The PhilosoCast: Philosophy Student’s Podcast

I have been trialling a number of new approaches this year for incorporating technology into my students’ learning. One idea that has been very successful is ‘Silent Discussions’, posting topical questions onto social media for students to answer and the wider community to view and engage with (check out Silent Discussions on Social Media!) The other new approach this year has been to record my student’s discussions and post on a public forum (YouTube), in order to capture the essence of Philosophy for others to listen to.

Now I cannot take any credit for this idea, as it was my students who took complete ownership over this one. After discussing it with them, we decided that video recording the discussions would be quite off putting (not to mention the difficulties in finding the perfect place in the classroom to film, audio interference etc.). So we decided upon audio recording the discussions instead, creating a podcast called The PhilosoCast.

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Once the cast had volunteered, the topic question agreed upon and the audio recorder set up…off they went and what a surprise I got! Normally in discussions I am the ‘ring leader’ so to speak – I introduce new students into the discussion, I summarise student’s views, I make sure certain students don’t dominate – basically I control the discussion. I didn’t want this to be the case for the student’s PhilosoCast, so I took a back seat.

What happened next was amazing! The students took control, working out ways to signal which student spoke next, taking charge over who introduced and closed the discussion and who started the discussion off. The students did not speak over each other, they were articulate and clear, they listened to each other’s points and engaged with them, they drew the points back to the question and took it in turns to fairly share their points.

Overall a massive success! I hope the cast will continue to develop these podcasts throughout the year. It does take a certain kind of student dynamic for this sort of idea to work but I highly recommend giving it a go!

To listen to the two produced so far, check out:

Well done to all involved!

For other ways to promote the subject, check out: Fourth Subject Choice – Will this be the end of R.S?

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Silent Discussions on Social Media!

so.pngThis school year I have thrown myself down the rabbit hole of reinventing the subject. One big area of development is through using social media, especially FB and Twitter as part of students’ learning. The spin off bonus from using a public forum = lots of promotion!

op20blogtoonparkerStudents’ lives are in-severable from the internet, their mobile phones are an extension of their arm and often now an extension of their personalities. It is the way they see the world. Rather than approaching this reality through the tainted view of an older person, who is stuck in their ways of ‘put your phone away’, ‘have a proper conversation’ or ‘social media is ruining teenagers’ – why not adapt to the undeniable changes of the millennia generation? With this in mind, what better way of promoting learning and satisfying students’ need to use their phones, than combining the two things… discussions with FB/Twitter.

Things you need:

  1. A FB page and Twitter page that students can join.
  2. School/ College permission to use social media in lessons.
  3. A way for students to access FB/ Twitter during lessons.

Setting up a discussion:

  1. Post a question that is relevant to the topic area being discussed in class. I often post between 2-4 questions over FB and Twitter, to give students a selection to engage with.
  2. Set ground rules- this is very important:
    • No memes
    • Full sentences – no one or two word replies
    • Use scholars and evidence to back up your points
    • Students do not have to join if they do not feel comfortable
    • This is a public forum therefore other people can read and join in with the discussion – do not use swear words, offensive language or display anything that may be misinterpreted.

Note: as the creator of the FB/Twitter accounts you have the power to delete/ block any students who are incapable of following these rules.

3. Sit back and enjoy the discussion (and silence).

Example from Facebook:

FB

Example from Twitter:

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I highly recommend you give it a go. Not only does it develop students’ essay writing skills – they are formulating arguments in a way that doesn’t seem like work, they are learning different views from each other and there is a paper trail they can refer back to at a later point. It is also a fantastic way for other students in the wider community to experience what Philosophy is like, in a way that makes sense to them.

Let me know how it goes if you try it 🙂

Please feel free to join in any of our discussions posted on (or advertise to your students):

FB and Twitter

Just in case you are interested in other ways of using mobile phones to promote students’ learning, here is an earlier blog I wrote “Put your mobile phone away!”: Are you Kidding?.

If you would like more ideas of ways to promote Religious Studies see: Fourth Subject Choice – Will this be the end of R.S?

Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highs and Lows

The results are in, now it is time to put the examiner’s mouth to the marks…how did they arrive at these?

The examiners note how the majority of responses follow ‘fairly well – worn tracks.’ Well I felt the same about their comments. On the whole I feel that the examiners are expecting more than these 18 year olds, with three 2 hour exams and 32 topics to remember, are capable of. Does it matter if they follow ‘well worn’ tracks as this is a new cohort with different pressures? Or maybe we should teach it differently (better)?

