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. 

Biblical Integrators Must Be Ever-Improving Educators

Christian schools are invested in a ministry of academic discipleship. Today I am emphasizing the academic element of what we do. There are many ministries, but the Christian school is unique in that it is an academic ministry. Without question, the aim of the Christian schooling is discipleship. However, we must not expect sub-par teachers to be great integrators. Because we love our students, and because we believe that God will use them in mighty ways, we must be highly invested in giving them the very best training possible. 

Here are three ways that you can work on improving and growing into the best teacher you can be:

1) Remember your calling. Why did you get into teaching in the first place? What excites you about being a teacher? How can you represent a Christian work-ethic, standard of excellence, and desire to please God in the classroom? God has not called us to be just-good-enough as teachers. He has given us a high calling. Your work has weight. Treat your class as the exciting opportunity that God has made it to be. (Now, I don’t say this to guilt you. We will be tired at times. We are invested in other important tasks — church, family, etc. Our work should not consume us in a workaholic type of way. But I do hope that we will remember that God has called us to a good and important and exciting work that is worth doing well.)

2) Review your documents. Mission drift is real. Many teachers would benefit greatly from looking back at their own syllabus, curriculum map, or other course materials. Is there something that you intended to work on, emphasize, develop, or share that you have let slip through the cracks? Periodically review your own priorities and take stock of whether or not you are still targeting the goals that you set out for yourself. 

3) Recognize an area that needs to be improved in your teaching. We all have room for improvement. There is no perfect teacher. Our students are always changing. Our world is always in flux. Expectations shift. Things that worked in the past might not be as effective today. Therefore, it is wise to find and focus on particular areas to improve. Don’t be vague. Pick a real, concrete thing… and work on it. 

Why does this matter for biblical integrators? There are many reasons, but here are a few. a) You have been given a task by God. Therefore, you must strive to do it as well as you can. b) Your students watch you. You are in a position to model faithfulness to them. c) Improvement pictures sanctification. We are all works in progress, so we should show progress. d) Our students will carry the name of Christ with them if they graduate from Christian schools. Therefore, we need to train them so well that future employers, neighbors, family, and friends, see excellence as a result of a type of schooling that bears the name of Christ. e) You will be more engaged and excited to teach if you know that you are striving to do meaningful work excellently. Being a great teacher is good for students, but it is also good for you. 

As an academic disciple-maker, you are called to point students to Jesus. And we all can do this much more effectively if our teaching is ever-improving.

Approaches to Integration: Story

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Story Approach to biblical integration is powerful because it recognizes two truths: 1) God created all things to tell his story, and 2) the story is still in process. These are encouraging and empowering truths because if the unstoppable, wise God made this world to tell his story, then it is a good story. And if the story is in process we can play a meaningful role. 

Many young people are oriented toward action, and this approach leans on that inclination and aims it toward God. Bono challenges people, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Find out what God’s doing. It’s already blessed.” That is the idea here: discover the story that God is telling, find your role in it, and get to work. Charles Stanley explained a bit about what that might look like, saying, “The Lord’s specific destiny for your life has a twofold nature: It will further His kingdom on earth, and it will transform you.”

So, how does the story approach to integration work in the classroom? Here are the steps:

1) Determine how your subject is involved in the Protagonist’s efforts. He is the Hero of the story and everything He does shows that He is the Good Guy. This does not need to be encyclopedic or all-encompassing or comprehensive. You can’t cover everything. Instead of trying to do too much, pick a clear theme. In Math, you might talk about God being the great Order-Maker and Problem-Solver. In Art, you could point out that He is the Beauty-Sharer and Restorer. In Science, He can be seen as Life-Giver and System-Designer.

2) Explore how the Hero uses your subject to do things that are good, true, and beautiful. Yes, He created in the past. Yes, Jesus died and rose again in the past. But God is not done working. The Hero continues his heroic redemption mission now. Can we show that God didn’t just order the world, but continues to hold it together now (Col 1:17)? If it were not for the Hero, the world would not continue in its orderly way. He is working now and the continued viability of mathematics shows that truth. 

