New Assessments, New Integration: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 3)

This is the third part of a short series about how to accomplish biblical integration in a remote environment. These ideas can help teachers who are transitioning to an online environment, but they may also be helpful supplements that you could use for homework in other ways. [Note: Some of this may work more effectively for middle school and high school students than elementary-aged students.]

As we know, teaching remotely is different than teaching in a face-to-face environment. One of the differences relates to assessment. It is challenging to remotely test memory with a high level of confidence. How can you keep the students from just looking up answers as they take the test/quiz? It is tough. So my suggestion is to encourage them to look up their answers. Instead of fighting their instinct to search for answers, we can feed that desire. Of course, this means that our questions need to change. 

“In what year and town was George Washington born?” can be changed to, “Find out when and where George Washington was born. Share three interesting facts about his family and early life. Cite your sources.”

This exposes the students to the same material, but it is an appropriate assessment for remote work because it is not assessing memory. And it actually offers a few advantages over a simple memory assessment; it engages students’ curiosity and teaches them to cite sources. So how does this relate to biblical integration? Simply put: you can ask you students to be contributors to integration, rather than just consumers of it. 

Can you design a project that asks the students to be a part of the integration process? Yes. You can assign a book-review that asks students to note biblical themes. You can assign a reflection project that asks students to identify a scientist’s underlying worldview assumptions. The truth is that, by creating a thoughtful rubric that includes expectations of biblical integration, almost every project can be an effective tool for integration. 

As you move to remote learning, you need to alter your assessments. When you make those changes, why not build in a requirement for student-generated biblical integration? It takes very little additional work, but provides serious benefit.

Content Delivery: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 2)

This is the second part of a short series about how to accomplish biblical integration in a remote environment. These ideas can help teachers who are transitioning to an online environment, but they may also be helpful supplements that you could use for homework in other ways. [Note: Some of this may work more effectively for middle school and high school students than elementary-aged students.]

Remote learning (RL) is fundamentally different from face-to-face (F2F) learning. For many reasons, it is not optimal to structure RL as if it were F2F. Because of the differences in mode, structure, communication, classroom management, tools, etc., teachers should strive to leverage the strengths of RL and minimize its weaknesses. One of the great strengths of RL (when students and teachers have access to the internet) is content delivery. This is because students — especially MS and HS students — are capable and enthusiastic about using their personal technologies. In some F2F environments, smartphones can be a distraction. But when practicing RL, smartphones/computers/tablets are a gateway to your guided tour of experts, popular teachers, digital tools, and examples. What may have once been a struggle for your teaching has become an opportunity. And today, I am going to highlight the power of digital content delivery for biblical integration using examples from science.

Digital Content as Guest Speaker

Did you know that you can invite experts into your remote classrooms? Biology teachers can have Dr. Michael Behe teach your students about irreducible complexity through his Secrets of Cell series. Dr. Michael Keas can expertly explain how Christianity was crucial in the development of modern science. I have also enjoyed the MindMatters podcast because of its engagement with biblical worldview and the science of the mind. Of course, there are numerous other expert resources that a teacher of any subject could use. 

Digital Content as Opportunity for Investigation

RL can give students space to investigate. And RL can remove students’ ability to rely too much on others. This means that teachers can present digital content in a way that encourages students to explore, evaluate, and grow. In science, a teacher could share Christianity Today’s list of twelve women in science. Students could learn about different fields (biology, genetics, paleoclimatology, ecology, etc.). But they could also learn about what these leading scientists say about how their faith is innately connected to their scientific work. 

One of the great teachers at my school recently presented students with a list of views on the origins of the universe and asked them to explain what they believed. This caused students to investigate, understand, explain, and share what they believed. The conversation related solidly to science and to theology. This is a classic example of tight integration. And while it could have worked in a F2F class, it was perfect for RL.

Do What Your Guest Speakers Can’t 

So when you are teaching and integrating remotely, use your time to interact with students and organize the content that they need to learn. If someone else has already made a good-quality, easy-to-understand video explaining bacterial flagellum, you don’t always need to recreate it (although there may be a time for that in some circumstances). Instead, you should use your time to facilitate the elements of learning that are not already present in the video. Let your guest speakers (digital content) introduce and illustrate the content as much as possible. You can then use your time to make commentary on the content, encourage responses from your students, respond in depth to student work, show biblical connections, etc. This will show your students how they can grow into thoughtful evaluators of content. You are modelling good practices for them. 

