Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Co-create Learning with Google Slides

(Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes)

Shift the centre of learning from the teacher to the students with this collaborative learning pedagogy. Using this strategy develops 21st century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. With the focus shifted to the students doing, this frees the teacher up to provide more assistance to students that need it.

How does it work?

This pedagogy takes co-creation into the digital age. A teacher prepares a Google Slides where each slide contains something different to research. The kind of things may be :

  • object/event to describe

  • concept to explain

  • word to define

I often will make an exemplar slide, so students understand the requirements of the task quickly. Allocate time to research (5-20 minutes dependent on the task) and 60 seconds to present.

Share the presentation with the class. If you have Google Workspace for Education at your school you need to share the presentation with the students’ Google Accounts. They will then be able to find the presentation in their Google Drive. If you don’t have Google Workspace you need to make the presentation editable by anyone and share the presentation link with the class via email or LMS. I think the easiest way to share links is by using a URL shortener, tinyURL is my new favourite, and it is free.

There is the potential for students to vandalise the presentation, they can delete slides, graffiti each others’ slides, change the background of all the slides, or just cause general mayhem. The most important step is to be explicit, tell the students they must:

  • work on their slide only

  • not edit anyone else’s slide

  • not change the background of the presentation (they can change their own background only)

I point out that if students behave poorly the collaborative presentation can be cancelled altogether. In my experience students are usually very well behaved, I have only ever had two classes that have been a bit tricky but I have always got there in the end.

An Exemplar

Students can turn

into this:

Positives of using this Pedagogy

Students can be terrified of public speaking and through multiple small presentation opportunities,  (presenting for no more than a minute) and presenting with a classmate, they can gradually overcome their anxiety. This will help them in the future in stressful situations such as job interviews and meetings.

Having choice means that students can select something that they are interested in. I always point out that you need to be quick to place your name on the slide you want - snooze you lose.

I can remember the bad old days of students presenting with Powerpoint, the amount of time wasted coming up to your computer, fumbling around with a usb, navigating to their presentation, waiting for it to load. At least a minute of class time for each presenter - you don’t need to be a mathematical genius to figure out that ten presentations means ten minutes lost, 25 presentations wastes 25 minutes or instruction time!

The benefits of using Google Slides are many

  • no time lost loading their presentation

  • students can work together on a slide

  • students can see other students slides and get ideas from them

  • teachers can monitor student work to provide feedback

The first time I did it I called it 60 Second Science, but this would work in geography, maths, english, history, HPE - any subject! I have used this student-focused pedagogy with year 8 to year 12 students, but I can see students in Primary also enjoying this pedagogy.

There is a bit of preparation involved to make the template, but using version history you can revert back to the original presentation and can be used year after year. 

Some of the collaborative presentations I have used

Presentation Title


Some of the slides…

Researching Simple Machines

Find a slide… put your name on it. (1-2 slides.. you can make only one more)

1-2 students per slide

15-20 minutes to research and make your slide

60 seconds to present.

Archimedes screw, levers in the body, mousetrap, crossbow, mechanical jack, pneumatic jack, windlass, cam wheel, cheater bar, chisel, etc

Nerves and Hormones - What can go wrong?

SLIDE ONE How does your disorder affect the body? How is it diagnosed? What are the causes?

SLIDE TWO How can we innovate with biochemistry by creating drugs to mend, treat this disorder/disease?

Hashimoto’s disease, Addison’s disease, Grave’s disease,

Dwarfism, Acromegaly, Turner’s syndrome, Gestational diabetes, Kinfelters, Goitre, Androgen insensitivity, Nervous disease/disorder, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease,

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis,

Myasthenia gravis, Spinal Cord injury, Sciatica, Epilepsy, Depression, ADHD

Collaborative learning with google slides is a Student-centred Pedagogy, that Builds critical thinking, creativity, collaboration  and communication.

What digital tools do you use for collaboration?

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

How I Helped My Students Ace Difficult Questions

(Estimated Reading Time: 1.5 minutes)

All teachers have their pain points - students struggle with <this>, students just can’t do <that>. By stepping back and focusing on the problem, trying something different, eventually most problems can be overcome. In this post I am going to explain how I overcame my students' struggle with osmosis questions in tests and exams. 

I realised that my Biology students struggled with conceptual questions, such as osmosis. Osmosis is the movement of water through a semipermeable membrane. 

There are three scenarios:

Students could learn these three scenarios, but when they tried to apply their knowledge to a new situation, they had great difficulty. I suspected that keeping the basic understanding of these three different situations in their working memory while at the same time trying to decode a new situation was too much to do in their heads. 

So I tried an experiment. I included this diagram as shown below in a formative mini-test (assessment for learning). 

Student results improved dramatically as they referred to the diagrams and applied them to the new situations in the questions. 

My next step was to train them to rote learn the diagram, first we used the look, cover, write, check method. Then at the beginning of each lesson the students had to try and reproduce the diagram from their memory. After a few lessons all students all had nailed this task. I sporadically sprung the task mid-lesson, just to make sure they had it.

When I handed out the summative test (assessment of learning) they were instructed at the beginning of the test to draw that diagram on their scrap paper. When they got to the difficult osmosis questions they were to refer back to the diagram as they had done in the formative test. The results in the osmosis questions were outstanding. My final step was to remind the students before the final year external exam to use the reading time in the exam to write their osmosis reference diagram on their scrap paper. 

What conceptual questions in your subject would benefit from this approach in reducing cognitive load? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Timetables that Support Learning

(Estimated Reading Time: 1.5 minutes)

I have been in two schools that have changed the structure of their timetables. Both instances showed me that timetables can, and do, impact student learning and behaviour. I was in a school that restructured 250 minutes of instructional time. 

