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, 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...

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