Challenges abound in education today, compelling thoughtful educators to search for new teaching methods and solutions for the classroom. Christian schools and homeschools have freedom to implement the changes that will actually improve education and increase student achievement. So where do we start in science and math? What is needed is nothing short of a paradigm shift in the way we teach and in the ways we expect students to learn.
Novare Science and Math founder and author John D. Mays has identified three areas of focus that have proven to be true game changers for student academic achievement: Mastery, Integration, and Kingdom Perspective. These three core principles are at the heart of all Novare Science and Math textbooks.
The first step toward improving academic performance is to change how we define success in our classes. The method most students use is what we call the Cram‑Pass‑Forget cycle. In this futile cycle, which is ubiquitous in schools and colleges across the nation, students cram for their tests, pass them, and then soon forget most of what they learned. Success in such an environment revolves around jumping through hoops, not genuine learning. Students are bored by this regimen, and teachers are demoralized by the results.
By contrast, we promote teaching methods and curriculum materials designed to promote a Learn‑Master–Retain cycle. This first involves culling down the bloated curriculum so popular today. A reduced-scope curriculum enables students to learn a reasonable amount of material deeply, instead of giving shallow attention to scores of topics that they will neither comprehend nor remember. Students who learn this way typically outperform their peers as they move to higher level classes.
Second, leading students to mastery and retention requires teaching methods designed to produce these results. The standard approach used today involves teaching a chapter and giving a test on the chapter. By contrast, pedagogy designed for mastery and retention involves continuous review, ongoing accountability for retention of previously studied material, and embedding of basic skills into new material. Of course, an effective method includes innovative strategies to enable students to master course content.
A second major aspect to the needed paradigm shift is that instruction must be integrative. A method of integrated teaching begins with eliminating the habit of compartmentalizing disciplines of learning that today pervades everything from problem assignments to lesson presentations to test design. Instead of isolating science and math content from everything else, critical points of effective integration must be developed. These integration points should include:
- frequent use of mathematical skills in science classes, and frequent science applications in math classes;
- maximizing opportunities to develop good written expression on exams, lab reports and papers;
- developing key historical connections that serve to enhance understanding; and
- treating, in addition to basic skills, the nature of scientific and mathematical knowledge, and the roles these play in leading us toward truth, goodness and beauty.
Naturally, for integration to be effective, specific learning objectives must be developed, explained to students and incorporated into assessments.
We reject today’s artificial conflict between faith and science. We affirm Jesus Christ as the center of all things. He is the Lord of all Creation, the one “by whom all things were made” and in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1). There can be no inherent conflict between faith in the One who made the world, and study of the world He made. There can only be conflict between the faith claims of those who believe in Him and those who do not.
The conflict we constantly hear about today is fueled by the irresponsible attitudes held by people on both sides of the conflict. Many Christians approach science with suspicion, leery that science contradicts the Bible, or worse, that it is the tool of an atheist agenda. Many non-Christians make the equally foolish mistake of claiming that there is no room for faith in the scientific enterprise, or that science shows that there is no God. In fact, the reverse is the case.
The new paradigm we advocate includes significant changes to the ways teachers think and talk about the relationship between science/mathematics and the loving Creator who not only made everything, but gave creation to us as an amazing gift.
We must help our students to see these fingerprints of God. We live in an endlessly fascinating and mysterious world, where not only do “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim his handiwork,” but so do atoms, lemurs, DNA, Fermat’s Last Theorem, the integrity of scientists, the transparency of our atmosphere and the Higgs Boson. This beautiful world, this breathtaking gift of God, is loaded with potential we haven’t even dreamed of yet!