Teaching the Teachers: The Role of Twitter in Professional Development

Image (Given this blog post is all about Twitter, you can choose to follow me by clicking: )

Over the last twelve months I have been forced to eat humble pie. For so long I’ve rejected “social media” as a frivolous waste of time and something I was not going to engage with in any meaningful way, let alone for work related purposes. Whilst I still feel that way around many of the most popular social media platforms out there, I have come to recognise the valuable role that Twitter can play in professional development for teachers.

I attended ULearn 2012 and admit that I was well off the pace in terms of utilising Twitter to engage in discussion amongst the attendees about the various speakers, but it proved a turning point for me to investigate further how this tool could allow me to create my own Professional Learning Network (PLN). Also at ULearn 2012 were Matt Nicoll and Tam Yuill Proctor (an early adopter with Twitter – see ULearn 2010 video), both teachers from St Andrew’s and both more conversant in Twitter than I, who showed me the various ins and outs of using hashtags and aliases. I made two blunders initially:

  • Trying to read every tweet that showed up on my timeline!
    • I quickly realised that with Twitter there is no point in seeing what has passed you by whilst you’re not watching – the flow of tweets is too rapid for that.
  • Not following people unless I thought they were absolutely awesome and were only going to tweet about stuff I was always interested in.
    • I’ve since realised that to pick up new followers yourself, you need to be following others and you can always “mute” the most prolific tweeters you follow if they tend to stray off topics of interest or relevance to you.

twitterSince I committed to exploring the use of Twitter further in my professional development, I’ve connected with top educators around the world who routinely post links to excellent articles, resources and reflections on their teaching practices and new and innovative things being tried in their classrooms.

For the uninitiated, it is tough to describe the immediacy with which Twitter delivers fresh new content – at times it really does feel like you’re on the ‘cutting edge’ of developments in teaching and learning, with educators all over the world tweeting thoughts and images of what is happening in their classrooms. Consequently, there is a need to filter some of the content and ideas before wholeheartedly embracing them.

However, in terms of building a focused, personalised Professional Learning Network that is completely free, it is hard to look past. Craig Kemp, a senior teacher and ICT specialist at Avondale Grammar International School in Singapore, wrote an excellent blog post comparing Twitter with alternative forms of paid professional development and he writes:

Thanks to Twitter I am now more up to date with Education than ever before …  as a professional development tool [it] has helped me connect with like-minded learning professionals around the world and every day I learn a lot from them through the things that they “tweet” and through the links that they share. Staying in daily contact with these people, whose opinions that I value, is powerful to me as an educator.

He has also blogged about using Twitter in the classroom with his students.

Closer to home, Matt Nicoll (Chemistry teacher at St Andrew’s College) has partnered with Philippa Nicoll (who has herself blogged about the merits of Twitter) at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School to create an inter-school Professional Learning Network connected by the Twitter hashtag edSMAC. Together, they’re showing 6-8 staff at each school how to use Twitter, introducing them to other Twitter users at the school and then showing them how to “follow” the tweets shared using the hashtag edSMAC.

In my capacity as Director of ICT at St Andrew’s, I was thrilled to see staff using technology in effective ways to further their own teaching and learning, whilst simultaneously growing their confidence and competence with Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Below I’ve embedded the recent tweets from the #edSMAC PLN discussion:

#edSMAC is just one of the many hashtags that exist with an educational focus – one of the most popular is #edChatNZ which allows New Zealand educators to share resources and ideas. Every second Thursday night at 8:30pm teachers meet virtually to discuss a number of educational questions. The “conversation” is often fast with a huge amount of ideas being shared Continue reading

Hosting The CORE Education eFellows of 2014 at St Andrew’s College

2014 eFellows from CORE Education listening to presentations at St Andrew's College

2014 eFellows from CORE Education listening to presentations at St Andrew’s College

CORE Education is well known in New Zealand for delivering major educational events such as ULearn, Learning@School Roadshow and the Emerging Leaders Summit.  Earlier this month I was asked by Margot McKeegan and John Fenaughty if they could bring their 2014 eFellows to St Andrew’s College to learn more about eLearning in our classrooms.

