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G. Y. Ritchie (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

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Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion
Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Encouraging, 21 July 2015
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Written by a distinguised physicist, this book tackles faith and science from the perspective of a theist who sees science as an enterprise in which Christians should naturally be involved. The central thesis of the book is that science is not necessarily opposed to faith, and theism need not be threatened by the uncovering of the physical and biological processes seen in the evolution of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. But for Steane there is much more to being human than gaining scientific knowledge. Wisdom is to be found in lives lived well, and that includes, but goes well beyond, science. He does not defend what he calls "bad religion" and is quick to point out that Jesus of Nazareth was among the sharpest critics of religion. In the context of science and faith Steane is in no doubt that the strands of Christianity in the US which support creationism are desperately in need of reform.

"Faithful to science" covers areas such as the nature of science, understanding the Bible in the light of science, the contributions of scientists of faith, human origins, and "prayer experiments". It is written in a variety of styles including stories, a short biography, and persuasive sections (the most useful of which dealt with the early chapters of Genesis). The result is that rather than an argument being built up through the book, chapters can almost stand alone. The book is also highly personal in the sense that Steane is presenting his understandings rather than examining the work of others.

This book should help free Christians from the fear of science which has arisen from the oft-repeated message that religion and science are in conflict. For those interested in science and faith it ought to be essential reading.


The Hidden Lives of Learners
The Hidden Lives of Learners
by Graham Nuthall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing, original and stimulating, 10 July 2015
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This book was written at the end of New Zealand educator Graham Nuthall's life as a teacher-friendly summary of extensive research projects he led into classroom learning from the perspective of the student. The result is an original and stimulating book which is quite different from (although certainly complementary to) the books which deal with topics such as curriculum and methodology from the viewpoint of the teacher.

Nuthall begins by acknowledging that nothing is as ephemeral as talks (such as his own) delivered to teachers and school leaders. While his presentations to such groups may have had useful content, this left no trace as educators returned to their daily challenges. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to present his insights in a more enduring form. Having made this refreshing start he proceeds to lead the reader through his philosophy of classroom learning, and the processes and findings of his classroom research projects.

The book is characterized by really valuable and thought-provoking insights. For example (from Chapter 1) a big idea is that there are no universally good or bad teachers. Our effectiveness varies with the groups and the content we are teaching. This helps me understand my varying success with different groups and the same content, or different content with one group of students. When we stop thinking "I am a good teacher", and start thinking about who we are a good teacher for (and who we are not a good teacher for) then we have moved to a deeper understanding of our practice. Probably the most important finding from the research presented is that students will learn concepts if they encounter complete ideas three times regardless of ability. This "rule" emerging from the research was able to predict student learning (and lack of learning) with a high degree of success. The fact that students do not all learn the same concepts can be traced back to motivation, background knowledge, and interest which influence how they use learning activities.

Although Nuthall's book is original, his insights do sit well with the writings of other educators. For example the conclusion from his research that students learn what they do (and so activities must be designed so that students have to interact with the important concepts) is consistent with Daniel Willingham's point that memory is the residue of thought (so we have to consider what students will think about in classroom activities). Another of Nuthall's premises is that teaching should be organized around big questions, echoing a principle of UbD.

This is a valuable work for teachers who want to consider more deeply classroom learning as experienced by the student. But for a small book it is rather pricey. Making it more accessible through providing a Kindle version at a lower price would be very welcome.


Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom
Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom
Price: £10.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended without reservation!, 21 Jun. 2015
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I delayed reading this book for some time. I didn’t like the title (my students love school, don’t they?), and experiences with modestly qualified presenters peddling “brain-based learning” make me suspicious of those claiming to apply “brain research” to teaching. I need not have worried. The title is a hook to raise curiosity (much closer to the content - but less provocative - would be “Why don’t students learn as much at school as they could?”). And Willingham writes with knowledge and wisdom, backing his points with evidence. Soon after starting the book I realized that underlining key passages would not work. The book is packed with interesting insights, too many to underline. He presents his ideas in a lively style as answers to questions, modelling the cognitive principles he advocates. The result is a very enjoyable read. But how will it influence my teaching? Here, briefly, is what could result from implementing the cognitive principles Willingham identifies:

“Curriculum content - geologic history, moon phases, cellular respiration etc. - is presented as answers to questions, solutions to problems. There is extensive use of storytelling both through stories of real individuals (scientists in my case) and through making stories around natural phenomena. There is a recognition of the importance of practice to enable learners to have key knowledge and skills in their long term memory. Students are not expected to have expertise in tasks such as carrying out full investigations to create new knowledge. The role of the students is that of novice developing appropriate skills and, over time, deep understandings. The teacher is careful to evaluate lessons by considering what it is that the students will think about during the lesson. Importantly, the teacher believes that intelligence can be developed through effort and practice, and is careful not to praise students for their ability - that would risk students seeing their intelligence as fixed and leave them threatened by their errors. The teacher sees his own expertise as something that can develop through practice and so consciously reflects on successes and failures through keeping a teaching diary.”

