The Big Oxplore Essay Competition Returns!

We are delighted to announce that we have launched an essay competition for secondary school students in Wales, Cornwall, and the South West of England.

We are inviting students in years 7-13 to write a 750-word response to one of the following essay titles:

  • How effective do you think punishment is in shaping and changing our behaviour?
  • Is there ever a moral justification for trophy hunting?
  • Do we need laws to have morals?

All entries should be emailed to by 11:59 pm GMT on 16 February 2022. Please include your name, the name of your school, and your school year.

Entries will be reviewed by our expert judging panel. There will be two age categories: years 7-9 and 10-13. The winners will receive £100 in Amazon vouchers and the runners-up will receive £50 in Amazon vouchers.

Late entries and those submitted from schools outside of the target regions (i.e. outside of Wales, Cornwall, and South West of England) will not be reviewed.

Getting Started…

Below is some guidance on the kinds of topics you could include in your response – plus see our FAQs at the bottom of the page.

How effective do you think punishment is in shaping and changing our behaviour?

Punishment can take many forms and try to achieve different goals but how can it affect our behaviour.

In your response, you may wish to consider:

  • what do we mean by ‘punishment’ and what does it intend to do? Think about what kinds of punishment are enforced at your school for example and its aims.* Find out more about the purposes of punishment here.
  • some different types of learning theory. For example, this video explains what is meant by ‘Classical and Operant conditioning‘. 
  • what is meant by ‘labelling theory’ in Sociology and Psychology? Here is a video to help (up to 4.31 minutes and then from 11 minutes to consider the limitations of the theory). But remember we can apply this theory beyond a student’s experiences at school. Consider how other labels (such as ‘criminal’) can affect someone’s behaviour in wider society.
  • the role of ‘deterrance’ in the way we punish criminals. Take a look at this video to help. A more detailed video can be found here.

You might also find it useful to delve into Oxplore’s Big Questions: Does prison work?

Is there ever a moral justification for trophy hunting?

Images of gun-gripping hunters grinning triumphantly next to their kill often cause outrage and intense debate online. Why then, do many conservationists oppose a blanket ban on trophy hunting?

In your response, you may wish to consider:

  • What do we mean by a ‘moral justification’?
  • How trophy hunting might benefit conservation financially, or in terms of land use.
  • Whether a legal policed practice is preferable to illegal ‘black market’ activity.
  • If trophy hunting encourages more hunting/harmful behaviours, hindering conservation efforts.

You might like to watch this video and this video to help you find out more about the topic and related debates. Plus, on Oxplore you can delve into the question: Are humans more important than other animals?

Do we need laws to have morals?

There seems to be a law about most anything and laws change over time but do we need them and how do they shape our moral understanding of the world.

In your response, you may wish to consider:

  • What do we mean by ‘morals’ and how do these differ to laws?
  • What different factors may influence our behaviour? This video considers Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development.
  • How are laws, ethics and morality connected? Does one depend upon the other? You might find this video helpful.

We have a couple of Big Questions on Oxplore which you might find useful to check out: Could we live without laws? and Do we stay the same from birth?


What areas are considered to be in the ‘South West of England’?

The ‘South West of England’ refers to the following locations: Bath and North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, North Somerset, Plymouth, Poole, Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Swindon, Torbay, Wiltshire, Worcestershire.

How do I submit my essay?

We are quite flexible about how you can submit your essay as long as they reach us at We accept Microsoft Word, PDF, and Apple page documents. Sending us a Google docs link is also fine, provided you’ve made sure that we have permission to download your file and can forward it to our judges.

Do I need to include a references list/footnotes and will this be included in the overall word count?

Although it’s not essential, it’s generally considered good practice to include a list of your sources. This is certainly something you will be required to do when writing essays at university. As the word count is quite tight (750 words max.), we’ve decided that footnotes and references won’t count towards it. This way you will have more space to make your points. We realise that different referencing systems are taught at different schools, so we haven’t specified that you use a particular one. As long as your sources are clearly marked, we advise you to use the referencing system that you feel most comfortable with.

If you have any other questions about the competition or in general, please feel free to send them to

That just leaves us to say…good luck and we can’t wait to read your entries!

