Religion in a Globalising World: Some Implications for Religious Education

Having come to the end of one of our master’s module, Religion in a Globalising World, I can now take the opportunity to reflect on some of the implications that religion, in the globalising world that we now live in, has on religious education. I aim to highlight these implications specifically in terms of the Irish educational context. Over the past five months there have been a series of developments and incidents in Irish education in terms of religious education that have brought it to the forefront of public attention and debate. One incident, that I looked at previously here, involved a school allowing a student to opt out of religious education altogether. In my own opinion this was the wrong decision. In a world where so much goes on in the name of religion, our students, be they children or young adolescents, need religious education now more than ever so that they can understand what is going on and why. The decision, which was backed by the minister for education, sent the wrong message to both the public and other parents right across the country.

I felt very disappointed regarding this decision at the time. I personally feel that the majority of parents and the general public all over the country have, and are being given, the wrong impression as to what religious education in 21st century Ireland actually is. Parents, I tend to find, relate back to their own days of being taught religion in school. Many of whom don’t look favourably upon it, and this of course will impact their own decision as to whether they want their children studying religious education. However, parents need to be aware that religious education is in no way what it was in the 20th century where it was purely religious instruction that was taught without direction or a set curriculum. This is not what religious education is about and I feel that we have come a long way since the days of religious instruction in Irish secondary schools. We are now living in a multicultural society and world where respect, understanding and love for one another is of paramount importance.

Religious education should never be about religious instruction. Religious education is the teaching about religions, beliefs and other worldviews. It aims to teach respect, understanding, and trust to our students in hope of showing a way of living harmoniously and respectfully with one another in our communities and the world. It is inclusive and respectful of all religions, beliefs and other worldviews. In this day and age, with all that is going on in the world regarding religion, I feel that now more than ever it should be one of the first subjects on any curriculum so that many of the wrong, intolerant and ignorant attitudes and viewpoints may be addressed, enlightened and corrected.

If the curriculum needs to be adapted and changed to suit the sign of the times, then so it should be. At this moment in time, parents do not have the option, nor would they dream of taking their child out of other core subjects such as maths and English as they are seen as being of vital importance for preparing their child for future education and their integration into society. So I ask why is the same value and opinion not placed on religious education? Regardless of your own beliefs, one has to be able to acknowledge the value of learning about the culture, beliefs, traditions, and values of others so that we may understand and respect one another as individuals and as human beings.

The fact that such a decision had the backing of the minister of education left me asking myself if the minister understood what consequences her decision and comments were going to have on religious education in schools all around the country. The lack of respect being shown to such an important subject by the head of education, is something I find baffling. I personally feel that religious education is already treated with a huge lack of respect across the board, and now this is simply another nail in the coffin. How do you think people are going to view the subject now that the head of education does not even value it’s worth? The minister is out of touch in her understanding of religious education. This was evident in her referral to it as religious instruction at one stage, a completely wrong interpretation as to what the subject actually is.

My opinion regarding those who feel that religious education is unimportant and unnecessary, are precisely the individuals who probably need religious education the most. It must be reiterated that religious education is the teaching about religions and other worldviews, and in this day and age when so much is going on in the world, I could not think of a more essential subject to help our students understand what is going on and why. We need to rid of the horrible stereotyping and ignorance shown towards others in our communities, instead we should be teaching our students to understand and respect one another whatever their views. As a religion teacher myself, I believe that everyone should be seen in the exact same light. I feel that students who wish to drop out of religious education are simply only doing themselves a disservice in their education. It should not matter if you are religious or not, every student should still have to learn to understand and respect other individuals in our communities, their beliefs, traditions and culture. An unwillingness to do so will only heighten one’s own ignorance and intolerance of others around them, leading to their failure to see the bigger picture.

