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, 13 December 2014

Our New Science Course

SOURCE: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
How does your Science Department cater for those students for whom Science is a swear word? I mean the type of swear word they use in anger or frustration, not the type that makes them sound like they have “street cred”, by the way! We run a completely internally-assessed course with small numbers of students in each class. This has helped rebuild confidence in scientific skills and thinking, enjoyment for Science, and helped students achieve a meaningful number of credits in a course they were predisposed to hate and/or fail in.

In 2015, we are changing the format of this course a little. Students will be encouraged to follow their own (individual or collective) passions, and formulate these into rigid inquiries. This will give the course a heavy Nature of Science theme, without really having a strong focus on any one “branch” of Science. Students will be learning about things they are passionate and inherently interested in, and being assessed on their inquiries against the most-applicable Achievement Standards.

There will still be some prescribed Achievement Standards being used to assess the students’ inquiries, and there are two topics which have predetermined Achievement Standards being used to assess them. This way, we hope to cater for those students who respond better to explicit instruction, as well as those who need the freedom to explore their own passions. Either way, I hope the students show an increase in scientific literacy and ability to think scientifically.

Topic One: Chemical Reactions

SOURCE: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
What better way to start a Science course than exploring chemical reactions? Our first topic is going to be looking at different types of chemical reactions and using our knowledge and observations to classify these reactions (e.g. combustion, precipitation, displacement). We will work with the students on writing word equations, formulae and balanced equations for these reactions, although there are no illusions that some students may struggle with these latter skills.

We have yet to decide how to assess this unit, except that we are going to use Achievement Standard 90947 (Investigate selected chemical reactions). The resources available online use portfolio-type assessments and/or one-off assessed laboratory sessions. To be consistent with the other outcomes of the course, it may be better to get the students to keep a portfolio of their work. Something to ponder over the holidays…

Topic Two: Inquiry Processes

This is our first point-of-difference from how the course was run in the past. In this topic, students will be mentored through an inquiry process. I am still working on the templates for making this process more transparent for the students, but do know there will need to be explicit milestones to identify for the students if their inquiries are to have any substance. We will need to do a lot of work on critical analysis of the reliability and usefulness of sources students use in their respective inquiries.

SOURCE: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/
One of the big decisions we made before the holidays was to allow our students to do this particular inquiry on anything they want. The only “rule” will be that it has to be an inquiry, not just a research project. That means posing and answering a question, or challenging an opinion/claim (e.g. “The moon landing was a hoax”).

We will be looking at assessing the students’ inquiry processes using an English Achievement Standard, 90853 (Use information literacy skills to form conclusions). If a student’s inquiry also involves measurements, we may be able to also assess their work using a Mathematics Achievement Standard, 91030 (Apply measurement in solving problems), If a student’s inquiry does indeed involve a scientific context, there are many Science internally-assessed Achievement Standards that we can look at to see if they should be encouraged to submit a report (written, video, digital…) to be assessed against one of these as well.

Topic Three: Fair Testing

All of our Year 11 students have their ability to plan, carry out, and analyse a practical investigation assessed using Achievement Standard 90935 (Carry out a practical physics investigation that leads to a linear mathematical relationship, with direction). The students in this course will be no different. I foresee the work we do in preparing for this assessment having a real positive spin-off for the rest of the course.

Topic Four: Scientific Inquiry

This is potentially the culmination of the other topics. The hope is that the students can be mentored (by us) to find authentic Science-centred inquiries to pursue for the remainder of the year. Depending on what they choose to do, they may collect more evidence for the Achievement Standards already assessed earlier in the year. Ideally, they will also collect enough evidence in their inquiries to be able to be assessed against other Science internally-assessed Achievement Standards.


Term One will be primarily focused on the Chemical Reactions topic, and starting the students’ first inquiries. Teacher-student meetings will be a big part of making sure students are progressing well in their inquiries and checking what support and help they need. The only formal assessment in Term One will be AS90947.

Term Two will see the conclusion of the first inquiry, and the reporting of this. Feedback will be given, leading to the students making a submission to be assessed against AS90853. Depending on the timeline for the other Year 11 Science courses, we will then either work on Fair Testing, or start our first Science Inquiry.

Term Three should be very similar to Term Two, ideally with a second Science Inquiry being undertaken. As inquiries progress, potential Achievement Standards should be identified in conjunction between each student and the teacher. The aim for Term Four is to give the students time to turn their processes and findings into submissions for the Achievement Standards the students have elected to be assessed against.


We have a mid-year report and a final report at the end of the year. The mid-year report will report on AS90955 (Investigate an astronomical or Earth science event) which we get the students to submit at the end of Year 10, as well as AS90947 and AS90853. Potentially, students will already have 12 credits earned before the end of Term Two.

At the end of the year, we will only report on the common Achievement Standards, not the individually-elected ones. This means the course will appear to only have 16 credits available, but I expect to be able to find at least two more Science Achievement Standards per student to assess that student’s work against throughout the year.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Flame Colours with Year 4

With the seniors gone, I invited 4TMF from our Preparatory School to spend a lesson with me in the laboratory. They had been looking at trends and patterns throughout the year, and Guy Fawkes night has recently passed. Therefore, Penny (their enthusiastic teacher) and I decided to look at the patterns used to make different colours, particularly in fireworks.

The first lesson was more teacher-directed, followed by a chance for the students to "play" with some of the chemicals, seeing which colours they observe:

Penny made some fabulous laminated SOLO Describe+ Maps for the students, so they could record the colours as we went.

The second lesson is yet to be done at the time of writing. The plan is to give the students a variety of salts to heat. Penny has made more laminated record sheets. The students record the name (cation + anion) and the colour(s) of the respective flame.

The students then need to "relate" the colours they observe to the name. For example, I expect both copper salts to make a blue/green flame. Therefore, maybe it is the copper that makes those chemicals create that flame colour...?

