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.

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...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

What a Journey...

I don't mind if nobody reads this. Honestly, it is just a wee reflection for me to log how my thinking about teaching and learning, and using technology, have evolved.

Beginning Teacher to Respected Teacher

When I started, I got all sorts of good advice about classroom management, lesson/classroom routines, and I quickly learned how to use the school's management system to allow me to create a classroom environment conducive to learning. I was told umpteen times (by peers and students) that I was good at explaining concepts and clarifying what exactly had to be learned. Soon enough, I established a reputation I was proud of - a good teacher whose lessons were fun but "don't [mess] with him!!"

I worked hard on transitions between tasks, scaffolding (or chunking) tasks, using colour, being concise with instructions...all those things that I was told would help students with learning difficulties, while also being good practice to help all students. My students made progress; I felt like I was doing a good job. I was given classes with learning support needs because I got a lot out of them and they behaved for me...generally speaking, of course. I never got good at a few things though...

While I looked at students' books during lessons, I was terrible at taking them home to mark them. Even then, what was I looking for? I praised students for creating carbon-copies of the notes I put on the OHP or whiteboard, and for getting the same answers as me for the tasks we did in class and for homework. What did this achieve?! I was never good at giving enough feedback and even then, now I think about it, it was not often good-quality feedback.

In hindsight, what I made my students do was meaningless work, apart from making marking a little easier and classroom management a lot easier when students were sitting and writing. I guess it also gave the diligent students a sense of security that they had "all the notes" they needed for later assessments. But the flipside of that is that if I missed anything out or made a mistake, I was never challenged about it. The trust level was that high that students believed I would give them everything they needed.

Another thing I was not so good at was challenging my students to be independent thinkers and true problem-solvers. My best students did not get scholarships; often they did not even get straight Excellence grades in NCEA. They knew their stuff really well, but they did not know it well enough to apply it to completely novel contexts, or to adapt their knowledge to solve a problem. I could never give every possible context that may be in an exam, so I didn't try to. I tried to give contexts they would relate to; I think this is something I am actually quite good at. Yet, even today, I struggle with the pedagogy behind teaching students how to be creative or be problem-solvers.

So, I became a competent, respected teacher. But I was not getting the best out of my students; not really. Yes, we had experiments and we had debates and we did field trips and we had a lot of other valuable learning experiences. But why did I make them write so many notes? Fear. Fear and control. Fear and control and a lack of technology to do what I really wanted to do with my students.

The Data Projector

I was frustrated that I was spending so much time teaching, writing up notes, waiting for the notes to be copied, then clarifying... I really wanted my students to do more in each lesson. I thought I could teach better with a data projector, but that was not in the school's vision in 2006. So, I bought a data projector on TradeMe, drove from Napier to Hamilton to collect it, then proceeded to use it like a whiteboard or OHT. What was I thinking?!

I made lovely PowerPoint presentations and I got past the teaching part of the lesson much more quickly. It succeeded in giving more time for experiments and other learning experiences, so it wasn't totally stupid of me. Also, I could embed video clips and other dynamic images into my presentations, so this was nice. I was seen as innovative and embracing technology; I felt like a fraud. I had replaced the TV/DVD and OHT/Whiteboard with the Computer/Data Projector.

As an aside, within three years, every classroom in my school had a data projector.

Play and Collaborate

After realising that I had really only used technology to do the same things in a flasher, more modern way, I reflected and decided to change things. I actually went back to writing notes on the whiteboard; I still do, by the way! Briefer notes, with page references from the textbook, or just the instructions for a task. Handouts of any diagrams were distributed. I was going back to how things were before I got the data projector...but not completely.

I spent hours (literally hundreds) coming up with revision/learning games using PowerPoint and the data projector. I was going to get my students to collaborate, compete and, most importantly, engage in and enjoy my lessons. I designed a Trivial Pursuit game (it still relied on bringing in the board and game pieces, but that actually made it more fun) for Physics and started on one for Chemistry. I designed a generic revision game using the principles of baseball. I was shown templates for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Jeopardy. I was asked to present how I used these games in IT Cluster meetings and staff meetings. Students I didn't know wanted to be in my class because we learned by playing games.

Baseball Revision Game: let me know if you want some guidelines for how to play it.


I went to my first ULearn 2006 in Christchurch, on the back of the work I was doing with games and trying to use technology in my classroom. I hope I was sent so I could be inspired to want to use technology even more and in even more interesting ways. Then, I was sent to Learning@School in Rotorua early the next year.