Oxplore Remembers: The Representations of War in Media

Remembrance Sunday - Wikipedia

War raises provocative questions about civilization, politics, and humanity. Its portrayal in literature, films, and video games can help us explore these themes further. As we approach Remembrance Day 2021, let’s consider some thought-provoking examples…

The Iliad (750-650 BC)

‘The Iliad’ is an epic poem about the story of the ten-year Trojan War, written by the ancient Greek writer, Homer. Homer builds The Iliad as an anti-war poem, as he does not try to glorify war but instead consciously depicts its ugliness. You can read the text for free here.

Broadly speaking, in Greek mythology, the Trojan War resulted from the Judgement of Paris, in which Paris (Prince of Troy) chooses Aphrodite in a contest to pick the fairest of three goddesses. Aphrodite promises Paris the hand of Helen of Sparta; the Trojan War was fought to retrieve Helen from Troy. However, ‘The Iliad’ focuses on the battle between the Greek warriors, Achilles and Hector, and portrays war as being a choice made by the gods — leaving out any discussion of the personal responsibility of the people involved.

You might wonder why we still read the classics after all those years. Yet, such works tell us a lot about human nature. Three thousand years have passed but violence, war and our enjoyment of reading stories about it continue. Is destruction our destiny?

The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank (1952)

‘The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank’ is a collection of real-life diary entries by teenage girl, Anne Frank. These begin in June 1942 and end abruptly in August 1944. Frank describes her family’s life, who lived in Germany but had to flee Nazi persecution of Jewish people during the Second World War. The family fled to Holland and hid in an attic during this time. Frank reveals her most intimate thoughts and describes her struggle to fit in. This is because she felt disconnected from her family and at the same time isolated from the rest of the world, due to the war. Sadly, Frank died before the end of the war in a concentration camp. However, her accounts have lived on. They shed light on the destruction and devastation that the Second World War brought to humanity, and discuss the futility (pointlessness) of conflict. To find out more about Anne Frank and her life, click here.

Frank in May 1942, two months before her family went into hiding
The last known photo of Anne Frank taken in May 1942.

Life is beautiful (1997)

Roberto Benigni’s award-winning film, ‘Life is beautiful’ revolves around the war crimes that took place in the Holocaust concentration camps. The plotline was inspired by the book ‘In the End, I Beat Hitler’ by Rubino Romeo Salmonì, and the experiences of Benigni’s father who was in a German camp for two years during the Second World War. Guido Orefice, the film’s main character, is a Jewish-Italian bookshop owner, who employs different tricks in order to protect his son, Giosue from the horrors they experience in a Nazi concentration camp. The conditions they face are cruel and their life is in constant danger. Guido tries to convince his son that their time in the camp is part of a complicated game in which the last person that will be found is going to be the winner. As part of this, certain activities such as keeping quiet and hiding from the guards gain points, and others such as crying or complaining of hunger will lose points. The film raises moral and ethical questions such as ‘to what extent should you protect a child from the truth of a dangerous situation?’ It also explores the fragile line between reality and fiction.

Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (2007)

The Ace Combat video games are a franchise of flight simulators, in which players take on the role of a fighter pilot participating in various wars across a fictionalized version of Earth. Although the games’ setting is fictional, the series is known for its detailed representation of real-world aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor and Sukhoi Su-33, which are currently in service in modern warfare.

An F-22 Raptor flies over Kadena Air Base, Japan on a routine training mission in 2009.
 A F-22 Raptor taken by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway

While gameplay revolves around dogfighting in aerial battles, the series as a whole has a strong anti-war message. The narrative of Ace Combat 6, told through cut scenes interspersed between levels, follows the lives of pilots, civilians, and refugees caught up in the war, as they struggle to comprehend the devastation and disruption caused by a full-scale military invasion. Can a game that simulates shooting down other planes effectively deliver an anti-war moral, or does the gameplay undermine the message?

Atonement (2007)

‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan depicts the powerful way that one person’s lie changes the lives of others forever. This occurs when the wealthy Briony falsely accuses the groundskeeper’s son, Robbie, of rape. Robbie is sent to prison and is later released on the condition that he joins the army to fight in the Second World War. Meanwhile, Cecilia (Briony’s sister) becomes a war nurse. She remains estranged from her family due to the part they played in sending Robbie, whom she loved and trusted, to prison for a crime he never committed. Briony’s efforts to make amends fail. The novel highlights the injustices of any kind of war, whether physical or psychological. Each of the characters struggle immensely during the war from Robbie fighting in the front line to Cecilia and Briony nursing injured soldiers. The impossibility of restoring the wrongdoings that Briony has committed against Robbie and Cecilia parallels the impossibility of restoring the losses that the Second World War caused to individuals. Ultimately, the question is: can a person who has committed serious wrongdoing ever fully be at peace with themself?

