schools doing this, calling them whanau.
At Dandenong HS, there are seven Houses, each with its own Administration team. These Houses are wonderfully-designed, allowing for team teaching, collaboration, and for student choice. Senior classes are still taught "traditionally", with one teacher per class. The junior classes, on the other hand, are very large but have three teachers working together with these classes. In some cases, this meant teaching the students at different paces, to better cater for their level of language and knowledge. In other cases, this meant allowing students to chose how they worked and having different teachers available to guide them.

At both schools, it was made explicitly clear to us that team teaching requires giving the teachers the time to plan and collaborate together. It is finding/making this time available that is critical if team teaching is to be explored.

I can see this working at my school, despite the "traditional" architecture we currently have. Within my department, there are clear areas of strength that some teachers have that I would love my own students to have access to. It may cause a nightmare for the timetabler, but having more than one class working on the same content and/or inquiries at the same time (and maybe across more than one subject) could allow for this sharing of experitise. But, as already said, this would need to be carefully and deliberately planned.

Follow their Lead

The entrance to the Camberwell HS
Enterprise Centre
In October this year, I was allowed to go to Melbourne with my Head of Department and the 2014 Head of Mathematics. We went to four very inspiring schools, including Camberwell High School. We all agreed that we learned a lot from this visit. There were things we wished we could do, but our architecture will not allow that in the same way as the schools we visited. There were also a lot of things we thought we could adapt and/or adopt without needing to change much at our school.

Camberwell HS have created a wonderful "Enterprise Centre" with a variety of types of learning spaces, including a lecture theatre and a film studio. They also have the opportunity for indoor-outdoor flow (it is balmy Australia after all!) and have deliberately accommodated for this with appropriate outdoor furniture under verandahs. What I learned here was that students will often surprise you with where they choose to work.

We were shown two areas which were not designed as learning spaces, but where the students often elect to work. The first was an entrance-way which was a dark alcove; it is often employed as a "cave" for quiet collaboration and work by small groups. Another was a multilevel concrete area outside, at the end of a corridor. This appeared to be a social area for lunchtime etc., but is also commonly used as a learning space.

One unintended learning
space - a "cave"
Another unintended learning
space. I love the levels in this!!

By opening the sliding doors to my right, there is excellent
indoor-outdoor flow and even more learning spaces.

The fact that students will often search out places they want to work in is something I have seen at my own school. Students often ask to work outside the classroom, whether this is on the picnic tables outside, sitting on the grass on the fields, or leaning against the walls in the corridor outside my laboratory. At first, I was extremely skeptical and expected them to use these opportunities to socialise and be slack. Yes, this is true of some students, but to my (pleasant) surprise, I usually see really good collaboration going on, and (when given enough time), the creation of some wonderful work.

Looking around my own block, I can see that the inclusion of some extra furniture could turn a few areas into unique learning spaces: we have alcoves that can become "caves"; we have wide entrance-ways which can have beanbags and/or tables added to convert them into learning spaces; and we could get some outdoor furniture to make the area outside my widows a good learning space too. This is just the beginning - I am sure the students will come up with ideas I haven't even thought of!

My Brain wants to Explode!

It is a while since I sat down and wrote, and in the meantime I have visited four very different schools in Melbourne and been involved in some wonderful #edchatnz discussions via Twitter, so I am going to publish a few short posts inspired by what I have learned recently.


My current school is K-13. We are initiating a BYOD/One-to-One Computing programme with our Year 9 in 2014, phasing it in for the entire Secondary School over the next five years.

The Preparatory School (Years 1-8) was only recently rebuilt, and there are some wonderful learning spaces in there, as well as "traditional" classrooms. In saying that, the classrooms have large glass sliding doors which allow the rooms to be opened up to incorporate the corridor and other shared spaces. I really like the flexibility of this idea, and our Preparatory School teachers seem to use their learning spaces very well.

Since the earthquakes, our Secondary School buildings have been strengthened, but not redesigned. This is not a surprise, as there was a level of urgency for us to be able to get back to the business of teaching and learning as soon as possible after the shakes. With this strengthening, we are very restricted in what we can do in our largest (four-storey) building and there is no way our Science/Mathematics block will be redesigned in the near future either. Therefore, in the Secondary School, we are a little restricted with what we can do with our learning spaces by the buildings themselves.

However, we have a Senior Leadership Team made up of people who are well-informed when it comes to both traditional and more contemporary theories on education, who listen to us teachers who want to pursue Professional Development opportunities, and who listen to us teachers who want to "shake things up" a little. We do things well, but want to do things even better...

In October this year, I was allowed to go to Melbourne with my Head of Department and the 2014 Head of Mathematics. We went to four very inspiring schools: Camberwell High SchoolJohn Monash Science SchoolDandenong High School, and St Leonard's College. We all agreed that we learned a lot from this visit. There were things we wished we could do, but our architecture will not allow that in the same way as the schools we visited. There were also a lot of things we thought we could adapt and/or adopt without needing to change much at our school.

Here are some images from our visit:




Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Sharing "Best Practice"

I work with some inspirational, innovative teachers. Just about every time I have/make the occasion to have a professional chat with one (or more) of them, they share a great idea or practice. It may not suit the way I do things (or want to) but, wow, there are some gems! I also know that I am not in a unique position - every school has its fair share of these people.

Sadly, I also know that I am not in a unique position when I reflect that so much of this inspirational and innovative teaching is rarely shared within my school. There are a few things which we already do, but it just doesn't feel like it is working.


