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.

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.


  1. This looks like an awesome unit of work (both from a teacher's and student's perspective). You have said that this was "(on the whole) self-directed". I think you need to be careful with that term. New-ish teachers (like myself), have heard the term "self directed" learning, taken it back to our classrooms and given it to the students in the extreme. "Choose your own adventure!". It didn't work.

    From what I can tell you have scaffolded the self directed learning, in a well designed unit/environment. That is why your "self directed learning" works, and mine was a disaster. We need to coin a term for this!

    1. I have found that my students (both at this school and my last one) definitely need careful scaffolding (and guidance) for student-directed learning to be of quality I expect. I have made (and learned from) some disastrous attempts at giving learners the power to direct their "learning". So often, it is seen as an excuse to do nothing, and games, snapchat etc. start being the norm and needing managing. This is especially true at this age (Year 9). I have found that learners do not inherently know how to manage their own learning. The scaffolding, checking in, learning conversations etc. help keep the process on track. But these are much more enjoyable interactions than going around a classroom, ensuring everyone is attempting the worksheet etc.