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (2011)

‘The Dressmaker of Khair Khana’ is a New York Times bestseller and true story of entrepreneur Kamila Sidiqi. The story takes place during 1996-2001 when Kabul was under the Islamist rule of the Taliban. The author, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon based her novel on interviews of Afghani women during a trip of hers to Afghanistan in 2005. Sidiqi started her own dressmaking business because she needed to support her sisters, as her father and brother fled the city due to the war. Her sisters learnt how to sew and other women in her community became involved in the business of dressmaking. Siddiqi’s actions were important because she found a way to support the women of her community who lived amongst strict regulations. Under Taliban rule, women were prevented from accessing education, going out of the house without the accompaniment of male relatives or working outside their home. After her dressmaking business, Sidiqi started her own fruit business and launched a taxi company. A leading women’s rights activist, Sidiqi worked in the Afghanistan government as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Afghan President and Deputy Minister for Trade Affairs. During the 2021 Taliban Offensive, Sidiqi was evacuated from Kabul with the assistance of Lemmon (source).

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (2013)

‘I Am Malala’ is the memoir of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who risked her life for the right to go to school during the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) insurgency. The book details her personal story, her early life, the rise and fall of the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Swat Valley, and the assassination attempt made against her. Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and has been praised for her courage and dedication in her fighting for equal (educational) rights and opportunities for girls. However, her activism has also caused some backlash. For example, she was the subject of a documentary, ‘I Am Not Malala’, aimed at preventing the propagation of her ideas. Despite such opposition, Yousafzai has continued to campaign for female education, human rights, and peace worldwide. In June 2020, she graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

Battlefield 1 (2016)

The Battlefield game series is well-known for producing first-person shooters set in conflicts both historical and fictional. Battlefield 1, in actuality the tenth installment in the series, focused on the First World War, allowing players to play as Allied soldiers in historical battles such as Gallipoli, Cambrai, and the Somme.

In order to highlight the heavy death toll of the First World War, the first mission of the game included a striking gameplay mechanic. Whenever the player character is killed, a randomly-generated name and dates of birth and death are displayed, before the game gives the player control of a new character. At the same time, voiceover narration discusses the futility of conflict and the human cost of war. The game developers also chose to use historical figures – such as T. E. Lawrence and the Harlem Hellfighters – in fictional stories about the war.

Dunkirk (2017)

In the film ‘Dunkirk’, director Christopher Nolan interweaves three different storylines and timelines during the Second World War. These are the Mole, the Sea, and the Air which last one week, one day, and an hour respectively. The common theme which links these stories is the risk involved in the Dunkirk evacuation whereby in 1940 nearly 400,000 British and French troops were surrounded by the enemy on a beach in France. The English Channel was their only escape route.

Several myths emerged surrounding the Dunkirk evacuations and this partially stemmed from a difference in the way British and French commanders viewed the Dunkirk Salient. In France, the Dunkirk evacuation was not seen as a victory, since many of the evacuated troops returned to France after just a week however it was reported in a much more positive light in the British press (source). And so a question that arises when watching the film is: How far does Dunkirk present a particularly British interpretation of the events of Operation Dynamo?

More generally, the film explores the lengths people will go in order to survive when faced with the extreme. Is there any hope under such grim circumstances? To find out more about the history and legacy of Dunkirk, read the ‘Miracles and Myths’ series by the National Archives.

What do you think the role of historical fiction in depicting conflict should be? To entertain, to inform, or a mixture of the two? Does the human cost of conflict mean that we should treat the topic of war differently to other kinds of historical fiction?

If you have found this subject interesting, take a look at our resources centred on the Big Question: Can war ever be a good thing?

Try our top 10 Halloween reads if you dare…

Sophie McDonald

Sophie McDonald, former Oxplore intern, shares her favourite spooky reads in the lead up to Halloween. Plus, if you would like to test yours or your students’ horror literature knowledge, why not take our fun quiz, click here.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – the ultimate gothic horror story, Frankenstein tells the story of a doctor who creates his own being—with disastrous results. Read a free version online here. To find out more about the works of Mary Shelley visit Great Writers Inspire and the Ten Minute Book Club created by the Oxford English Faculty. 

