Recording & Blogging: It’s What I Do Now

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Solo Tasks: around the Law of Reflection with extension work on Moodle

Mr Matt Nicoll has been a regular contributor to this blog, providing one of the very first posts on recording his lessons for later playback by students, to presenting to the CORE Education eFellows, and his very active role in the development of Twitter usage amongst staff and the #edchatnz conference organisation.

I had wanted to sit down with him and see how his videoing of the teaching moments in his lessons had evolved from when we chatted in October 2013 and took the opportunity to do so after the #edchatnz conference. It transpires that in someways he has stuck with the successful recipe he had developed in 2013.

Mr Nicoll still remains the primary blogger for his classes, sharing the content, notes and videos on the class blog. His rationale for this was simple:

I am still traditional enough to want to retain control over the quality of the key concepts and ensure that they are being explained correctly. The big win, however, is that the students don’t need to write notes in class meaning they can spend more time on the activities.


Two obvious positives from this are:

  • More time is spent in class discussing the quality of the answers e.g. what does multi-structural thinking look like compared to relational thinking (in terms of the SOLO thinking taxonomy)
  • Students benefit from this because their understanding of the SOLO taxonomy, which is used widely at St Andrew’s College, is deepened and their ability to explain their answers improves.

Despite being the Year 9 Dean and the associated workload that comes with that role, Mr Nicoll has found that keeping up the blogging and recording of his lessons has not added to his work. If anything, he believes it has allowed him to gauge where his students are at more accurately, since there is more time spent discussing the learning, than copying down notes. Student workbooks (or computers), are used primarily for writing down ideas, notes or discussions they have had in class – not for copying content off the whiteboard.

Separating suspensions using filtration

Computers are used in class, mostly for research and communicating overall answers for a lesson – shaping the learning into a formal reflection. Again, choice is provided to students – they could use MS Word, Powerpoint, OneNote or a graph in Excel for example. Because the “nuts and bolts” of the lesson are covered off in the form of comprehensive, quality notes on the class blog, students can simply:

Think like a scientist. Investigate like a scientist.


Mr Nicoll’s blogging and recording practices extend to his NCEA classes as well, and he states that this allows him to better gauge where his students sit in terms of Achieved / Merit / Excellence in the respective standards they are working towards:

If a student is struggling to remember facts, I direct them to the blog where they can review the content. If they are struggling to articulate answers at a level required to move from Merit to Excellence, then I engage them in discussion.


The NZ Science Teacher website blogged about Mr Nicoll’s methodologies earlier this year, and since then some of his processes have changed:

  • Gone from using an Android smartphone to a Microsoft Surface Pro 2. This has allowed the uploading and editing of video content to become much easier as it is all on the one device. Being physically larger than a smartphone has also allowed the student recording the lesson to hold the device steadier, meaning the quality of the video footage has improved.
  • He is now using the Surface Pro 2 to record experiments in the classroom fume cupboard and display that on the classroom projector wirelessly using Miracast (similar to how Mr Hilliam does this in Maths)
  • Approximately three times a week he will record 8-12minutes of teaching and experiments and upload them to his YouTube Channel
  • When away from classes for an extended period of time, such as Winter Sports Tournament Week, he pre-records teaching concepts for his students. He then books laptops for the lessons if required, emails his students to bring their headphones along, and they can watch along in class.

Combining oxidation and reduction half equations to give a balanced overall equation (example video left for students during tournament week)

Matt has been increasingly requested to share his methods in different forums including at the #edchatnz conference which he had helped co-ordinate, and also to visiting Senior Leaders and Principals from the Independent Schools Senior Leaders Forum that toured the Christchurch independent Schools on the 16th September 2014. He summed up his approach to blogging and videoing his lessons with the following definitive statement:

It’s what I do now – it’s not going to change.

Students explaining the Law of Reflection

Maths! Cameras! Tessellations!

I love it when I get tip-offs from teachers about something they have seen or heard from another class, as this shows our staff are increasingly sharing what is happening inside their classrooms which is excellent.

Recently I was told to check out what Mr Hayden Shaw, Year 7 teacher and Head of Preparatory Sport, was doing with his Maths class. It was suggested there were enthusiastic students hunting around the College for examples of tessellations and then taking photos of them. I have to admit that I didn’t remember my own primary school maths, and the nature of what exactly a tessellation was eluded me.

A quick catch up with Mr Shaw reminded me of exactly what a tessellation is:

an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping.

It transpires that towards the end of a unit on Geometry, Mr Shaw grouped his class based on who had a smartphone with a camera in it. There were eight students with one, and so in groups of three they set out to explore the campus hunting for tessellations. These are just some of the examples they came across:

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The idea behind this fantastic kinaesthetic learning activity came after Mr Shaw read a report on one of his students from Socially Speaking (an organisation that provides services for children with social, sensory or communication difficulties). The report suggested that some students would benefit from taking photos of their homework and then talking about it, rather than physically writing it down every time.

From this came the “tessellation hunt” activity, with students required to snap a photograph of a tessellation they located on the St Andrew’s College grounds and text it to Mr Shaw back in the classroom. When the students returned, he then displayed them all to the students via the classroom interactive projector.

I asked how comfortable he was having students take out their cellphones and use them for learning activities and he related a story that reinforces the College’s approach to Digital Citizenship. There had been an issue with some students taking photos of others in the playground without permission and so discussions took place in the classes reinforcing that phones were:

  • Only for ringing / texting a parent.
  • Permission was required from the teacher before they could do this.
  • If a student took it out twice without permission it was confiscated.

This eliminated the inappropriate use straight away. Once students understood the boundaries, teachers were then able to get them using their phones to support their learning such as this example, knowing that the students would be responsible.

The students in the class loved the opportunity to get out of the classroom and see the practical examples of tessellation in their school environment.