General comments:

  • Showed knowledge from other topics (synoptic links) suggesting an understanding of the holistic nature of the A level
  • Lack of focus on exact wording of the Q
  • Long introductions, summaries better left until the end
  • Most of essay spent on A01 with A02 added at the end – resulting in insufficient depth
  • Few students showed signs of having undertaken research. What do they expect? How are students meant to cover the already dense spec in the short time provided and do further research and remember it all including the main parts needed? – Very unfair expectation in my view!
  • Comparing scholars is not evaluation – this is simply comparing viewpoints. Students need to justify which perspective works in relation to the Q.

Philosophy:

1. ‘The best approach to understanding religious language is through the cataphatic way.’ Discuss

Good points:

  • Good use of Aquinas’ analogy of attribution and proportion, Ramsey’s Models and Qualifiers, alongside own examples or those of Aquinas’ bull/urine or Hegel’s faithful dog
  • Close comparison (and therefore analysis) between the cataphatic and apophatic ways
  • Symbol used effectively

Bad points:

  • Description of examples with no link back to the Q
  • Demonstrated more knowledge on apophatic way
  • Symbol confused with myth (no longer on spec)

2. To what extent does Hume successfully argue that observation does not prove the existence of God?

Good points:

  • Variety of Hume’s criticisms, relating them to succinct summaries of the Teleo and Cosmo arguments. (Satisfactory answers wrote copious amounts of descriptions for Aquinas and Paley, leaving little room for Hume).
  • Darwin and Tennet’s anthropic principle when used in relation to Hume.
  • Analysed Hume’s criticisms, weighing up how successful they are.

Bad points:

  • Juxtaposing alternatives such as Big Bang without justify any reasoning as to why applying them.
  • Accepting points without question such as Hume’s Epicurean thesis.

3. Assess Boethius’ view that divine eternity does not limit human free will.

Least popular and least well done- insufficient knowledge of key theory.

Continue reading “Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highs and Lows”

Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights

Whilst travelling down to the NATRE conference in Cheshire on the train, what better than the examiner’s report from 2018 to keep me busy? No huge surprises (but a few concerns) from the first year Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought reports. So here is a summary of the best bits or the bits you need to know if you haven’t had chance to read them:

General comments:

  • A significant number of essays had little to no evaluation
  • Distinct lack of scholarly views
  • Make sure examiners can read your handwriting!!

Philosophy

1. “Conversion experiences do not provide a basis for belief in God.” Discuss

Good points:

  • Clear focus on conversion
  • Developed evaluation of the effects
  • Effective use of William James, Swinburne and Freud

Bad points:

  • Long descriptive accounts of conversion, mostly St. Paul and Nicky Cruz
  • Thinking that St Paul was an atheist before his conversion
  • Not applying Swinburne’s principles to answering the question.

2. Critically discuss Aristotle’s understanding of reality.

Good points:

  • Very good accounts of Aristotle’s empiricism, explanation of four causes and prime mover (who draws things to him in a disinterested manner).
  • Used Plato in an evaluative way in relation to Aristotle scored higher bands

Bad points:

  • Confusion between efficient and formal causes (note: this has been an issue throughout the legacy papers as well)
  • Wrote all they knew about Plato and only compared with Aristotle in the final paragraph.

3. To what extent does Kant successfully criticise the ontological argument?

This section stopped me in my tracks. The report starts by saying “while a popular question, candidates struggled to produce good responses and very few recognised that Kant is critiquing the Cartesian version of the ontological argument.”

Now this annoyed me slightly. I cover Descartes in passing as I think he presents interesting links to the concept of predicate, using his example of the triangle and valley (I often find it helps students understand the concepts further). However Descartes has been completely removed from the spec and makes absolutely no appearance in the new spec (not even in the discussion pointers or recommended books).

So if you are new to the spec and don’t realise Kant’s links to Descartes and/or do not cover Descartes at all and closely follow the specific wording of the spec (as time does not allow us to cover all and everything!) then the examiners were expecting something not made clear and marked according to (I think) an old spec mark scheme not a new one. When I teach Kant I explain his views on predicates and get the students to link back to Anselm (who is on the spec) with Descartes links as a passing activity/ mention. I think the question is fine, I think the examiners marking/ report is way off!

kant

Ethics:

Continue reading “Examiner’s Report 2018: The Highlights”

Fourth Subject Choice – Will this be the end of R.S?

