PASTAI – CPD Session 18/1/2022

Many thanks to those who attended yesterday’s CPD session, particularly for the thoughtful questions at the end. Sorry I don’t have more answers to the many ‘known unknowns’ of our course…

Find below the resources the I had worked on for the session. I’ll upload them here in MS Word and PDF format so that you can tinker with them to best suit your own needs. I’m also including a few links to earlier posts from previous CPD sessions (which I am terrible at archiving – sorry) that might be helpful. I’ve updated some of them recently, so hopefully they’ll be a little bit more focused.

The final thing is a link to the Google Form questionnaire on Teachers’ Experiences of Pol Soc that I’m working on as a research project. If people had the chance, and haven’t yet done so, I’d really appreciate the time (less than 10 mins) that teachers could give to complete it:–vuiU4RwccGYrhcG2nkhN6O8IuBhUCRtE/edit#responses


Health Inequality Mini Scheme of Work:

The Health Divide Documentary – Student Question Sheet with DBQ and Student Research Sheet PDF

The Health Divide Documentary – Student Question Sheet with DBQ and Student Research Sheet – MS Word

Essay-Writing PowerPoint: PASTAI – Essay Writing CPD Session – Jan 2022

Gender Across the Course Mind Map: Gender across the course

Alternative/Comparative Perspectives (with student example): Dealing with Counter-Arguments 2021-2 with example

Blank Essay Revision Grid: Blank Revision Essay outline – PDF Blank Revision Essay outline – MS Word

Essay Skills Development Grid: Study Skills for Pol Soc Essay

And don’t forget, if any of the newer teachers are struggling with a particular topic or issue, don’t hesitate to get in touch. There are plenty of people willing to help.





The Two Popes (Netflix) – “Watch Along” Handout

It is crucial we pause to reflect on the level of innovation and creativity undertaken by the teaching profession during the pandemic.”

I read Deirdre McGillicuddy’s article in the Irish Times this morning about teacher creativity, and often think that the pressure to be creative can be one of the most tiring parts of being a teacher. Constantly trying to innovate and keep our lessons fresh is critical to our success, but also takes a psychological toll at times. ( Sometimes, we have to find imaginative ways of engaging our students. Other times, we have to just K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid – as they say in the US Marine Corp). Maybe today we can do a little bit of both!

It’s often in those moments of emergency (such as today’s storm) means we might have to “pivot” a class very quickly. I was hoping to show some sections of the Netflix movie The Two Popes today in class as a way of introducing Laudato Si, Fr Sean McDonagh, and Eco-Theology. Now we have to do it online. Links to the worksheet are below.

The Two Popes – Pol Soc “Watch Along” Handout

But it’s perhaps worth lingering on Dr McGillicuddy’s line “The power of teaching as creative endeavour lies in the transformative possibilities for children, teachers, schools, communities and our broader society”, to stop ourselves feeling to bad during a stressful day. It would be an interesting lens through which to view some aspects of the Pol-Soc course in general and The Two Popes movie more specifically.

Enjoy the rest of your storm day!

JD – 7/12/21

The Classroom Divide – Video and Activity Worksheet

It seems to me that there will be quite a bit of disruption to classes in the run up to Christmas. Between teachers and student absences due to Covid, it will be hard to have continuity with classroom debates and discussions. Back to students at home working independently might be a struggle for some… If you’re absent yourself, you could even assign this remotely!

So below you’ll find a worksheet I did up on Joe Duffy’s documentary “The Classroom Divide” which you’ll find back up on the RTÉ Player after a period while it wasn’t available…

There are MS Word and PDF versions of a student worksheet to jot down the key data, but with additional activities and space for a mind-map designed to show students how to link the idea of ‘Education’ across the different strands of the course. Adapt that handout (which fits well onto a back-to-back A3 sheet) as you see fit. There’s also a ‘teacher answer sheet’ which has most of the quantitative data answers and many of the relevant quotes just to make your life a little easier. Obviously, the students need to complete some of the larger boxes – presenting the different elements of the arguments – themselves, so I haven’t been prescriptive in how they should do that…

It’s important that students see how to take the data from the documentary and convert it into useable qualitative and quantitative data for their essays, but that’s something every teacher will approach in their own way.

