Meditation – A Whole School Approach

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Meditation refers to any form of practice where a person trains their mind to focus and to enter a state of relaxation and concentration. Meditation can be traced back throughout history all the way to ancient times. Meditation and mindfulness are techniques that teachers are using more and more in the classroom. However, this usually happens in Religion class and is the responsibility of the RE department. But what if we took a whole school approach to meditation. The aim of meditation is to help people relax and concentrate. If students have ways to help them concentrate this can help stop persistent misbehaviour caused by restlessness or the inability to concentrate. According to studies ‘cognitive benefits of school-based meditation programs for adolescents include enhanced ability to pay attention, improved concentration, and decreased anxiety. Meditation interventions also lead to improved emotional and behavioural self-regulation, frustration tolerance, and self-control.’ [WISNER, JONES, AND GWIN, 2010].

Meditation does not have to take long and with practice and  determination it could be included in the first class of the day and the first class after lunch or break. There are a lot of techniques and ideas on line that range from between 2 and 6 minutes long. While this might seem like a significant chunk out of a forty minute class I think most will agree that if the class is hyper and disruptive to begin with it takes more than 6 minutes to calm them down so why not give something else a go. As the meditations continue they can become shorter and eventually will be apart of the class routine. Some teachers may use it with all of their classes or some may use it for the classes that are a little giddy or worked up. Some students may not like the idea of meditation and they might think it is only for religion class or that they just don’t like it at all. In this case it might be a good idea not to refer to it as meditation but as quiet time or breathing time or settling in time.
Meditationinschools.org is a great website with a heap of resources that any teacher or any person at all for that matter can download for free. This website offers support and guidance for teachers looking to include meditation into the classroom. It also has presentations from students who have used meditation and their opinions on how it helped them in school. The website recommends the newly developed Mindspace app. This is an application which can be downloaded onto your smart phone or tablet. It offers meditations as short as one minute which would be a perfect opener for some classes. the app also gives tips and advice on how to use mediation and news about retreats or events happening near you. Students can also download the app for at home. This could be very useful for exam classes or students who feel pressured or stressed.
The aim of school is to help students develop into fully rounded successfully individuals who can actively participate in society. A study in Australia in 2015 has shown that ‘Students who were taught meditation at school reported higher optimism, more positive emotions, stronger self-identity, greater self-acceptance and took better care of their health as well as experiencing reduced anxiety, stress and depression.’ Why not try it out and see what your class thinks? I would love to hear your opinions or results.
REF: School-based Meditation Practices for Adolescents: A Resource for Strengthening Self-Regulation, Emotional Coping, and Self-Esteem Betsy L. Wisner, Barbara Jones, and David Gwin
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Catholic Schools Week

catholic schools week 2016Catholic schools week will take place this year from Sunday 31st January until the 6th of February. The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2016 is “Catholic Schools: Challenged to Proclaim God’s mercy“.  The purpose of Catholic schools week is to give schools an opportunity to explore the benefits of a Catholic education and to involve students, teachers, parents and members of the community in exploring the Catholic religion in a fun and relaxed way. This week is not only for Catholics but for everyone who wants to learn something new about the Catholic Faith. It is not about convincing people that a Catholic Education is best but to show people what it can offer to everyone.

Schools can embrace Catholic schools week by putting up posters. Some examples like the one below are available from www.CatholicSchools.ie. PP_Poster-A2-2 The website also has resources for lessons in the classroom. The senior cycle resources are really excellent and tie in nicely with the course. Schools can write newsletters explaining what is happening to the school body, parents and people in the local community. Students can hold fundraisers for the local parish or for a charity in the local community. Students can organise an information day/evening and invite people from all faiths to celebrate together. Catholic schools week is also celebrated in the USA. This could be an opportunity to use the web via Skype, Twitter, Blogging etc to connect with a classroom across the globe and compare how we celebrate Catholic Schools week. Skype in the Classroom is an online initiative that connects schools all over the world.

