Welcome to the coloured glass classroom! We hope to provide you with lots of creative ideas and resource links to help you engage the young people in your religious and Christian education classes. This blog is sponsored by the Anglican Schools Commission of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland.

24 July 2014

Great religious education? Just add awe and wonder!

One of the fantastic things about children is they start life with a huge capacity for awe and wonder. Unfortunately many people lose this capacity as they grow up. Sometimes this happens far too young and we see apathy in our students about the world they live in and the mysteries and unknowns in the Universe. Good religious education should seek to revive awe and wonder...and we can do this with the help of science and philosophy. Science, because it helps us to see how little we really know and how amazing the Universe is. Philosophy, because it questions so much of what we take for granted.

If we can encourage students to ask questions, think deeply, explore their assumptions and enjoy wondering...we have planted an amazing seed that will grow and bear fruit. If our students remain passive and apathetic it doesn't matter how great our message is, it will fall on barren ground. 

This great little video from Ted Ed was used at the recent DAN Professional Development day. There are many videos out there like this that help students to see that there is much more to the world than what they can see. Enjoy.

21 July 2014

Who is DAN?

Over the next few weeks (or longer) I will be sharing some of the excellent resources and ideas I picked up at the recent Dialogue Australasia Network (DAN) professional development workshop run by Brian Poxon. The workshop had a big focus on critical and creative pedagogy, and provided not only inspiration but plenty of practical application as well. But before we get to the great resources...who is DAN?

In their own words the Dialogue Australasia Network (DAN) is:
“ an exciting and important initiative arising from a commitment to developing Values, Philosophy & Religious Studies with intellectual rigour and contemporary relevance in Australasian schools.”
DAN supports its members through:
  • Dialogue Australasia Journal (twice yearly)
  • Website with access to online Teaching Resources and Blog
  • Professional Development Opportunities including Workshops & a bi-annual Conference
  • Regular e-Newsletters and Updates
  • A network of like-minded colleagues throughout Australia and New Zealand
There are all sorts of great resources on their website at http://www.dialogueaustralasia.org/
Go there now!

17 July 2014

Spirituality: In search of a metaphor

Is spirituality a concept you have tried to explore with students?

Ten or so years ago many religious educators were excited by the word spirituality. They perceived an opportunity when students said:  I am spiritual but not religious.

I wonder if the students we have in front of us today would say: I am spiritual but not religious.

My hunch is that even the word spirituality is a bit suspect in the minds of students today. I think there are many reasons for this, including, its overuse by ‘religious’ people and the pervasive materialism of our society as mediated through consumerism and new atheism.

Spirituality is a concept – like God – that we need to crack open with our students. It is a hard word to pin down and it is easier to talk around it and describe some of its territory than it is to define. In fact I would encourage teachers not to try to define it too hastily or narrowly, if at all.

A whole unit of work could be built around cracking open the concept, exploring it and describing some of its territory.

One way of doing this would be to explore it through the use of metaphors. Human exploration of spirituality (like most intangible things) is built on a foundation of metaphors.

Some examples that come to my mind include:
  • A journey
  • A garden
  • Coming home
  • Rebirth
  • Unfolding (seed to fruit)
  • The coming of light
  • Growth
 What others can you think of?

Here are three of my favourites:
  • A hunger
Many people experience something they describe as a hunger. This hunger isn’t filled by physical food and experiential things like shopping, power, money don’t seem to work either.
  • A question
G Stanley Hall – a pioneering American psychologist who coined the term adolescence said there were three questions that young people sought to answer:

Who am I?
Who do I belong to?
What do I do?

To me these are the questions of spirituality. They are the questions we want to answer on a deep existential level and continue to answer through our whole lives.
  • A GPS (Global Positioning System)
GPS devices need an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites to work. Just like GPS our spirituality helps us to understand where we are in the world through our relationships with others, with ourselves, with God and with the environment.

Exploring with Students
What would your students say spirituality is?
How might they respond to some of these different metaphors?