Don’t forget to get them to offer a “Critical Evaluation” of the documentary in the final question on the page, because we always have to keep our “Alternative and Comparative Perspectives” in mind.

I’m hoping to complete a similar worksheet on The Health Divide, but it’ll depend on whether I get the time this week… I’ll pop it up here if I get that sorted.

Joe Duffy Documentary– The Classroom Divide – Student Worksheet PDF

Joe Duffy Documentary– The Classroom Divide – Student Worksheet MS Word

Joe Duffy Documentary– The Classroom Divide – Teacher’s Worksheet with answers PDF

Enjoy the Xmas ‘run-in’…

JD 6/12/2021

Pol Soc “Log Tables 2021-22” – Hot off the presses!

Find here the updated “Pol Soc Log Tables 2021-2022”. As I say in the introduction to the document, nothing here should be considered prescriptive, just my best attempt to help make the process of data-gathering and data analysis a little more accessible to students. Obviously, this focuses in on the various Index Rankings that students will be likely to see as they gather evidence for their essays. All the way through this process, I’m encouraging students to critically engage with these datasets in the following way…

They should ask themselves:

  • How would I critique the methodology of each data set?
  • What recommendations would I make to improve the usefulness of each data set?
  • Why is the number of countries in each data set important? Who has been omitted, and why?
  • How has Ireland’s relative position changed in these indices over time?
  • What other international trends are relevant or interesting?
  • And most importantly, how might I appropriately deploy the data within each of the indices into different exam essays?

In each case students might well come to different conclusions, and that’s fine, so long as they can give a reasonable justification for the ways in which they have interpreted the different data sets.

I’m hoping that teachers will be able to guide students through this process in a meaningful way and have included a few sample exercises, designed to help to solidify both personal engagement with data, and a critical evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of indices in general.

The most important thing that students should “take away” from this process, however, is the empty box at the end of each longer explanation of the data from pages 6-24. Make sure you are seeing which areas of the course, or which Key Thinker, or each SDG, that each index might most comfortably link to in an exam essay. Maybe there’s only 2-3 pieces of data that you’ll use in the final exam, but at least you’ll have engaged with that process in a critical manner.

If you do nothing else with this except quickly glance at the ‘Headline Data’ on page 2, then it might be 15 minutes of a Pol-Soc student’s time well spent.

As ever, I’m just giving my best guess as to what I think might be useful and will gladly engage with any “constructive criticism”…

I hope this helps!


30 November, 2021.

‘Teachmeet’ Essay-Writing Resources for Pol Soc Teachers

With apologies for the blog having been so quiet over the last few months (teaching during Covid has really taken its toll, unfortunately), find below the resources that I was discussing during the PASTAI annual conference last Saturday. (Resources below…)

Before providing that stuff, though, two quick points…

  1. I want to express my enormous gratitude primarily to Bairbre Kennedy out in Malahide Community school (my old stomping ground) for her 3 years of service at the head of the teachers’ association. I know all too well how demanding that role can be and just how much work goes on behind the scenes to represent the best interests of the teachers (and by implication, the students). This obvious extends the committee as a whole. I’m looking forward to helping out in the background again as a committee member in the year to come. Best of luck to the incoming Executive!!!

The goal of the survey is to gather as much data as we can about the experience of teachers throughout the different cohorts as to their experiences of working in a new subject area. Hopefully, it can contribute to a meaningful output to catalogue our experiences and make recommendations as to the implementation of new subjects into the future. But we need to have a larger sample size to have more meaningful results. I appreciate how busy people are, but any time in the next couple of weeks, would be great…

Student Expectations“Reverse Engineering” what the SEC seem to be looking for…

As I mentioned in my talk on Saturday, one of the most frustrating aspects of the new subject in the first few years was not being in a position to tell students “What a H1 essay looks like…”). But now, at least, we’re getting to a place where we have at least some idea as to what the expectation levels are. Importantly, the essays and recommendations below aren’t prescriptive, (and certainly not to be learned by heart) but you’ll find some examples of essays completed in the actual Leaving Cert, marked by SEC examiners (I’m not an SEC examiner***). My former students have given permission for me to anonymize these essays and circulate them to help the upcoming generations of students. There are obviously LOTS OF WAYS to write a successful essay and teachers will have different techniques for achieving similar goals, but seeing how the SEC marks the stuff is at least interesting…

I’ve approached this task in what I hope will be a meaningful way. First, you’ll see the 4 BLANK essays, with no grades. Read through them and see what marks YOU think they should be awarded.

