Assignments as Contracts: Improving Expectations with Integration Clauses

A contract is “a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties.” It lays out the expectations and needed components. Contracts are important in everything from home purchases to landscaping work to employment and more. And we can think of every classroom assignment as a contract as well.

Students need to know what is expected of them. When work is assigned, students agree to accomplish a certain task in a specific way. These tasks and means will vary based on age, subject, unit, etc. However, students in every class need to fully understand what success looks like. Do your students understand that biblical integration is an essential part of success in your class? This is where integration clauses in your assignments can help.

If we include biblical integration clauses in our contracts (assignments), students understand that they are expected to participate in integration. When we explicitly ask for integration in our expectations, students can leverage their creativity, effort, and critical-thinking skills to accomplish the goal set out before them. Further, if students realize that they are expected to recognize, report, understand, explain, and celebrate God’s glorious ways in their work, they will be able to rise to the occasion.

Educational assessments are the means by which we can measure how much our students are learning. If we want our students to learn Christ through academic content, we need to write our contracts (assignment instructions) in a way that allows us to see if they are actually getting it. If we don’t include integration in our assessments, we cannot know if our integrated teaching is getting through.

Therefore, when you assess (at the start, middle, or end of a unit) you should assess biblical integration. If you assign a paper, review, lab report, science experiment, quiz, creative writing prompt, worksheet, bell-work, or test, you should try to include elements of biblical integration as a part of the assessment. This means that it should be mentioned through integration clauses in your rubrics, study guides, and assignment instructions.

Here are a few examples of integration clauses in contracts (assignments):

  • Math Quiz: In 1 Kings 3, Solomon was faced with a problem. While we have to solve problems to find x in this class, he had to solve a problem to find a mom. He was able to use his wisdom and problem-solving skills to find the truth and serve justice. What is one way that you can use your problem-solving skills to help others?
  • History Essay: In our study on the American Revolution, we investigated the lives of many leaders. List 3 examples of Christian characteristics that you saw in them.
  • Science Project/Lab Report: After completing the report, include one sentence on what the results of the experiment tell us about God, God’s design, or ourselves.
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Biblical Integration and the Foundations of Science

I recently read Christianity as a Foundation for Science by Loren Haarsma. Professor Haarsma, who  teaches physics at Calvin College, makes many excellent points and I encourage you to read the article. In this post, I want point out some the key ideas contained there. [Please note that all quotations are taken from Haarsma’s article.]

As instructors, we must recognize that “apparent conflicts between scholarly claims and religious claims are not limited to science… they occur in almost every subject.” This is true of the interpretation of language, understanding of art, views on history, and ideas like justice or freedom. Worldview conflict is everywhere. However, science may be the area where the conflicts appear to rage most often and most violently. “Whether you teach in a public or a Christian institution, you are no doubt aware that there are many conflicting voices telling us what the relationship between science and Christianity ought to be.”

Ideology leads some  to say that science is an enemy of theology. But, “A much more common opinion amongst scientists today is that science and religion deal with entirely separate realities and have nothing to do with each other.” Many believe that scientific study and religious concepts are on different planets. They say that they never come into contact and should never interact. However, Christians need to look no further than Genesis 1:1 to see that God’s work and the world are innately tied. Christian educators know that this world is God’s world. He has made it. He owns it. He works in it. However, knowing those things does not mean that biblically integrated science is easy. Haarsma says:

Every Christian educator who has taught a science class has undoubtedly noticed how difficult it is to teach science from a distinctively Christian perspective. In other academic subjects such as politics, history, philosophy, literature, art or sociology, while there are many parts of those subjects where Christians and non-Christians do their work essentially identically, there are other parts of those subjects where it is easy to contrast Christian viewpoints with nonChristian viewpoints. In the natural sciences, however, it frequently seems as though the entire subject is religiously neutral. Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

Now, I do not agree that science is more difficult to teach Christianly than any other subject. However, I do think that the methodology of science or math looks a little different than art or music. We must treat different subjects differently because… they are different. That being said, we do need to ask: Is there such a thing as distinctively Christian physics or chemistry?

“Perspective” is an important word in thinking this through. All people, regardless of their worldview commitments, interact with the same scientific facts. Every student and teacher has access to the same evidence about the world. Our differences come not from the facts, but from how we interpret those facts. Therefore, it is not the physics or chemistry that is distinctly Christian. Instead, it is our teaching of the subjects that should be. Christians believe that world is ordered and has “laws of nature” because there is a Law-Maker. Atheistic naturalists disagree vehemently about the Law-Maker, but they will not disagree about the laws themselves: Christians and non-Christians understand the laws of thermodynamics… Christians, however, will point to Christ as the foundation of all scientific laws. Notice this teaching exercise from Haarsma:

The Bible speaks about God’s governance of everything. Modern science speaks about “natural laws” governing physical events, such as the motion of objects. Is there a conflict here? At this point, I let my students discuss the issue for a few minutes, and then ask them to volunteer some answers. I think you would be pleased at the thoughtful answers I usually receive. They understand that there isn’t necessarily a contradiction is these claims. God can govern through natural laws.

So where do we land on all this? It is possible and important for Christian educators to teach science from and toward the glory of God. I will let Haarsma take the conclusion:

“The biblical perspective is clear. If something happens ‘naturally,’ God is still in charge.”

“A biblical picture assures us that God governs creation in consistent and orderly ways, and God gives us the gifts we need to study his creation and partially understand it. Scientists talk about natural laws ‘governing’ the universe. Christians who are scientists occasionally slip into using that language as well. From a biblical perspective, however, it is incorrect to say that natural laws govern. God governs. God created natural laws, and God usually governs creation through the natural laws he designed and created. God can do miracles any time he chooses, but most of the time God chooses to work in consistent ways. “

“When a Christian employs the scientific method to investigate nature, a biblical understanding of God and nature motivates her to do science, and provides a strong foundation for her belief that she is using the right method. When she uses the scientific method, she is not acting “as if God doesn’t exist.” She is acting like there is a God – not a capricious God, but the God of the Bible, who made an orderly world and who still governs it in an orderly fashion.”

Help for Science Teachers

This post is meant to highlight the great tools that you can access (for free!) from FASTly (Faith And Science Teaching).  We will get to activities and lesson plans, but, before that, watch this short video to get a picture of what FASTly is all about.

Science is one of the most important subjects of our day. It is highly valued in our society. It drives much of our commerce and allows avenues for creativity and curiosity. For biblical integrators, science is a key field because it is focused on examining and understanding the world that God has made. We can better understand the Law-Maker through his physical laws. We can better understand the Author of Life by looking into the various lifeforms He has made, the ways that He sustains them, and the way they work together.

Click here to view FASTly’s Activity Maps to help you thoughtfully practice biblical integration with science in ways that will connect well with your students. Let me emphasize: these are integrated activities. The value in activity is immense because students are not just hearing about integration. Instead, they are engaging in it—they are exploring it for themselves. I would highly encourage you to look at Activity Maps that relate to your science subject, download some of the tools, examine some the articles, look at the sample lesson plans. There is so much there! (PowerPoints, worksheets, Bible helps, etc.)

Whether you are working on a more integrated syllabus for next year or trying to find a good activity for your class right now, this is a helpful tool to have in your toolbox.