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker – A classic vampire story, creating the character of the infamous Count Dracula, and full of twists and turns. Read a free version online here.

3. Legend by Marie Lu – a young adult dystopian thriller that follows a cat and mouse chase between two teens with very different lives, in the futuristic Republic.

4. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Follow the brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Dr. John Watson, in this classic detective thriller. Read a free version online here.

5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman – A dark fantasy novella that explores a twisted world a girl finds herself in after opening a mysterious door.

6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Who is Mr Hyde? This novella explores dangerous science and the duality of man. Read a free online version here. To find out more about Stevenson and the Victorian Gothic visit Great Writers Inspire.

7. The Stuff of Nightmares by Malorie Blackman – When an anxious boy is caught in a fatal accident on a school trip, he discovers he can go into the minds of the dead, seeing their darkest fears.

8. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas – A trans boy determined to prove his true gender to his family accidentally summons a ghost who refuses to leave.

9. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – A young adult thriller where Cadence Sinclair tries to remember a mysterious incident that happened two years earlier.

10. Macbeth by William Shakespeare – One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Macbeth is full of witches, blood and betrayal. Read a free online version here. To find out more about Shakespeare, click here.

Happy reading and happy Halloween!

Celebrate Oxford’s Black History

October is Black History Month in the UK and the perfect time to acknowledge the role Black people have played in the University’s own history. In 2020 the Oxford BHM 100 was published. Here we take a closer look at 3 standout moments of Black history that the University of Oxford has seen over the centuries…

Christian Frederick Cole

Christian Cole came to Victorian England from West Africa in 1873. The first ever Black student at the University of Oxford, he was born in Freetown in Sierra Leon in 1852. Cole was the grandson of an enslaved man and the adopted son of an Anglican vicar in Sierra Leon. He was educated at Fourah Bay College in Freetown.

He first came to Oxford to study Classics in 1873, before becoming a member of University College three years later. During his time there, Cole spoke at the famous Oxford Union and was so popular among his classmates at University College that when he found himself in a debt of £200 after the death of his uncle and benefactor, they raised money for him to continue his studies.

Christian Cole. Oxford Bodleian Libraries. G.A. Oxon 4o 414

Cole still faced racial prejudice, though. Fellow students drew racist cartoons of him and called him by racial slurs. But Cole used the prestige associated with his education to criticise the British colonial violence. Under the name “A Negro, B.A. of University College”, Cole also published a pamphlet criticising British policy in the Zulu War. Addressing “ye white men of England,” he asked them if “the curse of your land/ is not, day after day,/ To increase your possessions/ With reckless delight,/ To subdue many nations,/ And show them your might.”

After leaving Oxford, Cox trained as a barrister and became the first black barrister in English courts. He died of smallpox at just 33.

Cole is also part of Oxford’s contemporary black history. Following the research of historian and author Pamela Roberts, who traced his life story and time at Oxford, a plaque honouring Christian Cole was unveiled at University College in 2017. Roberts has been working hard for years to raise the profile of the black students who are part of Oxford’s history. She is also the founder of Black Oxford.

Do you think Oxford should have more plaques or more recognition of its Black students? Why?

Want to know more Christian Cole or other Black students like him? Read this post from Pamela Roberts or her book, “Black Oxford: The Untold Stories of Oxford University’s Black Scholars”.

Merze Tate

Merze Tate was the first ever African American student at the University of Oxford. Born in 1905 in Mississippi, she earnt a Bachelor’s degree in teaching in 1927 from what is now Western Michigan University, before completing a master’s degree in History from Colombia in 1930. After winning a $1000 scholarship from Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Tate was able to go to Oxford in 1932 to study for a B. Litt. in International Relations at what is now St Anne’s College (previously the Society for Home Students).

Merze Tate

Tate lived in Oxford for three years during her studies. She knew that she stood out, later calling herself “an interesting freak to the girls”. Oxford had very few non-white students and women were only able to earn degrees from the University from 1920: in 1930s Britain she was undeniably in the minority. She also commented that she was “the only coloured American in the entire university, man or woman”. Nevertheless, her studies there charted the course for the rest of her life.

Becoming fluent in five languages, she spent the summer after graduating, at the University of Berlin in Germany. There she witnessed rising anti-Semitism and was required to attend large public rallies where Hitler spoke. She even travelled to Geneva to listen to League of Nations’ debates about Italy’s attacks on Ethiopia before the eventual invasion.