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 3b – Blank Essay

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 4 – Blank Essay

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 5 – Blank Essay

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 6a – Blank Essay

Then look at the annotated versions. I’ve included that I,K,E,A,V,C marking scheme grades from the SEC and the kinds of comments that I would have made if showing students how to improve on their essays overall. ***These are only my best guess at how they should be improved***, but that should be based on a reasonably well-informed level of insight into teaching essay writing over 20 years of English, History, and now Pol-Soc teaching.

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 3b – annotated with mark and comment

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 4 – Annotated with marks and comments

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 5 – Annotated with mark and comments

LC 2019 Politics and Society – Q 6a – Sample essay – with marks and comments

The final thing is a copy of the PPT that I used on Saturday which includes some sub-headings about the different types of essay questions that are being asked (again my own interpretation), how to structure an exam essay ‘Introduction’, and also how student might usefully engage with the stimulus material. For me, at the moment, it’s all about given students clear expectations as to what I’m expecting of them, and trying to align those expectations with what the SEC seem to be looking for… But as with all things on this website, this is just my best guss. I’d gladly take on board the insights of anyone who wanted to join in with this assessment (albeit, it’s clearly not the most exciting part of what we do on a day-to-day basis).

PASTAI – Essay Writing Presentation

I hope that these are of some practical use to teachers as we head towards the Christmas Exams and the Mocks with our 6th Years. If anyone has any other useful insights, I’d be delighted to incorporate them into this blog post. Just email and let me know!!!

Best of luck with the weeks ahead.

L.O. 2.6 – Media Resources – Trying my hand at something new…

Welcome back to the start of a new year in the wonderful world of Politics & Society…!!! Some big news to start off with… My first foray into the world of textbooks has arrived. It’s a modest 60-page student guide to Learning Outcome 2.6 – Media, called “A little bit of Media Analysis” for Politics and Society students.

I was delighted to be asked by McAndrew Book to draw on the resources that I’ve developed over the last few years and put them all together for a student booklet which can be purchased on the link here. I hope it’ll help make that part of the course a little easier for students and teachers alike!

Having spent a few years struggling to get to grips with the expansive ‘Media’ component of the Subject Specification, I spent a good chunk of this summer drawing together materials that are ‘classroom-ready’ and will make the fast-changing content in this topic more accessible to students. While 2.6 is a self-contained Learning Outcome, it’s also the area that has the most cross-curricular links, and I do my best to incorporate that into the structure of the booklet.

The idea is that I’ll update the book on a rolling 2-year basis, so that any major changes in the media landscape will be reflected in the booklet and so students will have access to good “contemporary” information. (On the problems with the word ‘contemporary’ in our Spec, see my previous blog on the topic)

All of the material in the booklet is indicative rather than prescriptive, so people shouldn’t see this as an attempt to present the definitive work on the topic, but rather ONE way that students could approach the material. In the ‘Exam Focus’ section of the book, I also provide sample ‘infographic’ and ‘Data-Based Questions’ to help students integrate what they’ve learned into the Leaving Cert exam structures – one little step that students often seem to find particularly challenging.

I’ll be using it with my own 6th year group in the coming weeks but will also be using it as the backbone for my Transition Year Pol-Soc taster course (8-weeks in duration). It’ll be nice to have a resource to hand that is relatively self-contained, but which also might give prospective students an insight into what it would be like to study the subject in 5th and 6th year. Studying the work of Key Thinker Noam Chomsky is obviously key to that experience, and students are walked through that process throughout the booklet. I can even see this as being of interest to Leaving Cert English TY students, but maybe I should ‘stay in my lane’!

As always, I’m keen to hear feedback on how you think the booklet could be improved and am hoping that the low cost will make it relatively assessable to students, even those studying the course on their own.

