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, 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

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