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, 3 November 2016

A Chance to Read

Today's first task suited me in more than one way. We had to "read" something, and we had to write a blog post. I use quotation marks because every "reading" option was a video being read out to us. That was useful for me because I am a really slow reader!! As for being given time to write a blog post, well...

The given options were:

Matthew Taylor - 21st Century Enlightenment

I chose to "read" Daniel Pink, primarily because I intend to start properly reading his book over the summer holidays. I bought it for my Kindle, so I have made that commitment to myself already.

I liked the idea that, provided you take money out of the equation, separate studies have identified a few common motivators:
  • autonomy (give me the space and time to do things my own way)
  • mastery (I want to get better at this)
  • purpose (this is meaningful to me, my family, my society, my planet...)

These resonate with me. I do find that these are my primary motivators. What a pity, though: I thought I was special!! I also find that when I am under financial pressure, these are not necessarily my key motivators and drivers. Money definitely needs to be taken out of the equation... I wonder how much money individuals need to take the issue of money off the table. I wonder how governments and businesses can afford this amount of money to everyone. I wonder how they cannot!

I like that these findings are claimed to be based upon evidence. I hope only two examples are expanded upon to maintain the flow of the argument, not because the others were flawed or contrary. I wonder about some of the details of the investigations. What data was collected? How was this data collected? What were the tasks being employed to measure the impact of monetary motivation?

Now for some more reading...

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

My New Tools

The tasks we have been set in our first few weeks at Rolleston College/Horoeaka Haemata have had the side effect of adding some new tools to my kit. Hopefully the learning at our school next year will provide the opportunities and time for this same growth for students, and for me!


While I was using MovieMaker (don't judge - it was what I had at my disposal) to create video records of our work, I needed ways to make static images. I also had some fun with the built-in features of MovieMaker to pan across, or zoom in/out of the static images. I also found the need to make composite images for my work in Canva.
I had forgotten that you can do your work in PowerPoint or Publisher (horses for courses, or personal preference), then save them as JPEGs or PNGs, which can be used in MovieMaker and any other apps/programmes that require images, such as Canva and ThingLink (I am still learning to play with ThingLink, but it looks useful).

I liked using PowerPoint better, because I could create a series of slides (a presentation, if you will), then turn all of these into separate images in a folder. That made inserting them into a movie project very easy.


We were trying to put together an AppSmash into a digital, interactive poster. Canva was a really useful tool for collating the work every team member did, and to present it in a visually-pleasing way.

We could embed links to slides, videos, audio files and images in our Google Drives, and to YouTube.

Since learning to use this, I have also used it to make a collage of ideas that were sparked in an activity earlier today.


I have never played with Sites, although we did need to upload work of ours, and links to some of our work (such as our blogs) into a shared Site. There was a need, so I learned...

Then, we were given time to create our own site, to get a feeling for the kinds of things we might be getting ākonga to do. Sites seem a bit clunky for now, but apparently there are some exciting ("pretty") changes ahead. It seems to be a good way to store an electronic portfolio. It was easy to get started, too...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A School with No Students...Yet

Two weeks have passed at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. Two weeks working at a school with no students and hosted by another school (West Rolleston Primary School/Te Kura o Te Uru Kōwhai). It sounds a bit like a dream, doesn't it? All this time and space to...well, to do what?

I am relieved for the long weekend, because a lack of students has definitely not meant a lack of tasks to achieve or an "easy ride". It is just a different kind of busy. I have always fed off the energy and enthusiasm of students, so that driving force is actually missing. However, it has been replaced by highly enthused colleagues, and lots and lots of coffee!

The way our first two weeks have been structured has actually made me reflect a lot on what it must be like for students/ākonga. We had the excitement of the first few days, and getting to know each other and our place (including elements of the community). Friendships and working relationships have started to form. The expectations of those leading the learning have started to become more transparent. The learning tasks have been rich and every one of us has put in a genuine effort to complete each task to a high level.

