Messages from Above: OCR Updates

With tight budgets, it is not always possible to attend a lot of conferences, courses and training but I always keep an eye on the OCR CPD feedback sessions, especially when they are more local to Scarbados (e.g. Leeds – London or Manchester make it a very long day!). So I couldn’t wait to attend the session run by Hugh Campbell on ‘Understanding the Assessment’ and really get into the minds of the examiners…until my train was delayed by nearly two hours and my body was finally shutting down with every bug going. I ended up in bed. Worry not though, as a very kind colleague of mine sent me all the information in the post!

The Headlines:

  • Better responses showed a holistic approach – wide ranging knowledge from the whole course (synoptic links are good but make sure they are linked back to the argument/ question).
  • Effort was made to read around the course material and demonstrated assessment of primary sources (I use a few primary sources and often have students take a quote or snippet of information from them but assessment of these or wider reading…who has the time with such a full spec?).
  • Still evidence of ‘Blue Peter’ answers – problem with showing model answers (is there an alternative for demonstrating essay technique?)
  • Prevalence of ‘comparing’ rather than evaluating/ assessing (I think this is a really good point. I think sometimes students think that comparing thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle equates to evaluating, when actually they are just comparing A to B. Assesment needs to take place as to why A is more convincing than B etc).
  • Still issues of asserting rather than assessing – X says this Y says that and therefore X is right with no sense of why X is right (again I think this is a really valid point. Students often state the views of thinkers and if the view of that thinker is negative e.g. Dawkins this means it counts as evaluation. In fact all you are doing is asserting the view of someone else. Assessing means weighing up why their view works or does not work.)
  • Better responses sustained a line of reasoning. Thread the argument from paragraph to paragraph – building from one point to the next.

Overall Tips:

Continue reading “Messages from Above: OCR Updates”

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“You can’t be religious and a humanist”: Humanism Explored

It is always a struggle to find R.S related trips and speakers, that would engage a group of teenagers but also be relevant to the spec. When I attended the NATRE 20:20RE conference in Cheshire this October (I highly recommend!!) I went along to a session run by Luke Donnellan who was representing the Humanist Society. As I sat and listened to the array of views, reminiscent of Bertrand Russell, 2017-05-23-LW-v1-Humanists-UK-staticDawkins and Freud, I started to think about the topic of Secularisation in the second year DCT. After speaking with Luke at the end of the session, he pointed me in the direction of the main Humanist website (Humanists UK) and the possibility of arranging a speaker to run a session with my students for FREE. This was sounding better and better…not only would a humanist perspective link to the spec, it would also provide my students with a wider knowledge of different perspectives and challenge their understandings… all for free!

After contacting the head office via the contact details provided on the website, my request was answered within a day with the possibility of a speaker who could travel to Scarborough (we are a bit out on a limb here!) This possibility paid off and within three weeks of attending the 20:20 conference, my students had their questions ready and their notebooks at hand for our Humanist speaker. It really was as easy as that to arrange.

The session was split into two main sections: ‘What is Humanism?’ with Q/A and ‘Does God hate women?’ – a personal interest of our speaker, who knew we were studying gender, feminism and the role of women in the church as well.

Highlights (don’t forget these are the views of our speaker and how he interprets humanism into his life and practices):

Continue reading ““You can’t be religious and a humanist”: Humanism Explored”

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?

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:

twitter

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”