Effective Service-Learning and Biblical Integration

Service-learning is a trending topic in education today. We obviously love working in the lab of life, getting the students to apply their thinking to real-world issues, and engage in teamwork. And service-learning is especially valuable for Christian schools because it is a form of biblical integration. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, Christians have an extra motivation to engage in service-learning—serving is an essential part of following Jesus. If we don’t graduate servants, we are not fully accomplishing our goals.

In fact, as academic disciple-makers, teachers are called to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (Eph 4:12). Part of our mission to to develop our students into able servants who build up the body. So, how do we go about this? I believe that the inductive Bible study provides a good model for moving forward. The three steps are 1) information, 2) understanding, and 3) action.

1) Gather Information about the Need

When choosing a service project (missions trip, local project, etc.), the students should have ample time to understand the need. For example, if they are going to collect cans for a food bank, they should take time to grasp why there are food shortages, what the food bank does, and how they can help. Just as a doctor should not prescribe medication until he understands the sickness, students should not start working to solve a problem until they have an excellent grasp on the issues. (Activity ideas could be: research, field visits, interviews, etc.)

2) Understand and Invest in the Solution

Once students have the investigated, they should make a plan for how they can invest. It is okay for students to collect cans just because someone has asked them to do so. But it is much better if they can be a part of planning the service project. If the food bank needs cans, they could decide if they should 1) ask their parents to donate cans, 2) contact local grocery stores to ask for donations, 3) contact local businesses to ask for donations that can be used to buy cans, 4) contact the canned-food companies directly to ask for help, 5) connect with local churches and youth groups to create a community-wide initiative, 6) use a crowdfunding site to raise money. And the list could go on for a long time. The point is that students need to be a part of making the plan to solve the problem. Service learning must engage the mind; not just the hands and heart. (Activity ideas: brainstorming, mind-mapping, researching what others have done)

3) Take Action Sacrificially

Once the students have developed their own plan, they need to enact it. This should mean that they give up their time, energy, money, or other resources to help. If everything they need is given to them (free of cost), they are missing out on much of the benefit and blessing. When Araunah offered to give David land for his altar, David replied, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing,” (1 Chron 20:24). We must teach our students to give what they have—not what someone else might have. When they give, it helps them understand the the process (mission trip, local project, etc.) is not about them; it is not for them. (Activity ideas: Counting the cost, enacting the actual project)

These steps will help students learn and grow. The process will be stretching. And it will also help the students to remain invested in these projects over time. If they get the information, they will be better informed. If they gain understanding, they will be more able to help and encourage others in the future. And if they act sacrificially, they will remember what they invested in making a difference.

Math Skills = Truth Skills: Observations on Biblical Integration and Math

Math is a wonderfully unique subject. In a sense, math is a project through which we are trying to discover or communicate things as they really are—math is a journey for truth. We want to know and see things accurately. Math offers transferable skills that should be applied to all areas of life because we are all in the business of seeking truth. We see this whenever we solve a basic problem (like 2+2), when we solve for a variable (like 2x = 4), or when we deal with inequalities (like x+2 > 3).

What is 2+2? This is a truth question. We are really asking, “When you have 2 and another 2, what do you truly have?” We want all of our students to be seeking truth. Math is a wonderful way to help them learn to pursue truth and evaluate the world logically.

Solve for x. An equation is a truth claim. 2x = 4 is a statement of fact. When solving for x, students are practicing the pursuit of truth. When they have been given some—but not all—information, they need to work with the facts to uncover additional facts. In this way, they are also being equipped to detect falsehood. If someone were to say 2x = 4 and x=3, they can test this. And they can discover that, no matter how vehemently someone argues that x=3, this is not (and cannot be) the case in reality.

x+2 > 3. In life, there are many inequalities. Students need to be equipped to understand that some ways of living are better than others. I teach my students that knowing God > not knowing Him. That is the truth. I also teach them that honesty > dishonesty. And that eternity > this short life. And the list could go on. Our students need to grasp that one of the big projects of life is related to determining that some things are bigger, better, and more valuable than others. They must be equipped to make those assessments accurately for themselves.

Of course, there is much more that can be observed and understood, but I hope that these ideas help you in the classroom!