Inspired by her time in Oxford and her experience of growing tension in Europe before the Second World War, Tate went on to be the first Black woman to earn a PhD from Harvard University. She graduated in 1941 in government and international relations, writing many books on international relations and disarmament throughout her career. She taught at several historically Black colleges in the United States before settling in 1942 for the next 35 years (despite a brief stint as a Fulbright Scholar in India) at Howard University, where she inspired thousands of young Black students.

Malcolm X

On the 3rd December 1964, Malcolm X visited Oxford to speak at the Oxford Union, the world-famous debating society (not technically part of the University, but strongly associated with it). This was one of his last public speaking opportunities before his assassination a few months later.

The world-famous writer and activist fought for the rights of Black people in the United Stated. Malcolm X advocated for the separation of races (unlike the civil rights movement which called for togetherness) and the use of violence or “extremism” if necessary. Returning to the United States after visiting different countries throughout the African continent, he came to the Oxford Union to debate whether “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue”. This was a quote from Barry Goldwater, U.S. republican senator, earlier that year, and gave Malcolm X the chance to discuss the use of violence in the pursuit of freedom and racial justice. The debate was broadcast on the BBC to thousands of homes.

Malcolm X told the Oxford Union that “we are not human beings unless we band together and do whatever, however, whenever is necessary to see that our lives and property are protected, and I doubt that any person here would refuse to do the same thing were he in the same position.” His speech met thunderous applause, but the audience still voted for his opponent.

Watch the speech below. What do you think?

Read more here or Oxford Professor Stephen Tuck’s book on that historic night here.

If you have found the topics discussed above interesting, you might like to take a look at our ‘Does race matter?‘ Big Question.

Celebrate October with the Oxplore Book Club: it’s Black History Month!

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash

October is Black History Month, a celebration of the achievements and contributions made by Black people across history.

Black History Month began in the United States in 1970, and in the UK in 1987, when Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a special projects officer at the Greater London Council, put forward the concept. He was inspired by a conversation with a colleague whose seven-year old son had asked “Mum, why can’t I be white?” This made Addai-Sebo think more about identity, pride and heritage. He chose October for Britain’s Black History Month because it was a period “when the weather was not cold and children were fresh after the long summer vacation and had less to worry about with exams and tests” (source).

Now, Black History Month exists to recognise that the history and voices of Black people have often been ignored or silenced throughout history and into the present day. It is a time for celebrating people and movements that have unfairly been forgotten and for ensuring that they are remembered, not just in October but all year round. You can find out more about Black History Month and this year’s theme, ‘Proud to Be’, right here.

The Oxplore Book Club has lots of resources to help you and your students celebrate Black History Month by discovering some amazing literature by Black authors. Check out this resource, which delves into Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. These novels are set in a dystopian world where one race rules over another, Black people (Crosses) dominating White people (Noughts). They therefore offer a stark reversal of the long history of racial prejudice against people of colour.

The Book Club can also introduce your students to literature by other writers of colour, such as this collection from poetry month, which focuses on the themes of identity and family relationships. Moniza Alvi, Caleb Femi, and Mary Jean Chan share their experiences of growing up in Britain through their poetry, drawing from their different cultural heritages—Pakistani, Nigerian, and Chinese respectively.

Your students can explore what race really means and learn about the history of racial discrimination in our Big Question ‘Does race matter?’ This Question also includes recommendations of more literature by Black authors like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

And, if they’ve been inspired by finding out about these incredible writers, you can introduce them to even more Black and Asian British writing through the Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds resource hub, created by Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature and TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.

It isn’t just writers, either—Oxford owes a lot to the Black people who have helped to build its worldwide reputation for excellence, and you can find out about some of them in the Oxford BHM 100.

Happy Black History Month from everyone at Oxplore, and happy reading!

Celebrate October with the Oxplore Book Club: it’s Halloween!

The Oxplore Book Club is back! Our online Book Club aimed at 11-14 year olds is returning for an autumn series, running between 7th October and 31st December 2021.

The October book is sure to get you and your students in the Halloween spirit— it’s Scythe by Neal Schusterman! This book is the first in Schusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series, and describes a world in which there is no war, hunger or disease, and therefore no death. To keep the population under control, the ‘scythes’ are commanded to take lives—even if they don’t want to.

