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. 

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Religious Education: The ‘Doss’ Subject

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This blog is aimed at helping the RE teacher tackle the idea that non-exam RE is a ‘doss’ subject. Before tackling this problem we need to highlight the reasons why RE is seen as a ‘doss’ subject. This attitude towards RE can be cause by a number of reasons including the following:

  1. Teachers do not take it seriously – allow students to continuously watch DVDs, study for other subjects or come to class completely unprepared.
  2. Some schools use the period of RE for extra classes such as maths, Irish or English for example. This gives students the impression that religion is less important than other subjects.
  3. Some RE classes are filled with discussion, meditation and chatting. While these things are important and an essential part of RE there must be a balance between this type of content and focused content such as information, textbooks and research. Students need to see that RE has the same amount if not more content than other subjects.
  4. Because Religion is not a part of the junior or leaving cert in some schools they do not have summer or Christmas exams. This is another way of diminishing the value of the subject.
  5. Other teachers often view Religion as an ‘easy’ or less important subject. Students pick up on this and their opinions can mirror those teachers.

Teachers should be aware that these barriers exist and be ready to tackle them head on. In order to change a classes opinion of RE and to get them out of ‘Doss’ mode I think it is important to show the value RE has as a subject even if you do not see yourself as religious. For a lesson plan on the importance of RE see my previous blog post here.

RE needs to be approached in an active and engaging way. Students can do project work, group work, presentations etc. Teachers should try to bring in different religions and traditions of no religion. Religion should be brought alive in the classroom – bring in artefacts, symbols, speakers and documentaries. Religion class is an opportunity for students to broaden their horizons. They have the change to learn about and engage with other traditions and ways of live they may never have encountered before. If students are able to see that religion is not only in the past that it is all around us in all shapes and forms they will find it more engaging. One of the most important factors is the passion and interest of the teacher. If you engage with the topic and put time into preparing it lessons will go smoother and students will want to become involved. Some classes may take longer than others to change their view on RE but have patience and help them see the value. It is worth it.

Why should we study Religious Education?

This week I have started teaching in a new school. In this school religious education is non-exam. As with all new teachers some students have tried to test me. Some have tried to do this by questioning the importance of my subject. I have been bombarded with questions such as ‘Why do we have to do religion?’ ‘Religion is boring what’s the point?’ ‘Why do we have to do this if there’s no exam?’ So how do I respond.

In order to tackle this question head on I have decided to do one lesson with each class group on the importance of understanding religion and the impact it can have and has had on the world. Below I have attached my lesson plan so other teachers facing similar questions have an answer 🙂

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will be able to give reasons for studying religious education
  • students will be able to name and explain effects religion has had on the world
  • Students will be able to talk about how religion is present in everyday life

Assessment of Outcomes

Students will write and present a speech to the class on why they think (or do not think) we should study religious education at the end of the week.

Individual assignments 

Students will research about how religion effects peoples lives, how it has affected the past and how it is incorporated into everyday life

THE LESSON 

Introduction 

Students will be put into pairs or threes depending on the class group. I will give students a handout with images and statements about society, history and life in general. Students will have to work together to decide if the item has a religious influence behind it.

Sample pictures

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Main Phase 

Students will view a timeline of events in History that had religious influence

We will discuss what could have happened if religion was not involved?

Students will look at positive ways religion has impacted the world and negative ways in a PowerPoint

Students will receive a handout with testimonials from people about why they see learning about religion as important. Some of these people will be religious some will not be. All will acknowledge the importance of respect and tolerance in society.

Students will be given time on the computers/ipads to research stories in the news that relate to religion in the world today. Students will be encouraged to look for positive stories and not only the negative which is often what is portrayed the most.

The class will look at biographies of famous people who have been inspired by religion and answer questions on each person. People will include JK Rowling, Martin Luther King, U2, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson and Madonna.

Students will watch the video below. VIDEO

Conclusion 

in groups students will create and present a presentation on the importance of studying religion in order to understand the world and create respect and tolerance in society.

Students who are not presenting will take notes and ask questions.

As a class we will create posters for our classroom to remind us why we study religion.

(This lesson is intended to be spread out over the course of the week in order to create meaningful discussions and allow time for research)

Resources

Why Teach RE PP

History Timeline of World Religions and its Founders

Relationship between Science and Religious Education

This week in Irish schools it is science week. Schools all over the country are embracing this by inviting science groups in for science fun days filled with experiments and active learning. I thought this would be a good week to talk about the relationship between science and religion in my non-exam RE classes.The relationship between science and religion has changed in recent years. Once both subjects were seen to be in conflict with one another but today it is recognised that they can work together and be compatible. Students were open to this idea in my school and they understood the importance of taking the subject in its context. God-and-scientist

One student aged 14 said ‘Science is about the brain but religion and faith is about the heart’. Another 16 said ‘Science explains how we live physically but religion tells us what we should do with our lives in order to make them good.’

While planning for these lessons I came across the following resources that I was able to draw from and incorporate in my class.

  1. The BBC Bitesize website has an excellent collection of short video clips on science and religion how they differ and cooperate. Bitesize
  2. Faraday schools is a website set up for teachers teaching  religion and science. It is filled with lesson ideas, video clips, worksheets and discussion topics that are excellent for the RE classroom. What I really like about this website is that it draws from lots of different religious backgrounds.
  3. The National Centre for Science Education has a section devoted to science and religion which includes opinions from religious people and scientists on the relationship between the both and their personal opinions. This website while a good resource for the teacher might be a bit heavy for students. It is very academic in style and I would recommend it to a teacher researching the topic. Although some of the information could be simplified in a powerpoint for students.

The internet is filled with resources for this topic but as a starting point the three links above are the place to go. Half way through the week this topic has been a success with all of the groups I have started it with and I am looking forward to the feedback students will give on Friday when we conclude our discussions.