We have Professional Learning Groups in which we have individual inquiries based around a central learning area, such as SOLO, Moodle, and effective use of data. Leaders (who are also "experts") support the group members with their inquiries and offer some professional development. These meetings help us share, but only with a select group and only ideas which relate to our particular inquiry/learning area. I love this model and it does help share ideas, but I was blissfully unaware of some amazing work two colleagues in the same department (but in a different PLG) were doing; ideas which really resonate with me. Frustrating!

Department Meetings

Sadly, the hectic nature of the job limits the number of these per year for us. However, my excellent Head of Department usually makes time once a term for us to feed back some of the great things from our PLGs, and anything he notices when he circulates the department while we are teaching.

Staff Meetings

In our last Staff Meeting, representatives from each PLG shared some of the key findings from the members of their respective group. This was really worthwhile. I didn't see an application in my teaching for everything that was presented, but I could see the value in every initiative, and had such high respect for my colleagues "giving it a go".


For me, Twitter is a great place for me to find ideas from inspiring people, and to get my ideas critiqued. I have built up a very supportive PLN via Twitter (and the VPLD). I actually resorted to using Twitter to see if any of my PLN might have some ideas I could write about.

The sentiment which motivated this tweet came straight back to me - I am not alone!!

I got some very good ideas in no time at all. I particularly like the idea of a "walk-through", but know some teachers do not like other teachers in their room even if they know their teaching is not being critiqued, but being used as inspiration. I also like the "coffee club" idea and actually do something like this with some Primary School teachers to pick their brains for great ideas.

Thank you so much to those of you who shared your ideas and thoughts with me tonight. A few brief grizzles and very few solutions have turned into a blog post that actually has some value now!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Collaborative Notes

One of the things I have been doing this year is putting videos and notes on a blog for my classes. I confess to putting more time and effort into my Year 9 class for this and expecting my senior classes to manage their blogs themselves (after me putting the videos up for them).

The value has been hard for me to gauge. I do not know how often my students actually use these collaborative notes and videos for regular revision etc. unless I see them using them in class. I have been very encouraged by the use in class by my seniors, but my Year 9 class have not really been given a chance to access the blog in class until recently.

Last night, I had Parent-Teacher interviews/meetings for my Year 9 class. Now I know these blogs have value, and more value than I realised. I was already happy with the improvement some students have made this year, but had not evidence for the why and how. According to most parents last night, most of my students look at the blogs, particularly the videos, every night as part of their homework routines. These students just happen to also be my "top performers" and my "biggest improvements".

Now I feel confident in saying that videoing my teaching and having collaborative notes available online have had a positive impact on the learning of my students. A nice win from a busy year-to-date...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Flying SOLO

As eluded to in my last post, I have found SOLO as a wonderful tool for differentiating my lessons and for empowering students. Why do I unashamedly fly the SOLO flag?


There is some uniform language used to identify the base level of the task being set. There are posters available which can be put up in class to help make this explicit for students (and to help when setting tasks). The symbols are pretty funky too...and easy to draw for teachers and students.

I am only really an intermediate user of SOLO, but think it helps scaffold my lessons really well. The best place to check this out is to look at my Year 9 Science Blog.

This is my lesson for next Monday:

The homework task is also scaffolded using SOLO taxonomy (on Moodle):

The video is this one:


While a lot of the tasks often seem very difficult, the HOTMaps can give students the guidance and confidence to do something, even if it is just to create a plan.

We include the HOTMaps in our assessments and assignments to help students get started, and to help them  feel some sense of achievement; our Learning Support staff think this is critical in empowering all students.


Whether these are graphic and/or text-based, the rubrics help teachers mark efficiently and help students see what is required to access the "next level". Such explicit transparency is very powerful as it helps ensure marking consistency and encourages students.

I really like the graphic rubrics; if students see how close they are to the next level (rather than pass/fail, percentages, or A/M/E), they are often encouraged to strive to reach the next level next time.


Once students get used to the terminology, HOTMaps and rubrics, they get pretty good at self-assessment (predicting grades) and peer-assessment. In our Astronomy topic, the class feedback for the speeches was usually spot-on.


SOLO has been integral in my lesson planning, assessment writing and feedback/advice for over three years now. The improvement I see in my students' planning, writing, thinking, motivation and confidence has been obvious.

In my opinion, it is one of the best systems to use as it incorporates a user-friendly, successful combination of graphic organisers, common terminology and rubrics to empower students to unpack a task and to get a sense of achievement, regardless of their initial ability/knowledge.

While you could devise a similar programme based on other taxonomies, your own graphic organisers and your own rubrics, why would you? This has been done so well and by "signing up" you get support from Pam Hook (@arti_choke) and other users/advocates.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Finding the Recipe

I have tried a lot of things to "jazz up" the teaching and learning in my Year 9 class.

In the past, I have seen students progress when I have a real literacy and key competency focus in each lesson, and rigid routines. However, this "formula" just doesn't work for so many students. Additionally, there are so many more valid possibilities now, with the technology at our fingertips.

This year, I have tried a mixture of things: collaborative notes in our Class Blog; online assignments; student inquiry; and using SOLO taxonomy, maps and rubrics. They have all had varying levels of success, and some notable issues which have been mentioned in earlier blog posts here. These successes and issues have led to a "recipe" for my Year 9 class.

Class Blog

This started out as a way for students to have turns posting their contributions instead of doing the class homework tasks. However, it has become a place where I post a record of the lesson every day so students can review the content if they missed something important or were away.