Scythe certainly asks some Big Questions which students might like to explore further on our website, questions like ‘Would you want to live forever?’ and ‘Is there life after death?’ Check out this animation to get them started:

We’ll also be publishing free resources to help Book Club members get stuck into our monthly book recommendations, including articles, quizzes and videos on the writer, wider contexts and themes. This can be found as part of our ‘Are you ready for Book Club?‘ Big Question.

On Wednesday 20th October at 4-4.40pm, there’ll be a live Book Club discussion led by bioethicist Tess Johnson, where students can send in their questions. Register for a free ticket here!

When spooky season is over, there will be lots more to look forward to! The Book Club continues into November and December with Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and Who Framed Klaris Cliff? by Nikki Sheehan, and we’re very excited that both of these authors will be joining us LIVE to talk about their books! The November event with Philip Pullman will take place on Wednesday 24th November at 4-4.40pm (register here), and the December event with Nikki Sheehan will take place on Wednesday 15th December at 4-4.40pm (register here).

Keep an eye on our social media channels at @letsoxplore (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for the latest updates, but as you can see, there’s plenty to celebrate as you move into October with Oxplore!

And, if you’re looking for another spooky book to get your students reading this October, why not check out our intern Ndidi’s review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein below?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley tells the story of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein who, in his singular pursuit of knowledge, creates a frightful monster that begins to torment him and those he loves. Victor is driven by the pursuit of knowledge and eventually discovers a way to impart life to inanimate objects. After years of intense study, to the detriment of his own health, he finally imparts life into the being he has assembled in a very disturbing way: he visited slaughterhouses, robbed dead people’s graves for their body parts, killed, and tortured innocent animals. When the monster comes to life, Victor is struck by a strong sense of horror at the monster’s appearance, but also at what he has done. Although the monster becomes a terror, it only does so after being rejected by human society. Before that, it delighted in nature, and loved to read books like John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. By the book’s end, Victor loses so much and is forced to confront the ways he was selfish/proud in his quest for knowledge.

Shelley’s book encourages us to ask big questions about knowledge, science, morality, and our relationship with the natural world. How far should we take the pursuit of knowledge? Should we care about the natural world as we continue to discover more advanced technology? What do we make of the fact that the monster only becomes terrible after being rejected by society? Do we play a part in making inventions bad?  What do you think?

A few fun facts:

-Shelley wrote this story when she was just 18!

-In the book, Victor Frankenstein (the protagonist) travels from London to Oxford and then to Edinburgh. I just happened to make the same trip as I was reading the novel! If you happen to be reading the novel when you are in any of those cities, look out for his description of them and see if you think he describes those cities well (I think he does!)

Oxplore Live is back—join us for our ‘Do Aliens Exist?’ event!

With Halloween around the corner, forget ghosts, witches and vampires, and join us in November to explore the existence of a different kind of creature—one which might be closer than you think.

Oxplore Live is back and is aimed at 11-18 year olds! Tune in on Wednesday 3rd November 2021 from 2-2.45pm to listen to a panel of Oxford academics from a range of different disciplines offer their insights on the Big Question ‘Do aliens exist?’

Dr Tom Crawford (Maths), Dr Becky Smethurst (Astrophysics), Hubert Au (Oxford Internet Institute) and Simona Bartolotta (English) will be debating the question, but your students will be just as much a part of the conversation. They will be able to take part in polls throughout the event, as well as having the chance to pose tricky questions for the academics to tackle.

If you’re interested in getting involved, sign up for FREE via this Eventbrite page.

And why not make this Big Question part of your lessons? It could of course make for an interesting science lesson, but you can also find resources relevant to maths, film studies, IT and more over on our Big Question page for ‘Do aliens exist?’

Want to get your students excited for the event without taking up a whole lesson? You can listen to these short podcast episodes about the existence of aliens and the laws of space exploration right here:

Aliens yes, but here on earth…? No.’ (1 min)

The laws of space exploration: could we take over another planet?’ (9 mins)

Wild space: the laws of space travel’ (1 min)

You can also encourage your students to find out more about two of our panel members and their fascinating subjects through their educational YouTube channels. Dr Tom Crawford’s channel is TomRocksMaths, described by him as ‘maths, but not as you know it’! Dr Becky Smethurst’s channel is Dr Becky, and is packed with videos about space which ‘focus on how we know things, not just what we know. And especially, the things we still don’t know’…

Finally, the polls aren’t just for your students —you can also have your say right here! Do you think aliens exist? Let us know which answer you chose and why in the comments!