This struck me as a good opportunity for some of our teachers to meet the eFellows, teachers from around New Zealand recognised for their commitment to eLearning and the successful implementation of it in their classrooms. Additionally, it was a perfect chance for the great work our teachers are doing to be shared with a wider audience, with hopefully some of the connections made today growing with shared professional development over the coming months.

The morning started with a warm welcome from our Rector, Mrs Christine Leighton, and then I provided a broad overview of the move to 1:1 Computing at St Andrew’s, what eLearning in the classroom can look like, as well as some of the main platforms we use such as Moodle and OneNote / Office365. The following teachers then shared some aspects from their teaching and learning:

  • Dr Jeni Curtis talked about use of OneNote and Moodle, particularly with her Yr9 BYOD class. This blog post would give a good summary of her discussion today.

    Tam Yuill Proctor presenting to the 2014 eFellows from CORE Education

    Tam Yuill Proctor presenting to the 2014 eFellows from CORE Education

  • Mrs Nicola Richards talked about integrating the SOLO Thinking Taxonomy into her PE and Health teaching, along with her aim to have a “paperless” class with her Yr9 students. This blog post would give a good overview of her chat today.
  • Mr Matt Nicoll chatted about his personal reflective blog, approach to his classroom blogs with his students and also some of the practicalities of recording his teaching moments. This blog post is worth reading if you’re interested in this and he was also interviewed for NZ Science Teacher on this subject too.
  • Ms Tam Yuill Proctor talked about how technology has impacted on her teaching, particularly with the Yr9 Cohort 1:1 programme, along with some of the MLE furniture she is trialling in her classroom. This blog post shows some of the innovative use of technology she has used in a Level 3 English “Digital Narratives” assessment.
  • Ms Rachael Hoddinott gave an interesting perspective from the Preparatory School, calling herself a “self taught dabbler” in eLearning! She demonstrated her regular use of Moodle, Socrative, LiveBinders, and OneDrive as part of the Office365 suite. Teaching extension maths to Yr7 students, she is also in charge of the GATE group involved in the Future Problem Solvers competition, and she explained how technology facilitated the sharing of resources even when students didn’t always meet regularly.

It is great to be able to facilitate the sharing of knowledge amongst progressive teachers like this and hopefully there will be more opportunities like this in the future!

Matt Nicoll presenting to the 2014 eFellows from CORE Education

Matt Nicoll presenting to the 2014 eFellows from CORE Education

Teaching the Teachers: Professional Development Between Schools


I was invited to speak today with staff from Catholic Cathedral College who were part of a Professional Learning Group (PLG) that is focusing on the impact of technology in the area of literacy.

Unfortunately, I could not be physically present after having knee surgery, so made use of Skype and Screenflow to record the videoconference that took place instead. A wide ranging discussion took place over the next hour and I’ve edited this down to the following:

Videos Help With Assessment: Teacher and Student Perspectives

This article featuring St Andrew’s College teacher Mr Matt Nicoll first appeared online at the New Zealand Science Teacher website and is republished with permission. You can see the original article by clicking here.

Matt Nicoll prepares his students for NCEA assessment using online tools.

ImageScience teacher Matt Nicoll is using innovative ways to prepare his students for upcoming NCEA assessments. Matt, who teaches chemistry and science at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, uses technology and social media to engage with fellow teachers and his students.

At the end of the first term, Matt’s year 13 chemistry students asked for more help with an assessment task. “They said ‘when we were going over the work in class, we wish we could have videoed your lesson, so we could revise it again during the holidays,’ so I made a plan to create some video resources,” says Matt.

“It does take a bit of confidence to say ‘okay, I’ll have a go at making something,’ and then to actually do it,” he says. He uploaded the video resources in the last week of the school holidays, to make sure he didn’t spend the entire fortnight thinking about chemistry assessment. The chemistry video clips ‘walk’ students through their upcoming assessment. “All I’ve done is put a ‘voice’ to it, and a ‘graphic’ to it, as it were, on my computer, and videoed it. I talk through the marking schedule, along with a commentary, or thought process about how you get there,” he says.