In terms of the globalising world that we are now faced with, there are now more than ever, many people who live their lives without making any reference to a supernatural being or creator. This I feel must also be taken into consideration in religious education. These individuals fall under a whole list of different labels such as atheists, humanists or non-believers. They live their lives under the assumption that there is no such thing as a supernatural deity who is involved in our worldly affairs. They see no special meaning or reasoning as to why we are here, and go about their daily lives as such, without religious worship or religious ceremony. These ways of thinking and daily living practices have been essential elements in the lives of key figures throughout history and without question must be recognised for their contribution to the world we live in. Students should without question be given information about these atheistic and other worldviews. As such, I believe that these worldviews should unquestionably be included in the education of our students. Religious education should be inclusive of these other worldviews and I feel that they should be given sufficient attention in the curriculum. Religious education should always aim to teach about religions and other worldviews with the aim of giving students an understanding and respect for other faiths, beliefs, views, cultures, actions, and traditions. Knowledge of such elements should be conveyed in a pluralistic and respectful manner. I think we as educators should also be careful in our description of other worldviews as non-religious. I feel that this terminology could have a negative effect as the use of the “non” denotes a sense of inferiority to other religious faiths and beliefs.

The majority of people in modern society live as believers of a supernatural being, but there is also a significant number of adherents who live as atheists or humanists too. Therefore, if other worldviews and perspectives are excluded in education, it may lead religious education to put the religious on a pedestal as the norm. In a society where an increasing number of children grow up in families that have other worldviews, I would hope to see a greater inclusion of such worldviews in religious education. Students of religious education in general should be ready to recognise, discuss and engage with all religious and other worldviews subjectivity.

These elements have been discussed in terms of the Irish educational context and are but some of the implications that I envisage for religious education in our continuously globalising world. Some of these implications will be universal in other countries across the world. What is of paramount importance going forward in religious education is that we treat everyone with the respect, love and understanding that we ourselves would wish to receive, and that we do not fall prey to the blind ignorance and intolerance that has cast its shadow across the world on far too many occasions.

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How Facebook Can Make Us Dumber

In an article I read lately I learned of a recent study led by Michela Del Vicario of Italy’s Laboratory of Computational Social Science that focused on Facebook users and how misinformation is spread so quickly on the social media site. The study focusing on Facebook users provides strong evidence that the explanation for this problem is confirmation bias, a term described as people’s tendency to seek out information that confirms their beliefs, and to ignore contrary information.

The study itself yielded some very interesting results as it shows that confirmation bias plays a major role in the creation of online echo chambers. These echo chambers are responsible for creating situations where information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified and reinforced by their transmission and repetition inside an enclosed system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed or otherwise underrepresented. This finding bears on a wide range of issues, the acceptance of conspiracy theories and competing positions in international disputes.

A goal of the study was to test the question; when people are online, do they encounter opposing views, or do they create the virtual equivalent of gated communities? The findings of the study shed light on a huge amount of communities of like-minded people, where biased opinions and conspiracy theories spread rapidly within such communities. In general Facebook users tended to choose and share stories containing messages they accepted, and to neglect those they rejected. If a story fits with what people already believe, they are far more likely to be interested in it and thus to spread it.

A result of this is the formation of a lot of similar, polarized groups. Within these groups we will find that this new information, be it true or false, moves quickly among friends often in the matter of minutes. As a result, confirmation bias is self-reinforcing, producing a vicious spiral. If people begin with a certain belief, and find information that confirms it, they will intensify their commitment to that very belief, thus strengthening their bias.

This undoubtedly creates problems for us as educators when the vast majority of our students are on Facebook. They can unwillingly fall victim to such techniques to spread misinformation. The knock-on-effect is that students will often then arrive into class and wish to challenge the teacher to discuss the current events or situations that they have read about, and more often than not this discussion will be based on biased and misguided information.

So what can we do as teachers to help tackle this problem? The study suggests that the best solution is to promote a culture of humility and openness, and this is something that I would agree with. As a RE and history teacher I already attempt to create such classroom environments, especially in religion class where so many controversial issues arise in the class. This has definitely been the case in recent times. We must teach our students to be open minded and search for all perspectives and scenarios to the situations. Failure to do so could lead to the creation of a negative and misguided learning environment that may unknowingly promote a lack of respect, understanding, and tolerance of others amongst our students.

