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, 30 May 2017

Connected Learning Musings...

Tomorrow, we will be presenting to the community what we have done in Connected Learning so far, and what we plan to do in the months ahead. I have to be articulate tomorrow, so why not practise it here...?

Term One: Identity

In Term One, we looked at Identity. I have already shared a  little bit from that. We had Health working with us. Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences and English are ever-present. Our big idea was Identity. What a great context to explore: personal identity, personal journeys, nature vs. nurture (vs. nous), and our country's identity. We finished with "Kiwiana Games", and unpacked the results with some pretty clever Statistics. Throughout the term, Hauora, working in teams, and Kiwi identity really stood out. But we also spent time exploring genetics, statistics, graphing, geology, push-pull factors, Māori mythology, and formal writing, to name a few.

In saying all of that, we also felt like we struggled a little bit with keeping the some tasks authentic and engaging. However, when it came to our celebration (Kiwiana Games), the positives quashed most of our anxieties and where we felt we may have fallen short. Did we cover every Learning Area in real depth? No. We made the decision to primarily focus on only a couple of Learning Areas per term, with the others supporting the contexts and learning. There is one big element from English being focused on per term, as well. This means we have a film study and a lot more Science and Mathematics to do in Term Two!

Term Two: Movement and MOTE

Term Two. Connected Learning Theme: Movement. Science, Mathematics, Social Sciences, English and Drama. Initial thoughts: Biomechanics, Dance, Social Movements, Political Movements...

In the end, we decided to break Movement down into three main themes:

  1. Geological Movement
  2. Polynesian Migration
  3. Political and Social Movement
The way Drama fits in is that we are teaching the entire term using a method called Mantle of the Expert (MOTE). The class is a "company". The learners are "experts" employed by the company. The company is given commissions by (fake) businesses to complete by a deadline. The staff attend Professional Development (actual teaching of skills and content). The staff have to fill in fortnightly self Performance Reviews, each focusing on a different KPI.

Building Belief

In order to lead the learning in this way, we had to start the term building belief in the company and what it stands for. This has taken a lot of time with 58 learners, but we are now seeing the value in this step. Learners were genuinely invested in our latest commission, to the point where there were constructive (and not so constructive) disagreements, and frustrations...but also a very pleasing level of work and team work. It was probably really helped by the fact that they needed to present their Geology Roadshow to Y6-8 Learners from a nearby school!

Beauty and the Fossil - the name and logo were devised by the class...and this was drawn by one of them!!

The Hook

To kick the term off, we wanted a hook. This would give the learners a few clues as to what their company was all about. An audio message from the company's CEO was played, followed up by a memo. Discretely hidden in the messages were some key qualities of the company. Also hidden in the messages were some clues as to what this company did.

That troublesome intern (I think it was Intern Matt...) made a mess of the exhibits the staff had worked so well on. The courier would be here to collect the work to take them to the clients at 3pm...

What the learners did with this was very pleasing. Not one finished product was the same, yet they would all be valid exhibits to communicate an aspect of Earth Science.

After the hook, we worked on Building Belief alongside a "mini commission". The clients (museums) were so impressed with our work, that they wanted the company to create lesson plans to go with the resources. These were at different age-levels. The output from the staff was a mixed bag, but it was interesting to see who had "bought into" the company and its values, and who was struggling with learning this way.

Staff Professional Development

It also led to our first PD Day. I led some learning around Plate Tectonics etc. Interestingly enough, most learners found out from the PD Day that they already knew most of this stuff, anyway! They really were "experts"...

Other Learning Opportunities

Staying true to MOTE has been tricky, but I personally feel like I am slowly getting better at it. Learning in this way has seen us offer some really enjoyable and engaging learning:
  • EOTC Visit to Canterbury Museum
    • Archaeological "Dig"
    • Museum Audit (yes, we did an audit on some of their exhibits!)
  • Geology Roadshow
    • Authentic Audience
    • Feedback Analysis
  • Company History
    • Video "Archives" of key moments in our company's history
    • Advertisements/Infomercials
And coming up, we have a team-building day, constructing and racing boats. Personally, I am really looking forward to the Physics and Algebra (in context) that we will explore in this, as well as seeing the creativity the learners show in constructing their boats.