I think the way we run it now is a good compromise and will be the way I start the Class Blogs for Year 9 in the future. Then, if students wish to contribute themselves, they can ask to become authors and I will encourage that; I just won't expect it.

A key part of the blogging has been that I film myself teaching the concepts and my board work is photographed and uploaded as well. I have needed to establis some good routines in class to buy me time to do all of this.

Online Assignments

We use Moodle as our Learning Management System, and I am unashamedly a proponent of it. I had great ideas about creating quizzes that students could do during a unit and get immediate feedback from, and a weekly assignment which I would mark.

In reality, I just don't have enough hours in my week to achieve this (and to have a life, and write reports, and...and...and...). So, the focus this year is to have a weekly online assignment. Next year, I will add quizzes. In the future, I will probably scaffold the quizzes and add conditional access. This means that the students only get to do the harder quizzes if they do well enough in the easier quizzes.

Student Inquiry

We just finished our Astronomy topic. Part of the assessment of this topic is for the students to research as aspect of Astronomy and present their research as a poster/model, plus a speech/audio-visual presentation, plus a one-page report. Their "grade" is holistic and based on their information and research, not on their presentation per se.

This allows students to find a way of presenting information in a way which best suits them. It also gives me a vessel for teaching real research, rather than just using search engines and Wikipedia; databases, primary and secondary resources, newspaper and magazine articles, e-books... Thank you to our wonderful librarian for helping with this!

The results of this inquiry were pleasing for a variety of reasons. Most importantly to me, the level of student engagement was excellent and they cared about what they were learning about. Students took my criticisms and advice on board and actually assessed why their project would be of any interest to other people when doing research and creating their presentations.

Many of the posters were merely collections of information and this worried me initially. However, the speeches and audio-visual presentations were a different story altogether! Students talked with passion and showed a real understanding of their chosen topic. As an added bonus, the quality of the presentations was higher than anything the class had achieved in the other units so far.

This has driven me to want to include an inquiry and/or research element into every unit for the rest of the year. From the start of next year, I will try to have an inquiry/research element in every unit. The challenge is to make the inquiries varied in format and genuine to the students.

A very gifted colleague, Ginny Thorner, has inspired me to base inquiries around drama. I hope to work with her some more to plan such inquiries into a few units; we already have an idea which could be useful for Astronomy, and another for Ecology - watch this space!


SOLO has been an integral part of my teaching for nearly four years now. We had it as a school-wide goal for three years, which has helped make the terminology and the use of maps commonplace for our students across all subject areas. Therefore, basing tasks within a lesson around the SOLO taxonomy has helped give my students a sense of their respective ability and to be aware of what is required to reach the next level. It also was useful in the peer marking of our Astronomy work; the students' prediction of the grade I would give was usually spot-on.

Within a lesson, I aim to have two tasks at the "Multistructural" level. These are things like defining a concept or identifying some examples of a concept. All students are expected to complete these tasks and keep a record of them. These tasks are often collaborative, but each student records their group's results in their own book or laptop. For example, today the students had to describe decanting and filtration, including labelled diagrams.

Every lesson, I also set a task which is "Relational", with the potential to be answered to an "Extended Abstract" level. These tasks are often less explicit, sometimes without a "correct" answer. There are usually a few activities which the students can choose from to help them come to a conclusion. It is then up to them to justify their conclusion. For example, today I asked the students to decide what the best method was to separate suspensions. They were told that a good answer would probably compare and contrast decanting, filtration and centrifuge and that there was no "correct" answer. They were told that the experiment I had available could help them; there was also a Case Study in their book that could help them; and I told them that some simple research could help them too.

They chose which activities do do, but had to do the overall task. I will choose two at random tomorrow and read them out to the class; the class will help decide at which SOLO level the pieces of work are.


Concepts do need to be taught, but students need to learn the way that best suits them. Not every student will excel in every task, but they need to feel some sense of achievement in every lesson. Students need the time to explore ideas that matter to them. Differentiation and collaboration are the key things I see as being useful to achieve these goals. So how do I want my lessons and units to look?

Explain the key concepts within the lesson. Get this filmed. Do a demonstration/experiment.
10 minutes

Get the students to collaborate to create a group set of notes about the key concepts. DESCRIBE, IDENTIFY, DEFINE. Keep it simple. Everyone can achieve this - hopefully!
While this is happening, upload the video of the teaching to YouTube.
10 minutes

Differentiate (and Challenge)
Give the students an ambiguous question which will make them think. Give them some learning experiences, such as experiments, case studies, models to make, readings, etc. to help them come to their own conclusions. Let them collaborate. Give them more options than can be achieved in one lesson so they choose the activities that resonate with them.
Be Devil's Advocate and a provocateur when you move around and hear their ideas. Challenge them to explain their ideas further.
While this is happening, also get the blog post written and posted.
30 minutes plus homework time

Once the students are "armed" with some knowledge and skills, let them explore an aspect and/or application of the unit content in more depth. Spend time on this. Do genuine research. Get the findings presented in a way that the student(s) find is best for them. Be open-minded to ways information can be presented and opinions can be justified and expressed. Again, be a Devil's Advocate and provocateur. Be interested and enthusiastic about their work...but do ask why. Why is this work important to you? Why would I want to know about it?
2 weeks

Thursday, 13 June 2013


The Routines

Well, I have finally made filming my lessons a routine that students accept and expect. I have class blogs that students expect to either have to update or expect to see updated by others, especially if they are absent. I have one homework task set on Moodle each week which students know they have to complete, and they expect some quality feedback if they meet the deadline.