The richness and relevance of the tasks (as well as the realistic time frames) have ensured high levels of engagement and that we actually want to work on them outside the allocated time allowed each day. We are not being made to do "homework", but we are choosing to do it anyway. Add into that the fact that most tasks are collaborative and each individual is striving not to let the rest of the group down. It is a great learning environment. It is fun, rewarding and a bit tiring being ākonga!!

As a teacher/kaiako, non-contact time is often used to mark student work, plan future lessons/tasks/units or maybe organise some extra-/co-curricular activity. It definitely isn't downtime. At Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata, we are given some individual learning time. Some of us collaborate on the tasks we have due this week. Some of us retreat into a corner to read, reflect or work on our own. Some of us need the time out and throw a rugby ball around, talk over coffee or kick a shuttlecock around.

The busy schedule of the last couple of days of last week meant this individual time was not available, and it was missed. Some of us did early starts to collaborate on our big learning task. Others did late finishes for the same reason. What I have learned from this is the value of "downtime", both for kaiako and for ākonga. Our students need time to reflect or even get active in the day. As teachers, we also need that time to do what is best for us.

The other standout from the past two weeks has been how flexible the daily programme has been. The leadership team must have a timeline and agenda, and it feels like we are making good progress. However, tasks and schedules have been adjusted in response to our needs as learners on a day-by-day basis. This makes me feel as though my needs and well-being/hauora are valued. This makes it very easy to get up in the morning and be excited about going to work. I hope ākonga will feel the same when we start working with them.

While we have not been treated like students in the first two weeks, I feel that we have learned a more immediate empathy and understanding for what it is like to be one. For a group of motivated ākonga/kaiako, engagement and quality of work are maintained at a high level through:

  • authentic tasks
  • tasks that are meaningful to the individual
  • collaborative tasks
  • realistic time frames
Additionally, the hauora of ākonga/kaiako has been accounted for in the structure of the day and the flexibility of the programme in response to us as learners. As well as managing our workload, it keeps us in a frame of mind to do our best work, and to be good collaborators. So, it is a new school with no students, but the teachers are the learners at the moment. That can only be a good thing for the students!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Subject Communities, not Silos…

During the week, two of our tasks involved the unpacking of two Learning Areas from the New Zealand Curriculum: one given to us (not one we strongly identified with – unfamiliar text, you might say…); and the one we most strongly identified with. For me, this meant the first task was to try and unpack Health and Physical Education and to present what I thought to others, one of whom was actually an HPE specialist! For the second task, I worked with another Science specialist to unpack this Learning Area, and present the key elements (and “non-negotiables”) to all other staff.

One of our Senior Leaders talked about how we needed to be respectful when unpacking Learning Areas that were not our own. He addressed the term “Silos” that keeps being bandied around. He explained that he preferred to think of these more as Communities. This resonated with me. These Communities are populated by people. These people have adapted to be successful in these Communities. These people know what the key elements are for being successful in their respective Community. These strengths and predispositions need to be respected when we try to communicate which elements we see as being important in our new (broader, connected) Community of Learning…

If we think of Silos instead, it is very easy to forget the human side of the Learning Areas. I know that I immediately think of each Silo being a different part of a machine, doing its own unique and important role, that contributes to the functioning of the machine we call Student Learning. To get those Silos (machine parts) to work together successfully takes a fair bit of coordination. It often takes students a long time to see the connections between the parts. I guess this analogy works for me as well, but it lacks the human element of Communities. I like the human element.

What about those tasks?

Unfamiliar Learning Area

He oranga ngākau, he pikinga waiora.
We were given a period of time to try and break the Learning Area down into 20 (or so) words/key points. From this, we had to break it down into only five!! When discussing multi-disciplinary learning with peers in the past, the common concern has been about the potential for “dilution” of content and key skills. This thought struck me again – only five words/key points?!

