Archive for November, 2017

GrudgeBallUK: Making Revision More Fun

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

I found this idea on a blog called Engaging Them All run by Kara Wilkins  and while I’ve made a few slight additions / modifications what I describe below is essentially her work.

Grudgeball is basically a team-based revision quiz game with a twist. While teams gain points for answering questions correctly, they also get the opportunity to take points away from opposing teams by playing GrudgeBall – shooting the hoop using an indoor basketball set (see below).

The game is designed for revision / review sessions – from one-off games played at the end of course, module or week to a “competitive season” played by the same teams throughout an academic year.

You Will Need

Indoor Basketball Set (such as this one). A relatively cheap set, consisting of a hoop with suction cups and foam rubber balls, that can be purchased from most toy shops should do the job.

Attach the hoop to a surface (a wall, above a door…) around 6 – 8 feet from the floor, keeping in mind that the higher the hoop the harder it will be for students to score points. Mark two lines on the floor in front of the hoop using something like masking tape. The 2-point line should be 5 – 6 feet away, the 3-point line 7 – 8 feet away, although these can be varied to suit the class.

Before you actually play the game for real it’s probably best to check these measurements with students of varying heights and basketball skills. You want to strike a balance between making it too easy or too difficult to score points by throwing the foam ball through the hoop.

If you want to minimise height advantages, try hanging the hoop about 3 feet above the floor. Instead of throwing the foam ball directly through hoop (as above) students have to bounce the ball into the hoop. If you use this variation you will probably need to move the throw lines further away.

Question cards
A set of prepared question cards (around 3”x3” – laminated if you can so they can be reused for other sessions) in sufficient quantity to fill the time you’ve set aside for the game, particularly if you’re running a session focused on a single topic, such as family, education or methods.

A useful resource here is the Question Banks created by The Hectic Teacher covering Family and Education (with Methods), Crime and Deviance, Beliefs in Society and Theory and Methods. These give you a ready-made supply of around 100 questions on each topic and, if necessary, you can use them as basis for creating further questions.

Dry Wipe board (or similar), marker pen and board eraser. While not essential this type of board allows students to physically remove points from their opponents and gives the game a further competitive edge. (more…)

Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

The 2017 OfCom Report on “Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes” (2017) covers different types of on-and-offline media use by children in the UK and it’s quite a treasure trove of visual and verbal information that will repay careful analysis – although at around 300 pages it may prove a little hard-going for most students.

Luckily, there’s a really good Executive Summary that pulls-together a shedload of interesting empirical / opinion data and disgorges them into concise, bite-sized and consumption-friendly chunks. This section is something you or your students can easily browse, taking whatever you want from what is actually a very rich menu.

If you’re interested in media and methods – and, let’s face it, who is? – there’s extensive details about the overall research methodology. It’s actually quite useful (in a sort-of “you know you should be interested in this stuff, but…” kind of way) because this knowledge lets you assess the likely levels of reliability and validity of some parts of the Report (such as interviews with parents about the media usage of their 3 – 4 year old children).

If you do decide to take the plunge and swim down into the deep waters of the main section of the Report you’ll find it contains some very useful charts, tables and summaries about all aspects of children’s media use.

However, if you’re anything like me the main takeaway from the Report is this rather neat little chart summarising “Media lives by age: a snapshot” – perfectly poster-sized for pinning on that pristine wall.


Spaced Study: Free Resources

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Spaced Study or Spaced Practice is a theory of learning that argues, in a nutshell, that students study more effectively and retain more of the information they learn if the study period is “spaced” – or spread out over a number of hours / days – than if studying is “crammed” into short intensive blocks.

Interestingly, unlike so many “contemporary study techniques” this technique not only sounds like it should be effective, there’s also a lot of scientific research both historic and contemporary, that actually supports the basic idea.

If you can’t be bothered to read this document (or, as I prefer to think, you’ll take my word for it…) the Very Wonderful Learning Scientists have helpfully distilled the basics into a teacher / student friendly form.

While this is all-well-good-and-worth-a-try, you might be thinking, do you have the time – spaced or otherwise – and, more-importantly, resources to convince your students that Spaced Study is more effective than something like Cramming?

If you don’t – and I’ve a feeling you’re probably not alone in this – the equally-wonderful Hectic Teacher has come riding to your rescue because she’s produced a range of completely-free Spaced Study Booklets so you don’t have to.

Which is nice.

As you’ll find if you click the link there are 5 booklets available on her Blog covering some of the most popular AQA A-level Units (Family, Education, Beliefs in Society, Crime and Deviance, Theory and Methods).

How does Cultural Capital Work in Chinese Society?

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

This research, created and carried-out by one of Richard Driscoll’s students at the Shenzhen College of International Education in China applies the concept of cultural capital to an understanding of the relationship between class, status and education in contemporary China.