Looking for personal statement help? Oxplore has you covered!

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

With the summer break over and the 15th October deadline for Oxford applications fast approaching, many final year secondary school students—and their teachers—will have one thing on their minds: perfecting their personal statement.

One very important question you and your students might be asking is, ‘what exactly are Oxford tutors looking for?’ Luckily, the Oxford undergraduate guide for applicants has answers, and Oxplore does too. Here’s three ways that Oxplore can help your students to make the best possible applications, supported by guidance directly from the tutors who are going to read them.

1. Subject exploration

Tutors say…

“[Applicants need] a deep, irresistible interest in the subject they want to study.”

English tutor, guide for applicants

Oxplore answers…

It’s sometimes difficult for students to decide what subject they’re most interested in pursuing at university, especially since many subjects taught at university do not have an equivalent at school. Choosing a course they’re genuinely excited about is a vital first step for applicants, and it might be that you want to encourage your younger students, as well as those about to apply to university who are still undecided, to use Oxplore to help them. Students can choose a Big Question which is particularly thought-provoking to them and then head to the ‘Take this further…’ section, which suggests courses at Oxford that could be relevant to that question as well as providing links to more information about that course.

Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Find out more about Mathematics and Computer Science, Computer Science and Philosophy, Engineering Science and Law at Oxford whilst exploring the Big Question ‘Is the Internet bad?’
  • Find out more about Archaeology and Anthropology, Classics, English Language and Literature, and Modern Languages at Oxford whilst exploring the Big Question ‘Is school the best place to learn?’

2. Reading lists

Tutors say…

“It’s not enough just to say that you have a passion for something: you need to show tutors how you have engaged with your subject, above and beyond whatever you have studied at school or college.”

‘What are tutors looking for?’, guide for applicants

Oxplore answers…

Once students know the subject that they want to study, they need to engage with it further. But with so much material out there, from books to articles, podcasts and more, it can sometimes be difficult for students to find something to engage with that truly suits their individual interests. Some of our Big Questions have a section at the bottom called ‘Delve deeper with…’, which includes three or four suggestions for super-curricular exploration curated by a current Oxford student. Why not encourage your students to choose a Big Question that really intrigues them and try out one of the suggestions, or to find a reading list recommended by a student who studies the course they want to pursue at university?

Here’s a couple of our reading lists to give you an idea of what they have to offer:

  • Ellie, a Geography student, recommends books, articles and videos covering a range of subjects which connect to the question ‘Could we end disease?’
  • Aura, a Human Sciences student, recommends interdisciplinary books and podcasts relating to the question ‘Could we end poverty?’

3. Critical thinking and discussion skills

Tutors say…

“A promising applicant is one who is flexible, responsive and thoughtful in their approach.”

Italian tutor, guide for applicants

“[Applicants should show] clarity of expression and thought, precision of analysis, flexibility of argument, and sheer enthusiasm for the subject – a raw intellectual curiosity which encourages the student to think and question.”

History tutor, guide for applicants

Oxplore answers…

When writing a personal statement for an Oxford application, it’s important for students to remember that any part of that statement could form the basis of an interview conversation. So once students have found interesting books, articles, videos or podcasts, they need to form opinions and ideas about them which they can include in their personal statement and practice discussing those ideas and opinions in a thoughtful way. It isn’t always about defending their opinions—indeed, both tutors quoted above express an interest in students who can think ‘flexibly’. They’re looking for students who, when faced with an entirely new angle on a complicated question, are willing—and even keen—to reconsider their views carefully. Oxplore’s Big Questions offer a chance to practice this key critical thinking skill. At the beginning of each Big Question, students are asked to click ‘yes’ or no’ in response to it. Then, after they have learnt new information drawn from a range of different subjects, they are encouraged to give a more nuanced answer to the question which takes into account its complexity.

              Here’s an example:

  • Then, once they’ve considered the question from different perspectives by reading, watching and listening, they are given a chance to reconsider their position and vote again, this time with a more nuanced set of options.

We hope at least one of these features will be useful to you and your students during this busy time in the academic year. The very best of luck from everyone at Oxplore to those applying to Oxford- you’ll be brilliant!

