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, 21 February 2017

Our Place, Our Story, Our Identity

In Connected Learning over the past seven school days, we have been exploring the link between our place (country, province, district, town, school...), our journey (born here, moved here, migrated here...) and our identity as individuals and as a group. The learning is multi-disciplinary, involving elements of Social Sciences, Health, Mathematics, Science and English.

We provided a task that looked at two narratives behind the formation of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps). Kā Tiritiri o te Moana are at the boundary of our place, the Selwyn District. They are a major part of our place when we look further out to Waitaha (Canterbury), Te Waipounanu/Te Waka o Aoraki (the South Island), and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Ākonga did a very good job of summarising the two narratives into sequences that made it easy for the reader to see the flow of the key events. However, the evaluation of the importance of  the two very different narratives was lost on most of them. In many cases, it was a bridge too far, and nothing was written (although time could have been a factor in this as well).

For many, they were happy to express an opinion about which was more relevant now - still fresh in many of their minds are the earthquakes we experience, that can be explained by the Plate Tectonic Theory but ākonga could not immediately see any link to the Ngāi Tahu narrative for these.

Despite ākonga generally not taking this as "deep" as I would have liked, I really enjoyed guiding them through the learning of these two narratives. I enjoyed the conversations and had to remind myself that these were only 12 and 13 year old students. I am enjoying giving feedback and advice when reviewing their responses. I always feel like ākonga have been offered a good learning opportunity when I enjoy reading and marking their work from the task.

When I reflect on this session, my main point to change would be the time allowance. We have 100 minute learning blocks, and this could easily have taken an entire block, particularly with the amazing human resources we have - 3-4 kaiako for 60 ākonga per block.

I would also consider altering the bullet-points used to guide them with their evaluation. I think challenging them about which story had more meaning for them, personally, might have led to even more interesting responses. Still, not too bad for their second piece of work in Connected Learning.

Monday, 20 February 2017

But I Don't Have Anything to Read...

This is a bit of a follow-up post on Rolleston Reads. Today, I my Ako group decided they wanted to read today and Wednsday this week. Great idea...except that I left my book at home. So did one of the students. Two ākonga without a book. Hmmm...what to do?

The process of Rolleston Reads is my saving grace for this:

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Because most of us have already done some reading, we do not all need to be in that step of the process. The student who left his book at home has done some non-digital reflection in his notebook. I have done some blogging (okay, not about my book, but about Rolleston Reads itself, instead).

As I type, I see that another student has moved from finishing her book to starting her blog post about her reading. Another is making notes about her book as she reads. Everyone else is so engrossed in theire respective book that I dare not stop them yet!

The process behind Rolleston Reads does more than just tell a student the answer to "What next?", it also tells all ākonga (me included) what we could do instead, if we have not come prepared for this session of Rolleston Reads. Simple, but effective.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Prove It!

Last year, none of my Selected options had enough enrolments for the courses to run in Term One, 2017. Instead, I was asked if I wanted to take a class of "Proof", a course about forensic science and New Zealand law. Fortunately for me, and sadly for two other staff members who did the original course design and brief, there was a timetable clash which meant I was being offered the chance to lead one of the two classes of Proof.

A lot of planning went into getting this course ready and making it feel authentic, including writing a script for the first crime scene, setting up a crime scene, and preparing the evidence for the students to use. Some amazing colleagues gave up their own time to help with staged interviews, to plant evidence leading to them as suspects, and even to pop into class to be grilled by the students.

Today was my first 100 minute block, and all of the effort was worth it. I can honestly say that was one of the most invigourating, enjoyable "lessons" that I have ever "taught". Not only were the students engaged, they were challenged and having fun. Word must have got out, because we had a lot of visitors during the lesson...

It was a huge relief to see that our crime and available evidence is not too easy to solve. They may only be Year 9, but these students have already exceeded my expectations in other things in the first few weeks. Luckily, we have written in enough stumbling blocks and misdirection to keep them engaged, entertained and driven to succeed. They have been asking questions that I never considered when writing the script. Overachievers!!

We are very lucky. This is a Selected course, so students opt into it. We also have two uninterrupted 100 minute blocks on subsequent days (Monday and Tuesday for one class, and Thursday and Friday for my class). We have a small roll in a big school, so can close off a lab to set up as a crime scene. Only the last of those things will change in the future, and it is definitely not an insurmountable barrier.

I am buzzing at the moment, more than I ever have after a lesson in 17 years of teaching. I am genuinely excited about what lies ahead in Proof...

