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Finding the time to collaborate

Our research project has found that science and RE teachers rarely collaborate and usually give ‘lack of time’ as the reason.

Science and RE teachers have different areas of expertise. If lessons are planned collaboratively pupils will receive a more coherent approach which looks not only at how science addresses the ‘Big Questions’ but also at how the science sits in a bigger picture.

If time is short, one way forward would be to put into the timetable a one-off collaborative session. We think you’ll be amazed – both at the pupils’ interest and also at how much you discover during conversations in the planning stage about what ‘your’ pupils are saying in the classroom down the corridor about topics of mutual interest.


A quick catch-up guide to the key ideas

If you are looking to quickly improve your own subject knowledge in this theme the ‘Quick Reads’ section of the site provides a rattle-through presentation of the key ideas.


A good Unit for collaborative teaching

The RE unit on ‘evidence’ for Year 8 would be a very interesting unit to study collaboratively. It is a chance to highlight the role of scientific evidence (observations) in supporting scientific theories, and to then to explore other forms of reasoning that people use to test and suport ideas.

The unit also includes a lesson on Galileo, noted of course both as ‘the father of modern science’ and as someone who thought deeply about the relationships between science and faith. The unit starts with a fun starter on a Professor who creates Optical Illusions.

The teachers’ notes for the unit are here:

There are two PowerPoints for this unit too:


A one-off collaborative session for lunch time

If you are considering teaching a one-off session about the science-religion debate one lunch time or within in a cross-curricular day, here are our suggestions. You could look at the way that the relationships between science and religion are most commonly described in the media and to explore with pupils whether this is a ‘fair’ portrayal of the different positions people hold. Ask pupils what Richard Dawkins thinks about belief in God and whether they have seen news of other scientists who do believe in God. One of the consequences of the media’s focus on the so-called ‘Conflict view’ is that it leads to what has been called, ‘the squeezed out middle’. Pupils are sometimes not aware that there are many people who believe in God and who are very comfortable with the idea of evolution.

The PowerPoint below could be used to launch discussion:

You could also show pupils the webpage, ‘Keeping it consistent’. This includes a video with Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, a materials scientist at Cambridge University. Prof Humphreys tackles the thorny question of ‘why’ a scientist can believe in God.

A Religious Education Teacher writes for a Science Teacher

Pupils’ worldviews

This may seem like a silly thing to point out, but everyone (not just a few) in the classroom holds a worldview – a ‘faith’ or ‘belief’, if you will – which informs how reality is perceived and approached. Not all these worldviews (just as you find among adults) are consistent in themselves or coherent, and only some may be ascribed to a major or recognised ‘organised’ religion. Many may not even have been examined or recognised as ‘a faith’ by the people who hold them.

Pupils do not ‘put on’ beliefs when they walk into an RE lesson and ‘take them off’ when they walk into a Science lesson, any other class or have their lunch. People are acting consistently with what they really believe all the time. Beliefs are part of who people are, and why it can be so threatening when those beliefs are challenged in an unthinking or unkind way.

Dealing with questions of life deals with pupils’ own experiences. Sometimes these life experiences coincide with their study in class and always any discussion has to be handled sensitively. Most classes, for example, will contain one child who has been bereaved of a parent. As such, the RE classroom is very ‘hands on’ as pupils often discuss the human experience from a personal perspective. These issues often directly or indirectly link to ‘Big Questions’ And therefore this discussion aspect where pupils relate personal experience is the most ‘hands on’ of them all.

In some schools – for example ‘faith schools’ – where the majority of pupils come from homes which ascribe (whether due to ethnic identity or genuine belief) to a particular religion it might be assumed that there is a lesser spread of beliefs present in the classroom but this is rarely the case in reality. Pupils are their own persons and are developing their own understanding of the world around them, even if this understanding is heavily coloured by their parents’ views.

How do you approach questions like the Origin of the Universe in RE?

In my lessons, on the topic of ‘where does the universe come from?’ the heart of the issue is ‘does it matter if we ever know, and why?’ From that point the issue can be worked on out by examining ways in which different people answer the question ‘where does the universe come from?’ and what that answer reflects about their beliefs of ‘why does it matter?’ While doing this pupils express their own views and opinions and learn to evaluate their own and each others’.

What is the main aim of the Teaching?

The subject and age of the pupils will determine the aim of the teaching but this will always fall under one or both of the two Attainment Target categories: AT1 learn about religion AT2 learn from religion. On the topic of evolution, for example, the aim of teaching will be to establish a broadly comprehensive understanding.

Is it part of your aim to ensure they have a correct understanding of scientific ideas like evolution?

At exam level it is important to ensure that the children have a good understanding of current scientific beliefs and debates about how evolution works. Often their views have to be corrected e.g. humans come from monkeys (rather than a common ancestor)

Pupils are also required to know different possible responses from religious perspectives. Why people accept or reject evolution and some of the philosophical questions it raises which have obvious consequences for religions which may not on the surface interest science e.g. if people evolved, do they have souls? Is evolution God’s mechanism for Creation?

Pupils think about different kinds of evidence. We cover evaluating ‘good’ and ‘poor’ methods of interpreting evidence. How is it that the same evidence can be interpreted in radically different ways? E.g. Why does Prof. Richard Dawkins conclude that God cannot exist, while Prof. Alister McGrath looks at the same evidence and concludes God does exist?

Do you find that some pupils reject science because of their religion?

Most pupils do not actively believe something which ‘goes against’ contemporary scientific thinking (i.e. a worldview expressed in their home environment which directly contradicts scientific thinking) but they often are mistaken in their scientific understanding (i.e. not fully understood a principle or process at the time of learning). This may or may not improve over the course of time and their continued education.

What are the challenges for RE teachers?

Some RE teachers lack confidence when covering this theme and move through it quickly, because of the level of science that can be needed.

Many Religious Education departments have only one dedicated Religious Education teacher. This teacher may or may not be a specialist. The Department then typically has a number of non-specialists. These non-specialists may teach one class or several each. This can mean a Religious Education department consists of up to 17 teachers, all specialists in other subjects and primarily dedicated to other departments. Departments consisting entirely of RE specialists are rare, unlike in other subjects.

Timetabling affects how much may be covered. Many pupils receive 1-2 humanities lessons a week, compared to 5-8 in Science, Maths and English. These issues also affect how pupils, teachers and parents perceive the value and quality of Religious Education.

© 2011 FaradaySchools