My Internship at Oxplore

I’m Sophie, a first year English Language and Literature student at Christ Church college, Oxford. As an English student, I love reading and writing, and working with Oxplore over the past week has allowed me to share my enthusiasm and work on new materials. As a naturally curious person, working with Oxplore has allowed me to explore big issues, as well as giving me wonderful insight into how outreach programmes work and how we can make a difference.

Sophie, Oxplore Intern

Coming from a state school that provides little information about applying to Oxbridge, outreach is incredibly important to me. I think it is crucial that all young people have information about applying to universities such as Oxford, and even more importantly, are able to flourish, explore big questions, and develop their critical thinking skills by engaging with academic issues and debates. Particularly with books, I really love that Oxplore runs a book club that allows young people to explore different genres and styles, and provides fun, interesting resources for them to learn through. Additionally, I love the curiosity that Oxplore promotes, and the wide range of topics covered in the Big Questions creates the perfect intellectual environment for young people who are eager to find out more. In my time working with Oxplore, I have been able to see first-hand how one creates important resources and engages with young people, and it has really highlighted to me the importance of outreach.

Sophie created new materials for the Oxplore Book Club.

After a year of online studying, I was not particularly fazed by the prospect of doing an internship online. Although I am aware that the atmosphere is very different online, I don’t think it hindered our communication or our work. I was working alongside two other interns, Ndidi and Giulia, and it was lovely to share ideas together and learn about each other a bit, as well as getting to know the lovely Oxplore team. Creating resources and having discussions online showed me several things: how we can work as a team to produce resources over the internet; how much we have adapted to using the internet to our advantage; and how important it is that digital outreach can reach a worldwide audience.

I was particularly exciting to be working with the Oxplore book club, which included planning and delivering a live event, discussing Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’. This was a really interesting book to discuss, touching on many topical issues, and it was really interesting to discuss some of these with guest speaker Chelsea Haith, as well as talking about dystopian fiction more widely. While I have attended online live events in the past, I have never hosted them, and planning and holding the live discussion was a fascinating experience for me. I think it really helped to develop my confidence with working with an online audience, and it was also great to see people engaging with the talk by asking their own questions.

Sophie worked with two fellow interns to plan and co-deliver a live book discussion for schools.

As well as working on this event, I developed some resources for the Oxplore book club’s autumn book: ‘Scythe’ by Neal Shusterman. This was a book I hadn’t read before, so it was fun to get stuck into it, and think about how I could best communicate my perspective and knowledge of the thriller and horror genres to a younger audience. I enjoyed being able to get feedback on my work, and working to improve it so that it is well-suited for the Oxplore website.

We also looked at planning storyboards for animations for some of Oxplore’s Big Questions, and I found this incredibly engaging and a good chance to use my own creativity. I was working on the question ‘Could we live on another planet?’, which dealt with subjects out of my comfort zone, but gave me a really interesting look at areas I haven’t considered before and widened my own knowledge. Working to plan a storyboard made me consider the different ways we can interpret and display information, and really challenged me to think outside the box.

Sophie drafted an animation storyboard for the question ‘Could we live on another planet?’

I was also challenged by the task of collaboratively planning a social media campaign for later in the year. However, it was enjoyable to think of the different ways we can engage with an audience, particularly making an approach interesting enough for younger viewers, and it again highlighted to me the many challenges and efforts of outreach work.

Working with Oxplore was an enlightening and enjoyable endeavour, and it didn’t even feel like doing hard work, but engaging with issues that I found interesting and thinking about how they could be shared with a young audience. After a year of academic work at Oxford, doing an internship with Oxplore was a refreshing way to start the summer: full of passion and curiosity, and hoping to inspire others to think about big issues. The Oxplore Team were lovely and incredibly helpful, supporting us in our tasks and overall, it was a real delight to have the opportunity to work with Oxplore.

Stay at Home: Stay Curious!

Whether you’re looking for a starter activity for an online lesson or inspiration for home schooling, Oxplore is here to make the young minds in your life curious. 

Our #OxploreAdventure series is back!

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be suggesting some quick-fire activities to help you use Oxplore with your students. Keep an eye on our social media channels to find out more @letsoxplore (TwitterFacebook and Instagram). 

In the meantime, here are some existing free resources plus a subject map of all the Big Questions on the site to help you find topics most useful to you. 

You can also sign up for Oxplore’s teachers’ newsletter to be the first to hear about our upcoming live events and competitions.