This is certainly an issue in social media that we as educators should be aware of, and in a time where the use of technology in the classroom is being promoted, it is one which we should try to tackle.

 

References;

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-01-08/how-facebook-makes-us-dumber?utm_content=buffer901a1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Deletion of ‘Rule 68’… Reaction and Opinion

Response to the news that Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan wants to delete Rule 68, which states that “of all parts of the school curriculum, religious instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties”, has certainly drawn mixed opinions among the general public.

The rule itself is set to be abolished in January 2016.  This rule has certainly drawn a strong reaction from both sides of the fence. ‘Rule 68 has long been seen as a major obstacle to enabling Irish primary schools to cater properly for children of all religions and none.’ The next statement is one that strikes a nerve. ‘It states that religious instruction is “a fundamental part” of schooling’. I’m sorry but what century are we living in? I understand the Catholic Church’s stance, in that they feel under attack and that they believe the minister has no right to determine or interfere with the ethos of faith schools. They believe that religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school. However some may view this as out of touch with the times due to it’s non-inclusive nature.

The bishops themselves are seeking a revision to the ‘Rules for National Schools’, but shockingly they want policies regarding religious education and admission policies to be enhanced rather than weakened. They believe the current political and social situation in Europe suggests that religious education is more important now than ever. However the religious education that they are talking about isn’t religious education at all, it’s religious instruction. This is not something we as religious educators should be promoting and it is completely exclusive with regards to many students in our multicultural classrooms.

I have been critical of the minister lately with regards to her stance on religious education at post-primary level but finally I have found something that we can both agree on. In my opinion she is right in her stance that rule 68 is archaic in nature and her decision to repeal it, and any other rules that do not speak to our diverse multicultural school system, is welcoming. Don’t get me wrong here, I am all for religious education in both primary and post-primary levels. I am however, totally against the way it is currently being taught at primary level. I firstly feel that school patrons wield too much say in the all round holistic development and education of the children, and secondly, the current religious curriculum at primary level can lead to the alienation of those who do not share the same faith as the patronage body.

Currently schools are expected to spend an average of 30 minutes each day on religion, and religion in this instance is religious instruction. This is exclusive to any students who come from a different faith perspective or to any who are of no faith at all. In modern society, much of our classes will be filled with students coming from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The curriculum as it sits is failing these students who do not share the same faith perspective as the schools’ patronage, and rule 68 does not help the cause whatsoever. Thankfully this is currently being reviewed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment with recommendations due to be sent to the minister in the coming new year. However I have a sense that we will be ultimately let down judging by some of the questionnaires which are already open to the public on the issue.

The deletion of rule 68 will be welcomed as a step in the right direction by all those seeking to make primary schools more acceptable to children of all or no religion. However it will not help today’s non-Catholic children who have been refused admission to their local Catholic schools. O’Sullivan aims to put forward a new Admissions to Schools Bill. This bill however fails to address the contentious issue of the current right of schools to favour children of their own religion over others when it comes to admission. The minister wishes to tackle this discrimination in the future by amending the Equal Status Act so that local schools are required to prioritise local children, no matter what their religion or other worldviews.

Without question the dominance of religious-run schools needs to be addressed as 97% of primary schools are currently run by the churches, with the vast majority being of Catholic patronage. This divestment process began over three years ago under the former Minister of Education Ruairi Quinn, and sadly only two primary schools have changed hands since. Encouragingly minister O’Sullivan agrees that the current position cannot and should not be maintained and that equality legislation does need to be amended. While these are steps in the right direction, they are long overdue with many other politically contentious reforms also needed in the education system.

 

http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/1209/752248-rule-68-religion-schools/

Non-Religious Worldviews & their Inclusion in RE in a Globalising World

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In today’s multicultural society there are many people who live their lives without making any reference to a supernatural being or creator. These individuals fall under a whole list of different labels such as atheists, humanists or non-believers. They live their lives under the assumption that there is no such thing as a supernatural deity who is involved in our worldly affairs. They see no special meaning or reasoning as to why we are here, and go about their daily lives as such, without religious worship or religious ceremony. These ways of thinking and daily living practices have been essential elements in the lives of key figures throughout history and without question must be recognised for their contribution to the world we live in. Students should be given information about these atheistic and other worldviews.