Senior students know they are expected to do work/research outside the classroom and come to class with a plan of which learning experiences and what content/skills they will be focusing on after I teach a new concept/skill at the start of the lesson.

My Year 9 class do not have the same routines for independent learning...yet. I tried this and it was an overwhelming failure. This class do still have my teaching filmed and I do a blog post during the lesson while they do their work.

If I am "off my game", we don't film my teaching and we embed something from Khan Academy, for example. Or I might film me teaching the concept/skill at a later date, then upload this to the blog.

The Outcomes

I have noticed a negligible change in my workload. If anything, I can manage my marking and student feedback better. The quality of students' homework responses tend to show gradual improvement. Students are reviewing the videos and blog posts and able to ask for more targeted help/guidance in class or via email. 

Students are actually managing the pace of their own learning more independently and seem to be more confident of the course content and skills than what I had noticed in the past when i just set the pace and they had to do the tasks I set them in one lesson.

Time management in the classroom has become less of an issue...apart from those students who are so absorbed in their own work that they are mid-task when the bell rings. Time management outside the classroom is good but I do need to check up on and check in with students regularly to make sure they are not falling behind.

Added to this, I am able to run tuition for Olympiad Chemistry every week, while only having a face-to-face tutorial or laboratory once every three weeks. Students can opt in or opt out of the online work depending on their respective workloads. They are actually looking forward to 7:15am tutorials/labs!!

Where Next?

My Year 9 class have just done independent research work, and it looks like this could be the first stage in moving them from teacher-directed lessons to student-directed learning. I need to grab this opportunity and plan some meaningful inquiries/projects which I could align with the remaining units of work.

I need to find more variety in my student-based tasks for all of my classes. Too many students resort to working through the book in class and wait for me to provide the experiments, rather than seeking out learning experiences they want to do. This is my responsibility, not theirs.

Basically, I am happy with the routines I have established as they allow students to work at their own pace, doing the types of tasks they feel most comfortable with. Students are using class time to collaborate and use me as a mentor which was one of my primary goals. What I have set up does not impact on my workload dramatically, and it will have even less impact once I have all of my classes set up properly on Moodle - they will just need refining year-to-year rather than starting afresh like this year. I just need to build on this good foundation to get some really amazing things happening with my students, both inside and outside the classroom.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Setting Relief

If you look at the time-stamp for this post, you would be excused for thinking that I am either skiving off in class (or on a non-contact), or maybe I haven't gone to school today. I would like to assure you that it is the latter...

I used to dread needing a day off for illness. It was bad enough going away for Tournament Week or even for Professional Development Days, but at least I had time to prepare meaningful relief lessons in those cases because I could be organised and set them up the previous week. Illness just doesn't always give you the same warning... I have lost count of the number of days when I have gone to work when I should have stayed at home to get better. The time and effort required to set meaningful relief work used to mean that I would only take a day off if things were dire. Ironically, in many cases things would never have been dire if I had taken just one day off sooner.

So, when I realised last night that I was not going to be able to come to work today, I got that age-old pang of dread. Then I realised that there are a multitude of tools at my disposal to make today's lessons meaningful and to avoid me spending all night preparing these lessons instead of getting the sleep I need to get better.

Khan Academy

I am lucky that I teach Science. There are wonderful video tutorials on Khan Academy for most of the topics I am teaching. For today's lessons, there are some gems. So, I have embedded the applicable videos into my respective classes' Moodle courses.

It is worth mentioning that one video did not completely satisfy my needs for one of the lessons. In this case, I made my own video and uploaded it to YouTube. I just used some felt-tip pens, A3 paper and my cellphone to do this - things I have at home anyway.

It is also worth noting that this class has a very active Class Blog (http://l2chem2013.blogspot.co.nz/), so I did create a blog post for them as well. I wouldn't always do this, but this class are particularly diligent and lovely... Seriously though, I would not go to the effort to do a blog post if setting relief on the actual day that it was needed; I would do it when I felt a bit better or would get a student to do it as part of the relief work.

10 minutes of searching for videos and checking their suitability. 10 minutes for embedding into Moodle. Half an hour for making and uploading my own video (I did the tasks below while waiting for the video to upload). Three lessons nearly completed...


As I just eluded to above, I put the applicable resources into my Moodle courses. I also set online tasks (assignments) for all of my classes today. I can see (in real time if I want to) if my students are doing the work and check on the quality of their work. I can get a feel for their understanding before tomorrow's lesson to see how much of a recap I will need to do.

My classes are already in the routine of having an assignment on Moodle every week, so this is nothing new to them; it is just novel to do it in class.

5 minutes to set up each assignment for each class. Only two things to do now...


We are not yet a one-to-one computing school (we are working on that, though). So while I am doing the above tasks, I am switching to and from our school's online booking site. I am booking netbooks or computer suites for my classes as I complete each class's lesson. Without this online booking system, all of the above work would be wasted.


Just to make sure my students know what is required, I follow up the email to The Man (who arranges relief teachers etc.) with an email to my students explaining that they should bring their laptops and headphones to class if they have them and what they will be doing in class today.

In total, I spent an hour setting this relief. It took about 10 minutes to set up one class's relief so if I found I was ill in the morning, I could do the Period One relief immediately, then use the next hour to set the remaining lessons. Then, I could sleep/recover! I don't think I dread setting relief quite so much any more...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Mirror, Mirror...

Having just enjoyed a three week break, I finally had time to do some genuine reflecting on my initiatives and ideas from Term One. In the hustle-bustle, I kept trying things out but only really reflected on the successes. What about the "not-so-successful" ones? Well, here we go... Before I start, I must stress that I still think these ideas were valid and in most both cases I intend to use them again, albeit tweaked.

