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).