Bah Humbug

Even in my secret identity as mild-mannered reporter teacher I’m not a huge Christmas fan. I mean, I understand the ideas and all, both those based around the solstice and the way the traditions have been pinched more recently by the Christians, but I just don’t like it much. (For those of a Christian tradition, how about an assignment: compare and contrast 1 and 2.) Blame whatever you like, I just try not to get too grumpy as I’ve two kids of my own and around 250 by proxy. And as my similarly-atheist spouse has taken the seven year old out to a carol service, it seems appropriate to share a few festive thoughts and links. It’s that or get depressed about the loss of Christopher Hitchens.

Tim Minchin’s White Wine In The Sun is a good place to start. I’ve put the link to open in a new window/tab so you can play it while you read the rest of the post. Or instead of reading my wittering, you could check out @alomshaha‘s Cif article last year in the Guardian about enjoying Christmas as an atheist. Better written than I’d manage, but pretty close to my own views.

As a parent I’ve struggled with the ideas of Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy (and yes, I’m also familiar with the idea that all teachers are de-facto ‘liars-to-children’). One of my proudest moments this year was when a car journey with my son turned into an impromptu philosophical discussion. In the summer he wasn’t quite seven and was newly gappy, for the third time. He asked, hesitantly, if he’d still get money under his pillow if he didn’t believe in a fairy that took his tooth away. Fifteen minutes and paraphrased explanations of Pascal’s Wager and Occam’s Razor later, I knew we were doing something right. I’m now wondering if he’ll ask about Santa before or after the 25th. Whatever happens, I’m glad I read this piece by Myra Zepf in New Humanist about why atheists should let kids believe in Santa.

Okay, if you need something to do in school, I will make a token link to last year’s Adaptations of Santa and Rudolf activity.

Finally, it’s probably too late to buy it for this year unless you read as fast as I do, but I strongly recommend Roger Highfield’s The Science of Christmas. This is usually on loan to one or other of my students. Personally, I tend to reread Hogfather each December, as it’s the closest I get to feeling seasonal. And let’s face it, who can go wrong with Terry Pratchett?

Whatever you do, and whatever your religious faith or lack of it, I hope you enjoy some time with your family (or possibly away from them) this winter.


Links for Revising P1 (AQA Science A)

EDIT: Obviously someone at the BBC is reading my blog – Bitesize has now updated their information so all of the links to ‘old’ Bitesize resources now point at the wrong stuff. Sigh. Perhaps next time they could be smart and organise ‘new’ resources in a ‘new’ folder rather than messing around every single website that pointed to existing material? If I get the chance, I’ll edit the list, but I’m trying to catch up with ASE conference material at the moment…

I quite like the new specification for AQA Science A. There’s lots of good physics in it, for example. So far there are two major downsides:

  1. Because the government keep meddling, we’re left not knowing how long it will be even vaguely modular so the timing is horrendous, rushing to get stuff done before the January exams
  2. Partly because of 1 above, nobody’s producing good resources for it online because they don’t know how long it will last.

I have some sympathy with problem 2, as we’ve written a scheme of work that we might have to rewrite after only a year. It’s depressing enough when they last four years. But online stuff shouldn’t be a big deal to adjust, you’d think, because the resources will still be useful, it’s just the index which you’d have to mess with. But what do I know?

Enough complaints – how about something useful, I hear you ask. So here it is.

downloadable: links for revising p1 as a pdf

Despite being a pdf, this is not a printable, for reasons that will shortly become obvious. The page is a quick guide to revising P1 online for students. There are a few tips about best use of resources (like, don’t waste your time by just reading them) and then catalogued links from a few sites I recommend to my students. This way students can find what they need by thinking through the new specification, even though the websites are mostly organised according to the older qualification. I decided this saved the hassle of producing shortlinks (for example via for them to type in. An alternative would be QR codes, I suppose, but I wanted to cut out the middleperson.

For what it’s worth, this grew out of a classroom activity. I provided an electronic copy of the P1 revision checklist to the class, who then chose a few areas, looked online and added URLs. They emailed a copy to their webmail and home addresses, and now have a personalised bookmark list they can access over the Christmas holiday and on their smartphones.

If you’ve got any other suggestions for websites, pages or uses, I’d love you to share them in the comments. Sorry I’ve not been posting much recently, but I’ll try to catch up with a few over Christmas – in between 100+ mock exam papers, 32 ISA scripts, two KS3 tests and a set of folders. Yes, really. Chocolate and encouragement to the usual address…