Year 9 Class Blog


My Year 9 students were to have a blog for their notes, so we could spend more time on the actual learning and mastering how to use SOLO for self- and peer-assessment. The students would have turns doing the blog entry for one lesson each, and would be exempt from the online homework as their "reward".


  1. Some of my students were not 13 yet, so could not create a Google account.
  2. Many of my students lacked the digital literacy required to do even a simple blog post (and we lacked the time for me to dedicate a week to digital literacy alone).


For Year 9, I do the blog posts myself now. The students film my teaching and photograph the work on the board and I do the blog post while they do a collaborative task. They are encouraged to "help" me with it in class, but not expected to post any more. This also avoids the issue of students being too young to sign up.

The Job Interview


My Year 11 students were about to learn about meiosis and mitosis and, to be blunt, I think these concepts can be BORING! "Compare and Contrast Mitosis and Meiosis" - no thanks. I was given a great idea, but did not execute it too well:

Mr/Miss Mitosis and Mr/Miss Meiosis are to apply for a job in the Cell Division of a business. Depending on the type of business (The Gonad Collective or Epidermal Enterprises, for example), one would be better suited than the other. This interview was to be filmed. Then the interviewer had to work with a Mr/Miss Mitosis and Mr/Miss Meiosis from another group. Again this was to be filmed.


  1. Some students (primarily boys) were unprepared to "lose"; even if they were not the better cell division process, they used weak arguments and got loud and obnoxious to try to "win".
  2. Time. The groups which planned this well needed a lot more time than what I set aside. I adjusted for this, so the results were pretty good from a couple of groups.
  3. Quality. Some groups' respective work was not good enough. It showed a lack of planning and, in some cases, no evidence of critiquing their own work. This may be due to time constraints but was more likely due to a lack of road-markers from me for guiding them to create a mini film.


I now think I have a workable way to do this task:

NOTE: No prior teaching about mitosis and meiosis was done. After reviewing the students’ work, a brief overview was done, however.

  1. Split the class into groups of 4-5
  2. They allocate roles:
    • Mr/Miss Mitosis
    • Mr/Miss Meiosis
    • Interviewer
    • Camera Operator and/or Prompt
  3. They script a job interview for a role in the “Cell Division”. I gave ideas for companies such as The Gonad Collective and Epidermal Enterprises and intend to do so again. The guidance I gave this year was that both applicants have to start genuinely thinking they are the better applicant for the “job”, but ultimately it has to become obvious which cell division process is correct for the type of daughter cells desired. I think this is still good advice.
  4. They film it, critique it and often re-film it. I explicitly encourage them to do the first effort as a “draft” and be critical of it so the second attempt is better.

Now, it is time for things to get uncomfortable. The students are not warned about this next part:
  1. Mr/Miss Mitosis and Mr/Miss Meiosis now have to do a “blind” interview with a different Interviewer (from a different group)
  2. There is no forewarning about the “job”
  3. There is no chance for a draft, then final effort

The students now process their films to make a finished product which they publish to YouTube. Road-markers are set in place too: researching both cell division types; writing the script; practicing the interview; filming the interview; critiquing the film; re-filming (if required).

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Rewind Me

This is just a bit of an update on something else I have been working on since ULearn12. As well as trying to make my units and/or lessons more student-centred, I have also instilled a rule that every time I teach, I must be filmed. This has three purposes:

  1. As much as I hate seeing/hearing myself on film, it is great Professional Development for me.
  2. The students who miss lessons can view the "teaching" aspect of the lesson.
  3. Any student who finds my pace too fast can review the video and pause, rewind and replay me.

Professional Development

This has been fantastic! I talk too fast, I move around too much and some of my explanations are just far too wordy/complicated. I tell a great story with enthusiasm and my notes are pretty good too. Sometimes, I make a total mess of it and have to film myself during a non-contact lesson or lunchtime. I have hated seeing myself on film and cringed all too often. However, I think my teaching is getting better; even after 14 years of teaching, I am learning a lot. What I am most proud of is that I do not explain concepts for more than 8-9 minutes usually. Add a few minutes for giving instructions, this means I get to do some real teaching for the other 35+ minutes of a lesson!

Missed Lessons

My students are busy souls. Sports, field trips and internal assessments (among other things) have "robbed" my students of time in my classroom, working with their peers and being inspired by their wonderful teacher. However, every student who misses a lesson can still "catch up" on the moments their wonderful teacher spent explaining a concept or giving words of wisdom. I am filmed and it goes on the class blog. Now, I even put it on YouTube because I'm not so scared of being criticised any more...

Rewind Me

This was the original reason I did this, but its value has only recently been recognised by my students. I recently taught about the calculations which are needed to analyse a titration. It really is as complicated as it sounds, when first introduced to it!! The first effort was actually an unmitigated disaster, so I re-filmed it on my own, then asked a student to critique it, then posted it on YouTube. While many students worked out how to do the calculations after my first explanation and by doing some examples, a few were totally lost.

Consider this: The assessment for this task requires students to have very good titration techniques and the ability to analyse the data mathematically. These are both tough skills until you have some experience and/or lots of practice. Therefore, within my classroom, I have students working on refining their experimental technique because they can do the calculations just fine, while I have others who can do the experiment but cannot do the calculations at all.
This is what I observed: Students were crowded around laptops watching my films, pausing them, attempting an exercise (or that part of the experiment), then pressing "play" again. They would repeat this process until they felt confident. My virtual self was teaching a very differentiated lesson over and over, yet my corporeal self just circulated the room critiquing experimental technique and being supportive.
I have been asked to present something about the use of technology in the classroom at an upcoming PD Day in Term Two; I have decided to share this idea at that PD Day.