As such, I believe that these worldviews should unquestionably be included in the education of our students. Religious education should be inclusive of these other worldviews and I feel that they should be given sufficient attention in the curriculum. Religious education should always aim to teach about religions and other worldviews with the aim of giving students an understanding and respect for other faiths, beliefs, views, cultures, actions, and traditions. Knowledge of such elements should be conveyed in a pluralistic and respectful manner. I think we as educators should also be careful in our description of other worldviews as non-religious. I feel that this terminology could have a negative effect as the use of the “non” denotes a sense of inferiority to other religious faiths and beliefs. 

The majority of people in modern society live as believers of a supernatural being, but there is also a significant number of adherents who live as atheists or humanists too. Therefore if other worldviews and perspectives are excluded in education, it may lead religious education to put the religious on a pedestal as the norm. In a society where an increasing number of children grow up in families that have other worldviews, I would hope to see a greater inclusion of such worldviews in religious education. Students of religious education in general should be ready to recognise, discuss and engage with all religious and other worldviews subjectivity.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/dec/01/religious-education-atheism-humanism-schools-pupils-gcse

http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2015/12/01/non-religion-in-religious-education-why-its-a-good-thing

Minister of Education Still Getting it Wrong Regarding RE

Last week I wrote a strongly felt opinion piece regarding the decision of a Limerick school to allow a child opt out of religious education classes, a decision which was backed by the Minister of Education, Jan O’Sullivan. Yesterday, Minister O’Sullivan was in the headlines again stating that schools should offer options to students who do not want to study religion.

My initial thought and reaction to this is why in the world has this lady been named as head of education in this country? Secondly I ask myself if she even has a clue or an understanding as to what consequences her decision and comments are going to have on religious education in schools all around the country. We’ll have children wanting to drop out of religious education left, right and centre and their excuse will simply be “ah sure the head of education said it was alright to”. The lack of respect being shown to the subject, by the minister herself, is mind boggling. I personally feel that religious education is already treated with a huge lack of respect across the board, and now this is simply another nail in the coffin. How do you think people are going to view the subject now that the head of education does not even value it’s worth. This alone leads me to believe that the minister is out of her depth and out of touch in her understanding of religious education. I mean, she even referred to it as religious instruction at one stage, a completely wrong interpretation as to what the subject actually is.

So, the minister’s solution to this unnecessary problem is to get schools to provide somewhere for the students who are not part-taking in religious education to go during these classes. Obviously the minister is blissfully unaware of the extra strains this decision would put on schools. Firstly they will need to find extra teachers to sit in and supervise these newly created “doss” classes. Then these teachers will have to provide wasteful resources for this newly made up class, and there may also be a slight problem regarding space in the schools to put these students. As we already know, many schools continue to struggle with overcrowding and large classroom numbers as it is, so to me this just sounds like a completely logical and sound idea (not!).

Jan O’Sullivan, along with all of those who feel that religious education is unimportant and unnecessary, are precisely the one’s who probably need religious education the most. As I mentioned last week we are teaching about religions and other worldviews, and in this day and age when so much is going on in the world, I could not think of a more essential subject to help our students understand what is going on and why. We need to rid of the horrible stereotyping and ignorance shown towards others in our communities, instead we should be teaching our students to understand and respect one another whatever their views. As a religion teacher myself, I believe that everyone should be seen in the exact same light. I feel that students who wish to drop out of religious education are simply only doing themselves a disservice in their education.

http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/1129/750102-minister-calls-for-other-options-to-religion-class/