These conferences made me frustrated that technology was holding me back from doing real collaborative work with my classes. While we were looking at spending money on data loggers in Science, and justifying the expense of converting a classroom into a laboratory (because a few inspirational teachers had helped make the sciences so popular), I was also asking how I could get enough computers or laptops into my classroom to do some real learning.

Additionally, I was trying to get my students to collaborate via Blogger and/or Wikis. I was making some real headway with Class Blogs and even had one other colleague using them for Scholarship students across all of Hawkes Bay. However, without being able to access them in class on a daily basis, and without the technology to record those unplanned, amazing moments in class, students lost interest and were not even looking at the blogs, let alone posting any more. Frustration was setting in and I was starting to feel like a fraud again...and now I was thinking about to leaving the teaching profession.

ULearn08 came along at just the right time for my career. I needed to want to be a teacher again. I was going through the motions with my students getting good results or making pleasing improvements. But a huge focus on literacy made it all feel a little stale to me. I wanted students to be literate for a modern, ever-changing world, and this meant getting them on computers and,more importantly, online as often as possible. But, I taught Science, not IT; I couldn't get into a computer suite even once a month! While ULearn08 actually didn't give me any solutions to this, it did get me thinking about thinking. I remember that three key ideas stuck in my head: critique, create and collaborate. These ideas have been the basis of what I have wanted to do in every lesson since. I have not always succeeded with every student (or with any in some cases), but those are the goals.

Would you believe I did not even take my laptop to ULearn08? I took notes in a book, which I lost within 12 months. However, what I learned at the conference gave me some new visions for the 2009 year. I was going to face technology and bandwidth issues. Deal with it. Adapt. Get your students thinking. 2009 was the year I started to love teaching again. I didn't care about the frustrations, I cared about the pedagogy. Why? ULearn08. To this day, I cannot remember which presenters inspired me to adapt and to focus more on thinking than on knowledge. But I do know that after I got back from Christchurch, I had the passion back.

What changed? Actually, very little changed in the classroom. What really changed was my attitude. I worked with my students on problems and shared websites with them. I let them bring me things that they found online and we tried to work out if they were real or manufactured. I let my students inspire me with their questions. We don't know what the world would hold for us in the future, so let's just ask lots of questions and think of abstract ways to solve them. Let's be critical of what other people say on the internet.

Oh yeah, we better do the course work too. So let's buy some time... Read the notes at home. Try the exercises at home. I will teach you the concepts, knowing you have a little prior knowledge. Then we will discuss it, and a few of you might have thought of a context that matters to you when you did the homework. Hey, let's do this experiment. Lab report? Nah. Photograph it, and report it as a narrative please; it will mean more to you when you revise it. We will do proper lab reports when we practise for an assessed practical.

Moving On, Shaking It Up, Taking Risks

With a new lease on (teaching) life in 2009, I was not looking to leave Napier. Then a job came up in Christchurch that I really wanted. Christchurch will always be home for me, and this job was at a school I have always held in very high esteem, even when they were school-boy rivals for me! So, I took a chance and applied.

Just as I had given up, I was offered an interview, and subsequently offered a position there. I am now in my fourth year there and have already been sent to ULearn10, ULearn12 and ICOT2013. These conferences have inspired me even more... Add to that, some major interruptions in 2010 and 2011, I am living more and more in the ether, and expecting my students to do so as well.

By February 2011, I had been putting resources online for students at my new school for a year. I felt well-placed to provide information and activities online. Some aspects of my teaching had migrated to the digital arena, but nothing much had changed since Napier. This wasn't a bad thing; I was doing things well. I just wasn't doing things quite the way I wanted to; I still am not, but I have gained some serious momentum now!

When the earthquake struck, I was setting up an experiment with concentrated sulfuric acid and concentrated nitric acid; being chased by a trolley containing those chemicals was scary! Worse than any accident I've had in the lab, including setting myself on fire...

Putting aside the emotional and physical damage the earthquake did for a moment, think about this: you will not see your students for a month; parents (and many students) expect some sort of tuition will still be made available; we do not know what dispensation (if any) will be made for our students by NZQA. The resources and activities I had put online were a real asset. By the way, we were also closed due to snow in 2011 and in 2012. So, why can't we offer this level of support for our students normally? Wouldn't this allow us to do more of the real thinking and deeper learning in class? Naturally!

At ULearn10, I became really interested in Moodle as a Learning Management System. I was still a bit naive about it and had preconceptions about how it works, most of which were wrong! But it seemed a better fit than our current LMS for catering for collaboration and interactive activities. Some very valuable discussions with our ICT Director followed, then suddenly I was being asked to help phase Moodle in from 2012. Kid in a candy shop...!!!