Grandparents day also takes place during Catholic Schools week. This could offer an opportunity to invite elderly people in for a coffee morning. You can invite Grandparents or people in the community who have little or no family. Students may make presentations for the coffee morning on how important Grandparents can be in their lives. Grandparents are often the ones responsible for handing on our different faiths, beliefs and practices. This can be a time when we thank them for it and for everything else they have done or still do for us. Students could write thank you cards or make a story or poem for their grandparent and display them in the school.

During Catholic Schools week most schools will hold a prayer service. During this prayer service it might be a nice time to remember the grandparents who are no longer with us and thank them too for everything they done during their lives. Irish Central is a website which has a page on celebrating Grandparents with quotes and prayers, some of which may come in useful for a prayer service.

Grandparents bestow upon their grandchildren the strength and wisdom that time and experience have given them.

Grandchildren bless their grandparents with a youthful vitality and innocence that help them stay young at heart forever.

Together they create a chain of love linking the past with the future.

The chain may lengthen, but it will never part.

– Author unknown.

These are only a number of ideas that can be embraced next week but there are loads more. Please comment if you have something to add or an opinion to share.

Thank you for reading.

New Year, Fresh Start

January is well known for making New Year resolutions and fresh starts so why not take advantage of this in the classroom. Begin 2016 with a fresh slate. Some ideas which can be incorporated into the classroom at this time of the year include:

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  1. Making a resolution jar. Students write down a goal or wish for 2016 and put it inside a large jar which is kept in the classroom. In May/June the teacher then opens the jar and gives the goals back to each student to see if they are still on track or have the goals been reached.
  2. Make a wish cloud – Create a large display of a cloud or a star. Students create a good thought or wish for the class or school for 2016 and stick them onto the display.
  3. Begin a reward system – If students gain enough points by the end of the school year there will be a reward. This can be done as a whole class or individually. There are loads of sample reward systems online.
  4. Make a plan – Talk to students about what must, should and could be covered by the end of the term. Set clear goals and tasks that students can work on.
  5. Start a class initiative – such as volunteering for a charity or start a pay it forward campaign. This is where students must do a good deed and ask the person who the deed is for to pay it forward by doing a good deed for someone else. You could create a blog or twitter page where deeds are recorded and people can add to it as the initiative grows.
  6. Create a class resolution list – What as a whole do the class want to achieve this year.

These are just a few simple ideas for teachers wanting to do something positive with January resolutions in the classroom. If you try some out I would love to hear about it 🙂 Good Luck

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Student Teacher Tips

On this day for the past three years I have been busily preparing for my teaching placement to start the next day. This has been a day filled with nerves, excitement, fear and anticipation. I almost never slept the night before placement no matter what time I went to bed, how much lavender I put on my pillow or how many breathing exercises I tried. This year for the first time in three years I am relaxed today and excited for the new school term to begin. The reason of course is because I am no longer a student teacher and do not have to go to school for the next four weeks with the dreaded fear of an inspector knocking on the door at any minute. However, all across the country there are student teachers preparing for placement tomorrow whether it be their first, second, third or last so I have decided to dedicate a blog to them and write down a few things I have learned along the way or things I wish I had of known on my own placements. I hope this blog reaches some of these student teachers and helps give a little calmness or confidence during their first day of placement tomorrow.

Remembering names – this is still one of my worst abilities as a teacher. Do not panic if you are bad at remembering names there are loads of ways to combat this. One of the best tips I ever got about names is to ask students one by one to say their name and one random fact about themselves such as – My name is Emma and I like playing piano. Repeat this after the student out loud. The association with piano helps to link the name to an object which makes remembering easier. If this fails have name cards in place for when the supervisor knocks.