Can we show that God is restoring the broken, faded, and cracked? Hosea 6 shows his character and work in this way:

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.

Art courses have unique opportunity to point to God as the ultimate Restorer. Just like an expert might restore and old classic painting that has been marred by the effects of the world, God is in the business of restoring people.

Can we look at conception, birth, and growth and see that God is still giving life today? Can we note from our involuntarily beating hearts that God is still in the business of giving life? Elihu states rightly in Job 33:4, that, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Science classes are an excellent arena for this kind of exploration.

3) Challenge students to get involved in a meaningful role as side-kicks. God is the Hero, but He graciously allows his people to do meaningful things. This isn’t a perfect analogy, but our students can be encouraged to get on God’s team in an active way — like Watson to Holmes or Robin to Batman. All of our subjects can be leveraged for God’s glory. They are tools to be used on behalf of the Hero in his story. Math can be used to order things, improve broken systems, share resources, build, research, and solve. And our students can be involved in those things! Artists can share beauty and goodness in ways that otherwise would be inaccessible. Our students can point to the beauty of God through art. Science can help understand God’s world, show his masterpiece of creation in more detail and depth, and propose ways to meet needs and innovate for the good. In other words, students can apply what they learn in real ways to serve a real Hero.

Key ResourceNotes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by ND Wilson. In his own words, “[The world] is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Approaches to Integration: Perspectives

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Perspectives Approach to biblical integration offers the teacher multiple angles from which to view academic content. While this post will be a bit more technical than the others, please stick with it. You will find it worthwhile. 

Regarding the perspectives approach, each angle offers a new, complementary take on how any idea, unit, concept might be rightly integrated. John Frame has helpfully trumpeted the idea of triperspectivalism as a theological method. Many find this type of philosophical writing difficult to understand and apply, but the idea is extraordinarily powerful. Let me (over)simplify.

The idea of triperspectivalism is that everything can be looked at from three (tri) perspectives. Whenever a person views an object or idea from more than one direction, that person is able to gain understanding. These are the three perspectives that Frame directs us toward: authority, power, and presence. For our biblical integration, we would ask, “What does God’s authoritative Word say about this academic content? And How does it display his power, control, and nature? And how should it affect how I live in his presence?”

Below, I have arranged the three perspectives so that they are connected to other key ideas like the roles of Jesus and the elements on inductive Bible study.

*Authority — Prophet — Normative — Standard — Information — Observation

**Power — King — Existential — Object — Understanding — Interpretation

***Presence — Priest — Situational — Subject — Action — Application

Take a look about how these might be applied to biblical integration (and note that I am referencing key-words from above with asterisks and bold-text ). In history class, we could note that God is in control of all things from Daniel 4:17, 25, 32. In these verses it is repeated that, “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” No matter what happens, from wars to politics to technological changes, God has *authority over it all. We can *observe this truth and rely on it. The fact that He has authority is the key piece of *information when understanding anything and everything. We could explore that single perspective for a long time, but there is more. That concept from Daniel also points out God’s active **power — He gives kingdoms to whoever He wishes. Therefore, when we **interpret history (or current events), believers can rely on the fact that his power is never in question. And even if terrible things occur, what the enemy intends for evil, God intends for good (Gen 50:20). Our **understanding must be shaped by God’s power. Lastly, God has spoken to us about his authority and power so that we can live accordingly in his ***presence. In other words, in our situations we can take ***action by ***applying these truths. His authority and power allow us to live wisely and faithfully. 

In other words, we ask of our content: 1) What does the *Prophet say is the *normative *standard? Here we lean heavily on the special revelation of the Bible. 2) How does the **King exercise his **power on the **object? Here we can look to God’s work of general revelation in the world. 3) How should I — the ***subject — act in response as I ***apply truth in my ***situation? Here we recognize that we live in the ***Priest’s ***presence for his glory. 

I know that this was a more challenging read than usual, but I didn’t want to leave this out because, when harnessed, it can be very powerful. 