I was still unsure how to achieve some of my pedagogical goals, but the light-bulbs were starting to ignite as I was exposed to what Moodle could do, then my whole brain lit up at ULearn12. I want my students to take risks so they can become more creative, more independent, and be better problem-solvers. Take the lead, you wimp!!! Stop wanting to do it "right" and just have a go!!

Thank you Kevin Honeycutt for the inspiration and some of the methods. Thank you also for making me realise that I just had to start, accept it wouldn't be perfect, then improve on it. ULearn12 was also great for one more reason: I started using Twitter better for collaborating with other educators. Now I tweet a lot, and have a few followers with whom I often share ideas.

This gets me to the point where this blog begins. Without some key moments in this journey, I would not even be teaching any more. And, even if I was, I would not be taking risks in the hope of making my students better learners. I made mistakes by being safe - thank goodness I learned from these mistakes. My beautiful city was brought to its knees; out of that came a necessity to provide more online opportunities. I was inspired by many intelligent, gifted people who presented at conferences or just sat and talked with me. Then there are those amazing colleagues, past and present, who are willing to share their ideas. There are pedagogical theories I strongly agree with and now the technology and bandwidth are available to me to start making it happen. Add to that, I have become more willing to try and fail in the hope that I try and succeed. Game On!

Monday, 11 February 2013

A Week On...

So, last week I started on a little journey. Basically, I wanted to try a few things with my classes to encourage more collaboration and more student ownership of the learning. How is it going...?


I have learned some good lessons on this one! I planned to spend a whole lesson with each class to:
  1. Get each student signed up for Blogger
  2. Make each student an author of their respective class blog
  3. Contribute to a forum discussion on Moodle (this was to keep them busy and collaborating while I did the administration of the blog rights to be honest...)

I learned some lessons from this, despite thinking it was well-planned, well-explained and well-executed. 

Getting students to set up Blogger accounts, then email me their details, then set them up as authors was dumb in hind-sight! For starters, they need to be 13 years old - a few of my Year 9 class are still 12. Oops! So, they won't be blogging for a while.... Add to this, some just are not good at following Google's/Blogger's signing up instructions. So, in the future I plan to create a class username and password and email it to them when it is their turn to be the class bloggers. If anyone has tried this, I would love to hear about your experiences, please.

I have also found that while some students create wonderful reflections of the lessons, others simply do not have the eye for detail required to make good collaborative work yet. Even after prompting, emails and in-person help, some blog posts have not been improved, On the other hand, some are really pleasing! So, in the future I plan to do the first post to model "good" collaboration, then challenge my students to show me up.

A lot of parents think the blog idea is great and are jumping on board to look at what we are doing in class. This is a huge bonus. I cannot wait until we start posting some really good stuff and get a wider audience.


This is not new for me per se, but I am giving the students more ownership of this. They film any time I teach a concept, then upload it to the blog. Well, that was the idea. Instead, it seems I am now going to "star" on some of my students' YouTube channels! I am actually a little flattered...

They have even started filming their experiments as well, and sharing these. I just need to get them to link to their YouTube videos on the class blog too now. Work in progress at this stage.

Student-Directed Unit Planning

This has been my huge success story, but I am pleased to have 14 years of teaching experience under my belt. It is hard to plan what students will want to be taught to them lesson-by-lesson, so I have needed to be ready to teach any concept at the drop of a hat. My way around this was to interview each group to get their respective lesson sequences off them. This helped me anticipate the more likely concepts that may need teaching in each lesson, and the "off the cuff" experiments I might need resources for.

All-in-all, this has made my life easier: I talk a lot less in class and don't have to plan lessons after the initial set-up lessons. Plus, I am already building a great rapport with my students: they feel like we are all learning together; they see me more as a tutor/mentor than as a "teacher"; and the students can learn at a pace which is comfortable for them.

So far, win, win, win... BUT I am only doing it with my Year 12 and Year 13 students. I am not brave enough to try it with younger students, and do question the success it would have with students who have not chosen the subject in the first place. Then again, maybe it would encourage more "buy-in" with less willing learners (if my subject was compulsory). I still need convincing that it would work with younger students, however...

Monday, 4 February 2013

Student-Driven Unit Planning

I really should take a breath before taking more risks, but I landed on my feet with this one! I decided to let my Year 13 students decide the sequence that each of them will learn about Organic Chemistry, and which learning experiences they would like to be employed - student-driven and student-centred unit planning!