Once I started, it was surprising how easily this Learning Area unpacked. A couple of different ways to arrange the Learning Area quickly evolved for me:

Four Strands/Contexts
  • Personal Health and Physical Development
  • Movement Concepts and Motor Skill
  • Relationships with Other People
  • Healthy Communities and Environments

 Four Concepts
  • Hauora
  • Attitudes and values
  • The socio-ecological perspective
  • Health promotion

Ultimately, though, I felt that everything emanated from Hauora. Therefore, I felt I had my five words, so long as I showed their interdependence with arrows:

Then came the tough part. Share this with someone from the HPE Community. When I fleshed out my simple little diagram with some thoughts about context and content, this was received much better than I thought!!

Familiar Learning Area

Mā te whakaaro nui e hanga te whare;
mā te mātauranga e whakaū
The task for this seemed much easier. It was the same task but within “my” Community – Science. I worked with another member of the same Community. This should be easy, surely! Not so. Within our Community, each member seems to put different value on different elements of the Community. That is natural.

However, what prevented this becoming a barrier was how easily these could be fleshed out. We were speaking the same language. We were able to group, classify and categorise our own ideas into bigger pictures under the “Nature of Science” umbrella. Finding five words/key concepts was, ultimately, not too tough (being familiar with TKI helped a lot with this, too!!):
  • Evidence-based
  • Knowledge is Provisional
  • Uses Models and Theories
  • Influenced by Society

We then unpacked each strand (Material World, Physical World, Living World, and Planet Earth and Beyond) into a couple of key “non-negotiable” points. These were the elements we felt were non-negotiable and may not be “diluted” by involvement in multi-disciplinary learning. Student learning must include the key elements (content and/or skills) of Science we identified. Boiled down, we did really get it down to:
  • Matter
  • Energy
  • Forces
  • Ecosystems
  • Inheritance
  • Cycles

Throw in some critical thinking, and I think the key words and non-negotiables cover the nature of the Nature of Science. The excitement came from hearing how other Learning Areas were unpacked, and seeing how Science could complement each of those “Communities” without diluting either. 

In fact, I can imagine how each Community (Learning Area) will be enhanced, along with the overall learning of each student, by having natives from each Community involved in each multi-disciplinary module. The NZ Police may build “Safer Communities Together”, but we will build “Stronger [Learning] Communities Together”.


In my mind, #scichatNZ exists for the growth of Science as a Community (rather as a "Silo"). Rachel, Chhaya and I are very keen to welcome "non-Scientists" into the #scichatNZ Community. This is a Community with members who have a passion for Science and Education. They "live" where these two Communities meet. Some Community members also "live" in other Communities. This enables them to bring their expertise from their experiences in these Communities into #scichatNZ chats and the #scichatNZ Community, in general.

More than just preserving the subject Community (Silo?) and its special characters (skills, content, systems etc.), #scichatNZ is inviting in new members and growing from their experiences. The Community grows by having regular input and collaboration between members from different Communities who visit or also live in the #scichatNZ Community.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Welcome to Selwyn!

Today was exhausting! Yet, here I am at 9pm starting to write my second blog post for the day. It might have something to do with how invigorating the day was, despite also being very busy, full-on and requiring a lot of concentration at times.

What was it about today that has got me buzzing so much that I am writing instead of getting a much needed early night? Today, we were sent out into the community in groups of 3-4, and challenged to find evidence of the Rolleston [College] Spirit in the Rolleston Community (11 Dispositions). Each group chose different ways to go about this and, hearing from the others, all were rewarding experiences. What ultimately came out of this for me was two-fold:

  1. I feel like I have a better understanding of more of the things that make the heart of the Rolleston community beat, and
  2. I felt a huge sense of welcoming and excitement that we were joining the Rolleston Community and even the wider Selwyn District.

As soon as we introduced ourselves, the welcome mat was laid out and we were accommodated, despite not making prior arrangements to visit any of the kura, businesses or institutions that we visited. We were told at almost every place we visited how excited they felt about the opening of Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata - Rolleston's very own high school!

Without exception, this morning's task had the theme of "Welcome to Rolleston; welcome to Selwyn!" The rain was never going to dampen this experience. Thank you to Andrew, Di and Murray for being part of a great team to explore Rolleston with!