Key Resource — The most robust place to go would be Theology in Three Dimensions by John Frame. However, the easiest place to get started is to get a deep understanding of inductive Bible study. Thinking about content in these terms will help get the ball rolling without needing to expend too much effort in understanding this approach. As you can see from this article, there is significant alignment between these two seemingly different frameworks. 

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Wisdom Approach to Biblical Integration. 

Approaches to Integration: Contributor

Biblical integration is a teaching task. That means that approaches to integration can be as unique and varied as teachers themselves. There are some best-practices of biblical integration, but there is no one-ultimate-way to integrate. Different teachers think differently. Different subjects might emphasize different things. For the next several weeks, I will be highlighting different approaches so that educators can explore their options. This will only be introductory (rather than a deep-dive), but I hope that you will try out some new ideas and see if you can make improvements. 

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The Contributor Approach to biblical integration is significantly different from the approaches discussed previously. The biblical-theology and worldview approaches hinge on the teacher using a grid of questions to structure well-organized lessons that lead toward specific truths. However, the contributor approach is different; instead of leading directly to truths, it leads to questions. 

You see, throughout life, students will not always have their teachers to guide them in biblical thinking. Therefore, it is important to teach young people to ask the right questions so that they can teach themselves. In other words, the aim of this approach is to help students learn to learn. 

So how can we do this? What does the contributor approach look like? 

The idea is to lead students in a form of directed freedom. Think of directed freedom as giving students an overarching task, but allowing them to have freedom in how they go about it. This allows them to explore, try things, make adjustments, and be creative. Here are a few ideas:

1) Academic Content Creation: Asking students to include biblical-integration as part of an assignment. For example, if your students write a book review or paper, create a project, or develop a presentation, you can ask them to include biblical integration in that work. Tell them what you are looking for and include the integration in your grading rubric. They could be asked to search the Bible for connections, develop a biblically-formed analysis, or demonstrate the truths about God that they learned. 

2) Class Discussion: After introducing a new topic in class, ask the students leading questions about how this content points to God, discipleship, brokenness, etc. For example, if a PE teacher introduces a game that requires teamwork to the class, that PE teacher could then ask, “This game requires teamwork to succeed. Can you think of any other areas of life in which teamwork is needed in or to succeed?” This could lead in many directions: family/relationships, the church, communities, etc. Or the PE teacher could ask, “We can tell who is on our team in this game by looking at the uniforms. How can we tell who is on our team in life?” This could lead students to talk about beliefs/convictions, willingness to sacrifice, and more. Another idea would be for the PE teacher to ask, “There is a difference between a good and a bad teammate. If someone is distracted or unwilling to work, that causes a problem in our game. What makes a good teammate in life? Do you think you are a good teammate? Why?” And the discussion would move ahead from there.

3) Practical/Real-Life Engagement: Different classes are passionate and equipped in different areas. Some course material opens doors for moving outside of the class environment. One class, upon learning how to address envelopes, might be asked to send a letter of encouragement to someone in their life. This gives them freedom to choose whether to write to a parent, sibling, friend or pastor. They are contributing. Another class, upon learning about the justice system, could choose to pray for those who are incarcerated by using the tools provided by Prison Fellowship. As you can see, these activities are teacher directed, but students have varying levels of freedom to engage as they think is best. They can use their own will and choice to make an impact.

There are many other ideas that we could discuss, but the main idea of the contributor approach is to give students the opportunity (and expectation) of participating in the process of biblical integration. Many of these ideas are low-stakes and variable which generally sets them up as formative assessments. This approach might not be sufficient on its own, but it can supplement other approaches and help your classroom come to life. In addition, it helps the students learn to take responsibility for their own biblical thinking… and that is worth working toward. 

Key ResourceFormative vs. Summative Assessment from Carnegie-Mellon University

Do you think that this framework would work well in your class? Why or why not? Have you used it in the past? How did it go?

Next time, we’ll look at the Perspectives Approach to Biblical Integration.