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Growth Industry

I work in the most important growth industry in the world - education. And this industry relies upon building (growing) positive and trusting relationships if it is going to have successful outcomes for all involved.

Let Their Minds Grow

What does a good teacher do? A lot, of course. Ultimately though, surely a good teacher is there to empower students to learn more knowledge and more skills that they can apply to:
  • the subject
  • their lives in general

Giving clear learning outcomes and learning objectives are vital. Equally as vital are things such as: encouraging students to ask questions which matter to them; how to find things out for themselves; and how to listen to other people's points of view, especially when trying to make an informed decision.

Let Their Confidence Grow

A really good teacher doesn't necessarily have to be a really good academic. In fact, my best teachers gave me the confidence to express myself and reduced my inherent fear of being wrong, regardless of their academic credentials. Even now, as an adult who loves to learn, I am becoming more and more prepared to take risks and to allow myself (and my work) to be criticised. It is only because of others, who I personally rate as excellent teachers/educators, that I have this confidence. How selfish would it be if I did not use these ideas to help my own students...?

Let Their Relationships Grow

As if subject content wasn't enough, the effective teacher also has to make sure students are good citizens. A really good teacher will encourage students to reflect on the impact upon others of their actions (or global decisions). Being a protagonist works for me, but every teacher is different...and thank goodness for that!

Let Them Grow

What, teachers do even more?! We are also coaches, supporters, mentors, directors...the list goes on (and on, and on). We are in the most important growth industry around. We are harvesting the future. So surely it is our responsibility to keep up with all the best ways to empower our students to grow and to find their own unique niche and skills set. I use technology (and terrible puns and jokes). And surely it is the responsibility of every country's government to help us do this for every student... 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Digital Natives...Really?!

At the moment, I am trying to get my Year 9 students to create a lab report. They can use any technology they like and the experiment is a very straight-forward one. However, I have needed IT support in my room every lesson, and have been completely stressed out by the students who are struggling to save and/or analyse their work. This idea of our young people being "Digital Natives" is proving to be a real misnomer!

I have learned a very important lesson here: I need to allow for more differentiation regarding the use of technology, not just for the Science being taught. I was hoping that the freedom would allow students to discover ways to create a lab report and how to use technology to help them. Instead, it has created stress for some poor souls, and for me!

In the future, I am going to set up a space where I will work with students having particular issues. For example, on Day One of this task next year, I plan to show the students how to film and/or photograph themselves doing the experiment and upload this to their SkyDrive (or YouTube, or something similar). On Day Two, I plan to show the students how to put their results into a table, then create a graph from these results. Those who do not need the tuition can just get on with their work.

I am hoping this approach will better-cater for those who are not the "Digital Natives" I hoped would be entering my classroom while still allowing others to move ahead if they already have great ideas. I would love some comments...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Balancing Act

I am loving the way my senior classes are running right now. My students are managing their own learning having been given some direction from me so they know what they have to learn and by when. It makes my job easier and more fun, but it is a careful balancing act.

How do I know that they are learning things well enough? How do I know that they are learning the skills required to answer an exam question? How do the parents know that their child is learning?

The Guide

Students need to know what they are expected to master and by when. I need to be a guide who shows them how to use tools such as planning and researching. I need to model some different ways to learn so they can use the ones that work best for them. I need to help them be critical of their own strengths and weaknesses so they can set realistic goals for each topic, or each aspect of a topic.

The Mentor

A key thing I do to walk this exciting tightrope is to make sure that I do not just sit at my desk during lessons. I move around and check in with the groups in my classroom. Check in, not check up on. How can I help? Is there anything you need explained? Are you on track for timing? Are there any resources you need tomorrow? It can be tough to identify students who struggle unless they are honest and proactive, but it makes me feel useful, if nothing else. It also makes the students aware that I am not being lazy, I am trusting them and there if they need me. This also allows students to work at their own pace, knowing i am there to help when needed, but will also leave them alone if they are doing just fine without me.

The Assessor

I use weekly online assignments, based upon NCEA questions, to check the level of understanding of my students. This is the part of my balancing act that stops me feeling insecure and helps me identify students who are bluffing in class or struggling with the work. Without these assignments, I would struggle to "sell" what we are doing in class to the students, to my colleagues, or to parents. Already, these regular assignments have helped me identify students who need support and I have made time to mentor them in class more than the students who are already coping well.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Power of Play

Today was the first day of a two-week laptop and tablet trial in my classroom. I completely changed my learning objectives for the week to cater for these new devices...and to see what magic my students come up with themselves.


In my Year 9 Science class, we are learning about doing Fair Tests ("Scientific Method(s)") and "writing" lab reports. So, today I asked them to use the laptops/tablets to identify the things a lab report should have. Why do we bother putting time and effort into them at all? Discuss....

Then, I gave them a Fair Test to do this week. It is easy: here is a spring, here is a ruler, here are some masses. What happens when you put different masses on the spring? I am being ambiguous on purpose, by the way.

You have one week to do the investigation and create a lab report. I was very deliberate about using the word "create:, not "write". I want to see what happens.

Play and Learn

I made another tactical decision: I would not show the students how to use the devices. I let them choose which device to use (although we only have 10 of each). Some students still used their own devices, of course...until I told them they could download any apps they wanted/needed etc.