Classroom management Create classroom rules with the students and keep them displayed at all times. Allow students to have a say in what will happen in the class. Be fair but firm. If you say something stick to it. Example if you give three warnings but then do not give a punishment work students will see it as an empty threat and you will lose respect and control. Do not hang on to a grudge if a class goes badly deal with it and move on. Students will forget if you do. If you are in the wrong admit it. If you shout at a student by mistake or lose control apologise students will respect this. If you do have to give punishment work try not give something that is pointless (many schools have rules of what to give) If you can give an essay or something students can learn from.

Apps and Online sites I love and use all the time 

Kahoot – This is an online quiz game very useful for revision. Teachers can make a quiz or pick from loads already uploaded. Students need a phone or tablet with internet access to play. Students can work in pairs or groups if the number of phones available are low. I used this in a history supervision on the Nuremberg Rallies with a TY group and the inspector loved it.

Studyclix – This is another revision aid. Teachers can access all past exam papers to create tests and worksheets. Handy for creating end of chapter exams.

Classtools.net – This is a website filled with ideas and programmes you can use in your lessons. They range from name pickers to lesson introductions to fake Facebook pages. The list goes on and on. You could spend hours just playing with the apps this page has to offer but try focus on using them to plan lessons 🙂

Dropbox – With Dropbox you can upload all your lessons, worksheets, power points and videos and can access them from any device with internet access. Everything is saved to the one place and they can be used and reused as you wish. If this is your first placement I would definitely recommend Dropbox because you will reuse the lessons and resources again next year.

Twitter – This I have only learned about this year but Twitter can be an online encyclopedia for teachers if you follow the right people. All you have to do is tweet a question and wait for the responses to fly in. For starters follow Fboss, NCCA, RTAI and Edchatie and see you they follow to get on the right track. You can also check out who I follow @5j16msdunne

See some of my previous blog posts for more apps to use in the classroom 🙂

Plan B This piece of advice is repeated so many times by supervisors and mentors but it is amazing how often we do not listen. it will not happen to us right? The classroom is a very unpredictable place. You never know what is going to happen. The internet may fail, the computer may break or the students may simply react badly to whatever you have planned ALWAYS have a plan B. Whether it be extra worksheets, a different approach or a backup revision game have something that can be adapted for different lessons.

Bring extra work Also a piece of advice that we rarely take on board. There is no worse feeling than a class ending 5 minutes early and you have no work prepared (I speak from experience) It will be the longest 5 minutes of your life. Make some extra worksheets and have enough photocopied if you have an inspection. IF you find yourself in this position and have no work with you do some class revision. Ask students to make a brain storm on the board of the mains things they learned this class, quickfire questions at students, ask students to stand you ask one student a question if they are correct they ask another student until everyone has asked and answered a question.

Ask for Help All teachers were student teachers at some point. Do not forget this. We have all been through what you are going through now. If you need help with a student, a class, a topic or a supervisor ASK there is help and support available. It could be from the staff room, your college or your friends or classmates. You are not alone in this.

Get to know the staff It can be easy to sit down on your first day at one table and stay there for the remainder of your placement but try to move around. Get to know the other teachers. They will be your support network for the next few weeks and you never know who has a friend who is a principal who needs a new teacher next year. Make a good impression.

Look after yourself This might be the most important piece of advice. Ensure you get enough sleep. It can be tempting to stay up all night to make sure your power-points are perfect but what use are they if you have a migraine the next day and cannot see properly. Teaching is a draining profession. You will be tired and you will feel run down make sure you do not take on too many extra classes or extra curricular activities. Eat right do not skip breakfast or lunch. Make some time for yourself to see friends and family even if it is only one hour on a Wednesday evening.  You will be surprised how this can help you through.

Have Fun Teaching can be one of the most rewarding jobs if you let it. Do not take everything so serious. Have a laugh and a joke with the students but ensure you have strict boundaries and the students know this too. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes students relate to you more when they see you are human too. Get involved with extra curricular if you have time (but do not take on too much) Students love to see teachers take an interest outside of the classroom. Do not hold grudges or hang on to mistakes – start everyday fresh. Do not forget to smile – students will see you are happy to be there and feel like you care about their education.