NCCA Key Skills (Working with Others and Being Creative) and Web 2.0 Technologies

nccainnovationidentity

This week, continuing on from my previous post examining Web 2.0 technologies and the NCCA Key Skills for the Junior Cycle, I intended to focus on Working with Others and Being Creative. I want to highlight some examples of teaching and learning technologies that I feel could be very helpful in a classroom setting, especially with regards to these two skills. Working with Others is an integral part of education and a skill that we constantly use in later life. Therefore it is essential that we as educators have the ability and knowledge in how to be effective in developing this key skill with our students. Students need to be able to develop good relationships with others so that they may learn, contribute and reflect with one another. As before, importance must also be placed on Being Creative. We need to be able to inspire that spark of imagination and creativity in our students, so that they may actively engage with and explore the various options and ideas that they will come across in class and their own lives. These skills and their development in our students will undoubtedly help set them up in their future education and prepare them to be active citizens in society.

In terms of helping to develop these skills I have found the following technologies/tools to be suitable and effective in promoting the engagement and interaction from our students that we as teachers strive to achieve;

Quizalize

I mentioned in my previous blog the effectiveness of Kahoot! and if you have found that to be great fun and engaging with the students, I think you will find Quizalize to be as equally effective. Quizalize is very similar to Kahoot! in terms of looks, appearance, and game play with the main difference being the fact that Quizalize allows for students to compete in teams. Students join the quiz and they are automatically assigned to a green team or the red team. Once the quiz begins the students must work together to discuss and answer the questions. The team who answers the questions most accurately and in the quickest  amount of time will be the winners. Like Kahoot! the game is projected onto the board where students are able to view one another’s progress in real time. It is fun and interactive for the students and it gets them to collaborate together to spur one another on to answer the questions correctly and quickly so that they can win it for their team.

Check out this Quizalize tutorial

Or check it out at https://www.quizalize.com/ or on Twitter @Quizalizeapp

Google Classroom

Classroom is a really handy one for us teachers, especially if your need to organize and manage your hectic schedules. It can also be an effective tool for our students. The new web-based platform helps integrate learning for our students with the aim of simplifying the creation, distribution and grading of assignments, all of which is online. Beside the organizational aspect of google Classroom for the teacher and students, it allows for the students to get creative in their assignments and coursework. Students can attach all sorts of materials from their Drive folders or from the web into their assignments,  all of which can simply be submitted just by the click of a button. All files are automatically stored in Google Drive as drafts for the students to go back and edit before submission, it also means for us teachers that there can be no excuses of “I didn’t see it or I lost my homework”. Their work will never be lost again.

Students get to keep track of what coursework is due on their homepage and get notifications sent directly to their emails of when assignments are due.  Teachers can see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback and grades right there and then. It is available on mobile/tablet devices where teachers can create classrooms, post to classroom feeds, communicate with students, and view assignments on the go. Students also have the capability of communicating with one another on group tasks or through comments. Even when internet access isn’t available, students and teachers can get information about their assignments in the Classroom mobile app. Class streams and assignment information are automatically cached every time you open the app with an Internet connection, so that students can see them when they don’t have a connection. It great for getting students to think independently and collaboratively, and stimulates creativity through technology. 

Check out this handy tutorial

Or check it out at https://classroom.google.com or on Twitter @GoogleForEdu

MindMup

Is a great online app for creating mind-maps for yourself and your students. MindMup is free and integrated with all the best tools to help students get the most out of it. It can be linked with your Google Drive account meaning it can be shared and saved with just a click of a button.  It’s really efficient and effective for getting students to work together to brainstorm answers and ideas. It looks great and is really user friendly too making it easy for the students to capture and create ideas and projects.  If you like to get you students to plan and brainstorm by creating mind maps to link together ideas, I would highly recommend MindMup.

Check out this helpful tutorial

Or check it out at https://www.mindmup.com or on Twitter @MindMup

Flashcard Machine

Flashcard Machine is a great free tool for creating web-based study flashcards that can be shared with others. Students get to create flash cards to study and revise, and can share them with their classmates. Us teachers can create flash cards for our students and create customized pages for our classes. It already has over 100 million flash cards stored in it’s library which can be found by simply searching the topics. Students and teachers alike can create sets, share with peers, and access then from their phone with the app or on my laptop via the website. A quiz option lets students revise the topics with options of a multiple choice exam. You have the option to view the term or the answers side of the card when in study mode. The app makes it really handy for students to study on the go. The students can choose to share and study with others or get creative themselves by designing their own cards and answers. This tool can be really effective in such ways.

