Twitter is changing the way that teachers access professional development – a trend I’ve highlighted in earlier posts already – and teachers from St Andrew’s College are helping to lead the way.
Strong evidence of this is the recent #edchatnz conference which a number of our staff attended and were inspired in various ways to try new things in their teaching practice. A great example was our Year 4 & 6 students skyping with Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a Nanogirl – a connection forged at #edchatnz conference.
Another outcome from this conference is #mathschatnz and #scichatnz – two new Thursday night Twitter sessions similar to #edchatnz that promise to deliver “PD in your PJs” (the sessions run from 8:30pm to 9:30pm and beyond). What is really exciting for St Andrew’s College is that a number of our staff are helping to promote and facilitate this: Matt Nicoll Year 9 Dean, Chemistry and Science teacher (who I’ve already blogged about here and here), Ben Hilliam a Maths with Statistics teacher (who demonstrated using OneNote, Miracast and a Surface Pro so well here) and Dean McKenzie our Head of Department for Maths.
It was interesting talking with Mr Hilliam and learning about the genesis of this new Twitter chat. Whilst it emerged from the aftermath of the #edchatnz conference, Danielle Myburgh (founder and moderator of the original #edchatnz twitter sessions) had already foreseen the need for a math focused chat session – #mathschatnz. Chatting with Mr Hilliam and Mr McKenzie at the conference motivated them to get it up and running and leverage the already strong community of teachers in the Canterbury Mathemathical Association (CMA).
Mr McKenzie emailed all other Math Heads of Departments in Canterbury and Stephen McConnachie (who inspired this post about Wolfram Alpha) helped promote it through Twitter and the VLN Maths and Statistics ICT Community.
These Twitter professional development sessions follow a similar pattern: there is a moderator who asks questions (usually prefaced by Q1 or Q2) and those involved provide their answers prefaced by the relevant question number e.g. A1 or A2. This helps sort through the flow of tweets and make sense of it all. Tweets must also contain the hashtag of #mathschatnz to “connect” the tweets into the conversation.
Mr Hilliam had agreed to moderate the inaugural #mathschatnz session and created the following questions:
- Q1. Introductions: who are you? Where are you from? What levels do you teach? #mathschatnz
- Q2. What did your students learn today? #mathschatnz
- Q3. How did you come to be on #mathschatnz tonight?
- Q4. What do you want to get out of #mathschatnz ?
- Q5. What has been your best experience teaching maths this year? #mathschatnz
- Q6. What’s something new you’ve learnt in maths this year? #mathschatnz
- Q7. What’s something new you would like to try in any of your classes this year? #mathschatnz
- Q8. Final question of the night: what would you like the theme of future #mathschatnz to be?
Given this was the first time the #mathschatnz session had run, Mr Hilliam had modest expectations of perhaps 10 people joining in, mostly from the Christchurch region where personal connections helped the promotion of the event. Pleasingly, however, around 20-30 people joined in, for at least 4 of them it was their first time ever on Twitter, and regions represented ranged from Gore in the south, to Auckland in the north.
A mix of primary and secondary teachers were involved in the chat and a number of people were lurking (following along, but not actively contributing to the chat). When asked what he hoped #mathschatnz would achieve, Mr Hilliam stated:
To inspire and motivate maths teachers … it’s less about the nuts and bolts of what happens in the classroom … it connects teachers to a wider network to provide ideas and encouragement … it also provides a hashtag for non-maths teachers to ask questions of maths teachers if they need help.
Moving forward, it is likely that Mr Hilliam, Mr McKenzie and Mr McConnachie will rotate the moderating responsibilities.
Like #mathschatnz, the motivation for the #scichatnz fortnightly twitter PD sessions came from a conference. In this case, it was the SCICON2014, a biennial event that was hosted in Dunedin this year. Mr Matt Nicoll couldn’t make it along in person but did track the highlights from the various sessions on Twitter.
He picked up that another Chemistry teacher and Twitter user Rachel Chisnall first suggested the use of #scichatnz to promote a hashtag for teachers to seek help and discuss various ideas. She also hoped it might become a regular chat session similar to #edchatnz and with the help of Mr Nicoll, they established there was enough interest to progress it.
The very first #scichatnz session ran on 31st July and was moderated by Mr Nicoll (who will take turn about with Ms Chisnall). The questions asked were:
- Q1: What are your feelings when you recall science at school?
- Q2: What do you love about teaching science?
- Q3: What do you see as the biggest barriers to student enjoyment of science in school?
- Q4: How do we keep students engaged in science?
- Q5: Why do students (and the community) perceive science as “hard”?
- Q6: How does your current science teaching cater for students’ inherent passions/interests in science?
- Q7: Primary students seem to love science. How can secondary/specialist teachers support science education in primary schools?
- Q8: How do you maintain your love for science?
A more detailed review of the actual session can be found at this article at the website of New Zealand Science Teacher and Mr Nicoll personally reflected on it over here. He commented to me that:
There are only so many professional development opportunities you can get along to and attend, and there are also only so many hours in the day. One of the big benefits of Twitter PD is that you can share the learning with others who couldn’t make it to the session … you can also review it in your own time by checking out the links and resources shared
Both #mathschatnz and #scichatnz run on the alternate Thursday night to #edchatnz (and in case you wondered, there is an #engchatnz out there for English teachers), meaning there is a wealth of opportunities for teachers to engage in free, challenging and motivating professional development on a regular basis. It is also a great way to network with other teachers in your curriculum area.
From St Andrew’s College perspective, having three teachers involved in the promotion and moderation of these opportunities reflects their commitment and skill, along with respect amongst their peers in which they are held. As always, it is the students at the College that end up benefiting from this type of ongoing learning, since the ideas discussed and the inspiration received, filter back into the classroom.