Bloom’s Taxonomy and Biblically-Integrated STEAM

In a basic sense, teachers are trying to do two things: 1) teach truth and 2) teach a right response to truth. In other words, teachers are invested in worldview and worship. We are showing students what is true and what to do with truth. Here is how STEAM teachers might start to think about worldview and worship with Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Knowledge and Comprehension (Bloom’s Levels 1 & 2)

In any scientific subject, students will encounter realities and systems within creation. These could include the water-cycle, ecosystems, cell structure, chemical reactions, etc. And each of these elements of creation shows something about God — his brilliance, his size, his creativity, his organizational skills, etc. So when we are on a lower-level of Bloom’s ladder, we are sharing information about the world… and about the God who made that world.

Most basically, this worldview information gives us a chance to teach worship through character. Chapters 1-3 of John A. Bloom’s (not the same Bloom who created the learning taxonomy) The Natural Sciences: A Student’s Guide are very helpful here. Our response to gaining knowledge and comprehension is to become excited explorers. This occurs because we know that God is a great Designer. We should be humbled as we note his power and brilliance. We should be thankful that He chose to make us, and make us able to see and understand some of his creation. The low levels of the taxonomy are made for biblically integrated teaching on character.

Application and Analysis (Bloom’s Levels 3 & 4)

As students gain knowledge and comprehension, they will start to apply and analyse that information. In other words, they are adding understanding to their information. In science, this is where they can start to practice, predict, experiment, and illustrate truths. Logical thinking plays a major role here as students wrestle with laws, roles, identity, and purposes. They learn that not only does the sun shine light and heat, but that that light has characteristics and elements that work in certain ways. Those characteristics demand understanding and response. For example, the sun provides our planet with necessary heat, but it also emits UV rays that can be dangerous.

In these stages of Bloom’s, students are learning how the world works and how they should operate in the world. They can learn about UV radiation and how they should cover their skin so they are no burned by it. This is where so-what questions arise and are answered. If the sun might burn me, what should I do? If a certain process creates dangerous pollution, what should we do? In essence, these stages are not just about how things work, but how they work together.

Synthesis, Evaluation, Creation (Bloom’s Levels 5 & 6)

The highest levels of Bloom’s are about evaluating the way things are and creating things as they should/could be. In STEAM-thinking, this is where engineering, design-thinking, artistic elements come into play because students are not only looking at God as the Creator; here they practice being created in his image by creating things themselves. We have studied UV radiation and we have studied inorganic chemicals. Next, we can put those pieces together  and learn about how some inorganic chemicals can protect their skin from UV radiation in sunscreen. Scientists in the past synthesized understanding of the sun and of chemicals to create sunblock! Very cool! This is what this level is all about: action.

Here is where we call students to the actions of creating, serving, sacrificing, and designing. They do not have to be geniuses. And they do not have to invent sunblock for these levels to work well. But the students should be thinking about how they can love others, serve those in need, and take care of the world. Questions here could include simple things like: What is the best way to brush my teeth? What toothpaste should I use? But there could be more dynamic questions too: I use clean water to brush my teeth, but many people in world don’t have clean water. What can I design cheaply using my knowledge of evaporation and condensation to make clean water? Or: Many people in world can’t easily buy toothpaste. What can I make using my understanding of chemistry that could work as a safe tooth-cleaning solution?

Obviously, you can go in any direction: technology for sharing the Bible digitally, systems-thinking for producing additional healthy food, artistic work to help others understand important truths, etc.

God has made people in his image. This means at least two things: 1) We should design and create good things to help/serve people like He does, and 2) Every person in the world is valuable, so we should work to love and serve them.

Note: You may have noticed that this post followed the inductive Bible-study method: information (what?) = Levels 1-2, understanding (so what?) = Levels 3-4, and action (now what?) = Levels 5-6. This is because good Bible-study naturally aligns with Bloom’s. God has designed us to learn in these ways.

STEM, STEAM, and an Integrated World

Integrating material is a natural inclination for many educators. We intuitively understand that the world is not neatly divided into separate areas of study—all of life is interdisciplinary. Think about any area of life to see this play out  in your own life. Taking care of family includes budgeting, planning, teamwork, entertainment, problem-solving… Playing baseball includes score-keeping, situational thinking, leadership, order, identification… Cultivating a healthy lifestyle includes shopping, exercising, cooking, sleeping, enjoying, accomplishing… While life is made up of many elements, those elements are all part of a larger whole. This understanding is clearly seen in STEM-education.

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.”