I would also like to comment on the task itself. We had absolute agency about where we would go and what we would try to find out when we got to each place. We were in control of how we completed our task, and our own success/failure hung on our own decisions. Regardless of whether we have found evidence for every single Disposition or not, the task was rewarding and involved great opportunities. The process has been a success even if our finished product doesn't end up feeling quite as successful. That is a win in my book...

The remainder of this post may be a bit dry. It is a reflection of some of the specifics from the day - we have to put together a 2-4 minute presentation, so it is more for me and my team, to be honest! How we will turn 40+ minutes of interviews into 4 minutes (by Friday), I am not quite sure yet...


My team's first port of call was the Selwyn District Council buildings. The use of local stone on the building itself was our first motivation. We see this as creative, one of the 11 Dispositions. To me, this is also represents a connection between the land and the people.

While there, we asked to talk to someone about initiatives the Selwyn District Council was currently involved in regarding sustainability and the environment. We were already confident that there would be great evidence of another Disposition, be environmentally aware. This was when we realised how crazy and rewarding today would be. Would we like to meet with the new mayor? 
"Yes, please!"
"Look, Sam won't be free for another 10 minutes, so go down the hall and chat to someone there about recycling etc. They will be expecting you."

SOURCE: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/
Not only did we get to talk to someone about environmental and waste issues and initiatives (who was very engaging, interesting and informative), but we also got to see the mayor on a whim. Sam Broughton has a background of working with youth and we talked about his desire to be connected to young people, their issues and their ideas. We were invited to help facilitate keeping our future students connected with Sam and the Council. A few more Dispositions: inclusive; collaborative; and able to communicate and connect.


Our team saw the relationships between the College and the industries/businesses of the community to be very important. Through such relationships, we imagine many aspects of the Rolleston College Spirit (the 11 Dispositions) can be realised for many akonga.

Driving around I-Zone, the variety and scale of the industries and businesses reinforced this. From its small beginnings, this is one of the largest industrial parks in the country. There must be stories behind many of these successes, and opportunities for now and the future.

We were lucky enough to be given a few minutes to speak to a floor manager at Tennant Engineering Ltd. He told us some of the qualities he would be looking for in an employee, and definitely kept the door open for opportunities for collaboration with the College and its students in the future.


Again, the doors were flung open for us, and we were made to feel most welcome - not just as visitors of each school but as new members of the Rolleston education whanau. Rolleston School was the original primary school in Rolleston and has grown from 200 original students to its current roll of over 800 students.

At Clearview, we talked through the meaning and background behind the school's name. The clear view to the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana made perfect sense once it was explained.

At both schools, the leaders we interviewed talked with passion and excitement about the connections they envisaged between their respective schools and Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. Sport plays a big part in the lives of Rolleston residents, and this is an obvious potential link but definitely not the only one that was discussed with great enthusiasm.

If only there had been more time... We wanted to visit so many more places. We wanted to see students having fun in their respecting learning environments and in their respective learning activities/opportunities. We wanted to learn more about the Maori name gifted to Clearview Primary. So much to learn, so little time...

Things May Never Be the Same…

This week, I was one of approximately 20 staff who started their journey at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. It has been great to be surrounded by similarly-minded people, and getting to know these impressive individuals. It has also made me reflect on the changes that lie ahead for my own pedagogy and practice in general.

Over the past few years, I feel that there has been one particular strength in my practice. I am uncertain whether this strength will be a big part of my modus operandi here. If it is, there will need to be tweaks and adjustments…and that is exciting!


One thing that I spent a lot of time implementing into my practice was to record the teaching moments of lessons, and make this available in a blog for my students. Complementing this with notes and images of the whiteboard work etc. meant there was a record of the key content and tasks available at any time for students. They could use this for revision, catching up on missed work, and/or revisiting something that didn’t “click” at the time of “delivery”.

I suspect that this “routine” for my lessons will be much less relevant at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. That could be a scary prospect. Instead, I see that as an exciting change. I envisage that I may collaborate with akonga and other kaiako to make instructional records like these. They are likely to be more polished and impressive than anything that I have done in the past, too (I hope)!!