I’m also currently working on a student workbook the help with the Data-Based Question. It’ll contain all the key concepts and terminology as well as 4 Ordinary and 12 Higher Level sample DBQs. It will also include a series of worked examples to help students make the link between the material presented in the documents and the types of questions that are asked on the SEC paper. Keep an eye out for it after Christmas. I’m going to try and finish it in time to have it available as a revision and study tool for the current 6th years as they enter the twilight zone between the ‘Mocks’ and the Exam in June.

Anyway, I hope people will find it useful. But most importantly, best of luck with the year ahead… As always, if you have any particular questions feel free to shoot me an email through the contact page.



Philadelphia, Here I Come! Cultural Context

So, it’s clear that with nearly 15,000 downloads of the audio version of the play this year, most students are doing Philadelphia, Here I Come! for their ‘Comparative Question’ and obviously haven’t had a chance to go and see the play itself…

Philadelphia, Here I Come! Cultural Context

A useful addition to that resource might be this 4-page exploration of some of the ideas that students might want to engage with around the text’s Cultural Context.

I give a brief general introduction before diving a little bit more deeply into the ideas by analysing Religion, Love/Marriage, and Migration through three key scenes, illustrating how students can integrate the relevant quotations that support some of the conclusions that I draw.

Feel free to pick and choose elements of this handout for your own approach to working with this text.

If you find the resources here useful and you want to help support the work of the site, you can do so here:

LC Pol Soc 2021 – “Known Unknowns” – DBQ Question ‘G’

(Click below to download the student handout that seeks to give my best guess as to what a solution to the problem I describe in this blog might look like… But please do read the thought process below to see how it might best be used with students Making Recommendations based on Data Sets)

One of the hardest parts of helping students to prepare for this year’s Leaving Cert Politics & Society exam is the fact that there’s a lot we DON’T KNOW.

I’ve been generally really pleased with how the SEC has reduced the scope of the upcoming exams in other subjects. I know that both English and History are a lot more accessible for students, particularly those who have had limited opportunity to access digital learning, or who have been impacted by Covid in any number of ways.

The best thing the SEC has done is to give clarity and certainty to students about what exactly will be examined. For example, knowing that all three ‘modes’ in the Comparative Study in English will be on the paper means that students and teachers can effectively side-line a significant portion of their revision. This makes it easier on everyone and, crucially, reduces student anxiety in the run up to the exams. The range of choice in History is equally good. Lots of choice = less stressed students!

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pol Soc… (sad face emoji). What the SEC has done in our case is to remove one of the ‘Discursive’ essays, but leave the Data-Based Question intact (in terms of mark allocation). What does this mean in real terms? In theory, it looks great because the students will have more time to do the exam and have a good choice of essay topics – very important when we consider that the course is based on ‘Strands’ which are designed to interweave throughout the 2-year build up to the exam.

However, that means that the Data-Based Question becomes disproportionately important. And what other allowance did they HAVE to make on account of this? Well, in order to make sure that all students could attempt the final (50-mark) question in this section, they had two choice. Firstly, they could have stipulated exactly which topic would appear in this topic, giving students and teachers 6-8 weeks to make sure that that part of the course was covered, allowing them to continue the reasonably well-established practice of asking a longer question “based on their learning” throughout the two years. Secondly, they could have (as they have done) said that the 50-mark question will only be based on the information included in the documents themselves – an enforced requirement if some students hadn’t covered certain parts of the course and can’t be disadvantaged relative to their peers.

What’s the problem with this? Well, it means that they have removed a form of assessment that students have been preparing for and which most students are able to get their head around, and replaced it with a type of question that not only has never been asked, but a type of question whose phrasing we can only guess at (i.e. they have removed some certainty and replaced it with uncertainty, which I think is a big downside). Consulting any reasonably experienced Pol Soc teacher would have highlighted this issue almost immediately. A pity and a lost opportunity.

So, bear in mind that this handout (link at the top) is only my best guess (albeit an educated guess) as to how this question will be approached in the exam after a few years of trying to put together sample DBQs and mock exam papers. Students still need to be ‘expecting the unexpected’ and should use the guidelines I suggest as practice at approaching a new type of question, rather than as a prescriptive way to address the question that might be asked…

But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, at least we know that it’s a “Known Unknown”!!!

