Friday, 9 February 2018

AudioPi: Catholic Christianity & Judaism

Last summer, I was invited to be part of an exciting new project aimed at helping Catholic schools delivering the new GCSE specifications. I spent a lot of time working with the AudioPi team to identify different ways to deliver material that covers all three boards that offer a Catholic paper: AQA, Edexcel and Eduqas. I then worked with a range of teacher script writers to produce entertaining and informative scripts that would be transformed into professional podcasts. This was a new adventure for me, but a fascinating one. There was a whole team who worked on these to ensure they are the best possible resources for students in Catholic schools. Huge thanks goes to Philip Robinson of the CES who worked tirelessly to get them all 'just right'.

So where are they? There are currently 20 Catholic Christianity tutorials and 25 Judaism tutorials

AQA: Catholic Christianity & Judaism

Edexcel: Catholic Christianity & Judaism

Eduqas: Catholic Christianity & Judaism

For each set there are samples you can listen to straight away!

You can then sign up for a free trail <here> so you can listen to the rest. This is obligation free and will allow you and your students to try out the tutorials. They can listen via the website or download to listen to on the move via both the GooglePlay / Android store or the Apple App Store. If you sign up, please mention that you heard of AudioPi via Andy Lewis.

The AudioPi team offer flexible subscription models, and are not just for RE! Other departments in your school may well be interested to see what tutorials are on offer.

Personally, I have rarely found GCSE resources that are suitably tailored to the demands of the Catholic papers, and so this resource is very welcomed. Other student podcasts are too general and don't cover the necessary material. I have been excited to share these with our parents and students - and the feedback is already very positive.

AudioPi are featured on the TeacherToolkit blog <here>:

Anything that encourages students to access their learning outside of school, gets the thumbs up from me. The podcasts are engaging and relevant for today’s academic curriculum and believe it will be a useful asset for teachers and students.” @TeacherToolkit

Saturday, 3 February 2018

#SRocks18 - Knowing Stuff [Presentation]

All about: Southern Rocks 2018

My session preview is [here], and these are my Slides:

I'll try and add some further notes for context in the near future.

Huge thanks for Kris and David for the invite. See you at #SRocks19...

Monday, 29 January 2018

#SRocks18 - Knowing Stuff [Preview]

On Saturday 3rd February, I will be leading a session at the first ever Southern Rocks. I attended Norther Rocks a few years ago and enjoyed my day. Lots of teacher presenting to other teachers. It was therefore a privilege to be asked to lead something this time around.

I described my session as:
How can you change things to ensure that your student's learning is relevant and engaging, yet underpinned by a knowledge-rich curriculum?
A look at tips and tools to do things a little differently, reducing workload and getting the best out of ALL your students.
However as I have been planning, re-planning, working and reworking, I thought I would share some of the things I will discuss and explain my thinking on:
  • Change? What/when/how/why?
  • What is the relationship of engagement, relevance and knowing stuff in the classroom?
  • The importance of knowing - what do we mean by knowing?
  • Implications, tips and advice (rooted in research) for:
    • Planning
    • Starters
    • Activities
    • Note Taking
    • Thinking Deeply
    • Assessment
    • Approaches to Exams
    • Homework
    • Lesson Resources
I am trying to focus on things that individual teachers can do, but departments or even whole schools may want to adopt.

Hopefully a few people will turn up. If not, I'll be playing Ben Folds Five:

Monday, 15 January 2018

Revision Guide Update: “Good things come to those who wait...”

I am currently working on the final edits, corrections and amendments to my GCSE revision guide. The whole team are really excited about the book as we feel it will give both teachers and students the best possible preparation for the upcoming GCSE exams.

If you haven't got the latest OUP mailing, read it <here>

A few things about the OUP book, that I feel makes it superior to any other books out there:
  1. The visual approach we take - tables, diagrams, illustrations - which will be appealing to all students. Not just bullet points.
  2. The structure – the Recap-Apply-Review method makes for effective revision - we have 3 key points for each spec point, plus further key information (not just everything abridged) with exam questions for reviewing knowledge and understanding.
  3. The high volume of exam practice questions – 330! Exam boards won’t endorse exam questions or answers, but we have worked as hard as possible with expert advice to ensure we have covered every aspect of the spec (inc B Describe Questions) without going beyond the spec.
  4. The detailed, skills-building techniques that allow students to practice stages of the larger tariff questions.
  5. Answers readily available in the book - many of which are written as model answers, as well as bullet pointed. Students can check themselves easily!
  6. All material specially written for this spec, not reused from other books.
  7. Sample answers with commentary
  8. 40% off if you order this term! 
The OUP revision guide is 6-8 weeks (approx) later than other books, but this time has been spent doing extra checks for accuracy and matching to the spec and ensuring everything is as useful, informative and useful to teachers and students.