Of course, this makes sense. Science has the goal of systematically moving from ignorance to knowledge. Technology is the practical application of knowledge. Engineering uses science and technology with the aim of creating things/spaces/systems which are useful for people. Math is the science of numbers which is used as a language for measurement and communication. Each element of STEM serves the others. They exist with one another and for one another. However, the world of education is now noting that the symbiosis does not and should not stop with science, tech, engineering, and math. STEM does not exist as something walled off from the rest of the world.

Think about the area of “design.” Is design more related to engineering (designing bridges/planes/golf-clubs) or art (designing sculptures/beautiful buildings/music)? Uh oh. You might have noticed the cross-over. Bridges and buildings do need to be engineered, but they also need to be artfully developed. Consider the old cathedrals of Europe—are they great feats of engineering or great works of art? Both! Architects are artists… and engineers. It turns out that the world is, as previously noted, naturally integrated.

This is one of the reasons that STEAM education (STEM plus Art) is on the rise. There is a need for scientists to think creatively as they produce hypotheses, consider how to test them, and convey their findings. Musicians are innately mathematical. In fact, music is, in a very real sense, math (twelve tones combined systematically in horizontal and vertical patterns). City planners have to do the math in order to pragmatically engineer working systems, but they must also engage in the art of developing appealing and attractive spaces.

Is it any wonder that some of the great thinkers were artists and scientists? Consider Leonardo da Vinci: painter and inventor. Consider Benjamin Franklin: author and scientist. And think about some of the great developments of every age. Is the Parthenon art or engineering? Both. Is the iPhone practical or stylish? Both. This shows the natural integration of the ultimate Designer—God. And it shows that those in his image are made to be integrators too.

In my next post, I plan to help you explore how STEAM teachers can think about how a Christian worldview differs from secularism when it comes to teaching from and toward the glory of God.


Arguing with Your Class: Biblical Integration

You might have learned something that sounds contrary to this in Classroom Management 101, but teachers have the obligation to argue with their students. Now, I don’t mean you should engage in a shouting match or to make incendiary comments. No, I mean something else entirely. As Holland and Forrest point out in Good Arguments, the word argument can simply refer to “the process of giving reasons or evidence in support of a belief or claim,” (xi).

As educators, we are making a case for everything that we teach: “Alexander Hamilton should be understood as one of the most important Founding Fathers because…” or “Marshes provide an important and unique service in the ecosystem since…” We are in the business of making valid, coherent arguments for and with our students.

As Christian educators and biblical integrators, we are also making a case for the ultimate truth: God and his gospel. Every time we teach, we are entering a battlefield of ideas in our students’ minds. Poorly presented truths — or disintegrated partial truths — are not persuasive. The best arguments are more likely to come out on top. And our God is worthy of our best rhetoric. Here is an example of an argument from science:

“The First Law of Thermodynamics states that matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed. But matter and energy do exist. Either they came from something or else they are eternal realities. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (or the Law of Increased Entropy) shows that the universe is winding down. Energy is gradually becoming unusable. This indicates that the universe had a specific beginning; it came into existence at a particular moment in time. If the universe began, we must ask about its cause. If matter/energy is can’t be created, we need ask about what kind of force can do the something we deem impossible.”

This argument does not go all the way to defining the cause of the universe as God, but it makes the case that the evidence supports a cause, and that cause would need to be outside of the universe and very powerful. This argument is base-hit rather than a homerun, but it is an important step in the overall argument that you might make in a year-long science class. The student sees that believing in a cause like God is not unscientific.

Finally, when we argue well, we teach our students to do the same. If they can see how to validly support a conclusion with premises, they are on a good road. If they can detect errors, manipulations of the facts and logical mistakes, they are better positioned for success. If they can notice their own errors of thinking and internal biases, they will be able to better separate truth from error.

Good arguments give God pleasure. Holland and Forrest explain, “When we reason well and present good arguments, we reflect God’s character,” (xiii). He made us to be reason-ers (Phil 2:12). He has demonstrated that the gospel can be amplified through the vehicle of reasoning (Is 1:18). And He warns his people not to get taken in by bad ideas and arguments (Col 2:8).

As you teach, recognize that God has given you a platform so that you can give an answer for the hope within you (1 Pet 3:15). Along with knowledge of your subject, He has equipped you with the power of God in the gospel (Rom 1:16). And He has wired your students for arguments. They will be influenced by something, let it be truth. Are you engaging in the argument? Are you a case-maker for Christ through your teaching? As biblical integrators, we are called to helping our students through great arguments.

**For a master-class on a Christian argument and strong biblical integration, see Paul’s discussion in Acts 17:16-31.

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.

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.