Not all reviewers have been as positive as myself. Perhaps some of Willingham’s ideas (e.g. the brain is not designed for thinking) are too provocative, and certainly he explores, and finds wanting, some cherished ideas (such as learning styles and multiple intelligences). But don’t let some negative reviews dissuade you. “Why don’t students like school?” is recommended without reservation.


Teaching Backwards (Outstanding Teaching Series)
Teaching Backwards (Outstanding Teaching Series)
Price: £10.04

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of good ideas, but ..., 7 April 2015
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This is the follow-up to the excellent "Engaging learners". It continues in a similar style, but with rather less originality than their first work, I felt. Although the title is "Teaching backwards", which brings to mind backwards design as popularized by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, it seemed to me that rather than having one central idea the book was more of a collection of suggestions and examples of good teaching. (Their first book, by contrast, was organized around the central theme of "flow".) That is not to say that there are no good ideas in the book. There certainly are. But it may have been more accurate just to title it "Good teaching".

The ideas are organized in the following sequence:
- Setting high expectations. Here they deal with the important issue of self-assessment, and the problem of (some) learners being poor judges of the quality of their own work.
- Starting points (finding out where the learners are starting from in their learning). This includes the idea of using pre-course and pre-unit assessments to know where gaps are, and repeating the same assessments to measure impact.
- Defining and demystifying success. In this chapter the authors contrast "Blue Peter" with "Scooby-Doo" to show the difference between the useful practice of sharing what success looks like from the start, rather than revealing all at the end!
- Looking for proof of learning. Readers are challenged to be detective-like (the model is TV detective Columbo) in searching for evidence of learning. This mirrors the "assessment evidence" which is so central to the backwards design in Understanding by Design. Some of the suggestions (for example using "invitational questions") are simple, yet really worthwhile.
- Challenge. Expert teachers, according to John Hattie, set the challenge high, in particular with respect to the depth of processing required. The chapter explores many ways of raising challenge. The most valuable for me was the idea of "living graphs" in which learners have examine graphs (say, for example, a graph of biodiversity over time) and place statements (e.g. Earth's largest extinction) at the appropriate points on the graph.
- Feedback. The authors deal extensively with peer feedback here, recognizing its value, but also its dangers. Here they quote Hattie as making clear that 'Learners get 80% of their feedback on learning from their peers and 80% of that is wrong'. This seems not to be correct. Hattie actually cites Graham Nuthall as reporting "80 percent of verbal feedback comes from peers - and most of this feedback information is incorrect'. Not quite the same.

I can sum up the above by saying that there are plenty of good ideas in "Teaching backwards", but maybe not much new. Plenty which is of value, but if you are going to read only one book between this and Griffith and Burns' earlier book, I'd suggest going for "Engaging learners".


Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners (Outstanding Teaching (Crown House Publishing))
Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners (Outstanding Teaching (Crown House Publishing))
Price: £10.04

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, 7 April 2015
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The good thing about this book is that, although it is wide-ranging, there is a central unifying idea, that of "flow" as popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the experience of being lost in an activity, focused, energized, and barely aware of the passage of time. The key requirement for flow is that challenge is matched with skill. Boredom will result if the challenge is too low; and frustration if the challenge is beyond skill levels. Applied to the classroom, this simple yet powerful idea provides the direction for the book - creating opportunities for flow through appropriate challenge and raising the skills of learners. The authors note that frequently in lessons there is little opportunity for learners to experience flow. In fact, teachers dominate the classroom to the extent that it is only they who are likely to get into flow, presumably explaining why class time seems to move faster for teachers than students. We have to step back to allow learners to get into flow. Not only will this lead to greater learning, it allows us the chance to see if they are learning. As the authors say "It is essential that ... we create sufficient space and opportunities for independent learning ... so that we can gather real evidence about our students' learning or lack of it."

The authors challenge readers to list activities they use which allow learners to remain absorbed in learning for 20 minutes or more. Reaching a target of 15-20 different activities should ensure that our learners get the chance to work harder than the teacher! There are some great ideas which were new to me which have proven very successful in my classes. Two of my favorites have been "Tarsia" puzzles and learning grids. With Tarsia, learners assemble pieces by matching, for example, questions with answers. Puzzles are easily created using free software. Learning grids, which can be adapted to a variety of purposes are 6 x 6 grids of words, images or ideas. Learners select boxes by rolling dice. In the simplest form of the activity, learners are challenged to make connections between the words they select. The random selection generated by the dice-throwing generally creates a high level of challenge as unanticipated pairs are thrown together.

To sum up: Well worth reading for the combination of a solid theoretical framework, practical wisdom from many hours of classroom observation, successful activities, and a good dose of fun (most evident in the entire chapter devoted to play and playfulness).