Remember chapter 1 is already available <here> (which can obviously be shared with anxious students)

Any questions or concerns - or bulk order - feel free to drop Gina an email on:

I think it’s safe to say we all fully understand teachers concerns and frustrations about not having the book any earlier. However, I am still teaching the spec and revision has been going on since the start of Year 10 (see an overview of revision, written by me and published by OUP <here>) so the book will be the final resource they use. Many other RE teachers provide a revision guide as something for students to use independently. I am confident my revision guide will enable them to do just that:

From Save RE

“Good things come to those who wait...”

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas Lesson (2017 Edition)

The end of term always tempts teachers to go for 'fun' or 'easy' lessons. I remember learning the hard way that students cannot cope with such changes to routine. Doing a quiz or watching a film ends up being harder work that normal teaching. 

I can see why some simply put on a Nativity DVD (but not that one). Tiredness, assessment marking plus the fact students really do need to know the story! However, I always really enjoy teaching the Nativity and try to ensure I have at least two lessons with Key Stage 3 classes to explore it.

I have revamped and reviewed my old resource (I really didn't like the tasks I set even just 2 or 3 years ago). This is not a lesson as such, but a collection of information and tasks that can be adapted, reordered, mixed up. 

Here it is:

Someone suggested that I sell this on TES. I'd much rather you made a donation to Crisis. At the very least, perhaps play this song on YouTube or Spotify - you can also buy for less than a pound via links at the bottom of the page. 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Feast of St Nicholas

Is there a Santa Claus?

This blog first appeared on the BCYS site in December 2016

For some, the start of Christmas is when they first see the Coca Cola Christmas truck on the television. A real truck now visits towns around the UK over Christmas adorned with a huge image of Father Christmas on the side. It is often claimed that this isn’t anywhere close to the real St Nicholas, but a character largely created by Coca Cola to aid their commercial pursuits over the festive period. What is the truth in the story of a transformation from Turkish Bishop to a gift bearer from the North Pole?

Who was the real St Nicholas?

Sadly there is a lack of much historical evidence. However tradition suggests he was born in Patara, in Asia Minor and his family were wealthy; he was given a good Christian upbringing. His parents died while he was young, so St Nicholas became a priest and decided to use his inheritance for good and the benefit of others.

He was later ordained as a bishop with many stories told about his holiness and generosity - both of wealth and spirit. Some suggest he was imprisoned and tortured by Emperor Diocletian, others that he attended the Council of Nicea after being freed. One tale tells of how he intervened to spare three innocent men sentenced to death by a corrupt governor. St Nicholas confronted him and moved the governor to do penance. A popular story in the Middle Ages suggested that St Nicholas entered an inn whose innkeeper had just murdered three boys and pickled their dismembered bodies in barrels in the basement. The bishop not only sensed the crime had taken place, but resurrected the victims as well.

Perhaps the most famous story is how he helped a widower with three daughters. To save the girls from being sold into prostitution, St Nicholas tossed bags of gold through the window over three consecutive nights. He became the patron saint of both children and gift-giving.

Sources suggest he died at some point between 345 and 352 AD on December 6th, and was buried in his cathedral. However during later persecution of Christianity, his body was taken by Italian merchants in 1087 and reburied in a new church in Bari, Italy. His remains were used to reconstruct his face in 2014:

What happened between the 4th Century and today?

By the Middle Ages, St Nicholas was an incredibly popular Saint and from around 1200 to 1500 he was the undisputed bringer of gifts. Celebrations were centered around his Feast Day, December 6th. He had taken on some aspects of earlier European deities such as Saturn and Odin: white bearded men who had magical powers such as flight. Children were told to be good and say their prayers in order to get presents from St Nicholas.

The Protestant Reformation meant St Nicholas became far less popular. Dutch Protestants wanted to remove all Catholic links and renamed him Sint Klaes, which later became Santa Claus. They stripped him of his bishop's regalia and made him look more Nordic with a red suit.

Gift giving was moved to Christmas and linked to the infant Jesus instead. However as a baby, he was not able to deliver many presents, nor scare children into behaving. As such, Jesus was often given a scary helper to do this part of the job - it didn’t seem right to have baby Jesus threatening other young children!

These scary Germanic characters were given various names such as Ru-klaus (Rough Nicholas), Aschenklas (Ashy Nicholas), and Pelznickel (Furry Nicholas). The worst was perhaps Krampus: a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who literally beat children into being nice and not naughty. Good children got sweets, ‘wicked’ children got dragged off to his lair to be chained and whipped.

The Dutch brought Sinterklaas with them as they travelled the Atlantic and settled in America. Yet the celebrating of Christmas was largely shunned in New England as it had become an outdoor, alcohol-fuelled, rowdy community blowout with no particular magical gift bringer. Things were much the same back in Europe.

Saving St Nicholas

Christmas was to be saved by a series of authors and poets in the early 1800’s. They wanted a return to the family celebration and to revive the legend of the original St Nicholas.

Washington Irving's book Knickerbocker's History of New York (1809) first portrayed the pipe-smoking St Nicholas flying over the rooftops in a wagon. He delivered sweets and presents to good children and switches (sticks) to bad ones.