Here are some of the flames:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Three Ideologies - Yoram Harpaz

At ULearn14, Yoram Harpaz introduced the idea that there are only truly three pedagogical ideologies, and all other ideologies in education fall into one of these three categories. This challenged my thinking, and I am not convinced that he is correct.

The Ideologies of Education: in search of the pedagogical sentiment from EDtalks on Vimeo.


SOURCE: http://yoramharpaz.com/presentations/the-ideologies-of-education-en.pdf

SOURCE: http://yoramharpaz.com/presentations/the-ideologies-of-education-en.pdf

SOURCE: http://yoramharpaz.com/presentations/the-ideologies-of-education-en.pdf

Professor Harpaz insists that all are effective, but we need to choose only one ideology. I do agree that the only way for a school (and its philosophies) to be effective and successful is for all teachers etc. to "sing from the same song sheet", supporting the ideology of the school. However, I do not agree that it needs to be just one of the ideologies identified by Professor Harpaz.

What I really liked about the presentation, was that we needed to identify the ideology that most resonated with us and what we wanted education in New Zealand to look like. We were also asked to identify what we thought most schools did actually prescribe to (more often than not). Overwhelmingly, we (the audience) chose Individuation, while identifying Socialisation and Acculturation as the predominant ideologies currently employed in New Zealand. I wonder what the outcome would be if we did this survey with our own staff, students and parents...

We talk about wanting our students to be independent, life-long learners. What are we doing to ensure that this is the outcome? Are we following an individuation philosophy to ensure our students have these qualities?

On reflection, I feel that these ideologies are a little simplistic. Or, maybe there is a little lost in translation (into English). Don't we evolve from Socialisation to Acculturation, then (ideally) to Individuation through the course of a year, or over a series of years. I know that our Senior College philosophy is much more in line with Individuation than our Middle School philosophy, which seems to me to be more like Acculaturation.

Don't we have to adopt different approaches (ideologies?) depending upon the students in front of us on any given day? If Individuation is actually the ultimate goal (should it be at school level?), then how do we embark on that journey? Do we not also need to initially instill an understanding of social "rules", an understanding of New Zealand culture and an understanding of their own "story" to help students develop a genuine individual identity?

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Three Inspirations

As part of Connected Educator Month, #ChchED has done 31 Days of Blogging. To round this off, the committee are giving a quick overview of five key people/groups who have inspired them to be connected educators themselves.

Matt Nicoll
St Andrew's College

  • ChchED Committee
  • edchatNZ Conference Steering Committee
  • scichatNZ Committee
  • edSMAC Co-Founder

ULearn12 was the big change for me for becoming a more connected educator. Twitter and VPLD were the first avenues I used to be more connected, then I started to take some risks with making my pedagogy and keeping an blog to share these risks and innovations. But to take these steps, I needed inspiration from others:

Website: http://kevinhoneycutt.org/
Twitter: @kevinhoneycutt

Kevin was one of the Keynote Speakers at ULearn12. Just watch the first fifteen minutes of his talk and you might get an idea why he is #1 on my list:

Don't wait until it is perfect to get started, just get started. I didn't wait to be any good at filming my teaching and posting it on YouTube and our class blogs. They are not perfect, but they are useful to my students and to many others. Thank you to Kevin for giving the inspiration and courage to get started!

Website: http://missdtheteacher.blogspot.co.nz/
Twitter: @MissDtheTeacher

When Danielle started edchatNZ, and its respective fortnightly twitter chat via #edchatNZ, she was still a Provisionally Registered Teacher! From modest beginnings in 2012 (after ULearn12...), Danielle has been a "lone nut" leading an amazing team which brought us the first edchatNZ Conference in September 2014. I am proud to say that I am one of her most ardent followers and feel privileged to be able to call her a true friend. Every time I am in Auckland, catching up over coffee is always an inspiring highlight of my trip. Watch this space; Danielle is one to watch!

edchatNZ itself is probably the main reason that Danielle ranks so highly on this list. Via edchatNZ, I have built a really strong PLN and received great feedback for my own blog and ideas. Via edchatNZ, I have got help with units (or even just the teaching of individual concepts) that I thought were a bit "stale" or just wanted more variety with. Via edchatNZ, I have found the courage to share my ideas, and even to help build some other communities, such as edSMAC, scichatNZ and ChchED.

Sorry, Brent is not on twitter, nor does he have a website or blog. This does not make him any less "connected" but it does mean that I will need to email him about this post, instead of letting my PLN wheels do the turning for me.

Brent is my Head of Department. He is on this list because of the faith he has shown in me, and the opportunities he has afforded me. He is also here because he is a voice of rational reason when I start getting ahead of myself with my "great ideas!"

In 2013, Brent and I both went to the International Conference on Thinking (ICOT 2013) in Wellington. We were both inspired by what we were exposed to and driven to make changes in our own department. Brent then organised for us both to visit some great schools in Melbourne, Australia.

Brent is a wonderful leader of our department. He has made me feel valued, while also offering much-needed advice and critique. He is open-minded to ideas, so long as they are based upon sound pedagogy and match the goals of the department. He has encouraged me (and others in our department) and never been an obstacle in the way of innovation. He is not an advocate for "we've always done it that way", so he belongs squarely at #3 for me.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Why Tag Your Tweets??

Originally posted via the Christchurch Connected Educators' blog for Connected Educator Month 2014 (#CENZ14):

If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that I am a serial user of hashtags. What are hashtags? Why should you use them?


You will see from my tweets that I tag just about everything I say with at least one hashtag; these are the things like #ChchED, #scichatNZ and #edchatNZ:

So, a hashtag is a word or short phrase (without spaces between words) preceded by "#" that you add to your tweets. But why use them at all? I have a few reasons:
  1. Twitter Chats
  2. Specifying My Audience
  3. Building a Community


Before going too much further, it is important to point out that the power of hashtags can really only be exploited if you have a way to filter them. I was pointed in the direction of TweetDeck and have never looked back. I can set up "Search Columns" for each hashtag, making them easy to follow.