Faith and Wisdom in Science
Faith and Wisdom in Science
Price: £6.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, intelligent, important, 23 Oct. 2014
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What a delight to read! This book deals with science and theology in an original way, relevant to, but quite different in substance and tone from "God delusion / conclusion" debates. McLeish tells the story of science from within, a story of hard-won understanding, humility, and perseverance. This is story rather different from that told by science journalists who present something more like a triumphal march from darkness to light. Importantly McLeish tells this story as one which has a much longer history than the modern "scientific revolution" of history textbooks. Completely central to his thesis is the gentle recovery of the idea of "natural philosophy" (love of wisdom of natural things) replacing or at least complementing "science" (based on the root idea of "to know"). This immediately makes science an enterprise more human, more humble, and more accessible. As a science educator, no longer a working scientist, I see this as a real game-changer leading to an emphasis on questions, inquiry, fascination, and no little sense of wonder. As regards theology, McLeish spends very little time on Genesis texts, but includes an extensive study of ideas about nature in the book of Job, culminating in the great questions at the end of that book. McLeish sees here at least a hint of a challenge to explore these questions. For those within the Christian church, perhaps the most thought-provoking idea is that science is an integral part the "ministry of reconciliation" to which the church is called. In a world where the local church is often indifferent to science, ignorant of science, afraid of science, or even at war with science, I earnestly hope church members, pastors, and youth leaders hear this. This is an inspiring, intelligent and important book. I hope it is widely read.


Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
Price: £19.43

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important work? Yes. Highly recommended? No., 23 Oct. 2014
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Before I bought and read Visible Learning for Teachers, I read some reviews, mentally endorsing the positive and dismissing the negative as being written by anti-intellectual teachers looking for no more than ideas to put into practice on Monday morning. However, the negative reviewers really do have a point. The research which Hattie describes and distills, both his own and the many other studies of what works best in schools is undoubtedly very important. The idea of effect size and the key message, summed up in the three simple words "Know your impact", should be the basis for the change of mindset which Hattie advocates in both individual teachers and whole schools. The book also has very good pieces of advice, thoroughly practical and implementable, scattered throughout (put the "hook" at the end, not the beginning of the lesson; start off with a test before any teaching; don't give feedback intended for one student to the whole class - it will be heard by none). Yet despite this I encountered a sense of incoherence in the book. I felt that I was standing by Prof. Hattie's desk randomly picking up ideas written on index cards. The major section of book does follow a lesson sequence (preparing, starting, flow and end of lesson), but when reading I found it hard to identify any developing argument or be aware of what section I was reading. Also contributing to this experience of incoherence was the way that the same works can be discussed more than once in different parts of the book with no reference being made to the fact that the writer has previously introduced these ideas.

The main reason why I would not wholeheartedly recommend this book to colleagues is not, however, the incoherence. It is more the way that Hattie's "solutions" frequently present an unbridgeable chasm for classroom teachers, requiring more than just a change of personal mindset, but also a change in the way schools are organized (to give, for example, more collaborative planning time). In fact the final "mind frames" part of the book seems to be directed more at school leaders than teachers. Certainly more so than ought to be the case in a book with "for teachers" in the title! In addition, the solutions can be so frustratingly opaque. Take this example: In citing work identifying right and wrong "drivers" of change, Hattie gives one of the wrong drivers as "assuming that technology will carry the day". Fine. I can get that. But what are the right drivers? The first is "creating a powerful centrality of the learning-instruction-assessment nexus". I'm sorry, but that does not move me forward at all.

However, despite the reservations, when I look though the notes I made on the book I realize that it is a rich source of interesting and powerful ideas, and will merit re-reading. A good book? Yes. Important work? Undoubtedly. A "must-read" for classroom teachers? No, I wouldn't say so.


1: The Secret Seven
1: The Secret Seven
Price: £2.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 16 April 2014
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My 8 year old son loved this book because he says it was exciting and interesting. He would recommend this for children between 7 and 9. He'll be reading more Secret Seven mysteries.


The Chronicles of Narnia 7-in-1 Bundle with Bonus Book, Boxen
The Chronicles of Narnia 7-in-1 Bundle with Bonus Book, Boxen
Price: £24.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still magical, 5 Jan. 2014
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Reading these at bedtime for my 8 year old takes me back to when the stories were first read to me at school decades ago. When I started reading them myself as a child, even as youngster I could see that there was something about them which was deeper and more significant than other childrens' books I read. While there are certainly elements in the stories which are dated - the heroes and their lands are rather too Britsh, - the magic is still there. My son has always enjoyed his bedtime reading, but with these stories he is captivated.


Sustaining formative assessment with teacher learning communities
Sustaining formative assessment with teacher learning communities
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, 16 Dec. 2013
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Dylan Wiliam on formative assessment is always a treat. No surprises then that this paper (it cannot be described as a book) was packed full of insight and interest. It is only suitable for those who have already worked through his earlier "embedded formative assessment", as it describes research on how the strategies contained in the earlier book can be implemented in schools through the establishment of teacher learning communities. The author cannot be faulted for being honest about how difficult change is to achieve, but I did feel that I would have been more encouraged had the case study of teacher learning communities given been more successful. But the encouragement Wiliam offers does not come through saying the journey will be easy, only that it is worth the effort.


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