In case any of our learners are reading this, I am not going to disclose any more spoilers. Please believe me when I say that we have some amazing commissions coming, and the final commission (celebration) could be epic.

I have failed at being concise, but I do think I have unpacked why I am very proud of what we are achieving in Connected. I hope the community see the value in what their children are doing and learning, as well.

Friday, 5 May 2017

"Proof!" Reflections

It is far too long since I sat down to write. Working at a brand new school has been invigourating, while also being extremely busy. To get the wheels moving again, I thought a great place to start would be a reflection on this post from February, about the Selected Learning course I taught, "Proof!".

Since then, I have presented about this course at a Christchurch EduIgnite evening, held at Haeata Community Campus (another brand new school), and went waaaay over time in last night's #scichatNZ-run TeachMeetNZ Virtual. We have also celebrated the learning by having Learners "man" the crime scenes and labs for our Term One Exhibition evening at the end of last term.

The video of the latter is here. My talk starts at the hour mark, but I do suggest watching the whole thing if you have a passion in Science education.

The following Slide are a hybrid from my EduIgnite presentation and out Exhibition evening:

The Positives

Where to start...? This course was the highlight of my term. I loved working with these learners. I loved where they took the learning. The stand-out positives were:
  • The learning was (on the whole) self-directed
  • Learner engagement was excellent
  • Learners could identify what they learned through the course, without prompting
  • We had fun

The Negatives

It wasn't all rosy. So long as we learn from these, and make "Proof!" better in the future. The main things that stood out as negatives/challenges were:
  • Difficulty finding mentors in a timely fashion
  • Not being able to resource all of the directions the learners wanted to take with their learning (e.g. dissections as part of autopsy; gel electrophoresis for DNA testing). This was a "new school" issue, not being able to order the desired equipment etc. in time for the start of the course.
  • Time. The lack of mentors meant we dedicated more time to research and learning of skills than we had planned.
  • Learners (generally) made limited progress in their ability to solve a staged crime scene. This may have been due to the complexity of the second crime scene, but this cannot be assumed.
  • Learners did not provide enough evidence of mastery of their chosen skill. This may have also been due to the complexity of the second crime scene, but there were other avenues for learners to present evidence, specifically via the "Sequence Your Skill" assignment.

The Interesting

I found it interesting that most learners were focused on either:
  • forensic science, or
  • police work (interrogation, specifically)
I expected more to be interested in the law aspect of the course. Only one learner went down this road of inquiry/learning.

The biggest "Wow!" moment of the course came with the learners who wanted the chance to write (and set up) a crime scene as their skill. I did not expect this; I did not plan for this; I was delighted by this. These two learners have shared their thoughts (and learning) in the Slides above. Check out how articulate they are about their own learning. They even identified their own mistakes in setting up the crime scene - one even had to clean hers up and start again, because her mistakes were irreversible.


I cannot wait to offer this course again. I have already set up boxes with the resources for the most popular skills. I have already ordered some of the chemicals and equipment that we were lacking. Next time, I will make sure we have the connections with the NZ Police, lawyers and a university in place, so the learners have easy access to mentors, and so we have easier access to experts and equipment (such as gel electrophoresis). Next time, the assessment tasks will be handed out earlier, to make it very clear to every learner what evidence they needed to present. Next time, I will write the second crime scene (for consistency etc.), but encourage the learners to write any crime scene that may be in the celebration.

Finally, like many of the learners, I cannot wait for "Proof 2.0". I just don't know what it will look like yet... If you read this far, I would love to read your ideas for "Proof 2.0" in the Comments section.