Here is a video that I found that has a wonderful overview of TweetDeck Columns, including hashtags and how to set up a Search Column:


My first introduction to (useful) employment of hashtags was when I was asked to take part in the 3rd-ever #edchatNZ chat. I had my #edchatNZ column set up, and the rest, as they say, is history. #edchatNZ has been the most useful source of regular PD that I have had for the last two years...and it is free (apart from the time spent ignoring my tolerant partner!).

Go looking for Twitter Chats that resonate with you. There are a lot out there; here are just a few:

  • #engchatNZ (English educators)
  • #mathschatNZ (Maths educators)
  • #scichatNZ (Science educators)
  • #midedchatnz (Year 7-10 educators)
  • #penzchat (PE/Health educators)
  • #aussieED

You will get amazing ideas and connect with amazing educators by taking part in these chats. If that seems a bit daunting (don't be ashamed of feeling like that - we all did at some stage!), read this post by Steve Mouldey about Twitter Chats:


I asked Danielle Myburgh (founder of #edchatNZ) what she thought I needed to include in this post, and she said, "It's how [people] find your stuff and how you find [people's] stuff." She mentioned that a hashtag was analogous to a paperclip.

If I tweet about Science education, I use #scichatNZ (and sometimes #edchatNZ too). If I tweet about something Christchurch-specific, I use #ChchED. You get the picture... People with these columns set up will notice these tweets; they do not get "lost" in the "noise" of the general Twitter feed (the "Home" column).


This all leads me to why I want YOU to use hashtags, please. Christchurch Connected Educators are using #ChchED to help build this community. If you have a question to ask, please tweet it using #ChchED. If you have a resource to share, please tweet it out there using #ChchED. If you are blogging, tweet about it using #ChchED. Help us build this community, and make sure the community knows about the amazing things you do. Thanks.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

SOLO Hexagons - Reflection

In August, I decided to have another shot at letting my senior Chemistry students control the pace and direction of their learning in our new topic, Organic Chemistry. This was on the back of some very supportive comments during #edchatNZ Conference from peers who saw a lot of merit in the original idea. Here are a few reflections...


My students liked a few of the aspects quite a lot:
  1. The Specific Learning Objectives were transparent. By putting each key concept on a SOLO hexagon, the students knew what content they needed to master by the end of the unit.
  2. Demonstrations/teaching of key concepts and experiments were filmed. This created more differentiation of pace of learning, and made everything "rewindable".
  3. Experiments were optional. A lot of my students fail to see the point in the prescriptive experiments, particularly when I could just do them as a demonstration. They were actually allowed to "explore" (play with?) the chemistry of the unit a little more this way.
I am not sure if it was an increased level of self-awareness, or a lack of grit, but many students found out a lot sooner that they struggled with Organic Chemistry. This has led to many deciding not to attempt the external NCEA assessment for this topic at the end of the year. This is not ideal, as it goes against one of my initial goals; I had hoped this would make Organic Chemistry a lot more achievable as students were controlling the pace of learning.It will be interesting to see if I observe the same thing when I do this with another unit next year.


One of my reservations for having the students plan the pace and direction of learning was that my previous attempt yielded disappointing assessment results. However, there were some important differences this time
  1. SOLO hexagons. The SLOs were more transparent, particularly the links between them.
  2. Games. The students were introduced to some games that I made up to help them with finding links between concepts.
  3. NCEA questions. I complemented the students' work with past NCEA questions, so they explicitly knew what the assessment for this would look like, from Day One.
So, what was the outcome? This was a mixed bag. As I mentioned earlier, many students worked out for themselves that the complexity of Organic Chemistry was beyond them at this stage of the year. They are not going to even attempt it in the NZQA External Assessments, but will focus on the upcoming Internal Assessment and the other two externally-assessed units.These are also the students who are not continuing with Chemistry next year.

Those who are attempting the External Assessment for Organic Chemistry performed very well. A larger-than-usual number of Excellence grades, along with a large number of students just on the "wrong" side of grade boundaries for Merit or Excellence. With a little more practice of past NCEA questions, most of these students should lift their grades.


All in all, I am a lot more encouraged than I was last time I tried this. I will be doing it again next year, but with a few changes:
  1. Nature of Science. I need my units to have a stronger Nature of Science element to them. Currently, it still feels like training students for an assessment, rather than exploring these amazing aspects of Chemistry. I intend to include investigation/research (not worth credits, necessarily) to run parallel to each unit of work. These investigations/researches will be co-constructed with the students, so they are about something they are passionate about.
  2. Hexagon Challenges. I want to start each lesson with a 5 minute "Hexagon Challenge". I will choose two hexagons at random, and the students will have 5 minutes to write/compose the most interesting link between the two hexagons as they can. Two students will be chosen at random to have their answer read out (I use The Hat from Harmony Hollow Software for this). Prizes if your answer shows some real abstract thought ("Extended Abstract")!
I am going to continue explicitly teaching concepts and getting these moments filmed. I am going to keep doing demonstrations of the key experiments and getting these moments filmed. I am going to to keep "coaching" students how to write good assessment answers. However, these will be to complement the learning, not to guide it.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Never Too Young to Ask

Earlier in the year, my Year 9 class connected with the Year 3 classes through a Science Show. There was a hope that the Year 3 students would see the Year 9 students as "Science experts" to whom they could direct questions. This term, I was contacted by one of the Year 3 teachers, as some of her class had some tricky questions about Microbiology. They wanted me to answer their questions, as they saw me as the expert, not my students. This was not quite the intent, but it still gave me an idea. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity for me to reconnect with the Year 3 students and to explore their ideas and questions in Microbiology, one of my favourite fields of Science.