As such, it’s a useful teaching resource for both the way it applies the concept of cultural capital to an understanding of Chinese parents’ “hopes and fears” for their off-spring’s education and for its sympathetic use of in-depth semi-structured (“focused”) interviews to elicit a fascinating insight into the thoughts and behaviours of two sets of Chinese parents from two different areas and social classes in China.

Although the research shouldn’t necessarily be taken as representative of all Chinese parents across all social classes – this is, after all, simply a piece of research conducted by a then a-level student (she now studies at the LSE in London) – it is nevertheless a very-rewarding read, both for its careful construction and the insights it gives into the thoughts and behaviours of two very different families living in contemporary China.

Richard is Head of Humanities and can be contacted on Twitter.

Creating Structured Sociological Discussions with Kialo

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Although “discussions”, in one form or another, are probably a teaching staple in social science classes, one of their major drawbacks is that they can be devilishly difficult to structure, control and record.

Which is both a shame and a problem:

• the former because students seem to find discussions useful and teachers can use them to generate further knowledge and understanding about an issue or idea.

• the latter because without structure and recording it’s difficult to keep track of what’s been argued and, most importantly, why it might be significant.

In other words, one of the inherent problems with debates is the noise that intrudes: non sequiturs, moving away from the object of the debate, getting side-tracked into unfocused discussions, a small number of students monopolising the discussion and so on.

One way to resolve these problems is to create a structured debate using something like Kialo  – a free online debating platform that’s highly structured, so you can easily follow a discussion and jump into it at any point. It’s also very accessible: every student in your class, for example, can simultaneously contribute to the debate. No-one’s voice will be drowned-out and everyone, whatever their level of individual comfort or confidence, can contribute.


23 | Health: Part 4

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

In this final chapter in the Health series the main focus is on the role of health professionals in society, as seen through the lens of four sociological perspectives:

• Functionalist, with the main focus on the role of health systems and health professionals.

• Marxist, looking at medicine in terms of its production and consumption and how it operates as a system of political and ideological social control.

• Weberian where the emphasis is on the role of status groups and hierarchies.

• Feminist, where the focus is on women as objects of medical attention.

The final section examines the rise of complementary / alternative medicine, their challenge to – and the critical response of – conventional forms of medicine.

As per, there are a few nondescript printer’s marks visible (but nothing too distracting) and a single picture (pre-copyright release) with the usual literal caption for which I take no responsibility because, in the prescient words of Shaggy “It wasn’t me”.

Visual Sociology: Picturing Inequality

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

Equality of Opportunity?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of using graphic material (pictures and illustrations rather than examples of extreme physical violence) to both illustrate sociological ideas and encourage students to think a little more deeply about such ideas and how they can be applied to increase their depth of sociological knowledge and understanding. I’ve tried to use this technique to good effect in:

• blog posts – visualising strain theory is a particular favourite
• teaching – one of my favourite “visual lessons” was to use optical illusions to introduce and illustrate the idea of different sociological approaches – how could people look at the same thing (“society”) yet see it so differently?
• my work as a video producer.

In this respect my argument is that the right picture can be a simple and evocative way of getting students to both understand and think about the ramifications of certain ideas across a range of sociological areas:

• Education and differential achievement.
• Deviance and rates of arrest / imprisonment.
• Social inequality and various forms of discrimination.
• Theory and concepts like economic, cultural and social capital.

The picture above, for example, can be used to get students to think beyond relatively simple and straightforward ideas about class, gender or ethic discrimination (it’s morally wrong…) in order to explore more complex sociological ideas about the concept of equality of opportunity: what, for example, does it really mean and can it be used by powerful groups to actually embed greater inequality into social structures?


Sociological Theories And Frameworks

Monday, November 13th, 2017

This is a web page where you can find a bite-sized run-down of a range of:

a. Sociological frameworks – from those fairly central to a-level, such as Functionalism, Feminism. Conflict theory, Critical theory and those (symbolic interaction, phenomenology) that tend to be a little more optional.

b. Sociological theories – some fairly central ones, such as labelling and strain theory and some that are more-specialised, such as disengagement theory.

Labelling Theory

The information included for each framework or theory varies – some, such as Functionalism, are just given a brief introduction and general overview while others are covered in much greater detail. Labelling theory, for example, is given:

1. A short general introduction.
2. A brief outline of its origins.
3. A more-detailed overview of its content
4. A selection of key texts
5. A short evaluation.

You might find that some frameworks, such as critical theory,  probably go quite a bit beyond a-level so it’s probably best to review each of the frameworks / theories before you let your students loose on them (as I’ve demonstrated you can link directly to any of the frameworks / theories you think might be useful for your students).