I hope these few small tips might be of a help to some student teachers. If you wish to comment or add to the list please feel free, all feedback good or bad is welcome. Good luck to everyone starting placement tomorrow especially all from Mater Dei and I hope all teachers both student and qualified have a successful and happy start to 2016.

 

New Year New Apps

 

Christmas is now behind us and the new year is fast approaching. We have little over a week left before we are back in the classroom so today I decided to get a head start on my new year resolution which is to become more comfortable using technology and apps in the classroom. I have spent some time looking up apps for my two main subjects which are history and religion and have decided to share what I found with others who want to make lessons more interactive. All of the apps which I will explain in more detail below are free to download and are available on iPad/iPhone or android.

The first app I found today is an English GCSE study guide. It comes in different subjects but each subject needs to be downloaded separately. This series of apps is called Study Buddies. I tried the religious education one today to see how useful they would be in the classroom. When you first download you must create an account to sign in. There are two parts to the app one is a quiz like feature. You choose the part of the course and the app will generate ten questions and give you a short quiz. The second element is a section from past exam papers. Students can read the questions but they cannot edit to insert answers. One downside to this app is that in the free version only a number of sections from the syllabus are available. The rest must be purchased. While I was impressed with the initial idea and design of the app I was disappointed with the restrictions.

This next app is for the History classroom and will come in very handy in January or February depending how far along the second year history course you are. This app is an interactive timeline of the American Revolution. The name is easy to remember it is called American Revolution interactive timeline. The timeline starts at 1750 and continues up to 1950. The timeline allows students and teachers to move up and down throughout the time period, view images of artefacts and click items such as an image of the Boston Tea Party to find out some more information about the event or item. Personally this is one of my favourite apps from today’s short search. It is simple but brilliantly designed for easy use and quick access to important information.

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The third app I came across is called brainscape. This app is a flash card revision app. The main app allows a student or teacher pick a subject that they wish to study the app then creates flash cards to help you to study. The flags arc will show a question or a full in the blank the student decides when to reveal the answer. If they know the answer will then rate the question between 1 and 5. 1 means they know the information well so the app will not use this flash card frequently, 5 means they do not know the fact and the app will focus on this information more often. This app has also expended into individual subject apps for example History Brainscape which is purely for studying history. The free download has limited flash cards but for a small fee of 1.99 you can unlock all sections which in my opinion is very reasonable. I will definitely use this app in my classroom this year.

These three apps are only a small selection of the amazing things that are on offer for the classroom. I am looking forward to incorporating more and more apps and web technologies into my teaching in the new year. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the holidays and good luck and happy teaching for the new year.

Homeless Ireland

Last week marked the one year anniversary since a homeless man was found dead on the steps of Dail Eireann in Dublin. According to the Peter McVerry Trust in October of this year over 150 people were sleeping rough in Dublin every night. The minimum number of people homeless at the end of September in the whole of Ireland was over 5,000. This year alone homelessness has risen by 76% in eight months. This includes 1500 homeless people who are under the age of 18, children. (RTE: Sept 15)

The reason I have included this topic in my education blog is because I believe Education is key to helping fight against social injustice and helping bring about positive social change. As teachers and students we may not be able to house 5,000 people but by awakening students attention to the problem and highlighting ways in which they can help we may have a chance at helping even one family find a safe place to sleep.

The internet is an amazing place to find resources on almost any topic. The resources made available on Homelessness are some of the best I have used in a classroom. There are a number of charities that are set up to tackle homelessness and help those affected including:

All of these websites are filled with information, events and resources that can be adapted for the classroom. Some, such as Focus Ireland, even have a section dedicated to school resources. There are people available to come to your school to talk to students. There are plenty of fundraising activities and links to other helpful websites and resources. Below are resources I have used in the classroom. Some are slightly adapted. All taken from TES.co.uk. TES is the place to go for topics such as homelessness. You never know what you will find.