The email I was sent was one of those communiques that you cannot ignore:
I could not quite accommodate their every wish, but I asked Jane if she wanted me to do a Microbiology lesson for the class, including an experiment where they get to "grow their own germs" on agar plates.

Jane arranged some questions from the students, and it all started to come together:
I was blown away by the quality and wonder shown in these questions. It was going to take a while to prepare for this!! I prepared a simple PowerPoint which covered the main things I thought we should talk about, and included their questions, of course.


It is really hard to know how to gauge the level of preparedness and content that 8 year old students will require. I was so impressed with the quality of their original questions that I revisited my university textbooks and spent a bit of time on the internet, brushing up on my history of microbiology and finding some fun facts.

What I decided on was:
"Teach" about the size of "germs".
Address their questions.
Demonstrate how to set up an agar plate.
Address the rest of their questions...and have a wee chat about personal hygiene.

The quality of the questions is what will stay with me for a long time. I was so worried about how I would teach Microbiology at Level 1-2 of the NZ Curriculum. What a naive concern! The questioning showed such a high level of wonder. The students themselves made links to their own lives. All I had to do was respect each and every student as an authentic part of the "lesson" and to value each and every contribution. You are never too young to ask; you are never too old to be amazed!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

What IS Science?


During the most recent #scichatNZ chat, last Thursday, a side debate started between some NZ-based educators and a Zoology lecturer/researcher from the UK. This debate made me reflect on what I think Science actually is, and what it means to be called a Scientist, or to think scientifically. Are we doing our students a disservice and creating delusion in their minds when we make them believe they are Scientists (or can "do" Science) before they are able to formalise their ponderings into high-rigour scientific methods?

A small group of us (all teaching in NZ) were arguing that Inquiry is Science. The British academic in this debate was getting very caught up on the definition of "Science", very helpfully sharing the Oxford Online Dictionary definition with us:

"The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

The argument being made by the British academic was that inquiry is [merely] an act, while Science is a process. Ignoring the semantics of the point, particularly that inquiry is a noun, so not an act (verb), it became very obvious that one side of the argument was unprepared to accept that the process of inquiry was the same as the process of scientific research (I hope that I am not over-simplifying the stance contrary to mine). For clarity and fairness, however, I will give the Oxford Online Dictionary definition of enquire:

"Ask for information from someone."

From this definition, I can see the objection this academic had to us saying that inquiry is Science. The key difference of opinion seemed to come from a difference in understanding of what Inquiry is. In NZ, Inquiry is a process, and this is supported by the usage notes in the definition of enquire in the Oxford Online Dictionary (it is only fair to use the same source as your "opponent", after all):

"The traditional distinction between enquire and inquire is that enquire is used for general senses of ‘ask’ while inquire is reserved for uses meaning ‘make a formal investigation’. In practice, however, there is little discernible distinction in the way the two words are used today in British English, although inquiry is commoner than enquiry in the sense ‘a formal investigation’. In all senses, inquire and inquiry are the more usual forms in US English, whereas enquire and enquiry are chiefly restricted to British English."

In NZ schools (and tertiary institutes, I would infer), the rigour of the process of Inquiry is developed and improved as students progress through their studies. This happens in many subjects, including Science. As most schools have a subject called Science, does this mean Scientific Inquiry is different to Inquiry in other subjects? I would argue that it isn't. An Inquiry with high rigour is sound Scientific Research, isn't it?


We are very lucky in NZ; we have a Curriculum which focuses primarily on the Nature of Science, leaving teachers/departments to decide on the contexts and content which will best resonate with the students in front of them, year-by-year. There is some amazing inquiry work being done in Primary schools, yet many students still enter Secondary school with the perception that "Science is hard". Maybe inquiry is not Science...

One observation that I have made, is the wonder that primary school students have when they enter my secondary school laboratory. I also notice that they bravely offer inferences, not worried about being "wrong". I also notice that many of my primary school peers find Science intimidating.

Sometimes, it is as simple as being unsure of how to manage chemicals and a laboratory, but the sad thing is that it is often that they also have the fear that they don't want to "teach it incorrectly". I worry that secondary school Science teachers don't do enough to dispel these concerns. These same teachers do amazing inquiry work with the same students, but in contexts that they do not think of as Science. They embrace students' wonder and develop their open-mindedness, regardless of the context.

I genuinely believe that primary school teachers are helping every one of their students inquire about things they wonder about in a truly scientific manner: observe, predict, test/research, reflect. Is that not the basis of a sound inquiry as well as being the basis of sound Science? And we are talking about students who haven't reached puberty yet!

Without such a process, many would be turned off Science at a young age. Starting with wonder and using everyday contexts allows us to add rigour to students' inquiries, as we have "bought" their engagement. It is still Science at every stage of the process, it just becomes better Science when we add more elements of the Scientific Method.


As a secondary school teacher, this is the only "phase" I can talk about with any real authority. My biggest hurdles seem to be the perception of Science as being a "hard subject" and that scientists are super-intelligent and arrogant, along with misconceptions of what Theories really are. There is also an excitement about the equipment and chemicals we are going to get to "play with". Dealing with these preconceptions is the first thing to face...

Over the past decade, I have noticed more and more Year 9 students coming into my laboratory with the predisposition to challenge and inquire. This has given me a wonderful baseline to develop more rigour in their inquiries and to build their understanding of the content of Science. However, I am very quick to point out that they are already "scientists" when they walk into my room; I am just going to make them "better scientists".

My primary goals with junior Science classes are simple:

  1. Foster a passion for scientific contexts
  2. Foster a belief that they are scientists (but can be better)
  3. Develop more rigorous inquiry processes (including experiment planning, data interpretation and reporting).
My hope is that these same students will love Science so much that they choose Chemistry, Physics, Biology and/or Earth and Beyond as seniors. I hope that I turn students "onto" Science, rather than scaring them "off" Science, which focusing on the finer details too much at too early an age often does.