I was a little disappointed at the start of this school year because for the first time in ten years our intake of new students to Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought was significantly down. We have always fluctuated between 3 and 4 classes of first year students (between 75-100 students) but this year our intake was just over 40.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that R.S doesn’t always bring in the big numbers at A Level, I am also very grateful to still have four large groups over the two years. My concern is that next year our students will be entered onto a 3 A Level programme immediately (whereas currently they select four subjects, take one as an AS exam at the end of the first year and continue three subjects into the full A Level) and notoriously R.S is that fourth subject choice…not any more!

Rather than just blaming the new spec content, dip in the cohort or not being recognised as a facilitating subject, I have set myself a challenge (I do this quite often – remember the Revision Podcasts last year?!?) I am going to revamp, promote and advertise R.S. My main motivation (other than wanting a job next year) is that I believe that Philosophy, Ethics and Christian Thought is an amazing subject at A Level (slightly biased I know).  So I have come up with a number of areas where I think improvements can be made:

  • Open Evening
  • Taster Days
  • Career Links
  • Connections with local secondary schools
  • Social Media

And this is how I am going to do it…

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Last year I put a lot of effort into revamping R.S on Open Evening, with a number of interactive stations, a Philosopher photo booth and updated handouts (for more details see: Open Evening Ideas for A Level R.S). The big problem though was that so many visitors never entered the room. So my plan for this year (and I best get a move on since it is in three weeks!) is to:

  1. Create a promotional video with students (going to ask the students about this one)
  2. Set up a large folding display board with important features of the subject, including trips, past and current student quotes, celebrity philosophers and topical discussion questions.
    (Update: first section on trips completed)…DolpTR4XUAMuO18
    Finished product (it took far longer than I anticipated – there was a lot of cutting, laminating and sticking but I am very pleased with the outcome!)
  3. Student helpers to go around college interacting with visitors. Update: I have created Discussion Question slips to engage parents and students in key ideas.
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  4. Send links via FB and Twitter to local schools with the promotional video. Update: two schools out of five re-tweeted, liked and/or shared the video, which is a really good start!
    OE
  5. Pop-up-shop: enquire if there is a more focal point in college (such as our Hub or café) to set up a table with handouts, discussions questions and sweets…plus the display board. Update: we have been allocated a prime location in the café area to advertise the subject…fingers crossed we draw in some interest.

Continue reading “Fourth Subject Choice – Will this be the end of R.S?”

Warning: Doctrines of Christian Thought Exam Approaching!!

The questions you will not be asked Monday afternoon are:

May 2017 First Year Paper:

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May 2018 First Year Paper:

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This means that a question on each of the areas of the first year spec has been asked. What this means (and following the pattern of the previous two A2 exams) is that there could be two questions on AS and two on A2. This means that the same topic might be asked again, just not the question areas already asked above. I have a feeling you may get asked three Q from A2 because there are so many question areas that could be asked from the second year and the AS has been covered quite efficiently over the last two AS exams.

Difficult to predict this one, so based on my gut feeling (the main thing my gut has been doing over the past few weeks of exams is flip flops!) I think the Q areas are going to be:

  • Pluralism and Theology – worded around exclusivism
  • Gender – worded around the church’s teachings/ traditional views/ where it fits into today’s society
  • Secularization – faith/ scripture so you could link in natural and revealed and moral principles from AS
  • Person of Jesus – liberator or divine vs human.

I think because the two topics within Pluralism and the two topics within Gender overlap and are very similar ( in that you could easily interchange the information between them) therefore I think any questions on these areas will be quite open (potentially quite vague, hopefully not too obscure like the Philosophy questions).

Tips:

  1. Make sure you know Ephesians,  Acts and Mulieris Dignitatem.
  2. Be prepared that the questions might be quite open. Remember that a lot of these topics link together, so it is about answering the question in the most efficient way which could include different texts, names and elements from a range of topics.

Note: You need to revise all areas. These predictions could be completely wrong, so you do not want to be caught out in your last exam.

Also check out: Predictions for Christian Thought (First and Second Year) and Panic “My Exam is Tomorrow!” Must Read for Christian Thought (1st and 2nd Year)

Good Luck

This is your last opportunity to shine and show the examiners what you have learnt!!