Don’t feel obligated to reinvent the wheel. Instead, go and find the best wheels you can and fasten them to the axles of your class. This will take your unique perspective, wisdom, and style. But don’t feel like RL has to be just like your F2F class. It’s different. But different has opportunities that you can seize.

He Hangs the Earth on Nothing: Integrated Remote-Learning (Part 1)

This is the first part of a short series about how to accomplish biblical integration in a remote environment. These ideas can help teachers who are transitioning to an online environment, but they may also be helpful supplements that you could use for homework in other ways. [Note: Some of this may work more effectively for middle school and high school students than elementary-aged students.]

The unique nature of online learning gives it certain advantages over in-classroom learning. I am not saying that it is better, but there are aspects of it that can be educationally helpful. The University of Denver has some guidelines for transitioning classes to an online format that include this good point:

Try not to get bogged down with doing everything you would normally… What has to stay? What can go? Is there a way to meet your learning outcomes in a manageable way given the tools you have? When you find yourself getting stuck on issues like “how can I possibly do X online?!” Think about, “could I do something besides X?”

One of the basic ideas of online instruction is that it is different than in-person instruction. Therefore, it is unwise to try to teach your class in the normal way during abnormal circumstances. Our objectives remain, but many other things change. The environment is different. The interactions are different. The tools of engagement are different. Therefore, you cannot simply do what you did before and post it online. This is true for your elements of biblical integration as well. To that end, here is an idea that can help you create an excellent, integration, online experience for your students.

Lean into (Slow) Discussion and Collaboration

According to Purdue University, “Although response time may be longer online, the quality of feedback tends to be more detailed and focused than in the classroom setting.” This is because when you ask a question in-person, the student that thinks of an answer the fastest speaks up. But online, speed is not as relevant. And students need to write out or record their responses, so the fast answer must be refined. And, the slower answer gets equally heard. One of my favorite discussion activities is a shared sharpening task called “Make-It-Better.” 

To do this, you give students a prompt like this one: 

The Bible is not anti-science. Instead, science supports the Bible and the Bible supports science. 

The students would be asked to make this statement better. They can add detail and examples. They can interact with ideas and sources. They can clarify arguments. They can include cultural understanding. And as they work on it, they might come up with something like this: 

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins seems to represent many non-Christians in saying that the Bible does not correspond with science. However, in that same book, he also calls on parents, saying, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” In taking his advice, I have evaluated evidence and come to disagree with him on his conclusion.

Dawkins states, “If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution.” I do not think that this is an accurate assessment how we should interpret the evidence. The Bible is not anti-science. While there are many diverse pieces of evidence, here is one that I am currently interested in: Job — the oldest book of the Bible — states a scientific fact that could not be known at that time without divine revelation. In Job 26:7, the writer states that God stretches the north over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing. The most ancient book of the Bible offers a modern, poetic description of the earth being in space. That seems like one piece of evidence that, to Dawkins’ chagrin, seems to support the accuracy of biblical evidence. Therefore, I continue to be confident that science supports the Bible and the Bible supports science.

With collaborative tools like Google Docs, there is no reason that a class of students could not Make-It-Better like this. In addition, the teacher is able to see what each student contributes so that each student can be held accountable for participation. And what subjects could this work for? English — for the development of writing, grammar, developing a thesis, citing sources. Speech — developing a theme to make a persuasive argument. Science — understanding the biblical connections to modern discoveries. History — understanding how ideas have developed and been challenged (or supported) over time. 

Show Them: Biblical Integration and Informing Imagination

Imagine explaining New York City to a child who has lived in a small, rural community. You could talk about the way that sky-scrapers are like two-story houses, but even taller. You could talk about how the streets are busy — kind of like Walmart at Christmastime. These comparisons can be a good start, but they can only take the student so far. Obviously, to really understand NYC, the child would need to visit. But, the next best thing is to show dynamic, accurate visual or artistic representations. These representations can inform and fuel an accurate imagination.

Imagination is often thought of as a place to dream up fantasy worlds and make-believe. However, an informed, accurate imagination is a tool that can envision the real world and what we should truly believe. 

The classic tools that we use to help students with imagination include pictures, maps, and graphs. But here are three other types of tools that you can use in your class to fuel and shape healthy imaginations. 

Well-Done Christian Documentaries

Sadly, there are some Christian media projects that are not excellent in content or quality, but there are others that are fantastic. Be on the lookout for those that are really good. I’m currently intrigued by this preview of The Riot and the Dance: Water, in which Dr. Gordon Wilson states, “One Artist invented water. He invented every liquid habitat and ecosystem that has ever existed. And He fills every inch with life, with death, and with perpetual renewal.” This is the kind of resource that we need to invite into our classrooms. 