There is a transition in goals when my students become seniors. They become more focused on assessment success, while I continue to focus on refining their ability to inquire with rigour and become more independent learners. Their conclusions need to be supported with more depth. They need to be critical of experimental results and procedures. Ultimately, however, it is only the externally-set assessments that make us get caught up on pedantic definitions etc. 

The value of assessment (both formal, summative assessment and informal, formative assessment/feedback) cannot be downplayed: it helps guide students. Some students are simply not destined to be research scientists; I never was, that is for sure. It is absolutely vital that secondary schools offer the opportunities for all students to follow this road, however. This is why it is vital to teach rigorous inquiry processes.

There is also a level of content that needs to be covered to add even more rigour; this is where Science starts to become "hard", and rightly so, in my opinion. This is where I do agree with the academic who was debating with me about Science and inquiry being synonymous. Science, at this level, starts to also be a body of knowledge (Scientia is Latin for knowledge, after all) as well as a process.


This leads me back to the original issue. Is "Inquiry" synonymous with "Science"? The online discussion being carried out via the #scichatNZ hashtag was talking about Science in education, particularly in the school years. I would argue that Inquiry is indeed Science in this context. This is because NZ schools teach inquiry as a process, and this process becomes more and more rigorous as students progress through their school years.

However, within the context of research and academia, I do not believe the two are the same. Science (at this level) also includes a very high level of knowledge, and a level of peer critique that goes far beyond the inquiry process itself. It is this difference in perception that probably led to the debate that prompted this post. I do not mind having my perceptions challenged at all; good debate leads to good reflections and, in this case, a slight amendment to my stance.

I would offer a few words to academics hoping to preserve the "status" of Science. Please do offer guidance and help to teachers and our students; we will really appreciate and welcome this. We also welcome your comments on the skills and characteristics you would like us to prepare your future students and collaborators with. However, please do not judge us with you preconceptions of what we do, or what Science is. Please do not be condescending about our choice of career, either. I have peers who chose teaching after time in academia or research. We give our students passion for Science and start developing their ability to research and inquire. You are welcome.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Exploring Organic Chemistry with SOLO

At the #edchatNZ Conference, I was part of an "unconference" session where we talked about giving the students the power to direct and plan their own learning. I shared a (failed) experiment at doing this last year with some of my classes. I have blogged about the initial idea and some positive reflections. However, assessment results did not mirror the levels of engagement I observed in class, which did make me despondent about the idea.

I was challenged about the reasons for its "failure" (in terms of student results), and asked if I would try it again. I was offered some great ideas for using SOLO hexagons to help make the links between concepts more transparent to the students. The acceptance that I cannot compare the exam results of one group of students to another as a valid measure has reinvigorated me about the idea. The positivity about my initial plan and the constructive criticism I was offered in the "unconference" session has "sealed the deal" for me - time to try it again...

This blogpost will be a "living document" until the end of our Organic Chemistry unit in my Year 12 Chemistry class. I have asked my students to share their learning with me via written and/or videoed feedback, and asked their permission to record their journey. We have school exams next week, so I will be able to gauge their level of understanding and thinking quite shortly.

DESCRIBE the Compounds

I prepared some SOLO Taxonomy hexagons containing the names of the seven types of compounds we have studied (or need to study this week). There is a great hexagon generator on Pam Hook's website.

The students spent today cutting them out and writing "study notes" on the back on them. They have been given absolute freedom to choose:
  • the order to fill them out in
  • how much detail to include on each card
  • whether to work individually or to collaborate

EXPLORE the Compounds

Our trolley of chemicals for the remainder of the unit.
I have given the students some page references from our textbook, Beginning Chemistry (Wignall and Wales) and some experiments they may choose to carry out. I have directed them to past examination papers and provided PowerPoints on Moodle, our Learning Management System. I have asked the technician to prepare a trolley with all of the possible chemicals (that I can think of) required to explore these compounds. The students have access to NetBooks, if they want them. I have made videos and blogposts to direct the learning.

My students have been challenged with the following "ultimate" outcomes:
  1. Can you find (and explain) all the possible links between these compounds? CONNECT the hexagons in such a way that this is represented visually. I will challenge you to justify why certain hexagons are touching!
  2. Can you EXPAND on every bullet-point/note on the back of each card? I will challenge you to do this over the next few lessons!
  3. I am going to choose any two hexagons at random. Can you FIND a link between them, even if it is via another hexagon? Can you explain how I would tell those two compounds apart? Can you tell me how to turn one of them into the other?
One student's idea of the links between each type of compound.


I will write this next week, once I have talked to students about their learning and seen their assessment results... Watch this space.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

#edchatNZ Blogging Meme

"I have a few questions after the last two days at #Edchatnz and I think that lots of others will too. I want to keep the connections going and make more connections. So maybe a blogging meme will work." Reid Walker

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends.

1. How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn't)
I was there in person and had the privilege of being part of the organising committee, working with Danielle to make this happen.

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?
Our senior leadership were very supportive, allowing 10 of us to attend. I cannot thank them enough!

3.How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?
I am quite impressed that I achieved seven of them...I thought I had only managed the selfie/grelfie ones.

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
Reid Walker: he is even funnier in person and one of the few people at #edchatNZ with a worse "filter" than me.
Nanogirl/Michelle Dickinson: I was already an unashamed "fan boy" but I was unaware how much of her own time and money she puts into spreading her passion and talent. I really hope we can host her when she visits Christchurch.
Sheena, a Year 9 HPSS student: The discussion we had about "How do you know you are learning?" was inspiring. You are an articulate young lady and further evidence that young people are indeed self-aware and self-driven. I loved your statements about the differences between learning and assessment, and the arbitrary labels we put on things in education. Thank you for connecting with me!