Check out this useful tutorial

Or check it out at http://www.flashcardmachine.com/

Powerful Article “What ISIS Really Wants”

I linked this article on my Twitter @5j16mrcarroll the other day. It’s a very informative and mind blowing article about what ISIS’ purpose is. It is a long one but totally worth the read. Would highly recommend to any religious educator or any educator as a matter of fact to get your own head around what’s really going on. Check it out below.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

Reaction and Opinion to Opt-Out of Religious Education

The debate that has surrounded the Limerick school at the centre of controversy over the practice of religious education has ended in the agreement of allowing the student opt out of the subject “with immediate effect”. In my own opinion this is the wrong decision and it is quite frankly sending the wrong message to other parents and the public that may be of the same opinion. After a board of management meeting it was decided that the student will not be required to study religion, but she will have to remain in the classroom while the subject is being taught.

The girl’s father stated that neither he nor his daughter were religious and that his daughter did not want to study the subject. He said he was surprised to be told last week by the school that religion was a mandatory subject and that it was not possible to opt out. The law states that schools cannot require a student to participate in a subject that goes against their or their parents’ beliefs. The Constitution also gives parents the right to withdraw their children from religious instruction.

I feel very disappointed regarding this decision. I personally feel that the majority of parents and the general public all over the country have, and are being given, the wrong impression as to what religious education in 21st century Ireland actually is. Parents, I tend to find, relate back to their own days of being taught religion in school. Many of whom don’t look favorably upon it, and this of course will impact their own decision as to whether or not they want their children studying religious education. However parents need to be aware that religious education is in no way what it was in the 20th century where it was taught without a set curriculum or direction. We have come a long way since the days of religious instruction in Irish secondary schools. We are now living in a multicultural society and world where respect and understanding of others is of paramount importance.

Religious education in 21st century Ireland is not religious instruction (huge emphasis on the not). Religious education is the teaching about religions, beliefs and other worldviews. It aims to teach respect, understanding, and trust to the students in hope of showing a way of living harmoniously and respectfully with one another in our communities and the world. It is inclusive and respectful of all religions, beliefs and other worldviews. In this day and age, with all that is going on in the world regarding religion, I feel that now more than ever it should be one of the first subjects on any curriculum so that many of the wrong, intolerant and ignorant attitudes and viewpoints may be addressed, enlightened and corrected.

If the curriculum needs to be adapted and changed to suit the sign of the times then so it should be. At this moment in time, parents do not have the option, nor would they dream, of taking their child out of other core subjects such as maths and English at junior cycle level as they are seen as of vital importance for preparing their child for future education and their integration into society. So I ask why is the same value and opinion not placed on religious education? Regardless of your own beliefs, one has to be able to acknowledge the value of learning about the culture, beliefs, traditions, and values of others so that we may understand and respect one another as people and human beings. If you disagree, I am sorry to say that I find your ignorance and unwillingness to see the bigger picture baffling.

 

http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/1123/748507-schools-religion/

NCCA Key Skills (Communication and Managing Information) and Web 2.0 Technologies

 

Learners need a wide range of skills to help them face the many challenges presented to them in today’s world. They develop specific skills in their subjects and other courses. But there is also a more general set of skills that are needed to support learners in their personal, social and work lives. We refer to these as the key skills of junior cycle. As learners develop each of the key skills in an integrated way they will also become better learners. This is where Web 2.0 technologies come into play. They help us, as educators, help our students in a variety ways.

key-skills

Some of you may be sat there thinking what in the world are Web 2.0 technologies? I was blissfully unaware of this term myself until I began this module as part of my MA in religion and education. Web 2.0 is simply the term that describes the changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and Web design. These changes aim to enhance creativity, secure information sharing, increase collaboration, and improve the functionality of the Web as we know it. Putting it that way I think many of us would realise and acknowledge the difference and how far we have come since the old days of dial-up-internet (if we’re old enough to remember those days that is).

