Today marks the second in our series on teacher stories from the Ethics and Religious Culture classroom. After reading our previous entry by Anne-Marie DeSilva about teaching ERC in Elementary School, long-time ERC teacher and program specialist Rhonda Gibson decided to offer a few words about her secondary-level experience. We went with the same line of questioning, and she offered her responses below. Feel free to add your comments and questions to this post. And contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate and share your stories!
How long have you been teaching ERC?
I have been teaching ERC since its inception. I was part of the original team organized to create the program.
What resources do you use? Share your best lesson.
I have the unique position of teaching 4 grade levels so I can use spiral learning and track the progress through each grade. Resources vary from popular movies and NFB films to the internet to the library. One of my favorite spiral lessons begins in Sec I with a volunteer assignment. Under the theme of Social Awareness and Autonomy, students discuss their involvement in the world and what kind of effect it has on them and what effect they can have on it. We watch the movie Pay It Forward and they are given an assignment in which they must choose someone to help: family member, neighbor, anyone they choose. They must keep a journal of what they are doing to help, how their help has affected that person’s life and how they feel about helping. It is a 5-month journal with a minimum of 2 entries per month.
Sec II takes this concept a step further. They are now looking into helping outside their home or neighborhood. I encourage them to look for an organization or group to help. Ex. guides or scouts that they are a part of, their sport team, a local daycare, etc. The project is shorter but students are expected to manage a slightly larger task within the group that they are helping.
In Sec IV, Lake of Two Mountains High School is one of 8 schools in the province involved in the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative . This initiative encourages teens to become involved in local, grassroots charities in their neighborhood. The must interview and participate (volunteer) with that charity for a period of time and present their findings in a ten minute audio visual presentation. Topics that must be covered include history of the organization, staffing, resources, funding, and people that have been helped.
Sec V students take what they have learned from Sec I through IV and must create their own charity (theoretical). They must determine a target audience and follow the procedure of how to set the charity up: its needs, office space, promotion, funding, etc. This assignment is presented to the class in the format of shows like the Dragons Den and Shark Tank. There is an audio visual and written component.
What videos are you using?
Sec I – Pay It Forward and Millions deal with doing something for someone else/selfless acts. Stand By Me – friendship and social autonomy
Sec II – Mean Girls – friendship, social autonomy, bullying Swing Kids – Human Rights
Sec IV – Avatar – Human Rights, Cultural/Religious tolerance Not Without My Daughter – Human Rights, Religions awareness/tolerance. The Great Debaters – Human Rights, justice, history. Freedom Song – Human Rights, Civil Rights, tolerance.
Sec V – A Time To Kill – Justice and Law. Iron Man – Justice and technology. The Da Vinci Code – Existential questions. Jericho TV series – covers just about everything in the senior mandate for this course. This is just an example of some of the videos I use. They may change from year to year depending on the interests of the students.
What do you like best about teaching ERC?
I like planting the seed and watching it grow. I like engaging the students, getting them expand their preconceived ideas and to realise that ERC is a life skills course and that it can be used in other subjects as well as life. Once they make that connection, the course becomes fun and easy. I often feel like I’m reinventing the wheel because each year brings a new crop of students with different interests and different ideas. If you have a bank of generalized lessons/topics, then you can dip into that bank to adjust to the kids you have. I have seen students use (ex.) the unit on human rights in their English or Geography classes, and the unit on Law in their Law class.
What are the biggest challenges about teaching ERC?
It’s not science. It’s not history (although it could be). It’s not French or math. It has no final exam, therefore, it is often not taken seriously. It is a course that is often parcelled out to teachers to fill in an empty spot in their schedule, therefore, the teacher does not put their full attention into it because their attention is on their own specialty. If the administration doesn’t see it’s value, how can the teachers, students and parents see it?
The original ERC teachers were specially trained. We took special courses and have a curriculum to follow like everyone else. It is a course that is easily cross-curricular and can be highly engaging. Its value needs to be respected.
Would you teach it again? What is your ideal grade?
Absolutely. I love this program. There is so much to it and so much you can do. Although I like all grades, I particularly enjoy the senior levels, Sec V. At this point, I have seen their growth from Sec I up and the pieces (for the most part) have fallen together. The light bulb is burning bright. It’s great to see.