Very little traditional Science followed in this lesson. Real learning happened, though! Students worked out how to film, photograph, type, draw, research...then lost everything when they realised they didn't know how to store their work!!

Again, I was tactical with this. I want to see how they want to store things. A few have cottoned onto SkyDrive. Some others want to upload directly to our class blog. The students are problem-solving because they want to save their "play"/work.


I have allowed a complete week for my students to do a task which should take two lessons. This time is to allow real learning to happen, not just with finding their own "Scientific Method", but also to work out how they want to use the technology. I want their feedback so they need time to explore the technology without a draconian deadline over their heads.

What a day!!! I am still buzzing despite a delayed international flight depriving me of any sleep last night. I am more excited about the tablets and laptops than my students, albeit for intrinsically different reasons. I cannot wait to see what these lab reports will look like. How many will be videos? How many will be hybrids of text and graphs and static images and videos? How many will be completely unexpected? Buzzing...

Monday, 25 February 2013

Teaching Space

It is tough sharing a classroom with other teachers. It is awesome having an HoD who listens to your crazy ideas for classroom layout, moderates them, and helps you see workable solutions. It is also great having colleagues who use your room being so willing to adapt to the teaching environment you create with those moderated crazy ideas.

Rows: Control and Avoid Rows

Please tell me that you got the pun... When I started teaching (at boys' schools), I found that the best way to get control of the class, put them into workable laboratory groups and to avoid arguments (rows) was to put them into rows, all facing the front.

There were variations of this that I tried, but usually only to fit more desks in the same-sized classroom, as roll (and class) sizes grew; this is a topic for a future rant I think. Ultimately, I decided that three rows with an alleyway down the middle worked best for me. Please note..."for me". I had good control of most classes, could look at the quality of most students' work and each row split off to their respective lab stations conveniently.

What it meant, however, was that all discussions had to be carried out via me or done at the lab stations. The only real opportunity for collaboration was at the lab stations. Yes this got the boys out of their seats and did make me plan collaborative tasks in every lesson at the lab stations, but really...!

Groups: Collaborate and Create

I tried this a lot as a younger teacher but it just didn't work. To this day, I do not know why. Maybe I just didn't model collaboration well enough and did not give valuable enough collaborative activities to get the boys doing this. Maybe it was because they were boys. Maybe it was because in every other class they had to sit in rows and generally work (learn??) independently. I generalise, of course. Not every class was like this at all!

My classroom in 2012.
However, once I moved to a co-educational school (and yes, an independent one at that), I noticed very quickly that there was a stronger desire to collaborate. Yes there was also a stronger temptation to gossip, chat off-task and distractions were so much worse. However, I wanted to capture the opportunity to try more collaborative work. Rows were not going to do any more....

Imagine the students' shock and surprise when they walked in one Monday morning to see that the rows were gone and groups were there. This isn't what a science lab is meant to look like!!!

This is still not ideal, but it has helped me introduce a lot more collaborative activities, not just experiments. Also, I notice that now they can talk to each other more easily, the students tend to talk more about the work, not off-task topics. No, I am not suggesting they are always on-task, but they tend to help each other more. It is almost as though the change in seating arrangement has told them they are allowed to help each other now.

However, these big, cumbersome desks are hard to move. These groups are static. I want more dynamic group parameters. I want group sizes to change, I want the group participants to vary, I want each group to have a more unique environment. This is a positive start, but I need to go crazy again...

Go Crazy!

I have some ideas...and they may be nuts. I want every desktop to be coated with whiteboard paint. Students have whiteboard markers and brainstorm together. I want these desktops to have hinges so the groups can present their ideas to me (as a moderator or mentor) or to other groups (as learners, moderators or critics).

I want students sitting on chairs/stools/couches that make them comfortable. Most students have laptops now, so why sit them at a desk? The desk is now a place for collaborative ideas to be shared...and presented.

I can see my classroom in my head but I am not artistic enough to draw it so I can share the idea. Maybe one day soon, I will try to draw what I want and post that image on here...

The issue I face here is that I share my room with other teachers; they may not be able to teach in this kind of environment. I couldn't teach in a room full of rows of desks any more.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Student-Directed Unit Planning: An Update

I have trialed getting my students to select the order in which they learn the key concepts in a unit, and how they will learn what they need to. This has been going for a couple of weeks, so how is it going?

The Process

This takes a lesson to set up:
  1. Identify the key concepts in the unit.
  2. Make a card for each concept (one set for each student).
  3. Students are given 10 minutes to find out a little about each concept from their books, talking to peers or using their devices.
  4. Students make a sequence for learning the concepts. Stress that the sequence may be changed at any time.
  5. Students find others students with similar sequences.
  6. Students plan out the learning experiences they want to use to learn these concepts.

Over the next couple of lessons, students present their plans and request resources. This is very easy to anticipate if you are teaching Science!

The Classes

I have tried this with three classes, to differing extents. As yet, none have had assessments, so I am not sure if it is preparing them well for formal assessment tasks or not yet...


This class are working on Organic Chemistry. I identified 21 key concepts for them. They were daunted by the prospect and scared of the process. Now, they are working well at their own respective ability levels and exploring things they are interested in in depth, while skimming over things they find boring. They are collaborating, learning and, best of all, I spend every lesson just wandering around talking with them about the work, rather than actually teaching them. I have taught a few concepts, but sometimes only to groups of one or two students. These "lessons" are filmed and put on a class blog. Every student is engaged and the collective confidence has been growing day by day. My only "at risk" student is blossoming being able to work a pace which better matches ability level.