Biblical Integration, God’s Word, and Assessing Our Work

Christian education is academic discipleship. We are using our courses to help students grow to know and follow Jesus well in every area of their lives. So how can we assess if we are actually helping them grow in faith? As teachers, we work in a world of quizzes, tests, and formative assessments. We are always trying to find out if our work is making a difference in the minds and hearts of our students. 1 John 2:3-6 gives us strong place to start:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

There are some sweeping and clear statements here: 1) We know that we have come to know Christ if we keep his commands, 2) If we don’t follow his teachings, we are not believers, 3) Those who obey the Word of God have been made complete, 4) The measure of Christianity is Christ.

Now, we must be careful not to go beyond the Bible when we read it. Obviously, no person can perfectly follow Christ in this life. The standard here is not perfection, but progression: Are we rightly teaching our material from and toward a biblical worldview? Are our students (and are we) becoming more like Christ? Are they conforming to Jesus as He shows Himself in his Word?

Therefore, the key for assessing our progress is the Word of God. We must constantly deliver the Bible and its ideas to our classes. As the students learn God’s Word in our classes, we need to know if they are really ingesting it, wrestling with it, and being changed by it. God is faithful and powerful to do the work of transforming lives. He is the One who does the work. But we do have a role to play. Our job is to deliver the powerful Word of God to our students in ways that challenge, encourage, instruct, correct, and inspire them. Hebrews 13:7 calls believers to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Do you see what Christian leaders do? They speak the Word of God to those they lead, and they show the power of that Word in their own lives. As John said, we are to live as Jesus did.

So here are some assessment questions to see if you are accomplishing Bible-centered biblical integration in your class. Don’t be discouraged if you find areas to grow. Rejoice at the progress you have made and praise God that you can continue to grow in effectiveness.

1) Are you regularly using Scripture to shine light on your academic content? Are you giving your students the chance to grasp the biblical worldview as it is actually expressed by God in the Bible? (This is the key question because it is the one that you can directly control.)

2) Are your students learning to notice, point out, and celebrate the biblical truths that they encounter in your classes? Do you ever hear them say things like, “Wow! This science/math/history/language/art lesson makes me think of what the Bible says.”?

3) Are you seeing Christian students growing in biblical character? Are they becoming more honest, fair, empathetic, etc.?

4) Are you seeing non-Christian students wrestling with biblical ideas? Are they learning to wrestle with the ideas of Scripture?

We can’t change our students’ lives, but we do have something that can. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe it (Rom 1:16). God’s Word is the food we need for life (Deut 8:3, Matt 4:4). It is a lamp that lights our path (Ps 119:105). As biblical integrators, we need to regularly check in and assess: Are we delivering God’s Word in our classes? If not, we need to adjust.

Note: I am not saying that you should turn your class into a Bible class. However, I am saying that if you are not bringing God’s Word to bear on your material, you are missing out on much of what it means to teach from and toward the glory of God.

 

5 Strategies for the Middle-of-the-Year Struggles

As schools enter the middle of the third quarter, things can seem to slow down. We are nowhere near the start of the year, but we aren’t near the finish either. Paperwork, grading, meetings, and other time-consuming tasks keep piling up. In times like this, it can be easy to become frustrated, worn down, or disenchanted. However, the middle of the race is just as important as the start or finish. Here are five steps to take to fight well in the long middle:

1) Remember your purpose. You are serving in a Christian school to point students to Christ. The students have just as many needs in now as they did in September. The newness of the year is gone, but the needs are the same. You are here to love them, point them to Jesus, and show them an example. Don’t get tired of doing good (Gal 6:9).

2) Wait on the Lord. You may have had big plans for the year. And many of those plans may have never gotten off the ground. Others may have not worked the way you wanted. But remember, God does not operate according to our schedules. While teachers love to manage our time well—with bells, quarters, periods, etc.—we must remember that, ultimately, time is not ours; it belongs to God. And He is not messing things up. He is not wasting this year. So be patient. Wait on the Lord (Ps 27:14).  

3) Seek his face (Ps 27:8). Prayer and Bible reading are keys to a vibrant relationship with God. Have you let these essentials slip as the year has continued on. Find a colleague to pray with. Lock into a meaningful Bible-reading plan. You can’t give the students something that you don’t have. We all need to be filled so that we can fill others.

4) Reflect on God’s grace. We are not successful because of our ingenuity or systems or effort. We are successful in ministry when God moves. Revival is when God uses ordinary means to bring about extraordinary results. Salvation is when God uses his gospel to bring dead hearts to life. Transformation is God applying his perfect power to our imperfect lives. Do you notice the theme of all these things? They are all the gracious work of God. Remember that.