While I was reflecting upon this potential change, the idea that “things may never be the same” brought an old favourite song to mind. The lyrics of the chorus are quite poignant for how I have reflected upon the changes ahead –  I may never meet my old practices and pedagogy again. I feel exposed, both my flaws and short-comings alongside my strengths and skills. That is more than okay; it helps me feel even more like part of a great team.

Additionally, the support around me – fellow “new” kaiako to Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata, and the leadership team who have been guiding us for the past couple of days – has thrown its arms around me. I am excited about the unknown ahead, and feel secure to push my own boundaries. After all, it is to help be part of providing great learning opportunities for akonga.

“And we may never meet again
So shed your skin and let's get started
And you will throw your arms around me
Yeah, you will throw your arms around me”

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Class vs. Nicoll - Choosing the Tougher Road

A key focus for my teacher inquiry this year has been to explore ways to develop perseverance ("grit") in my students. I have taken action in two of my classes, with mixed results.


In the current unit, the students were posed a series of challenges that would guide them to explore atomic structure and periodic trends, such as electronegativity and ionisation energy. These challenges were in the format of booklets, each with three scaffolded tasks and the ultimate challenge.

The challenge in each booklet was beyond the requirement for Level 3, so was my "test" to see if students would explore concepts deeper, if given some direction and challenged to do so. Each booklet also contained some past NCEA questions, and completing these by certain deadlines was the minimum expectation on the students.

I found that very few of my students even attempted the challenges, but every student made an honest attempt to complete the scaffolded tasks. Most students met the deadlines for the NCEA questions, but not all. I was disappointed that any students at this level of learning needed to be pushed to meet important deadlines, when they have all told me that success in the NCEA exams is their ultimate goal.

I was not overly surprised that few students attempted the challenges, as they were very difficult. However, having none share their thoughts on the challenges with me was a disappointing outcome. Was the work simply too challenging? Was it too boring? Does the "carrot" of NCEA assessment override intrinsic interest?

There are some questions to ask the class before I try something similar in the next topic...


We are in the middle of learning about "Fair Testing" - developing and carrying out a procedure (method) to find a relationship. In our current context, the class are investigating the relationship between angle and distance when kicking a rugby ball from a tee. We are recording our processes and learning here.

My experience of doing this last year led to some changes, as well as an opportunity to explore how much grit these students would have, particularly if they knew their chances of success were very low.

The class actually chose this context after hearing how much fun the 2015 class had with it. I think some of the less diligent souls thought it would be a fun way to waste time, pretending to be doing something constructive. How their attitudes have changed; how happy I am with this change!

I gave the class some planning templates and we explored the key variables as a class discussion, led by me. I warned them that there were variables we would find impossible to control, due to their random nature. Do you want to carry on? YES!!!

They were told to write up a method for homework. I seldom give homework, so stressed that this must be important if I was giving homework tonight. The next day, the students shared their methods with their group (we sit in groups of 4-6 students) and came up with a hybrid that they were happy with. I went around each group and gave honest critique. I also said, to each group that there was an easier way, involving models. Would you prefer to do that? NO!!!

At the end of that lesson, I told the class that no method contained enough details to be successful. None of them controlled enough key variables to give meaningful results. All the while, I had my hand on a cannon that fires projectiles at known angles. I explained that in Science, we sometimes use models to test an idea, then go out and see if our results apply to the real world. If they wanted, I would provide them with a method, using models.

Alternatively, they had two more lessons to work as a team against me. If they could come up with a workable method that might get meaningful, valid results, I would let them do it their way. I must warn you: This is the hard road; I will challenge every decision you make in your method; I will push you for details; you will have to organise all the equipment. Or, I will give you my method... What do you want to do?

They took the tougher road, and boy did they prove me wrong!!! I still suspect that their results will be invalid, but their process in developing a method and what they have learned has been a huge success. Their method is workable, at Level 1 of NCEA.