Infographics

These are visualizations of reality. They can help us see the truth about how things relate to us and each other. These kinds of images can help information “click” in our students’ minds. Here is an example about the languages spoken in the world. There are many ways that this could be used in relation to biblical integration. Can you think of any? 

Biographies/Memoirs

Over the past summer, I was able to read a biography of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. There was a great deal of content about how his faith shaped his decision-making in every stage of life. Faithful, historical-figures like William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and Isaac Milner are worth exploring. These three Christians were contemporaries and made massive impacts in their fields — Wilberforce in government, More in literature and education, and Milner in mathematics. They are examples for us and our students. Thankfully, numerous biographies about Christian thinkers and leaders are written for all reading-levels. These should be used regularly and freely. 

These three types of resources can fuel accurate, godly imaginations. We might not be able to take them all to New York City, but we can make the idea of of NYC come to life in accurate, engaging ways. Let’s do more than tell our students about God’s integrated world; let’s show them. 

 

Red Ink on Biblical Integration

Biblical illiteracy. Common misconceptions. Lack of context. Unintended heresies. Moral drifting. Self-centeredness. Anxiety. Fear. Disappointment. These are just a few of the issues plaguing Christians today. And many of these issues persist even for those who grow up in church and go to Christian schools. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make an impact. And our impact can affect these students for the rest of their lives. 

Bob Brown reported on recent research that shows that students do better in school when they receive a greater amount of critical feedback. 

“Why do students do better when there’s more red ink on their exams? Gershenson [one of the researchers] hypothesized they are more aware of when they need to seek help. Teachers who grade more rigorously grasp their students’ weaknesses and tend to follow up with increased interaction and improved instruction.”

In the moment, red ink can be hard for the student to see, but it gives life in the long-term. And if we are willing to help students improve in academic content areas, how could we not invest some red ink into their worldview as well? They need your correction. Yes, you correct grammar problems. Yes, you correct math mistakes. But do you take time to correct theological problems and biblical mistakes?

When we identify weaknesses in the way our students read the Bible, understand its message, or apply it to life, we must intervene. We can’t let our students carry those issues if we can act to help them. In other words, red ink — while it looks brutal on the page — can be mercy. That is part of your task as an integrator. 

Don’t let your students grow up in academics without growing up godliness as well. Jesus grew up in wisdom and stature and favor with God (Luke 2:52). That’s our goal for our students too.

Academic Discipleship Makes a Long-Term Difference: Biblical Integration

Teaching in a biblically integrated fashion takes work. Teaching is hard on its own. And actively asking God’s Word to inform and shape your content adds another layer of challenge. However, it is worth it. There are many reasons for integration, but I want to highlight the truth that it helps students live faithfully for the rest of their lives.

Recent research shows that Christian colleges have an impact on their students. Compared with public and non-religious private schools, graduates of Christian colleges are 1) less motivated by money, 2) more interested in helping those in need, and 3) more interested in work that aligns with religious beliefs. 

The same research indicates that those who graduate from these schools want to protect the environment, combat injustice, and reduce poverty. While there are many who go to public and non-religious schools that care about these issues, it is clear that the religious bent of the university makes a big difference.

While this research was conducted on college graduates, the principles likely carry over to primary and secondary education as well. In fact, some research shows that 83% of commitments to Christ happen between the ages of four and fourteen. Therefore, we can assume that the long-term goals, desires, and commitments of students are being shaped at that time too. 

Academic discipleship is powerful because it meets students during a time when they are being shaped. And who they become as young people will affect who they are as adults. Imagine the impact that your integrated teaching is having on future churches, families, work-places, neighborhoods, political organizations, music and literature and visual art.

Your work makes a difference. Don’t give up. Your lessons are changing lives if they are infused with the Word. After all, that Word is alive and power and sharper than a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12).

The Holy Spirit Points to Jesus: Biblical Integration

The Holy Spirit wrote a book — the Bible. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that the Spirit directed and controlled the writers of Scripture. While human writers employed pen and paper, the Holy Spirit employed those men. All of Scripture points to and testifies about Jesus (John 5:39-40). In other words, the Holy Spirit chose to write one book. And He chose to write that one book about Jesus Christ. 

As God, the Holy Spirit is utterly free to do all that He pleases, and it pleases Him to make much of Jesus. It pleased Him to do that when He wrote the Bible, and it pleases Him to do that through each of us. In Spirit-Filled Teaching, Roy B. Zuck describes this, saying, 

“Teaching does not suddenly become Christian when a spiritual footnote is added to what a teacher imparts. Rather, biblical truth must be interwoven by the Spirit into the very fabric of teaching, if it is to be considered Christian education,” (54).    

