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.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

ICOT 2013 - Day One Reflections

1. Measuring Success

How do we measure someone’s success? How do we know that they are successful? These were the questions posed by Ewan McIntosh at the start of his keynote speech at ICOT 2013. He explained that how good ideas can become great, and outlined some ways to help our students (and ourselves) to become great thinkers.
A few key points resonated with me, and a few ideas I will record here just so I have them for further reference. In a nutshell, four key things can lead to great thinking and great ideas:
  • Know the "why"
  • Be an agent provocateur
  • Trust the process
  • Live to perform
So, how do these apply to my classroom? Will they change or adapt what I currently do?

Know the Why

When Ewan started on this, I thought I knew what he was going to say: Students need a context and to see the relevance of what they are learning in their own lives. Yes, this was part of it. But there is a lot more to it than that!
Students should also understand why a problem or an idea is important to others - empathy! Honestly, I had not considered the absolute importance of this. It can allow a problem to be approached from a variety of angles and come up with novel solutions.
What could this look like for my class?
I envisage giving more time to investigate, explore and research a problem. Ideally, students would be encouraged to interview people in different industries and different walks of life about the problem they are investigating. But will every unit in every class at every year level have appropriate issues to investigate in this way? Yes, but I do not think that I am creative enough to think of problems/issues/contexts for every one of them; this will be something I will develop over many years, I think.

Be an Agent Provacateur

This mirrors something I have always believed in and is supported by evidence and presentations given by Mike Scaddan in this conference and in ULearn12. This is something I think I do well already. I use stories and points-of-view which evoke emotional responses from my students.
Emotions help you remember things; you have an invested interest in your emotions. Emotions can also provide the motivation to investigate something in more depth.

Trust the Process

What is 'the' process? This was a little unclear to me, probably because I am not a "great thinker". But here are the sub-headings, which I hope to be able to make more sense of in the near future. If I can understand 'the' process and believe in it, then I can guide my students to use the process.
  1. Empathy (understand the problem/issue/context from a variety of points-of-view)
  2. Define (have a clear definition of the specific problem; why are we spending time on this?)
  3. Ideat (maybe use post-it notes to get every group member's idea onto paper)
  4. Prototype
  5. Feedback

Live to Perform

I love this idea - don't be scared to put your idea/solution out there. Be a performer! I am already encouraging my students to share ideas using blogs (authentic, international audience) and forums in Moodle ("safe" audience of classroom peers). So, what next to really get my students to love performing? Videos on YouTube, perhaps...? I think my students might offer better ideas than I could ever come up with, so I might leave them the flexibility to present how they see fit in many cases.

Other Ideas

Some other 'catch phrases' and ideas resonated with me:

  • “Non-Googleable” ideas/questions: these are the things we should spend class time looking into. This is valuable learning. Just go look up the “Googleable” questions in your own time.
  • What if you could only deliver six lecture-type lessons all year; what would they be about? For the rest of the year, let the students learn in the other ways that children learn....
  • Pose. pause. pounce, bounce..
  • Don’t assess too early!
  • Creative people are content to have their ideas taken apart; they will just come up with some more ideas...

2. Context-Based Learning

There has been some great work done on context-based units of work in Science. Georgina Barrett et al at Lincoln High School have collaborated with NZTA and Pam Hook to develop a detailed unit on Road Safety. It covers aspects of biology and physics while also looking at being a responsible citizen (speeding etc).
Burnside High School's Physics department has also done some great work on context-based units for both Level 2 and Level 3 (NCEA). These contexts stride across more than one Achievement Standard and focus on investigation and deeper understanding.
I can see a lot of positives with teaching through contexts but know I will struggle to find suitable contexts in every subject and every year level that I teach. How do I find contexts which will have enough scope and interest for my students to do work which is meaningful and genuine for them?
I had an idea which I would love to trial with my Year 9 class this year, inspired by the work at Lincoln HS and a recent documentary on Discovery Channel:
Life on Earth is under threat. The human race needs to leave Earth to survive. What might cause this scenario? How might we leave Earth? Who gets to leave; who has to stay and die? Where do we go? How do we find places to go?
This idea could cover aspects of Conservation, Astronomy. It could generate some great debate. It has huge scope, potentially. I will let you know how it goes....

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