What did I observe?
  • The class needed guidance for allocating jobs to achieve what was required in the very tight time frame. "Focus Groups" met this need, as well as regular "checking in" by me.
  • The students who were "passengers" stepped up to the challenge once they were made accountable by their peers in their "focus group" and me.
  • The chance to learn in a context they chose seems to have had a positive outcome for engagement and grit.


One "investigation" does not make for meaningful, valid conclusions. I need to come up with some other ways to push my students in a way that will test their grit and perseverance. In terms of a spiral of inquiry, new action is required...

In Practical Science, I will be playing "Agent Provocateur" when students are learning about Conspiracy Theories. This will put barriers in the way of them coming to conclusions. I look forward to seeing if this makes students review and refine their evidence and conclusions, or if they will just brush me off and submit their work, as is.

In Chemistry, I am not quite sure what to do next. Feedback from the students has to be the next step. What did they like about the challenges? What did they dislike about learning that way?

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Practical Science Reflections

Last year was our first with a new Science course, utilising NCEA Internal Assessments to assess the learning of our students, based upon their own inherent (or developed) interests. It was a very interesting journey. I learned a lot of things that we will need to apply to how we run the course this year.


Our context for learning about Scientific Literacy was to look at conspiracy theories, asking students to either debunk them, confirm them, or come up with their own theory to explain their findings. This was not intended to be explicitly assessed at the time, as we had reservations about whether the quality of the work would be at the level required to earn Level 1 credits. Instead, students were given the option to revisit their work and present it towards the end of the year, and assessing it against AS90853, which is an English Achievement Standard.

This created three issues:
  1.  Student engagement in the unit lapsed quickly, as they did not see the value in the learning if it was not being assessed at the time. Despite being assured that they could submit it later in the year, when their writing and other scientific skills had developed, they wanted tangible reward (credits) or more meaningful immediate feedback (“What is needed to pass this?”).
  2.  By assessing the learning later in the year, many students did not submit any work. They had no interest in revisiting work from earlier in the year, and/or felt they had already earned enough credits via Science without it.
  3. The timeline for moderation, feedback and resubmission was difficult. Again, this issue was created by assessing the learning so late in the year. It was compounded by working with another Learning Area. Despite the wonderful assistance and guidance of our English Department, finding the time for cross-curricular collaboration in Term Four was nearly impossible.

Therefore, something needs to change in 2016. Fortunately, it looks as though the change is an easy one. When we teach the unit, we will assess the students’ learning at the time. If they do not meet the standard required for the Achievement Standard, it will be up to them whether they want to use their own time to prepare it for resubmission.

The other issue we had was ensuring the written language was at the correct level. This is an unspoken criterion in all English Achievement Standards, I was informed. Therefore, we should be more rigid with how the work should be submitted. We had tried to give absolute flexibility to cater for student individuality. However, expecting the finished product to be a speech (which we will record), and asking students to also submit a transcript of the speech should be another way to allow for our students to submit their work earlier in the year (many of the students enrolled in this course need more support and time to develop their writing to the required level for a written submission) and meet the required standard.

Team Teaching

Last year, I was delighted to hear that a colleague was being given one period per week to work with me and my class. This made a huge difference for managing the students’ individual inquiries and different learning needs. In 2016, we are looking to go a step further with this. It is planned that one member of the Learning Support Department will join the class for at least one period per week, as well as having the support from a Science Department colleague.

Not only will this allow for more support for the students, it will allow for more feedback and sharing of ideas for how to best cater for the learning and assessment. It should also provide more opportunities for in situ moderation of activities and tasks.

Personal Inquiries

Spending the second half the course on Personal Inquiries was a mixed bag. I was delighted with the learning going on most of the time. Some lessons were complete write-offs with some students. This was particularly true when we had class in the last lesson of the day and sometimes diabolical when this was the last period of the week.

I do believe that the increased support will help keep students focused on their inquiries and learning. It should allow for more conversations to press students about what they have learned and what their next steps are. It should allow for more opportunities to guide and direct students if they seem a little “rudderless”.