Ultimately, my class will be working in small, dynamic groups which will be working collaboratively on agreed experiments and activities to learn a particular concept. They can request outside experts, additional experiments, can bring in videos, can watch YouTube clips....whatever they like, in whatever order best works for them. So, how have I got this set up and how will this be managed?

Key Concepts

Over the past week, I broke Organic Chemistry and Spectroscopy (I think they work well as complementary units) into 21 key concepts which students need to master to perform well in NCEA and Scholarship.

These concepts were put onto cards, one set of cards per student. The students were asked to use their books, discussions with each other, and their prior knowledge to find out a little about what each card was about.

They were then asked to group the cards, then create a "learning sequence" which they think would help them learn the details of each concept best. They were reassured that they could change this learning sequence at any stage during the unit.

Learning Experiences

Now every student has a learning sequence and has found other students with similar learning sequences, it is their job to agree how to learn. Their homework is to add details to the 'concept cards' outlining what learning experiences they require/desire.

For example, there are good experiments in their book that they may require; they may actually want me to teach a tough concept; they may wish to create a video or PowerPoint or Slow-mation to explain the concept; they may want me to organise a FutureIntech ambassador to visit... who knows!

The only rules I have put in place are:
  • experiments must be "legal"
  • we must already have the equipment/chemicals for experiments
  • 3 school days' notice is required for any resources
  • any teaching I do must be videoed and uploaded to the class blog

Desired Outcomes

  1. Students "own" their own learning. I am hopeful that students will look for interesting contexts and novel experiments. I am hopeful that they make their own links between the key concepts.
  2. Differentiated learning environment. With groups following different learning sequences and working at different difficulty levels, I am hopeful that fewer students will feel overwhelmed by the perceived difficulty of Chemistry.
  3. Collaboration. For this to work, students will have to work together, and be organised. The sharing of learning experiences on the Class Blog should also mean they are helping "teach" each other with me as a mentor, rather than relying on me to guide the whole process.

Potential Roadblocks

  1. Apathy. With this class, I doubt I will face this problem, but it is an obvious classroom management consideration. If students do not "buy in" on the idea and the process, there is a risk they could "get away" with doing very little, hence learning very little.
  2. Organisation. I am relying on my students to be very organised. As part of the deal, I need to be even more organised, particularly with getting the resources they request. My technician is a little concerned with the potential for many groups doing different experiments at the same time. It says something about my personality that I find this possibility to be exciting!!

Interestingly, I have no concerns about them "covering all of the work". I have outlined the key concepts for them and their books outline the specific learning outcomes required to reach the different achievement levels in NCEA. So long as I give them homework tasks which assess their depth of knowledge and communication abilities (i.e. past exam questions??), this just doesn't worry me.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Goodbye Comfort Zone

So, the first full week of the 2013 academic year is only 11 hours away. With a million ideas racing around in my head, I have tried to create a plan of attack for a new (well, new for me) teaching style. Common sense and sanity suggest to trial it with one class and stick with the "tried and true" with the others, but common sense and sanity have never been genuine strengths of mine. My Year 9 Science, Year 11 Extension Science, Year 12 Chemistry and Year 13 Chemistry are all about to experience my own little teaching style (r)evolution!

Blog It

Tomorrow, I will take all of my classes to a computer suite and get them signed up to Blogger. Then, I will make them all authors of their respective class blogs. Every week, I will allocate a "team" of bloggers for each class. Their job for the week will be to film my teaching, film experiments, record any relevant notes and activities (in whatever format they see fit) and to give their opinions about the week in Science/Chemistry.

Film It

I started with this last year. It proved excellent for my own professional reflections (I talk way too fast when I teach, for one!), but it also made me "rewindable" for my students. It was great to see the experiments filmed too. I still have ethical issues about the students being filmed. We managed this last year by me being the only person who could be filmed; experiments can be filmed without showing identifying parts of the students. This will just have to be my approach this year too until the school develops a policy to govern this.

"Flip" It

I know, I know...get with the times, Matt. "Flipping" is so last decade! However, I pledge to get away from the mundane act of writing notes in class. This can be done at home. Students can look up the basics at home too. Class time is for those issues and questions and activities they cannot find quickly on Google or YouTube, or which don't have a black-or-white answer. Let's THINK people; that's what class time is for.


I need to reflect on the progress and to be honest about the real learning happening in my class. Are my students learning more despite not having to write notes any more? Are they fully engaged knowing they are not always personally responsible for keeping a record of the lesson every day? In short, I am freaking out about this! I am well-planned, but I do not know if I have planned for the unpredictable nature of the teenage creature.... Goodbye comfort zone, it was nice knowing you!