So, our job is to obey the Father and partner with the Spirit by teaching Christ-exalting biblical-truth to our students. There is a great line in Student Ministry and Supremacy of Christ about this: “Every dimension of hope is initiated by the Father, developed by the Spirit, while always exalting the Son,” (Ross, 16). This is the work of God’s Spirit in the world today. John Piper explains, 

“The Spirit is sent to make Christ real to people and to show us who he really is in his glory so that we come to love him and trust him and obey him and show him to the world. What this means is that the Holy Spirit is more likely to come in power where the truth about Jesus is being lifted up and made plain. The Spirit loves to come and take the truth about Jesus and turn it into an experience of Jesus.”

So, as integrators, we must ask ourselves: Are we in step with the Spirit by making much of Jesus in our classrooms? The Holy Spirit gives power to the gospel that we proclaim — awesome power (Rom 1:16). I want the Spirit to work mightily in and through me. And we can be confident that He will do this when we join Him in doing what He loves to do. 

Part of why I am so passionate about Christ-exalting, biblical integration is that the Spirit is too. In the Spirit’s book, He said that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19) and Christ holds all things together (Col 1). Jesus is worthy. And the Spirit loves to speak of Him. The Spirit loves to highlight his work of salvation on the cross. He led four men to pen whole books about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God — worthy of praise Himself — but He points to Christ. We too can be like Him by living out the end of Galatians 5: 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Let’s keep in step with the Spirit by agreeing with the Spirit and the Spirit’s book. And let’s teach his book. And let’s proclaim the message of the book — Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11). 

Biblical Integration: Are You Teaching the Gospel?

This may seem obvious, but it must be said: there is no Christianity without the gospel. In turn, academic discipleship must be gospel-teaching, gospel-celebrating, gospel-reminding. In Gospel-Centered Teaching, Trevin Wax explains, 

“We may be commenting on Christian Scripture, pulling out good points of application, and offering solid information. But it’s the gospel that makes our teaching distinctively Christian. It’s the gospel that separates our study from mere moralistic suggestions or information overload,” (78).  

Now, as I often say, this does not mean that you need to turn your physics class, art class, or history class into Sunday School. No. But your class should distinctly belong in a Christian school. Christian schooling is more than just Bible-related schooling. Later in his book, Wax recalls missiologist Ed Stetzer’s reminder that we shouldn’t preach sermons that could be true if Jesus had not died on the cross and been raised from the dead (83). [Some call these “synagogue sermons.”]  Wax suggests asking ourselves two questions as we prepare to teach: 1) If I am teaching Old Testament truths, am I teaching them in a way that “a faithful Jew could not affirm?” (79), and 2) Is my teaching of the New Testament distinctive from the teachings of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Muslims? (81). 

Each of these groups teaches things from and about the Bible. But they are not teaching in a way that is distinctively Christian. What is the difference? The gospel.

The gospel is everything to the Christian. It is the key. If we graduate students who believe that God is big and strong and wise, but don’t recognize their need for the Savior, we have failed. If we graduate students who think that Jesus was a great teacher, but not the Lord of all, we have failed. If we graduate students who don’t believe in the deity or resurrection of Jesus, we have failed. Paul said it like this:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. – 1 Cor 15:3-4, 14

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Rom 10:9, 12-13

There are many groups, like those listed above, who teach and use the Bible in various ways. But only those who believe that Jesus is Lord, that Christ died for our sins, and that God raised Him from the dead are saved. In other words, the gospel essential. And the truth of the gospel is the interpretive key to the whole Bible. Without the gospel, we cannot rightly be biblical. Jesus made this clearly to non-believing Jewish people when He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life,” (John 5:39-40). 

Therefore, in order to practice real, true biblical integration, we must be teaching the Jesus-centered gospel. Biblical integration must include gospel-integration. We must be pointing to Jesus.

Biblical Integration and the Power of Truth

“What is truth?” This is a big question. Philosophers, psychologists, lawyers, and first-century Roman officials (John 18:38) ask it. The dictionary says that truth is that which is “in accordance with fact or reality.” Truth is the way things really are. Truth is what really happened. Truth is real — fact. Untruth is unreal — fiction. 

And truth does not change because we agree with it. Truth does not require our assent or permission to be true. I can say that up is down, but that does not make it true. 