Sharing learning through an online community

Some of Matt’s students instigated a Facebook community for their year group, and links were also posted there, for easy access. Bradley Atkinson, who formed the group, gives a student perspective below.

Matt admits it’s useful to have such resources available for future classes, too. “The best thing about it is, next year I will be able to use it again for my new students, and it’s good to have a resource bank like this in case it’s needed.” Each time a new concept is taught in class, Matt records the lesson. “I actually video everything I teach, and I want to continue to do that because it’s nice for students to have a record of ‘their’ lesson, complete with their own exemplars,” he says. “Obviously, not every class is about teaching concepts, but when I do, I record the lesson and put the link up on the student Facebook page.”

Student viewing patterns can be easily tracked by checking the YouTube ‘views’ of each video clip, says Matt, and he is more than happy for other teachers to make use of his clips. “Because they’re now out in the public domain, I’m happy for other teachers to use the resources, if they want to.”

‘Future-proofing’ after a disaster

The initial motivation to consider the creation of an online resource bank was the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, says Matt. “I don’t know if I’d be doing this work without having had the earthquakes take place here. For example, Saint Andrew’s was shut for a month, which makes up a huge percentage of the academic year. Yet, there was still an expectation that we would provide some sort of tuition. “I remember thinking at the time, ‘if only I had a library of videos of me teaching some stuff or some other online resources I could just send students to, that would make life much easier.’”

Christchurch schools forced to close during this period were given free access to Te Kura – The Correspondence School educational material. “It was brilliant to have that access, but I also had a feeling that it would be great for my students to be able to learn from a familiar voice, and one that tapped in to earlier work we had covered,” he says.

“My students know my style, they relate to my examples and exemplars, they’re the ones that I have been working for. So after the earthquakes, because of the high levels of unpredictability, I had this idea of ‘future-proofing’ my classes. What happens if we are shut again? What happens if the school has to be shut down for strengthening work? Will we cope with our academic work?”

These thoughts led Matt to collaborate with the ICT director at his school. “We were looking at things like Moodle as a learning management system, and so the earthquakes were in a way a catalyst for thinking this way.” His assessment video work is just a continuation of this ‘future-proofing’ theme, he says. “It isn’t really a paradigm shift for me, or a change in my philosophy about preparing for assessments; it is just a response to student needs.”

Visit Matt’s blogs, complete with links to the YouTube videos here.

This is one example video of Matt teaching about Ionisation of Energy:

You can read more about Matt’s approach to using technology in his teaching inhere on New Zealand Science Teacher.

Student perspective: Bradley Atkinson

Hi Bradley. What’s your perspective on using videos like these to prepare for assessments?

I personally find it very helpful and I know a lot of other students do as well. If we ever feel as though we haven’t fully understood a concept in class, these videos are a resource that we can always go back to and spend time reviewing in order to understand the concept better and take notes.

I also find that these videos are helpful for external standards as they can refresh our memory closer to exams and offer an alternate way to review notes rather than simply reading and writing. Continue reading

Progress Update & Reflections on 1:1 Computing at St Andrew’s College Part 2 of 2

During the recent term break, I wrote an initial blog reflecting on the launch of 1:1 Computing with our Yr9 Cohort this year. Whilst that blog focused mainly on the parent perspective, this one will share some feedback from students and staff.

The Staff Voice – by the numbers:

  • For 98% of our Yr9 teachers, this was the first time teaching in a fully 1:1 environment (hence staff PD was so important)
  • 78% of staff had previously permitted students to use devices in their classes
  • 40% of staff said they didn’t need to provide any tech support to students whilst 44% responded they needed “to some extent” help students with their laptop
  • 93% agreed to strongly agreed that ICT tech support was available to help them or their students when they needed it during class time.
  • Teacher expectations around laptop usage in class was:
    • 37% every lesson
    • 32% 3-4 times per week
    • 31% 1-2 times per week

These numbers paint a largely positive picture and reflect what our planning and investigation had revealed: the majority of our teachers would be “new” to managing a classroom where every student had a laptop and that we would need to continue to provide tech support in a timely fashion for teachers and students to feel confident this was going be a success.