Anyway, I hope it helps teachers and students as they face into the final, final, final stretch…

JD – 10/5/21

Being ‘Cross-Curricular’…

When students ask me “Which subject do you prefer teaching English, History, or Pol Soc?” I always give the same answer: “English is how you feel; History is why you feel it; Pol Soc is how you change the feeling…” This is a sentiment that has seemed progressively more and more significant in my teaching as time goes on.

Almost every day that I teach Pol Soc I find myself asking one or other of the following questions of my students: “Where are my Economists?”; “Where are my Historians?”; “Where are my Theologians?”; “Where are my Geographers? Obviously, it depends on what specific aspect of the course we’re covering at the time, but I generally cover the entire spectrum of the secondary curriculum in any given month. It isn’t that I’m trying to be lazy. I’m actively encouraging the students to draw links between different parts of their Senior Cycle courses that normally feel quite pigeon-holed or atomized, to them at least. I think that one of the great opportunities of the course is that students can have this kind of “meta” experience in our Pol Soc classroom…

It isn’t only just in the Data-Based Question that I call on my Mathematicians (which in theory should be everyone). I do it when trying to explain the process of deductive reasoning where the logical steps that should be followed have an almost formulaic structure, when I’m hoping to explain the calculation of the Droop Quota in PR-STV, or when exploring the concept of the ‘Margin of Error’ formula in opinion polls to assess their reliability…

Maybe it’s the case every year, but in the last two years, one of the most fruitful points of curricular “Cross Pollination” (to borrow a phrase from the Biology students…) that I’ve noted has been in Higher Level English. (For full disclosure, I teach English and History too). Not only have the comparisons between Lear and Trump been obvious and a useful ‘short-hand’ for students, but the poetry of Paul Durcan has helped with criticisms of the Irish Constitution and the limitations of Irish identity.

But perhaps the most interesting overlap that I’ve seen in recent months has been the ideas that link Eavan Boland’s poetry to aspects of the Pol Soc course. It’s reciprocal. I can say with absolute certainty that my growing knowledge of work of Sylvia Walby and Kathleen Lynch has massively influenced how I understand Boland’s poems. I found myself in recent months beginning to apply idea from the Pol Soc course to some of Boland’s work to see what synergies I could find. I found that the “threat and use of violence” in LO 3.1 and ideas of “Patriarchy” and “Marginalization” and “2nd Wave Feminism” were particularly revealing when thinking about The War Horse and The Famine Road respectively. So what emerged was a collaboration with the new INOTE (Irish National Organization of Teachers of English) “Members’ Voices” podcast of which I’m quite proud.

I’d encourage Pol Soc students to listen to the two (very short) podcast episodes below and see not only if it helps their student of LC English, but to also consider ways in which elements of LC English could be constructively applied to their work in Pol Soc. Perhaps this has been obvious to many other teachers in the last few years, but it’s only really now that I’m able to properly articulate how much more engaging both subjects become when viewed as being “in conversation” with each other.

I hope they’re of value and interest to some at least…

LC History USA Case Studies

Another brief digression from my normal Politics & Society blogs and resources…

Now that the Leaving Cert History projects are snuggly submitted and ready for the SEC, many History students and teachers are focusing their attention on revision. As I’ve been working my way back through the USA Case Studies, I’ve been trying to draw up single-page revision sheets. These are based upon the old leavingcert history dot net website (don’t type in the “url” as it’s a ‘dodgy link’ now apparently), but are perhaps a little bit denser in terms of content and quantitative data.

They’re not by any means definitive, but are designed to be the ‘last pieces of paper that students look at’ before going in to the exam. If you don’t like them, then feel more than free to ignore! They’re not ‘novel’, but might be useful…

(Obviously, I’m leaning towards providing more for the ‘Space Race/Moon Landing’ case study as that’s the one that hasn’t been examined yet. But I’m not putting the house on it…)

Anyway, I’ll pop them in here for the time being…

LBJ and Vietnam Part 2 – After 1965

Space Race – WWII to Moon Landing

Space Race Consequences

Montgomery Bus Boycott Key Events