The grand plan goes something like this for "Proof 1.0":
Week One: Use evidence to solve a crime scene - Crime Scene #1. The evidence has been collected for you and suspects interviewed. Now use this information and your own observations to create a timeline and deduce "whodunit".
Week Two: Reflect on Crime Scene #1. What went well? What did not? Reveal the true story and reflect on our own conclusions and assumptions.
Week Three: Learn about some forensic and other crime-solving techniques via online games. Students will decide which skills they want to become experts in. We will seek out experts (and do some actual teaching and experiments, of course) to help students become competent at, for example, collecting and analysing fingerprints, or interviewing suspects, or collecting and analysing fibres. The students decide, we guide them to those who can help...
Weeks Four-Six: Learning skills and proving competence and/or proficiency in these skills. During this time, I will be writing Crime Scene #2, based upon the skills the students have elected to learn.
Week Seven: Crime Scene #2
Week Eight: Reflect upon Crime Scene #2. The class then plan and set up Crime Scene #3. This may be a Murder Mystery evening for teachers, parents and/or friends. It may be something completely different. The students get to choose how to celebrate the amazing learning they have achieved.

Author's Note: Since writing this, there has been a change to the plan. More time has been needed for the exploring of key ideas, such as eyewitness testimony, which has put things back a bit. I am now co-writing Crime Scene #2 with one of the learners, and this will be the foundation of the Celebration of all ākonga learning. It may still be something we set up for friends, kaiako and/or whānau, but time constraints have forced a small change to the plan laid out here. M

We will be offering learning experiences beyond the obvious scientific observation and analytical skills. "Proving" is tougher than "knowing". Writing convincing arguments. Articulating convincing points of views. Weighing up the value of evidence. Formulating questions for interrogations. Using evidence to catch people out on a lie. Teamwork. Resilience (there will be deception in Crime Scene #2, so students will get frustrated). Science. English. Social Sciences.

Then, we are looking at where we go from here: Proof 2.0. What will the next level of course look like? When will it be offered? Just for Year 10? For any student from any year level who has completed Proof 1.0? Will the timetable allow for that? Should it? Will Proof 2.0 provide opportunities for students to earn NCEA credits? Should it?

This is what teaching can be like. This is what learning can be like. And I get to do it all again tomorrow...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Rolleston Reads

Part of Ako time at Rolleston College Horoeka Haemata involves "Rolleston Reads". We read for 30 minutes with our students. Not very ground-breaking, is it? However, this is a big deal for me. I do not read enough. This is going to make me read more.

The other part that I like about Rolleston Reads is the processes we are instilling in the ākonga, and ourselves:

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Today, we got reading. Today, we set up a blog. Today, we made some notes in our notebooks (on paper, not digital) about what we were reading. Once we have finished a book, we aim to write something about it, no matter how much or how little.

Today, every ākonga wrote something small about why they read. It is only fair that I model this practice here:

Why I Read

Ever since my eyesight started to deteriorate (in my early 20s), I have been a reluctant reader. I had a couple of favourite authors, such as Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. Other than that, I only read non-fiction. I read for information, not for relaxation or pleasure. I want that to change. I still want to read non-fiction and have three books "on the go" at the moment. But I want to read for pleasure again as well.

I am starting off with something easy. I am a huge fan of the discontinued series, Firefly. There are now some graphic novels to complement the television series. I have bought the first three of these and am starting to "digest" them. I love them. I can "hear" the actor's voices in my head when I read their respective characters' dialogue.

Today, I finished reading Better Days and Other Stories. I learned more about River and Book and was left wondering what happened to Wash after the TV series.

A story where River calmly returns after killing a group of scoundrels gave me a quietening insight into her character, and Shepherd Book's. River proclaimed to Book that it was easy...then commented that he has found it easy as well, hasn't he? I can't wait to read The Shepherd's Tale to get more insight into Book's past!

The story told through the recollections of past shipmates of Wash was difficult to read, simply because I wondered about the reason for their reunion. The ending was ambiguous but still left me thinking that Wash has died, but not until after Zoe had become pregnant. The final scene shows a very pregnant Zoe proclaiming that Wash's daughter will also be a helluva pilot...

These stories keep me hooked on the Firefly and Serenity franchise, despite their demise as a television series. Who knows, maybe Fox (or some other channel) might reboot Firefly. It seems to be the vogue thing to do these days... Shiny!!