5. What session are you gutted that you missed?
There were a lot on while I was presenting that I wanted to go to, particularly Mel Moore's. I was also pretty gutted to miss Nanogirl's (Dr Michelle Dickinson), but she is so amazing that she made time to chat to me afterwards.

6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? 
Our ICT Director, Sam McNeill. He already uses Twitter a lot to connect and would have loved connecting with people face to face, as well as the learning that went on.

7. Is there a person you didn't get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why
This is a huge list. Too many wonderful people, not enough time. Over half of my NZ-based PLN were at the conference but I only sat down to chat with a small number. I have advice for those not wanting to fall into this trap "next time": don't attend all sessions; save one for connecting face to face with people who you connect with online.

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 
I haven't thought that far ahead, to be honest. I am yet to finish Brain Rules by Dr John Medina. I am keen to hear any suggestions, based upon leading change and influencing people...

9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #EdchatNZ?
Hacking my staffroom to build my sphere of influence. Once I reach critical mass, real change might start. Once my school starts to see real change (and the positive impact of it), we can permeate these ideas far and wide... The revolution has begun; will you join our movement?

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
No. It won't be a blank canvas, but I am ready to take a risk on letting them build the canvas, knowing which elements (specific learning objectives) need to be expressed on it. I am ready to let my students take control of the pace and direction, but there are still assessment result expectations that they will be judged by. I will also be judged by their results, of course. I am prepared to take risks, but the risk:reward ratio is too great for a truly blank canvas at this stage.

Who do will I tag with this meme: 
Philippa Nicoll Antipas @AKeenReader
Chhaya Narayan @ChhayaNarayan
Ben Hilliam @benhilliam
Mel Moore @mrsmoorenz
Red Nicholson @rednz

Thursday, 7 August 2014

#edchatNZ Conference - Hopes and Dreams

I thought it would be wise to record why I am so excited about going to the inaugural #edchatNZ conference this weekend. I am sure it will live up to my expectations, and I hope I do well as a presenter!


I cannot wait to meet some of my Personal Learning Network in person! These are people who have made a real difference to my practice, and have made me feel like my ideas are valued and critiqued by respected peers.

I have already met a few of these people via other avenues, but I am prepared to go out on a limb to name a few who I am really looking forward to seeing for the first time, or reconnecting with:

  1. Philippa Nicoll Antipas. My 2nd cousin has an amazing blog and is a collaborator in #edSMAC. We have many plans to make for "upping our game" with #edSMAC, and hopefully building this community more.
  2. Steve Mouldey. I love reading Steve's blogs regularly, and really want to have a chat about how HPSS is going to use NCEA within its current philosophy and practice. I am really hopeful that his ideas can be transferred to a school which still operates in subject silos.
  3. Dr Michelle Dickinson. I think Nanogirl is a superstar!! I am facilitating another wonderful session while her and Cathy (Science Learning Hub) are presenting their session, but I hope I get to meet both and chew the fat about all things Science!
  4. Chhaya Narayan. One of the team (along with Rachel Chisnall, who cannot come, sadly) who set up #scichatNZ chats on Thursday evenings. We have many plans to lay...
  5. The entire #edchatNZ organising committee. I have felt a bit like a passenger in getting the conference off the ground. I can't wait to meet the people who have done the real "hard yards" to support Danielle
You have to stop a list somewhere, so that is it. I know that I am going to make some amazing connections at the conference that I have not even thought about yet. Alex (#engchatNZ), Pam Hook (SOLO), Terry Beech, Andrea Henson... I can't wait to meet you all/see you again!


I am really hoping to hear stories about how people have led change in their respective schools. I am lucky to have a very supportive group of peers at my school, and a leadership team that respects what I do and gives me the scope and freedom to show initiative. I want to hear ways of letting my "wins" permeate through the school and beyond our gates into the Christchurch education community...and further still.


I am really nervous about presenting. I am talking about my filming and blogging and how it has made my lessons "rewindable". I really hope this idea appeals to people and I hope I do a good job with my presentation/workshop. I really hope people are open-minded enough to try filming themselves! I think I've got the basis of some sound pedagogy and I want to share it; I just hope people buy in long enough to see if it is their "cuppa tea" or not.

I guess you could say that I am looking at this conference as a way to meet people and increase my circle of influence. I hope that doesn't sound too shallow; it has been a great way for me to improve the quality of my lessons for my students so far...and #edchatNZ has already played a major part in that.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Elements, Mixtures and Compounds

We are currently doing a unit about mixtures, elements and compounds. I love the practical side of this unit, but the students often find it challenging. I have made a concerted effort to keep this unit "real" this year. Two effective contexts have been food science and disasters. I hit a bit of a stumbling block when it came time to teach about the Periodic Table of Elements, but I will talk about that shortly.


Most of my students lived through the earthquakes of 2010-2012 in Christchurch. They remember the need to purify water, liquefaction, and all of those sorts of things. This gave me some authentic contexts to talk about what mixtures are, and ways we might separate them.

My favourite one was the challenge to clean up muddy water, with the intent that we would want to cook with it, or drink it. I loved that the students remembered that boiling and/or chlorine/bleach tablets would be needed to make it safe to drink, even if it looked clean. They were provided everyday items from home - coffee machine filters, sieves, dishcloths etc. 

Sadly, I forgot to take some photos of the contraptions the students set up to clean the water. Please trust me when I say there were a lot of FAIL moments (First Attempt In Learning). Ultimately though, they all got some water that I would happily drink after it had been boiled.


This has been great!! Today, we learned about the difference between physical changes and chemical reactions. There are great experiments around for this, but I wanted to use the same reactant, and make it real. So, I decided on sugar. Some recipes ask for you to melt sugar, some ask you to caramelise it. What is the difference? How do we actually achieve this?


