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, 13 June 2017

Addressing Numeracy


I have been reading #EDJourney by Grant Lichtman for quite a while now. I have learned a lot from this book, and applied a lot of it to my teaching in the past six months. The lessons I am learning from the book now are even more applicable to something we are trying to do better at - Numeracy.

I used Easybib to create this citation for the book:

Lichtman, Grant. #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. Hoboken: Wiley, 2014. Print.

Chapter 6 was an unexpected goldmine for where my thinking is regarding Numeracy. While I am really happy with the level and amount of Mathematics being covered and used in Connected Learning, I have been wondering how to get more Numeracy into our Learners’ programmes. This will have a home in Ako Learning in the near future, but how do I want it to look for the Learners whose programmes I am overlooking?

Chapter 6: Schools are More Dynamic: Mess, Noise and Chaos

This chapter explored a few things (that I think we do well here, actually):
  1. Listen to Students
  2. Why Go to School?
  3. Students Own the Learning
  4. Blending Content and Skills
  5. Reach Every Student, Every Day

It was the last section of Chapter 6 that helped me unpack how Numeracy may look in my Ako Sessions. This is based upon Grant Lichtman’s account of a Mathematics programme being run at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis. This is an Elementary School (equivalent to a primary school in New Zealand), but what we can learn from them has a lot of value in our setting.

Each Math Programme runs for eight days. The “units” include video podcasts, short assignments and tests that the Learners can opt into. The video podcasts and assignments (possibly the tests as well) offer real time feedback to the Learner and Learning Coach. It would be great if the same feedback went to parents as well.

Learners who pass the test in the first three days move into project-based learning, called “Guided Challenge”. Those who do not pass the test (or opt out of the test) in the first three days move into a “Learning Circuit”. So much of this programme appeals to me for how we can support our Learners’ numeracy development here.

Eight Day Programme

For us to offer such a programme over eight days, I expect that would take a chunk of time out of two Ako Blocks per week, so run for four weeks (per critical numeracy skill). This would not detract greatly from the other important learning and opportunities in Ako, while adding the support to develop every Learner’s numeracy (one of our school’s Critical Skills).

Learners would be attempting the test in the second week of such a programme, which would be ideal timing. They would have had enough time and opportunity to get support from Learning Coaches, whānau, peers and/or other mentors etc. to make a genuine effort with the test. It is also early enough in the programme to allow students to really “get their teeth into” any inquiry-based extension work (Guided Challenge)

Learning Circuits

There will be numeracy skills that Learners struggle with. There will be Learners who always struggle with numeracy. Persisting with the same type of work (podcasts, videos, worksheets etc.) is not going to address this. Expecting all Ako coaches to be able to support these Learners is also not going to address this adequately.


Using the skills and time of Learning Coaches who are confident with leading the learning in numeracy is key to this being successful, if implemented here. If a variety of “workshops” are offered by different Learning Coaches, all of which unpack the numeracy skill in different ways, Learners should make progress. If these workshops within the Learning Circuits are engaging and provide enough repetition, Learners should gain more fluency in the numeracy skills being explored in each unit.

Guided Challenge

I may come across as a bit of an academic snob for saying this, but it is this side of the programme that really excites me. Not only are there Learning Circuits to support those Learners who are struggling, there is the opportunity to extend and challenge all other Learners. As a teacher who specialises in an aspect of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), this is the “next step” that I really like.

Learners who already have fluency in a particular aspect of numeracy can be challenged to apply and/or extend that fluency via an abstract and/or complex context. I can imagine a lot of contexts that could form the basis of Guided Challenges, and I bet the other pro-STEM Learning Coaches here would jump at the opportunity to design and lead the learning in a Guided Challenge.

The pathways this opens for our Learners are also exciting. The obvious pathway is that Learners may get even more engaged in STEM and the opportunities STEM courses can provide. As part of that, our numeracy programme could be (should be?) supporting Learners in gaining the NCEA qualifications (and any other NZQA qualification that may exist by then) along the way. The real “wow” that popped into my head when I was reading about this was that, in Years 11-13, these Guided Challenges could be helping prepare Learners for Olympiad and Scholarship as well. The natural next thought was that these Guided Challenges could also be preparing our Year 9 and 10 Learners for Cantamaths, and other such Mathematics-based competitions.

Numbers Count

The section of Chapter 6 may have been titled “Reach Every Student, Every Day”, but it really helped solve a burning issue for me: Numeracy. I can see how such a programme would indeed reach every student. Hopefully it would reach them every day, too. Mathematics can be a bit polarising, so even if it doesn’t “reach” them, it would at least allow them to grow as learners.

I think that a system of real time (ideally automatic) feedback would also be critical to its success. Every Ako Coach could facilitate that, while the STEM-specialists could lead the learning in the Guided Challenges and Learning Circuits. If parents/whānau and learners and learning coaches all have real time access to the feedback, this can only help “Reach Every Student, Every Day”.

I am going to enjoy to continue reading #EDJourney, by Grant Lichtman, and to continue to learn more and challenge my thinking, as well as the way we do things here.

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.