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.

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...


  1. I'm a big moodle fan too. Love your post. It is the working together aspects that often lighten up the learning - I used to (school moved away from moodle sadly) love the benefits of peer review assignments in moodle1.9. Not sure it's available in v2.

    Facebook pages are also a great idea but you have to tread carefully when working inside the pupil-created pages.

    Keep on mooooooodling!

    1. Thank you for your feedback! Shame your school moved away from Moodle; it just keeps getting better

  2. What a refreshing approach to teaching in secondary school! It's amazing as a primary school teacher to read how you are building on the foundations laid (hopefully!) already with peer reflections, self-directed learning and collaboration. Sounds like Moodle works really well too which is also because you are a passionate educator who desires the best outcomes for your students - way cool!