Sometimes people can get confused about truth because (truly) we all have different experiences. Since we live different lives, we all experience different things in life. Different things are true of me than might be true of others, but those those truths about me are a part of the real, true world. For example: I am a man. And I have a beard. Those things are not universal truths because they are not true of all people. In addition, they are different kinds of truths. I am a man, and I always will be. Though I have a beard, I likely won’t always have one. My beard could change. But the truth that I had a beard at this time on this date will never change. In fact, it can never change.

That might have seemed like a long and wandering introduction. After all, truth is evident to all, so why bother sharing pop-philosophical thoughts about it? Well, truth is a concept that is highly valued, but not well understood. And as teachers, we are called to teach truth. We are also called to teach students to know and find the truth in a world of competing messages. To that end, the folks at GotQuestions help us understand what truth is not with the following list:

  • Truth is not simply whatever works. This is the philosophy of pragmatism—an ends-vs.-means-type approach. In reality, lies can appear to “work,” but they are still lies and not the truth.
  • Truth is not simply what is coherent or understandable. A group of people can get together and form a conspiracy based on a set of falsehoods where they all agree to tell the same false story, but it does not make their presentation true.
  • Truth is not what makes people feel good. Unfortunately, bad news can be true.
  • Truth is not what the majority says is true. Fifty-one percent of a group can reach a wrong conclusion.
  • Truth is not what is comprehensive. A lengthy, detailed presentation can still result in a false conclusion.
  • Truth is not defined by what is intended. Good intentions can still be wrong.
  • Truth is not how we know; truth is what we know.
  • Truth is not simply what is believed. A lie believed is still a lie.
  • Truth is not what is publicly proved. A truth can be privately known (for example, the location of buried treasure).

It is a fact that many intelligent academic leaders deny the truth of the Bible. But the Bible is true regardless of what they believe. It is a fact that some people get away with telling lies in this life. But that doesn’t make the lies truth regardless of the consequences. It is a fact that many people earnestly believe that there is no God. But they are earnestly wrong regardless of how fervent their beliefs are.

When you teach in a biblically-integrated fashion, you are offering your students something amazing — truth. God is the ultimate Truth. He is the Truth that all truths are contingent upon. Why is the earth in orbit around the sun? Well, gravity hold it in place. But God holds gravity. And the sun. And the earth. And our ability to notice these things. He has declared these things to be so. I tell my students that when God said, “Let there be light,” light came true. God, as Truth Himself (John 14:6), is the one who defines and declares truth. He is the Shaper of reality. Reality conforms to God. And truth is that which conforms to reality.

When you practice biblical integration, you are trying to tell “the truth, the whole, and nothing but the truth.” An dis-integrated lesson can’t be the whole truth because it is missing Truth Himself.

Thanksgiving as Biblical Integration

Thanksgiving is a holiday and it is an action. Often, I associate Thanksgiving with pie, cranberry sauce, and family. These are good things. But Thanksgiving should be most associated with God. Why? Because He is the One who is our greatest gift. In addition, He is the One who has given us all things. He is the One to whom we are grateful. And He is the One for whom we are grateful.

Who does an atheist thank for his family, friends, joys, and provisions? Random chance? Unfeeling forces of nature?

Thanksgiving is a season of pie (did I mention pie already?), but it is, first and foremost, meant to be a season of active gratitude to the Lord who provides all good things (Jas 1:17). This makes it a holiday because “holiday” means holy day. 

Thanksgiving is a holy-day, not because of some special significance of November’s Thursdays, but because it has been set aside for giving thanks. God has made us holy through the gospel:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. – Heb 2:11

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Heb 10:10

God has made us holy and He has made us family. He has given us ourselves and He has given us Himself. If this does not lead you to thankfulness, there is significant gospel-disconnect. And you can be sure that some of your students are experiencing that disconnect. 

As teachers, it is essential for us to use biblical integration to show students how indebted we are to the God who paid our debt. Doesn’t God give life and cause our hearts to beat? Didn’t He knit us together in the womb? Hasn’t He authored our personality? Hasn’t He given us our gifts? Doesn’t He forgive our sin? Hasn’t He adopted us into his own family? Isn’t He wonderful?

Your subject matter exists for the glory of God (Rom 11:36). How can you teach in a way that leads students to grateful praise? John Piper makes the case that thanksgiving “is not willed, but awakened.” It is our job (and our pleasure) to help students wake up to God’s goodness in giving us Himself through the gospel. And Matt Boswell says, “As we allow the truths of the gospel to enlarge our hearts, we find ever-increasing room for thankfulness to God.” Teach in a way that enlarges the hearts of your students so that they can ever-more faithfully and joyously live in thanksgiving.