I also used food to help demonstrate the difference between a mixture and a compound. While our actual experiment was using iron and sulfur, the students were challenged to relate this to making biscuits or a cake. We have recorded the instructions in our CLASS BLOG.


As a Science teacher, I love the Periodic Table of Elements. It is a road map, a bible, a multi-tool...I have so many analogies. I was thinking about a fun way to teach about the elements and the Periodic Table, in particular. This idea came to me:

The Periodic Table of Elements is a city. Every city has its suburbs. In Periodi City (do you like that??), these suburbs are called: Transition, Alkali, Earth, Halogen, Noble, etc.

Choose a "house" in Periodi City. Which neighbourhood is it in? What is that house made up of (protons, electrons and neutrons)? Who are your neighbours? Who are your closest "relatives"? Who are your best "friends", or are you found on your own? What happens when you spend time with your "friends"? Is there anyone you don't like? Why?

The students then report their findings as a short (three-slide maximum) PowerPoint, a creative story, or an A3 (maximum) poster. This has been so much fun so far!!! I am going to write and narrate my own creative story for an element this week, to model how much fun they are "allowed" to have with this. I will put it on YouTube, if you care to look for it...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

#scichatNZ - The Hungry Little Hashtag

I have changed the title and some content of this post. In my very tired state (pre-#edchatNZ conference), I used a phrase I had heard ("the little hashtag that could"), thinking it was something I had simply discussed with my father; as a child, I loved "The Little Engine That Could" (I think I can, I think I can...). It seems this idea was in my head as Danielle had earlier used it about #edchatNZ - sorry, Danielle!! I hope you like the new analogous link to a children's story, "The Hungry Little Caterpillar" - this idea really has grown and morphed!

Over the holidays, I used twitter (#scicon14) to follow SciCon2014 (in Dunedin), but with great regret. I regretted that I hadn't registered and gone along. I regretted that I was so busy at the end of last term that I rated rest ahead of equally invigorating professional development and connections. I was ever so thankful that #scicon14 was being used well by those who did attend, though! I may not have been in Dunedin, but I felt like I was contributing.

One of the great things to come from SciCon2014 was the birth of the #scichatNZ hashtag. It was promptly added to my columns in TweetDeck! Its existence was enthusiastically shared throughout the New Zealand "tweecher" community via a variety of other hashtags and communities. Here was a hashtag to use if you wanted to share or talk about Science. Inner-Geek empowered and energised. Game on!

In conversations that followed, Rachel Chisnall (@ibpossum) and I floated the idea of starting a fortnightly chat in a similar mold to #edchatNZ. Before we knew what was happening, there were umpteen offers of help and advice, not least from Danielle Myburgh (@MissDtheTeacher). This was about to happen!!!

We decided to run #scichatNZ every second Thursday, the week that #edchatNZ was not happening. Our inaugural chat was to be 31 July. There were some things to do:

  • Create the @SciChatNZ Twitter Account
  • Create the SciChatNZ Facebook Account
  • Create the SciChatNZ Google+ Account
  • Decide on a Topic
  • Choose Some Questions to Ask
  • Choose a Moderator
  • Choose Someone to Create a Storify
  • Advertise!
Luckily, we were shown the way (along with the awesome #engchatNZ team) by Danielle via a Google Hang-Out. Having the guidance of someone who has established a wonderful community and moderated every #edchatNZ chat was invaluable. Rachel and I were also very lucky to have Chhaya Narayan (@ChhayaNarayan) offer to join us to create the "#scichatNZ committee". Mel Moore (@mrsmoorenz) also helped out hugely by surveying her students; their responses guided my question selection for the actual chat on 31 July.

So, what about that first night? I was the moderator and I can honestly say that it was the most intense hour I have ever experienced on Twitter before. I'm not good at moderating, contributing and sparking up conversations all at once - I don't task-switch quickly enough!! Have a look at the Storify to see if you think we did okay.

I feel that we chose a topic which was always going to spark good discussion and grab people's attention: Maintaining Students' Love for Science. It still exceeded my expectations - I felt like a teenager about to have his first ever party: I hope someone else turns up, not just my friends who said they would!!

We had a wide variety of people involved, which delighted me: pre-service teachers; primary school teachers; secondary school science teachers; secondary school non-science teachers; and university lecturers and researchers!

#scichatNZ chats are here to stay for a while. Rachel, Chhaya and I already have some exciting topics arranged for future chats, and interested parties will be welcome to vote for which one will be next (14 August). This is unashamedly copied from the #edchatNZ model and we hope it will help participants feel they have more ownership of the chats, and can help the "hungry little hashtag" grow and morph into something amazing. See you on Twitter on 14 August...

Monday, 14 July 2014

How is Science Going?

I just surveyed my Year 9 Science class, and most of them still love Science, or at least enjoy it. We don't do experiments every lesson (in fact, we only have 3/4 lessons in a laboratory, anyway). On a scale from 0-10, when asked how much they enjoyed Science (disregarding how "good" they thought they were at it), the average score was 7.43. Interestingly, they do want more experiments and fewer "write-ups". They also are a bit uncertain how "good" at Science they are (6.43), but none of them think they cannot "do" Science at all (0 on the scale provided) or even really struggle (1-3).

So, where to from here? I do think I need to base the learning more around investigations so the students get the experiments they desire. I also think they are going to be out of luck regarding the "write-ups", but I am happy to accept these as videos, websites, blogs...whatever works for the students to communicate their findings.

I will be giving the students the same survey at the end of the year, by the way. I want to see how much their enjoyment, particularly, has changed. Sadly, the exam results might just make them think they are worse at "doing" Science than they really are, because I am seeing that every one of this class is starting to think like a scientist more and more, every day.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Graphing Song

Well, that was one of the most energising coffee catch-up sessions - thank you, Danielle!! Wandering down Queen Street, I mentioned that I had put some lyrics to "The Wheels on the Bus" to help with graphing. It probably needs fine tuning, and I still want to get it recorded and to put it on YouTube, but I have now been convinced to put the lyrics here to share with the world :)

The Points on a Graph

Sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”

The points on a graph are marked with a cross, with a cross, with a cross. The points on a graph are marked with a cross, so we see them clearly.