An anonymous illustrated poem called The Children’s Friend (1821) portrayed a much more familiar image of Santa Claus and linked him with Christmas. Notably, there was no return to any religious connections in this portrayal of St Nicholas. It is the first instance of him with a reindeer:

The following year, Clement Clarke Moore wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas, more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas, for his own children. Despite its anonymous publication, the book became hugely popular and further developed the image of Santa Claus. In the book, he was plump, jolly and had eight reindeer.

Despite a variety of different versions of Santa being found during the remainder of the 1800s, by the end of the 19th century, his recognisable image had been fully established. He was an older man, dressed in red and fur, who lived at the North Pole and had a sleigh driven by reindeer. Cartoonist Thomas Nast (1882) is credited with the jolly, chubby, grandfatherly like face:

North America’s Santa Claus, then did a reverse migration to replace the scary gift bringers. He adopted local names such as Père Noël (France) or Father Christmas (Great Britain) but the image was largely the same.

Of course, Haddom Sundblom, an advertising artist for Coca-Cola (1931-1965), ensured Santa Claus would always be known as the red-suited, larger-than-life, Coke-drinking jolly character found on the side of the Coca-Cola Christmas truck. It is this image that has grown over the last 150 years and remains popular with both children and adults today.

Some countries have resisted this image, and have anti-Santa movements. This is either trying to keep their own traditions alive, or trying to return to a more religious celebration of Christmas.

A young girl called Virginia wrote to the New York Times 1897 to ask, “Is there a Santa Claus?”. The editor replied:

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.... Nobody sees Santa Claus but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.... Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever."

This certainly reads like a testament to the original St Nicholas. He continues to bring joy, generosity, kindness, love and excitement into our Christmas. For that, we should be incredibly grateful.

St Nicholas, pray for us.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Great Textbook Battle

Last week I attended I attended the Policy Exchange event hosted by John Blake and featuring Nick Gibb, Emma Lennard, Robert Orme and Robert Peal. The event has been widely reported already (TES - Nick Gibb: 'Teachers will lead the move back to textbooks'). I am a textbook writer myself (GCSE and KS3 RE) and I realise the value of a good textbook, and want all my students to have access to one.

18 arguments for the use of textbooks in schools:

  • Knowledge has already been fact checked - rather than relying on Wikipedia on a Sunday evening
  • Knowledge is carefully sequenced - enabling students to successfully develop schema
  • Environmental impact is lessened - photocopying is often wasteful in schools, costs can be similar, if not less for textbooks over a number of years
  • Workload - Using a textbook rather than producing a resource from scratch is hugely time saving
  • Literacy - Students should be reading books; reading is good 
  • Differentiation - A well planned and constructed textbook can aid with differentiation not hinder it 
  • "DBPP" - Death by PowerPoint - Why do teachers spend hours typing up a textbook into a PowerPoint?
  • Tech Issues - Wifi not working, iPads not charged, Student X has downloaded Angry Birds...
  • A launchpad - To further reading, to carefully constructed activities... they do not kill creativity.
  • Social leveller - Geographical areas that struggle to get specialist teachers do not disadvantage students. 
  • Non-specialist areas - Even a history specialist may not be a specialist in all areas of History in new National Curriculum, or an RE teacher in all religions. 
  • Primary education - Is it possible to be an expert in all areas of curriculum?
  • Standards / Quality - How many lessons does a teacher deliver that are okay, but not brilliant?
  • Student preference - Many students prefer actual books rather eBooks
  • Student learning - Students appear to comprehend more, and remain more focused with actual book rather than digital resources
  • Academic study - A good textbook will cultivate a student and introduce them to more academic and rigorous content - rather than Horrible History approach. 
  • Copyright - Has already been sorted rather than resources 'nicked' from all over.
  • Resource sharing - If teachers are using the same textbooks, resources can be shared with ease. Some textbook writers have shared their accompanying lessons resources for free.

Some issues to overcome:
  • Some current GCSE / A Level books have been rushed due to speed of reforms - corrections can be made, but not helpful for schools who already have class sets.
  • Some are prohibitively expensive - schools need to carefully work out how to deploy funds, and budget accordingly. 
  • A culture (high stakes / accountability?) where there is a huge demand for board specific / exam focused / 'endorsed' textbooks - which naturally go out of date. 
  • Why...
    • Are teachers who use textbooks considered lazy? ("Just one page ahead")
    • Are (newer) teachers often actively discouraged from using them by colleagues?
    • Do many claim they "kill creativity"?
    • Do some refuse to even consider there could be good textbooks and dismiss them all?
    • Should we refuse to even look at international systems that successfully deploy textbooks?
If the problem is quality, let's write them. I have been fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to do just this. If this could reduce workload, and help ease recruitment and retention problems, surely it must be considered? 

Of course, no one knows your class like you do, but for how long can you make everything from scratch? Will the profession consider the evidence presented to us, or will we simply reject the idea because Nick Gibb said it?

Related blog: The Life of a Textbook Writer