Reflections on Teaching the Bible to High Schoolers, Pt. 1: Out with the Textbook, In with Bible Odyssey

Yesterday I completed my first semester as Religious Studies Instructor at TMI-The Episcopal School of Texas. While each day and each week was a series of trial-and-error approaches to pedagogy, I believe that overall it was a successful first half of my rookie season. One of the experiments I enacted was to avoid using a single textbook, instead supplementing the primary source readings with articles from Bible Odyssey.

If you don't know what Bible Odyssey is, it is a collection of introductory articles on a wide-array of topics related to the study of biblical literature. Most of the articles are short. If you print them, they'd fit on a single page. This seemed to me to be perfect in the era of Snapchat. Also, it allowed me to avoid the scenario where my students finish the semester having heard a single scholarly voice. By using these articles and videos they were introduced to names ranging from Bart D. Ehrman to Steve Mason to Lynn Cohick to Helen K. Bond, et al. 

The only downside would be that a single textbook allows the students to be guided by an author who is trying to provide an overarching presentation of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. I'm not positive that all my students were able to deduce why I chose what articles I did when I did. But I think that is something I can work harder at communicating.

I do not teach Old Testament again until next August, so I have several months to reflect on what went right and what went wrong in using Bible Odyssey. If I were teaching Old Testament again in January I would definitely use Bible Odyssey again. I do teach New Testament again and yes, I will go another semester using Bible Odyssey rather than a textbook.

In summary:
Positives:
- Brief articles which do not overwhelm and work with the adolescent attention span
- Introductory nature allows novices to dip their toes into the shallow end of biblical studies
- Diverse voices are represented
- Finally, homework could be used to reinforce the themes of certain central articles

Negatives:
- The brevity may reinforce the lack of discipline that the internet age is shaping in all of us
- The lack of a singular author (of small group of authors) does not provide the student with an overarching message concerning ancient Israel, the emergence of the Jewish people, incipient Christianity, the shaping of the New Testament, etc.