The x-axis is the independent, independent, independent. The x-axis is the independent; the one you changed on purpose.

The y-axis is the dependent one, the dependent one, the dependent one. The y-axis is the dependent one; the one you had to measure.

Remember to label the axes, label the axes, label the axes. Remember to label the axes, and a scale that suits the data.

With two data sets, include a key, include a key, include a key. With two data sets, include a key which will tell the two lines a-part.

Connect points with a smooth curved line, a smooth curved line, a smooth curved line. Connect points with a smooth curved line, unless a ruler goes right through them.

Give the graph a meaningful title, meaningful title, meaningful title. Give the graph a meaningful title which tells us why you did this.

The points on a graph are marked with a cross, with a cross, with a cross. The points on a graph are marked with a cross, so we see them clearly.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

#edSMAC: Stage Two

At the start of the term, I was lucky enough to start working with Philippa from Samuel Marsden Collegiate on a collaborative project, helping our peers build their respective PLNs. I talked about what I hoped this would achieve in an earlier blog post.

After starting with a hiss and a roar, I got a small group into using Twitter and TweetDeck, along with setting up search columns with the hashtags: #edSMAC and #edchatNZ. However, I have hit a bit of a stumbling block trying to move to "Stage Two". Philippa has left me for dust with the great work she is doing with her peers! Time to step up to the plate again...

From the meetings with these great colleagues of mine, I jotted down their goals from working with me and being on Twitter; they all want to build more connections with teachers of the same subjects, as well as other more individual goals. Twitter is not proving successful for all of my peers. Sometimes it is because they are not active enough on it (yet); sometimes it is because there aren't many other educators in their subject area out there tweeting. So, I need to find some other ways to help these wonderful people build their respective PLNs. Ironically, I sent out an SOS via...Twitter.

Another avenue to help my peers fell into my lap after EduIgnite last week. Sadly, none of my little group were available to attend EduIgnite, but I think the conversation that happened with Pauline Henderson, Bridget Compton-Moen, Aimee Sibson and Rob Clarke might just open some doors for them. #ChchEd was "reborn" (it had been used shortly after the earthquakes by Dr Cheryl Doig in an attempt to connect Christchurch educators). We have a Teach-Meet tomorrow and I can see this being a way to help connect the Christchurch education community, including my little #edSMAC crew.

As a side note, I have also been lucky enough to be granted funding to send myself and five peers to the #edchatNZ Conference in August. All of the staff going with me are part of #edSMAC, so I am very hopeful and expectant that this conference will help build PLNs even more.

So, #edSMAC is hopefully about to enter Stage Two at St Andrew's College...

Friday, 30 May 2014

NZ Science Teacher

Recently, I have been doing some writing for NZ Science Teacher and been interviewed by the lovely Melissa Wastney. I am quite humbled that Melissa thinks my work is worthy of publication. Let me know what you think:


May 2014

May 2014

February 2014

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Lucky Devil!

I look at where I am with my philosophy and ideals of teaching, and the initiatives that I have tried in the past 10 years. I have been incredibly lucky. Yes, I have the kind of personality which allows me to take risks and to learn from mistakes (after a few moments of throwing my toys!). But the reality is that, on more than one occasion, someone else with control over a Professional Development budget (phew!!!) decided that it would be good for the school/college to send me to ULearn, Learning@School and ICOT conferences.

Someone else decided that it would be good for the school/college for me to be exposed to some amazing educators and learned researchers. Someone else decided that I was someone (often the person) to spend a large chunk of the PD budget on. Talk about lucky!!!

It didn't really dawn on me after my first two conferences that I had an obligation to my peers to share what I had learned, whether I agreed with it or not. I failed to see that I was being trusted to be both a filter and a mouthpiece in exposing my colleagues to some amazing innovations in teaching, and the new shifts in the evolution of pedagogy and education. I was very selfish with what I had learned. You lucky soul; you selfish sod!

Maybe I am being a little tough on myself, because I did share. But I only shared with my department and in meetings of others who had been identified as being leaders of pedagogy and innovators of technology in my previous school. I also presented at "cluster meetings" but these were rare. It is only with the 20/20 vision of hindsight that I feel guilty for not sharing more. I am also aware that I was oblivious to more effective ways to share.

Fast-forward to 2012. Thank goodness for ULearn and thank goodness for Twitter! Not only was I even further inspired by amazing educators, I also had found a vehicle for connecting with other educators and to share what I had learned. How things have evolved since then!! #edchatNZ, Virtual Professional Learning network, Ethos Community, my own blogs, class blogs, a few articles in NZ Science Teacher, and now #hackyrclass and #edSMAC. I think I'm doing my part to share after the luck of having others believe in me.

It would be remiss of me not to mention those who did believe in me and those who continue to support my passion for sharing. Thank you to Ross Brown, Headmaster at Napier Boys' High School, for sending me on those first conferences. Thank you to the ICT Directors at St Andrew's College, Grant Saul (now Westlake Boys' High School) and Sam McNeill, as well as to our Head of Teaching and Learning, David Bevin.

Then there is the wonderful Danielle Myburgh of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, who set us on the #edchatNZ journey. Philippa Nicoll deserves a special mention as my fellow agent-of-change and "hack buddy"; without her support and ideas, #edSMAC would not exist, nor have the potential to connect my current colleagues with the world! There are many others, but without being lucky enough to have the support of these people, my journey would have probably sent me down a cul-de-sac and I may not have persevered. I have been a lucky devil...