So when we think of Web 2.0 technologies we might instantly think of the big ones such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram etc. But there are thousands and thousands of others that are out there that can help us in terms of an educational context by enhancing and engaging students’ skills and development in a number of ways. For example, the six key skills for students completing the junior cycle in Ireland are Managing Myself, Staying Well, Communicating, Being Creative, Working with Others, and Managing Information and Thinking. Working with digital technology forms part of each of the skills.

In this instance, taking Communication and Managing Information and Thinking, I want to provide examples of some teaching and learning technologies that I feel are very useful in a classroom setting. Communication is such a crucial skill in education, we have to be effective in how we communicate with our students and vice versa. Importance must also be placed on managing information and thinking. These skills and their development in our students will help set them up for their future education and prepare them to be active citizens in society.

In recent times I have found the following technologies/tools to be very suitable and effective in promoting engagement and interaction from the students while also keeping the latter key skills in mind;

Wordle

Wordle is very simply a tool that can be use for creating useful “word clouds” from texts that I have provided for students. It can be an an effective literacy tool as the clouds give greater importance and prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. This helps the students remember key words and terms and also provides clear examples of spellings. With so much emphasis on numeracy and literacy these days I feel that this is quite effective in engaging the students while keeping the latter in mind. The clouds themselves can have different fonts, layouts, and colour schemes to make them more appealing to the students. I have used them out as handouts for revision purposes to highlight the importance of keywords, especially in History.

Check out this Wordle tutorial 

Or check it out at http://www.wordle.net/

Quizlet

Is an amazingly fun and interactive way of getting students to communicate and manage information effectively. Quizlet lets you create a variety of tests, flashcards, and study games which aim to make learning as engaging as possible. I have found that my students have really enjoyed using it as it’s fun and effective for all subjects with an already huge database of shared examples from around the world. It’s also great for differentiating learning styles so that no one is let out. It’s possible to create your own flashcards or you can simply borrow other teachers’ ones and create lessons in a matter of minutes. Students are given the opportunity to choose from a range of activities where they can use it to study on their own, compete against friends and classmates for high scores, or to simply test themselves.

Check out this handy tutorial on Quizlet 

Or check it out at https://quizlet.com/ or on Twitter @quizlet

PowToon

PowToon is something really new to me but I have found it to be really fun and engaging. It really helps generate interaction between the students and help get them motivated about a topic. It’s a get tool that helps funk up your presentations so that they become alive in a sense. The animations and images help bring my presentations to life in a wonderful way. It’s a great alternative to powerpoint and it helps make those really difficult topics exciting and engaging. Anything that makes life easier in explaining and describing the so called “boring” topics for the better, I am all for, and PowToon does it in such a great way. As they describe it themselves, PowToons, bring energy to the classroom as they’re communicated through animated videos, which have dynamic characters, eye-popping images, and active text sequences to help explain necessary bits.

Check out this cool PowToon tutorial 

Or check it out at http://www.powtoon.com/ or on Twitter @PowToon

Kahoot!

Is another great quiz creating game. The quizzes themselves are called Kahoots. I’ve used these plenty of times with classes, they are a great way of engaging student communication through a fun interactive quiz. They’re also great for revision purposes, and on the plus side they are so easy to make.The quizzes are made from a series of multiple choice questions where you can add in videos, images and diagrams to your questions to amplify engagement. They are great especially in the classroom setting, as the students get to answer the questions using their own devices, while the questions and scoreboard are displayed on the projector screen. This encourages student participation by getting to look up to get the question to which they answer it on their device. This example of social learning promotes communication and gets the students to engage with the information and their thinking.