In addition, the hosting website carries an interesting range of other sociological topics – from general stuff such as What is Sociology, through key concepts such as gender, to Units such as Crime and Deviance.

Popular Panics and the New Right

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Following the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, widespread rioting broke out during August 2011 in London and many other English cities. If you don’t remember or aren’t familiar with the civil unrest, the BBC has a handy timeline of events.

I recently came across an Economist article, written at the time and addressing the various political responses to the unrest, called “We have been here before: Centuries of nostalgia for a peaceful, law-abiding Britain” that I think teachers and students will find both interesting and useful for Crime and Deviance for a couple of reasons:

1. It documents a range of mainly New Right explanations for – and solutions to – the unrest / rioting that you might find useful as a way of illustrating “popular New Right” ideas about crime: an ever-revolving selection of The Usual Suspects – from teachers, through parents to the detrimental influence of whatever is the Popular Music Du Jour (in this particular instance, Rap takes the…err…biscuit).

2. It draws extensively on Geoffrey Pearson’s very wonderful “Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears” (1983) to show how, over the past 150 -200 years, the same kinds of “popular responses” to all kinds of civil unrest, disorder and downright deviance appear and reappear at regular intervals.

Finally, the article draws on Pearson’s work to provide an interesting comparative overview of a range of popular (and perhaps moral if you’re that way inclined) panics that students should find interesting, illuminative and instructive:

• fears, in the 1840’s, of a rise in working mothers and the detrimental effect this had on the morals of the young (a regular and long-running favourite in the popular press – or Mainstream Media if you prefer – ever since),

• the “spread of child labour” (a problem not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, because Child Labour! but rather because “it put money in the pockets of impressionable youths”, apparently).

• contemporary panics around “Rock’n’Roll in the 1950’s or sexual deviancy in the guise of “Peace’n’Love” in the 1960’s.

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

Friday, November 10th, 2017

I chanced across this blog post from the Smithsonian Institution of all places and it struck me as something that could be useful as a way of getting students to think about all kinds of sociological stuff – from gender and identity, through the role of the media to more-abstract ideas about childhood, invented traditions and the like.

It’s also useful if you want to illustrate the counter-intuitive nature of some sociology – not only the idea that particular cultures associate certain colours (and toys and characteristics and behaviours…) with specific genders but also that this association is fairly arbitrary (which may or may not be useful for labelling theory).

The idea of “Blue for boys and Pink for girls”, for example, is an association created around 100 years ago – only originally it was “Pink for boys and Blue for girls”. The current association – one that completely reversed “commonly accepted gender norms” – only emerged in the 1940’s…

The article also notes how the different styles of gendered clothing – skirts for girls and trousers for boys – that currently garners much discussion in the age of “back-to-basics” Academy Schools – have evolved over the past 150 years.

Further Reading

All of the following generally riff off the theme of the Smithsonian post, but I think each adds something to it, either by filling-in some of the references or expanding upon the general idea:

The Surprisingly Recent Time Period When Boys Wore Pink, Girls Wore Blue, and Both Wore Dresses

The pink vs blue gender myth

Kids Believe Gender Stereotypes by Age 10, Global Study Finds

Pink wasn’t always for girls

Then and Now

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

A few months ago I ran a couple of blog posts that featured the work of Dr Julia Russell under the headings “Hard to Find Classics”  and “More Hard to Find Classics”.

These files came from an online column she wrote, for a video-distribution company called Uniview, that I saved with a degree of prescience that, quite-frankly, surprised me. What was less-surprising is that I promptly managed to forget about the remaining files and they stayed unposted on my hard drive.

But that was then and this is now.

Which is spookily interesting (or maybe not) because the latest batch of files I’m posting goes under the “Then and Now” heading. The basic idea here was to take a “classic but dated” study and update it with contemporary evidence.

The format for each file is deceptively similar:

1. Identify and outline a classic psychological study (although, to be fair, the “outline” seems to have gone AWOL somewhere along the line. If you use the file you’ll probably need to give your students a basic idea of the original study).

2. Show how the original study has been updated, criticised, revised by later studies.

3. Add a glossary of key terms.

4. Finish with a range of activities to test student understanding.

I’ve a feeling there were only ever 5 “Then and Now” files created. Although I could be wrong I’m probably not because I was quite methodical in the stuff I saved. Anyway, the 5 files for your teaching and learning pleasure are:

Bandura, Ross & Ross’ (1961) “classic study demonstrating the acquisition of aggression through social learning”.

Dement and Kleitman’s (1957) “classic study which explored sleep and dreaming using electronic recording as well as observation and diary methods”.

Piliavin, Rodin & Piliavin’s (1969) “classic study investigating social behaviour”.

Samuel and Bryant’s (1984) (presumably classic) “study which evaluated the procedure Piaget had used to investigate children’s understanding of physical quantities”.