Remember. Wait. Seek. Reflect. And finally, expect.

5) Expect that God will do a mighty work for his name and for his glory. As Asaph prayed in Psalm 79:9:

Help us, God our Savior
  for the glory of your name.

Pray Inadequate Prayers for Your Class

Prayer is powerful because God is powerful. Prayer accomplishes much because God accomplishes much. As teachers, we might plan, organize, and work hard, but we must still go to God and pray that He would stoop down and use us for his glory. In his grace, He loves to use his people—even broken, confused, struggling people like us—to do his work in the classroom. But we must remember the truth: He is the One who is doing the work… and if He doesn’t work, our effort is in vain. This is why we must pray.

We must pray that God will use our planning, our words, our assignments and assessments, and our example to show our students the truth about Him. We desire that they would see that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). We want them to see that He is real. We want them to know that He is good. We are desperate that they understand that He cares for them.

We are compelled to pray because we need God to work, but we also need Him to hear, understand, and graciously improve our imperfect prayers. So often, we don’t know how to pray. We are so ignorant of what is happening in the minds and hearts of the young people in our classrooms. And even if we did know, we are not equipped to prescribe solutions. So why pray if our prayers are so inadequate and we are so ignorant? Because God graciously lends his loving wisdom and power to our ignorance and weakness. John Newton wrestled with this saying,

“When Satan points out to me the [incoherence and weakness of my prayer], and asks, ‘Is this a prayer fit to be presented to the holy heart-searching God?’ I am at a loss what to answer, till it is given me to recollect that I am not under the law, but under grace,—that my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus.”

Yes, our prayers might be disasters, but God loves to succeed through our failures. Jesus prays perfect prayers, and He prays for us. Therefore, our poor prayer should not keep us from praying. Instead, our inadequacy should drive us to our knees, to his throne, to his grace. Jesus said it like this, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Prayer is like every other area of our lives—apart from Christ our prayers are ineffective.  

The reality of my own inadequacy has been impressed on me lately. I can do nothing good on my own. But thank God: He does all things well (Mark 7:37). Let’s seek his face. Let’s ask Him to work. Let’s plead with Him. And let’s remember that Christ makes our inadequate pleas into powerful, persuasive, perfect prayers that please the Father. Pray inadequate prayers for your class; Christ will take them and make them right.

 

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.

Seeking and Supporting Truth: The Scientific Method

Biblical integration in every subject is a little different because every subject is different. This is a good thing—all subjects show the greatness of God differently; all subjects better equip us to live for Him in unique ways. This is very clear when it comes to skills and processes. For example, learning a foreign language will better equip a student to understand others and share Christ with them. Learning to cook will better equip a student to love the poor, love family, and serve in a variety of capacities related to hospitality. Likewise, the scientific method (and related science-thinking) provides a skill. It sharpens students’ abilities to propose hypotheses, use logic, accurately measure, and solve problems. All of these skills are used to seek and support truths.

Seeking

Christians are sometimes characterized as people who care more about faith than truth. However, this is inaccurate. There is no conflict between the two. We have faith because of truth. Jesus Himself came in grace and truth (John 1:14) and identified Himself as the truth (John 14:6). Science is a powerful tool in seeking the truth about God’s world, ourselves, and, inferentially, about God Himself.

The scientific method is a specific form of inquiry. We use it to seek truth. An example would be seeking to understand a disease like Polio. Researchers and doctors investigated the nature, characteristics, and causes of Polio. They had to systematically discover what it was.

This is one element of STEAM-thinking that, by nature, supports biblical integration: the scientific method is a search for truth. However, the use of the scientific method does not stop with understanding.

Supporting

The scientific method helps us understand how we can move forward as God’s people. We not only use the scientific method to understand the world, but also to impact it in ways that represent and please God. We can present hypotheses about solving problems — caring for creation, subduing the earth, taking care of orphans and widows, etc. Think back to our discussion Polio; once we understand the disease, we can apply the scientific method to curing and preventing it. And that is exactly what happened. Researchers and doctors were able to effectively love their neighbors by understanding and acting on the disease.

Conclusion

All STEAM-students should be seeking the truth and looking to support others when by acting in light of the truth. The scientific method is a tool that is powerful far beyond the science class. It teaches students to seek truth and to solve problems. STEAM-subjects provide a framework for living the Christian life successfully.