In the first year senior school subjects were allocated a single and two doubles. The following year this was changed to three singles and one double. This resulted in finishing my year 12 Physics course TWO WEEKS EARLIER. Thinking it may have just been me, I queried several other teachers. Similar results - they also finished earlier, one two weeks, the other 1.5 weeks.

Timetables that increase the frequency at which lessons occur increases the rate of learning.

Impact on Learning 

Shorter instructional blocks meant that the students’ attention spans were less stretched. The number of times I saw the students a week provided a greater opportunity to recap previously learned material, and the interval between learning exposures was less. Due to the higher levels of engagement in the shorter lessons I could move more quickly through the content. The research is clear - the more often you are exposed to learning, the more likely that information will be retained.

Other benefits include that if a student was absent for a day they would miss as much class time - loss in instructional time was spread over more subjects. Students that are challenged for attendance and attention, the second configuration is a no-brainer. 

You can only imagine how an extra two weeks (500 minutes) of instructional time at the end of the year impacted my students. Five hundred minutes for revision, practice exams, etc. I felt my students were more prepared and confident going into the final exams.

In summary, shorter, more frequent exposures increased the speed at which learning can occur. What are your thoughts on timetables? Can they impact learning, behaviour or motivation?

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Rainbow Students

(Reading Time: 5 minutes)

Idahobbit (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia) is next Wednesday the 17th of May. In support "go rainbow to signal your stance against LGBTQIA+ discrimination."

I made this presentation for my staff to help them navigate LGBTIQ+ terminology and etiquette. I consulted several of the trans students at my school in creating this presentation, feel free to use it with your staff or classes:

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Transform your Classroom with Intentional Strategies

 (Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes)

Have you noticed over the years that managing classroom behaviour isn’t getting any easier? It’s time to up your game with these strategies... 

My role as a pedagogical coach was very diverse, and I was called on to assist teachers in many different ways. One reason I am asked for assistance is when a teacher is having issues with classroom management. 

How can teachers

  • minimise undesirable off-task behaviours?

  • maximise desirable on-task behaviours?

Most teachers have the answers, they just need the time and space to come up with their own solutions. The best behaviour management strategies occur well before there are problems, they require teachers to be proactive, intentional and explicit. Highly accomplished teachers do this so effortlessly that an observer may dismiss the calm in the class as “a good class”. 

I was called in to assist a pre-service teacher with classroom management strategies. The first step was to observe their class. The teacher was teaching a middle years science class, and after explaining the instructions of the science lab the teacher said “Okay kids - you can start the practical now.”

Kids pooled around the trolley, grabbing equipment. The vibe was definitely excited - but chaotic. It was evident that not all students had listened to the instructions. Some students were off task and disengaged. When all was done there was a trolley full of haphazardly replaced equipment, some sinks had paper towel and other debris in them, tables were not cleaned. The lab coat cupboard looked a mess, some lab coats were just thrown on the ground. The bell went and the students fled, leaving the lab in chaos. The teacher was increasingly frustrated during the lab and towards the end they were raising their voice to be heard.

In the debrief, the teacher was despairing - “They don’t listen, they are such a bad class!” The teacher had given no thought to how they wanted the students to behave before the class started, only after the crime. I asked

“How do you want the lab to look after the practical? Do you want everything put back on the trolley the way it came in?” 


“How could you ensure all students listened to the instructions and are working safely?”

We workshopped and rehearsed some strategies such as verbalising expectations. “Look at the trolley carefully, that is how I want it to be left when you pack up, exactly as you found it.” “I have checked all the sinks and they are clean, please make sure they are clean at the end of the lab, and wipe down the benches for the next class coming in.” A shift from “don’t do <this>” to “I would like to see <this> because...”

When the teacher was explaining the experiment they were to check if all students had a clear understanding. In starting the explanation the teacher was not to speak over the students to command attention, they were to use a non-verbal cue of being silent and raising their hand. The teacher was to just wait until all students were quiet and attending.  If a student stopped listening they were to stop talking and use their gaze as a non-verbal cue. The teacher was to wait until the student was back engaged. If that didn’t work, the teacher was to move closer to the student until they realised the class had stopped due to their talking.

Another strategy was to assign responsibilities to the students. The teacher rehearsed:

“In your lab group, appoint one person who is in charge of safety. Appoint one person to ensure all the steps are being followed. Appoint one person to be in charge of ensuring the bench is clean and everything put away neatly”. They also wrote these responsibilities on the board.

As the teacher was to move around the classroom they were to chat with the students to focus them on the learning intentions and success criteria, as well as ask questions to promote critical thinking. As for those pesky lab coats that needed to be folded and placed in the cupboard, two students were appointed lab coat managers, one for the folding and another for the placement in the cupboard.

We also looked at time management, making sure students had enough time to complete all the assigned tasks.

We also had a plan for what would happen if things started to go wrong. The teacher was to stop the class and reiterate any instructions or any new information that had been forgotten, employing wait time and checking for understanding. Most importantly the teacher was to remain calm and consistent. Every time a student strayed from the clear expectation the teacher was to be patient and understanding that every moment was a teachable moment, and that they were teaching the students how to conduct themselves as much as they were teaching them science.

I observed the next lab session and the flow of the lesson was radically different from the previous lesson I had observed. The teacher told the class what a great job they all did, they singled out the lab coat managers for their oversight of a difficult job. The teacher’s next step was to make sure that they continued the intentional approach. 

Intentional classroom management strategies include checking for understanding, Being intentional and explicit, Assign responsibilities to students, Verbally cue students for behavioural expectation, Be calm and consistent, Employ wait time, Use non-verbal cues.

What other strategies might you have suggested to the teacher? Have your say in the comments.