The first resource I found interesting and useful is a list of 100 facts about homelessness. I out students into groups and ask them to choose the most and least surprising. 100factshomeless

This is a power-point of statistics regarding teenage homeless. These teenagers are close to age to some of our students. This will highlight the importance of trying to help but teacher should also be sensitive if a student may be in a similar position. Runaway Children

This is a six part documentary on homeless children in the UK. EVICTED

All of these resources are free to use and completely adaptable to suit age and ability. The number of homeless people in Ireland is rising daily. We need to do our part to highlight these issues and help the charities to tackle homelessness. Our aim should be together to decrease these figures by December 2016.

Advent: Staying grounded this Silly Season

December can be easily identified as the busiest time of year. We are shopping, cleaning, planning and preparing for the silly season. Even in school we are preparing, doing and correcting end of term tests. The silly season in my opinion gets sillier every year. Every year the decorations come out earlier, the shops hang up their gift signs to entice shoppers and the season is dragged out over almost two months. With all the planning, running around and preparing how much time do we actually spend thinking about why we are doing all of these things? 

Today marks the first day of Advent in the Christian Calendar. Advent is the time when Christians across the globe prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Christmas becomes more and more commercialised every year and I think this week is a good opportunity for religion teachers to take time to really explain the importance of Advent to their students and show them the true meaning behind Christmas. Below I have outlined some excellent ideas for the classroom to celebrate advent and Christmas. Some idea’s I have found online, some are from other teachers and some are my own ideas. Please feel free to take anything you find useful or add your own in the comments below. 

  1. Create a classroom Advent calendar – Instead of sweets or toys inside there could be a good deed that all students must try their best to complete that day. This calender could be designed by the students and displayed in an area where all students can see and benefit not only one specific class group. 
  2. Project work on Key figures – Students could work in groups and choose a key figure related to advent and Christmas such as John the Baptist, The Blessed Mary or the prophets. Students can research and present on their chosen person. Adventwreath
  3. Create a class or school advent wreath – The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath there are five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of online guides for creating a wreath with students. One can be found here from Catholic Culture.org .
  4. History of Advent – Students can discover when advent began (thought to be the fourth century) and research the origins of items such as the advent calendar or the Advent wreath. They can ask family members about their experiences as a child during advent and discuss with the class. 
  5. The web has a great selection of Advent Movies that have the theme of waiting and preparing for something special behind them. You could spend hours looking for a film or short movie for your class but luckily I came across this blog which has the hard work done. (I love number 10) The Happy Certainty – Christmas and Advent for Schools
  6. Create a Jesse Tree –  The Jesse Tree is a story that day by day durinJesse_Tree_Meredith_Gould_Newg advent is pieced together to tell the story of Jesus by hanging ornaments on a tree. This could be done a number of ways in schools. A school could have one Jesse tree that all classes take turns of designing and hanging ornaments. Classrooms could have individual Jesse Trees and one is allocated to each year group. Students could also draw or paint a Jesse Tree to display and also draw or paint on the ornaments day by day.
  7. Fund raise for a Charity – With the commercialisation of Christmas has come the need to buy presents for everyone we know. Students compare lists of what they have asked for and after Christmas will compare what they received. This is an excellent time to remind students of the people who won’t receive anything this Christmas. A school could organise a carol service with a 2 euro entry fee and all money raised is donated to a homeless shelter. Student’s could invite a speaker to the service or organise a visit to the shelter.  
  8. This last idea may be suited to younger classes but students can design or create a comic or story of advent to display or present to the school. This idea I found on the Loyola Press website and I think it is an excellent way of engaging and helping to remember the story of advent. In a previous post I talked about the app StoryBoardThat. This would work perfectly for this activity or you could do it the oldfashioned way of card and paint. Either way it is an active learning experience that students will enjoy. 

These are a number of the ideas I will be implementing in my class during this advent season. I would love to hear what other people are doing. I hope everyone reading this has a peaceful and happy advent.