Freud’s (1909) “Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy” describes and interprets the experiences, dreams and fantasies of a young boy who was studied by Freud and treated for his fears and anxieties”.

Are You What Your Mother Ate?

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Randy Jirtle and Rob Waterland’s Agouti Mouse Study has been called one of the most important study’s of the 21st century, not only for its significance for our understanding of the relationship between our genetic Nature and environmental Nurture but, most importantly, for our understanding of the epigenetic mechanisms that change gene expression in both lab mice and, by extension, human beings.

The film combines extensive interview footage of Professor Randy Jirtle and original laboratory footage to both tell the story of the Agouti Mouse Study and consider its implications for our understanding of the relationship between our genetic and environmental influences.

The 14-minute film is divided into three discrete but related sections:

1. The Context of the Agouti Mouse Study outlines the development of an epigenetic approach to our understanding of disease.

2. The Experiment takes a closer look at the actual mechanics of the Agouti Study and how it demonstrated a causal pathway between a mother animal’s environment and the expression of her offspring’s genetic code (and, in the process, overturned a century’s scientific belief about how genetics worked).

3. The final section, Reactions and Implications, looks at both the impact of the study and its revolutionary implications for how we understand the relationship between our genes and our physical and social environments.

Although mainly of interest to psychology teachers and students, the film may also be useful to sociologists seeking a clearer understanding of the different ways the expression of our genetic inheritance can be modified by epigenetic environmental changes.

I would like to see this video disseminated to a large audience because it so clearly shows what our agouti mouse study accomplished. It truly ushered in the era of environmental epigenomics, which markedly changed the way we view the genesis of disease formation.”
Professor Randy Jirtle

22 | Health: Part 3

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

The third chapter in this series looks at the social construction of mental illness and disability in terms of how definitions and meanings have changed over time and between cultures.

In terms of definitions the chapter examines three basic models of mental illness the Biomedical, Psychological and Sociological (a distinction you can explore further through this short article that argues it is “unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes.”.)

In terms of meanings, this involves outlining and evaluating two broad approaches to mental illness – Structural and Interactionist – that seek to explain trends in mental illness based on categories of class, gender and ethnicity.

In relation to disability this means understanding how different societies interpret the meaning of physical and mental impairments, discussed in terms of two broad interpretive models – the individual or medical and the social model.


A further dimension here is the idea of mental illness and disability as deviance. In t respect, even if you don’t teach or study Health, the chapter contains a range of examples of non-criminal deviance.

The section dealing with Szasz’s (1961) arguments about “the myth of mental illness” may also contribute to an understanding of Interactionist approaches to crime and deviance and the idea that concepts of deviance (such as mental illness) are socially constructed across time and space.

Food Spaces: The Relationship between Economic and Cultural Capital

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The notion of different types of “capital” (economic, cultural, social, spatial…) has become increasingly significant for students of a-level sociology – particularly through the work of writers such as Bourdieu – and while the concepts themselves may be relatively easily understood the relationship between them is not always so clear.

A deceptively-easy to illustrate the relationship between economic and cultural capital, however, is through an interesting chart I chanced upon while rooting through Pinterest (as you do. Apparently).

It’s broadly taken from Bourdieu’s “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste” (1979) and updated by Molly Watson into an informative teaching device that could be used in a number of different ways – from a bare-bones version which students have to fill with their own “food suggestions” to a simple discussion-piece around the idea of different types of capital and what they signify.

Although this chart’s based on food, it’s not difficult to envisage teachers / students creating alternatives based on a range of different ideas, such as one on the UK education system, for example.

An interesting speculation here might be whether or not it’s possible to incorporate social capital into such a chart?

21 | Health: Part 2

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The second chapter in what literally nobody but me is calling The Health Series focuses on Patterns and explanations of ill health in society and is arranged in a slightly convoluted but-quite-logical-if-you-think-about-it kind of way.

It’s basically constructed around three broad organising categories – class, gender and ethnicity – and each is considered in terms of patterns of morbidity and mortality (which explains why we spent so much time defining these ideas in the first chapter on the social construction of health and illness).

Once patterns of ill-health have been identified the chapter then looks at how these can be explained and evaluated, for each of the class, gender and ethnicity categories, in terms of four general types of explanation:

1. Artefact and measurement
2. Natural/social selection
3. Cultural/behavioural factors
4. Structural and material factors.

There are a few printer’s marks (but nothing very intrusive) and a grand total of two (I counted them to make sure) pictures. Since this is a pre-clearance version of the chapter, one has a large watermark, but given the quality of picture selection throughout this is unlikely to detract from anyone’s enjoyment. Luckily whoever did the captioning was on top form here.

To make-up for the lack of pictures there are some tables, for which I should probably take responsibility, but I’m not sure that I can.