Check out this helpful Kahoot tutorial 

Or check it out at https://getkahoot.com/ or on Twitter @GetKahoot

Blendspace

Blendspace, like PowToon, is something that is only new to me and something that I have found helpful in trying to organize online content in one place. This can be used by both the teacher and the student to help organise and present our online collection of information. So far I have found it great for finding resources, presentations, and videos on certain topics, which can all be saved in this one place. It is very easy to use with much of it operating on a drag and drop system, and is a great tool for both teacher and student organisation. It helps the student specifically manage their information and thinking. It is essentially used for presenting projects which can be shared through email and other social networking sites. As teachers we can use it to create quizzes and interactive lessons where we can monitor discussions and combine all different types of digital content into our lessons.

Check out this short Blendspace tutorial 


Or check it out at https://www.tes.com/lessons/index or on Twitter @blendspace

Paris… Friday 13th November 2015… Never Forget!

The world has been in a state of shock since the tragic stories of Paris echoed around the globe. Immediate thoughts bring me back to 9/11, London, Madrid, Charlie Hebdo. I could tell you exactly where I was for each of them, much like this one. I was stood there on our night of graduation, celebrating with friends, when the texts, images and notifications start ringing through. Everyone was the same. The shock on people’s faces was clear to see. There wasn’t a hell of a lot we could do about it at that moment in time, so celebrations were resumed. Thoughts and prayers would have to wait until tomorrow.

As I sit here reflecting 4 days on from this tragedy, I feel a many range of emotions and thoughts, anger, sadness, and empathy being some of the main ones. When 9/11 occurred I remember everything around me coming to a standstill, with eyes and ears glued to every television screen and radio. People were overcome with emotion, many not knowing how to react. Excluding the tragedy and grief which have accompanied all the wars of the past, this event had a different effect on people. This concept of terrorism was something that was new to me as a child. And looking back you can see as to why this event was so tragic, sad, shocking, unbelievable and heartless.

After this everything changed in a sense. We are now made blatantly aware of all the acts of terrorism that take place in the world through the various news and social media outlets. I come to think how sad it is that these acts have become commonplace in our lives. I am sure there is a story everyday, somewhere, of someone committing such heinous, cowardly acts. It has almost become the norm to expect to see something like this in the news. I personally do not think people are as surprised as they once were. Yes they see it as tragic and shocking, initially, but then they have to move on with their lives and forget about it. Humanity has had to become immune to such stories I feel, they know they’re there, but they have to stick them in the peripheral.

We are sadly living in a post 9/11 era, one where the value of a human life is lost. Religion unquestionable has had part to play in this. We must point out that these crimes against humanity are being carried out by extremists, however extremists are not a new concept, they are seen throughout history and all of its violence and tragedy. There are also many other stemming factors which have contributed to these acts against humanity. The lust for power, greed, retribution, justice etc. Sadly in this world, it is the west who dominates and unfortunately everyone is not equal no matter what way they try and spin it. Equality, acceptance of diversity and tolerance of others is what is sought, but will it ever be achieved?

Sadly the mentality of the many uneducated will choose to see a person only by their race, religion, skin colour and culture. This is wrong! We should empathise with and strive to help those who are being discriminated against and victimised, simply because they share the same God in “name” as these extremists. This pure ignorance and stereotyping is unacceptable and ignorant of the bigger picture in the 21st century. We are all brothers and sisters, connected as part of the human race, who carry many of the same values and principles. We must not be ignorant of the fact that the majority of Islam believe in a God that is just and merciful, who shares many of the same attributes as the God of Christianity and the God of Judaism. We must welcome and see these people as people just like you and I.

We must remember the victims in whatever way we can and especially for the beautiful people that they were. Many people without a faith around the world will do whatever they will to remember them, while those of faith will more than likely pray for the victims, their families and for strength in this time of sadness. I myself have been left contemplating as to what a world, without religion and all of the violence that it has brought with it right throughout the ages, would be like. What if there was never a concept of religion or God? It’s nearly too big of an idea to think about and without question the world would be a very different place, for the better or worse who knows? However looking at it purely from a life and death perspective, we can say that we would have never spilt all of the countless lives that have been lost in the name of religion.