One way of exploring these metaphors would be through quotes. Students could be provided with many quotes and discussion or activity could be based around explaining or exploring what each of them is trying to say. This could include creative mediums such as art.

It would also be of value to explore with students why the sense of the spiritual is so pervasive in human culture and experience.

Here are some examples of suitable quotes:

Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. ~ Buddha

Our scientific power has out run our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.~Martin Luther King, Jr.

The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.~Julius Erving

The goal of spiritual practice is full recovery, and the only thing you need to recover from is a fractured sense of self.~Marianne Williamson

I don't have any real spirituality in my life - I'm kind of an atheist - but when music can take me to the highest heights, it's almost like a spiritual feeling. It fills that void for me.~Jack Black


Another way to explore these metaphors would be through the use of stories. There are many stories in many traditions that use a variety of images for spirituality. The Bible contains many and Jesus was a master at using stories to explore spiritual truths.

Student could write their own story based around one of the metaphors or a quote associated with it.

Here is one I prepared earlier:

There is a spiritual hunger in the world today, and it cannot be satisfied by better cars on longer credit terms. Adlai E. Stevenson

Spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst But you got to change it on the inside first,
to be satisfied. Van Morrison

I am the bread of Life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty. Jesus of Nazareth

There was once a young boy named Ninugo.
He lived in a village high up in the mountains.

One day Ninugo’s father had to go on a long journey and he left in such a hurry that had no time to say goodbye. Ninugo missed him very much. Soon after, Ninugo became very hungry. In his village there was lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and Ninugo’s mother always fed him the very best that she could find, but she soon discovered that she could not satisfy his hunger. She would feed him morning noon and night but Ninugo was still hungry. She talked to the other mothers in the village. What can I give my son, he is always hungry, he never stops eating. They had lots of advice for her. 'Feed him potatoes and meat, three times a day, that will satisfy his hunger'. And so that is what she did. But Ninugo was still hungry. 'Feed him on pickled fish with eels eggs that will satisfy his hunger' they said. And so that is what she did. But Ninugo was still hungry. 'Make him eat rancid butter and milk with chunks in it' they said. And so that is what she did. Ninugo left home and went and lived with his uncle. He said to Ninugo, 'eat whatever you want, eat whatever you desire, that will satisfy your hunger'. And this is what Ninugo did, he ate fairy floss, and lollies, liquorice and bubble gum, soft drink and chips. Ninugo ate and ate and ate and ate and ate and ate, anything he could get his hands upon he ate. But Ninugo was still hungry.

[The story could be stopped at this point and students could be asked to finish it - below is the ending I use when I tell it]

One day a friend of Ninugo’s said to him after he had demolished a truckload of sugar coated peanuts. 'Ninugo you are always hungry, but where does your hunger come from. Surely your stomach doesn't want more after you have eaten all that'. Ninugo looked down at his feet. He was confused. He said to his friend, 'I am worried. I think I have grown another stomach. Even after my belly is full to bursting, I still feel hungry in here', he said, 'pointing to his chest.'

'That is not your stomach that is empty', said the friend, 'that is your spirit'. Ninugo looked at his friend, a glow in his eyes. 'Then where can I get food that will satisfy my spirit'.

In an upcoming post I will consider exploring the intersection between religion and spirituality. 

2 July 2014

Godly Play

Looking for a way to authentically engage young children with the Bible. Why not explore Godly Play?

Godly Play is a way of telling Bible stories using a method based on the Montessori approach. Developed by Jerome Berryman, Godly Play is ideal for children under eight. It uses parables, sacred stories and liturgical lessons about religious traditions to deeply engage students.

Godly play is about the way young children experience God while learning about God.

It uses a sensorimotor style of storytelling as a primary means of encountering God, so God is experienced, not just learned about. It provides opportunities for students to continue to work and play with the story using art and figurines. It enables young children to bring their lived experiences into dialogue with God in the biblical stories and enables them to tell the stories to one another.

The website of Godly Play in Australia is good place to begin exploring or by reading the book Young Children and Worship by Sonya Stewart and Jerome Berryman.