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.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Filming: Take Two

For over a year, I have been filming my teaching and keeping blogs for my classes. This journey started after hearing Kevin Honeycutt speak (and going to one of his workshops) at ULearn12. It took me a few months to get a routine that works for how I teach and to complement how I like to run my classroom/lessons, but it has now become part of my modus operandi. This post is really just an overview of other posts, tying it all together neatly.
The Rationale
There were a few reasons why I chose to film my teaching, and none of them were "to become a YouTube sensations". Just as well, because I certainly am not that!
1. Professional Development
Do you ever notice that you teach a bit differently in front of peers, particularly when they are there to offer feedback on your practice? I know that I do. Added to that, my students have always tended to be far too polite (?) to critique my teaching, even via anonymous online surveys.
Filming my own teaching has allowed me to identify and try to address shortcomings in the way I explain concepts. I don't film entire lessons, so explaining concepts is the only aspect of my teaching practice that this does help me address in this way, but I think I have improved a lot. I have also been able to improve how the filming of this is done.
I recognised things such as: speaking too quickly when explaining a concept I was really enthusiastic about; "glossing over" some important details; and a terrible knack of talking to the board when I am writing things up. I have not "fixed" all of these, but I think I have improved.
2. Student Absences
At my current school, there is a lot of pressure from parents and students for the teachers to make the time to help students catch up on lessons that the students have missed. Although I do not begrudge this, it is an inefficient use of time. My "catch up" time takes me away from helping other students continue to progress when it happens in class, and adds to my workload when it happens outside of class. The "catch up" sessions are usually grossly abridged versions of what was covered in class, too.
By filming the teaching of my lesson, I can direct students to these videos and instruct them to see me for further clarification after they have tried to understand the key concepts themselves. This is a much better use of time and gets the students to understand that it is their responsibility to catch up work. Students becoming more independent and perseverant have been nice spin-offs of this approach.
It has also helped me cater for my own absences, as I now have a "library" of videos of me explaining concepts. By booking netbooks for the students, my ethereal self can still teach the lesson and the students can still attempt the same tasks that I would have set if I was not away.
3. Differentiation
We all know that students learn at different rates and in different ways. I had always wanted the time to make some sort of online tutorials to complement what I taught in class but never thought of this (simple) solution. It has been very encouraging to see students using my videos (and the "pause" and "rewind" buttons) when revising for assessments, or revisiting ideas during their inquiries.
Students can actually be taught the same lesson two or three times (by me!). Plus, this revising of content can be ubiquitous. I still need to go over things again in class at times, but the difference is that the students have (usually) had another look at the video before asking for clarification.
By filming the teaching of content, we can spend a lot more time on collaborative and practical activities. This is much more useful for students (and for me) to gauge how well they can apply what they have just been taught, and makes the lessons much more interactive rather than being too unidirectional.

The Recipe
It took a while to find an efficient way to film my lessons, upload these videos, then make them available to my students. Ultimately, I decided to upload them to YouTube. This meant considering student privacy and accepting that some unfavourable comments may be left on my YouTube channel.
I made a few "ground rules" for myself:
  1. Only film myself and the work, unless students volunteered to be filmed. Be explicit that these videos would be uploaded to YouTube for all to see.
  2. Don't wait to get it perfect to try and film it. Even if there are mistakes, it is worth uploading. If you wait for it to be perfect, you won't ever start!
I was really worried about how time-consuming such a venture could be, so I had to find a manageable recipe as quickly as possible. This is what I came up with:
  1. Start the lesson with the teaching of the concepts. Film it from a stationary point (a moving camera is a real distraction!!).
  2. Set the students on a low-level task which checks their comprehension of what was just taught. Collaborative or individual; it doesn't matter. While they work on this, start uploading the video to YouTube. Now, move around the room to help the "strugglers".
  3. Set a higher-level challenge/task which relies upon collaboration of some sort. I am lucky that I teach Science, so I can base this around an experiment/investigation. Embed the video(s) and photographs of the work off the board (if applicable) to a class blog.
This recipe prevents me adding too much to my workload outside of class. I can also encourage students to persist with the tasks I have set them as I am doing some work for their benefit. It is amazing how much they will help themselves when they actively see you busy making their life easier.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Share an Idea

I made a promise during last Thursday's #edchatnz on Twitter: Ask a question in a blog post this weekend. This made me think...I will try and go "one better". Here, I am going to list the "initiatives" that I currently employ and invite any readers to ask for more details, including the short-comings/epic failures. I am also going to ask (plead, even) my readers to offer some advice and ideas. If we share ideas, we both have them (as do other readers) which can allow us to build on these ideas, personalise them, and make the learning experience even more amazing for our students.


  • Filming my teaching and publishing these on YouTube
  • Maintaining blogs for all of my classes (content, primarily)
  • Students "teaching" students; so far this has only been in the guise of Science Shows for junior classes but I see a lot more scope.
  • SOLO to scaffold/chunk lessons and Specific Learning Outcomes; this also improves students' awareness of their own abilities and empowers them to see how to gain a higher grade.
So, my first question to the reader is: Would you like to know more?
My second question to you is: Could you suggest some other initiatives that would complement/enhance what I already do?

My third question is probably my most important: What are you doing that you would like to share with the people who read this blog?
Please do give me your ideas/responses in the Comments section. I can't wait to read some wonderful ideas!!