Our surveys of staff in 2013 also revealed two main concerns held by teachers: the pace of learning would slow and behaviour management would become problematic. Here’s the survey results from a teacher perspective:

  • Pace of Learning: 54% it was about the same as before, 32% it has increased with the technology in the classroom
  • Classroom Management: 54% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that behaviour management challenges had increased with the introduction of laptops, whilst 20% agreed or strongly agreed there were new challenges.
  • 70% of staff agreed or strongly agreed that the 1:1 Computing initiative added value to the learning for students.

It’s pleasing to see that the majority of teachers are finding that the technology is not increasing the challenges of learning, nor significantly slowing the pace of learning in the classroom either. As one teacher commented in the survey:

Year 9 students are not distracted by laptops – happy to open and close as needed. It is just another piece of equipment.

The Student Voice – by the numbers:

  • 46% of students were allowed to bring a device to class in Yr8 (approximately half Yr9 students come from the Preparatory School, and half from feeder schools)
  • 75% of students responded this was the first device they had personally owned or been responsible for the majority of the time.
  • 60% of students made a joint decision on the type of laptop with their parents (only 17.5% had sole discretion on choosing an Apple or Windows based computer)
  • 82% agreed or strongly agreed that they are a confident user of a computer (our experience would suggest this is too high, and some have an over-inflated sense of their competency!)

Again, this matched our expectations – Continue reading

Guest Post: Reflections on Teaching PE in a BYOD Environment

In todays blog post, I’ve invited Mrs Nic Richards to reflect on how her first term of teaching in a Yr9 BYOD class has gone. She teaches PE and Health at St Andrew’s, is the SOLO taxonomy co-ordinator and always keen to implement ICT into her teaching. The following is her thoughts and observations:

With the introduction of BYOD in Yr9 at St Andrew’s College, I felt it was a good chance to extend the ideas I had around the use of Moodle for assessment and also how we could introduce OneNote as our “workbooks” in PE. It was also a good chance to see how we could formalize the SOLO taxonomy used in classes. Here is a summary of how we have used both technologies.

OneNote has been used as our “day to day’ workbook in PE. We had a few teething issues to start in terms of getting students set up. Each student now has a notebook that they have shared with their teacher and for the PE “section” they have the course outline and a “page” for each unit. For the first unit “Part of the Team” there is a SOLO rubric that the students reflected on their performance (generally out of class).

The benefits of this were that we didn’t have bits of paper floating around the gym that seem to get “lost” and I could see what students had and hadn’t done and provide brief feedback. Below is an example of a student’s Notebook.

Example of a Yr9 student's OneNote workbook with feedback from the teacher

Example of a Yr9 student’s OneNote workbook with feedback from the teacher

I have designated Moodle for formative and summative assessment for the main part – although I did end up using it for resources as well, when my initial OneNote plan fell through. Students used a “Choice activity” for their initial and final self assessments (based on SOLO taxonomy) and also submitted their final written assessments (a SOLO Describe++ map and paragraph) to Moodle.

Using SOLO for self-assessment in PE

Using SOLO & Moodle Choice activties for student self-assessment in PE

With the “Choice” activities I could very quickly see where students thought they were at at the beginning of the unit. It also helped with the overall assessment at the end of the unit. I used SOLO taxonomy to create the final assessment rubric on Moodle and meant for quick and easy marking with the ability to also include more specific feedback if required.

At report time it is very easy to go into the gradebook and see the results for each of the units. It doesn’t solve the problem of non-completion but it is much easier to see who has done what and follow up via emails. Overall I have enjoyed the challenge of introducing BYOD to PE and I am looking forward to how we can use it more for practical activities particularly in our next unit “Physical Literacy”. My goal to have a “paperless” Yr 9 PE course is still intact!

Moodle - Part of the Team Unit

Moodle – Part of the Team Unit

A student completed Describe++ Map submitted via Moodle Assignments

A student completed Describe++ Map submitted via Moodle Assignments

Moodle Rubric SOLO Marking - useful in parent/teacher interviews

Moodle Rubric SOLO Marking – useful in parent/teacher interviews