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.

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...


  1. Great reflection Matt. Proud to be a part of it all

  2. Sounds amazing Matt. Great job. Wish I had been there to share my son's wee science interchange story- what a wake up call that was. Sometimes experimenting just for the sake of curiosity and fun is the best! He is on a real science bent at home now. I love it!
    Thanks for sharing and forming this community.