We have developed some very useful templates, checklists and activities to scaffold and direct the learning. Ensuring these are commonplace and used by all students should also help keep inquiries on-track, while also making the assessment expectations explicitly clear.

From the work done in 2015, it is clear that more regular targets, goals and checks are needed for all students, not primarily those who seem disengaged or to be struggling; many students have excellent avoidance strategies that can be hard to pick up on in a busy classroom where everyone is working on something different. There is a little bit of work to be done here, but this is more about routines than about resources etc.


Making/finding time for moderation was challenging in 2015, particularly with the variety of tasks being used to assess the learning. I do not believe for one minute that we have all tasks 100% correct. Moderation of the tasks was done with the Head of Department, prior to them being given to the students. However, it is unsustainable to persist with passing every task over his desk. We need to explore a better solution.

Fortunately, we now have a set of tasks for a variety of contexts utilising a range Achievement Standards. These are likely to need refinement, but this is less daunting than writing them “from scratch”. External moderation feedback will be very useful for this.

I was encouraged with the external moderation feedback we received for our Chemical Reactions internal assessment task. We volunteered this task, as it was co-written by the two 2015 Practical Science teachers. Our marking schedule was criticised for being too tough but, other than this, we had done a good job according to the moderator. It meant some of our students’ work had to be remarked, and their grades had to be raised. I would much prefer feedback saying this, than saying we had rewarded work that did not meet the required standard.

Nevertheless, this does reinforce the importance of collaboration and moderation with tasks designed to formally assess student learning. We need to work on better systems and routines to ensure the busyness of school life does not hamper the completion of these important tasks.

Course Content

While this course has been based upon the Nature of Science and student interests, we have included a few mandatory topics and their respective assessments. I have already mentioned Conspiracy‼, which helped develop students’ scientific literacy (and cynicism, hopefully). This had its issues but I think we have a way to make this unit more meaningful to the students.
Additionally, we have also had: 
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Practical Investigations


This was our first unit. It used different types of chemical reactions to develop some key scientific skills:
  • Making observations
  •  Classifying (reaction types)
  • Writing Equations (word and symbol)

The learning was assessed using a portfolio over a few weeks. Students collected evidence that they could carry out simple procedures and explain their observations using equations. They also had to use this information to classify the types of reactions occurring. This was assessed using AS90947.

The students enjoyed this topic and it was a great way to start the year. It built their confidence and “playing with chemicals” is always fun. The assessment task has been adjusted slightly in response to feedback from external moderation, but there will be few changes to this in 2016. This unit served its purpose well.

Keeping a blog to support the learning being done in class was also a worthwhile exercise and I will be doing this again, this year. It included videos of experiments and images of the whiteboard notes. These allowed students to revisit key parts of the unit when they needed them.


Trying to find contexts for practical investigations that resonate with the students is a potential challenge. I was fortunate enough to have a class of sports-mad boys and this unit was studied during the Rugby World Cup. This made it easy to choose a context for the learning.

In 2016, I have a co-educational class, so expect this to be more difficult. I will need to think of a context for an investigation the whole class can work on together, because this worked very well in 2015. Students fed off each other and learned from each other’s mistakes and successes. Collectively, the class did very well, and this was reflected in the final assessment task.

The final assessment task had nothing to do with our rugby investigation, by the way. It was a task common to all Year 11 students, regardless of which Science course they were enrolled in. Students’ results and engagement in 2015 suggest that teaching the skills and expectations via a common student-selected practical investigation, followed by a teacher-selected one is a winning formula, so I will go down this road again in 2016.

Using the assessment planning templates in the learning was also a good idea, and using colour-coding to help students plan their investigations was also very useful for assisting the students with organisation or learning difficulties in this class.


With 2016 about to start, I am really looking forward to a second year teaching Practical Science. There are some changes to implement for the teaching, learning and assessment. It will be interesting to see how successful this course is with a different cohort of students. Regardless of how this year plays out, I am really looking forward to what I am about to learn about teaching Science in this more flexible, student-centred way.