This class are doing a very practical-based topic, on identifying unknown ions in solutions. There are really only six key skills or concepts to cover with this group, so the planning process was a lot quicker. What I learned from this class is that I do like the idea of breaking units up into smaller bites, and getting them to only plan parts of the unit; this adaptation of the plan may be tried out in future units. I taught most of this class some time in the last three years, and they were looking forward to having me because I "give good notes" and my lessons are so structured!!! Imagine their horror... However, this system has bought me time to work one-on-one with students who struggle with any aspect of the topic on any given day, or with those who have been away on sports exchanges. The class now agree that it is a good way of doing things. Again, engagement and self-motivation has been great, with the exception of a few whose parents needed to be contacted.


After the (unexpected) success with Year 12 Chemistry, I have tried this in a micro-managed way with my Year 11 Science class. They are given the week's Specific Learning Outcomes (usually only two or three). They then decide how to achieve them. So far, we have had a song written about the structure of DNA along with some other amazing work! Some chose to extract banana DNA, some decided they had better use the time learning some vocabulary. I must confess that this is quite an unusual Year 11 class: very driven and very able.

So, that is a wee update. Assessment results will really tell me if it has been a good idea or not, but my workload is down, engagement is up, and student enjoyment is through the roof. Those are big wins already.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

My Short-Comings, My Solutions

I have an ego. I like being told that I am a good teacher. I also am well-aware of many short-comings I have as a teacher; there are also many I am not aware of yet too, I'm sure! This is just a reflection of things that I find to be some of my short-comings that I have to get over, and am using technology to do so.

Student Feedback

I think keeping a well-organised book is very important. I also think that research/assignment work is very valuable, regardless of the subject or the topic. I also know that I really suck at giving feedback often enough, and of the substance required, to adequately inspire students and to help them learn from their mistakes.

I am also a proponent on Moodle. It is primarily because of Participation Reports, Forums and Assignments.


A Forum with Questions to do for Homework
An Example of a Homework Forum Question
Forums provide me a genuine way to collaborate with my students and allow them to collaborate with each other when doing research. I can give quality feedback and we can all learn from each other's mistakes. "Q & A Forums" were my favourite when I started using Moodle. I loved the idea that students could only participate in the collaboration once they had submitted something themselves. Now, I am less keen on them but still recommend them to Moodle users still on their L-plates. They are a great way to set Forums as homework.


How could I not love these if I love research? What I also love about these is that students can submit files, so they can do a video, a PowerPoint, an essay, a poster... it becomes their respective choice. I can embed videos, so they can look at them at home rather than using class time to all sit quietly, pretending to watch...and being unable to rewind for themselves. What a wonderful tool!

What Assignments in Moodle have allowed me to do is provide higher quality feedback without having to cart work home, or worry about damaging/losing student work; I can mark it any time I have a free moment and access to my laptop (and internet).

Participant Report

This is the trump card that I use to convince people why Moodle is better than our past Learning Management System. It is so easy to see which students have attempted, or even just viewed, the Forums, Assignments or even Resources I uploaded. Our previous LMS would do this too, but it was not so user-friendly as Moodle.

I now can easily feed back to students when they are getting close to deadlines, or have missed the deadline. I can now easily follow up on consequences for missed work. I do not need my mark-book next to me to check which students have done their work or not. I do not even need to record the grades I give - Moodle keeps all of this information for me!! Yes, I do like Moodle; I unashamedly say this and do not mind this sounding like a plug for it.

Student Collaboration

This is something I wish I had done more of as a younger teacher. I have micromanaged my classes and what they learn and how they learn it for over a decade. Those poor souls! My heart was in the right place, but...really!?!? ULearn08 changed my direction on this; I started trying to use blogs, then to get my students to blog. I knew they were using Facebook, so I encouraged them to make "Class Pages" on there; I even joined these pages once I learned how to set my Privacy Settings properly.


Our Year 11 Science Blog: photos of my notes; a student's take on the
key points of the lesson;  videos of the teaching and experiments.
I have now got to the point where I ask my students to record the lessons on a blog. This started when I heard that my notes were being photographed and shared on Facebook. Why not share them on a Class Blog, and let anyone have them? While we are at it, let's video my teaching and students doing experiments; let's share that too! Let's share what we learn in class with each other and the world... As each person gets their own turn, the quality just keeps getting better and better.

My Year 9 class had to "adopt" a piece of lab equipment for two days. They didn't necessarily learn about any other pieces of equipment, but they learned a lot about their own piece of equipment. They now have to create a blog entry to teach the rest of the class about their piece of equipment - there has already been some great work!!

My Year 13 class have really taken to it, posting some great videos of themselves and giving honest feedback about the quality of their lab work, and honest reflections about what further work they need to do.

Student Choice

One of the other wonderful ways that I have improved on encouraging more collaboration has been letting students choose how they report their findings or present their work. They have amazed me! I used to think that I had to model all of these awesome techniques and ideas for them - no way!!! They are more creative than me and more adept at working out the how. Leave them to it!

To Sum Up...

So, I know I have other short-comings too, but I have been able to address these ones by identifying my weaknesses, then finding out which technologies could help me overcome them. I have actually made my teaching life easier, and am getting better outcomes.

I want my students doing great work and getting genuine feedback on this, while I am also having fun with them and not spending all my time marking etc. I am still in the setup phase, so I am working very hard and am not making anyone jealous in the slightest of the hours I put in, but one day soon...