The mission of Novare Science and Math is to transform the way science and math are taught by advocating a teaching philosophy based on the three core principles of Mastery, Integration and Kingdom Perspective.
Science and math education are in crisis nationwide. College freshmen increasingly need remedial classes before they can begin their college coursework. Educators usually take it for granted that students will not retain what they’ve learned more than a couple of weeks. Standardized tests govern the curriculum. And for years, the United States has been falling behind other nations in science and math.
There are many areas that need to be addressed to bring excellence back to science and math. Textbook design is one of them.
So what’s wrong with textbooks today?
HEAVY, CUMBERSOME VOLUMES
Several unfortunate trends in textbooks today are common to both religious and secular publishers. The first is sheer size. As student achievement has dropped over the past two generations, educators have responded by calling for textbooks to cover more and more material, as if cramming more material into books would solve the problem of students not learning what was there to begin with. It is a rare student indeed who can master the content of a typical secondary science textbook these days. Students carry around these back-breaking books, racing through the content, and the Cram‑Pass‑Forget cycle continues.
It is common today for textbooks to clamor for the students’ attention with cluttered pages that imitate popular media. Commercial media are designed to distract and entertain, instead of encouraging people to read and engage. Many textbooks are flawed because of their attempt to shout to students using similar tactics. The result is books that are full of distractions, and that generally do not encourage students to concentrate on reading the text.
Similarly, many textbooks pander to youthful tastes with silly graphics, images of kids on skateboards, and childish attempts to seem ‘cool’ through style, fonts, and design. The irony here is that most students are aware of these pathetic efforts to get their attention, and they end up mocking their books and despising the educational system that does not consider them worthy of more mature curriculum material.
Some texts simply lack aesthetic sensitivity, apparent from their gaudy and overblown design. In other cases the ugliness is due to the use of primitive clipart or inelegant graphical features.
It is becoming increasingly common for the prose content to be written in English well below the appropriate grade level. Also, many texts bypass ideal opportunities to enhance and integrate content with the appropriate mathematics and historical study of the subject. Even more troubling is the case where chapter exercises do not call for analytical thinking or the kind of effort that effects real assimilation. Exercises that involve only simple matching, fill in the blank, or ‘busy-work’ worksheets end up teaching students to jump through hoops to get a daily grade rather than facilitating learning. To compound the problem, students may come to expect that this low level of effort is normal and be pleased with their skill at completing exercises that are hardly suitable for elementary school.
SECULAR TEXTBOOK OPTIONS?
From the standpoint of a private, Christian school, textbooks from secular and religious publishers each have their unique deficiencies. The obvious deficiency of secular books is that they are secular. Faith-neutral textbooks may be necessary for public schools in a nonsectarian democracy, but they represent a huge missed opportunity for Christian educators, and the burden is on the Christian teachers to supplement. We never tire of talking about the ways the findings of science demonstrate God’s glory, and we wish for all students to learn about God’s world in an environment that affirms His work in creation. A well-designed textbook can be an important component in creating such an environment.
CHRISTIAN TEXTBOOK OPTIONS?
Science textbooks from Christian publishers tend to suffer from several common deficiencies. First, despite publishers’ efforts to produce sound curriculum, the scientific material itself is frequently poorly presented or even erroneous. Second, the way scientific material is related to Christian faith is frequently cheesy or ham-fisted. It may sound harsh to say, but including lots of Bible verses or devotional material is not an effective way to bring a Kingdom perspective into science. Denigrating non-Christian or even non-Evangelical scientists does not foster mature Christian discipleship. And images of families looking up to the sky together makes the Christian faith journey look like a trip to a theme park. There are much more intelligent ways of realizing biblical faithfulness in the context of science textbooks.
Finally, virtually every Christian science textbook publisher is overtly committed to an agenda of rejecting mainstream scientific evidence pertaining to the age of the earth. For both Biblical and scientific reasons, we believe it is time to put this debate behind us. We find the literalistic model of an earth approximately 10,000 years old to be not only not necessitated by the soundest principles of Biblical exegesis, but to be in conflict with the “other book” of God’s revelation: the creation itself. From Psalm 19 and other passages we believe the creation reveals the glory of the Lord. Since scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t.
NOVARE SCIENCE AND MATH – THE NEW ALTERNATIVE
So what do NSM textbooks do to address these problems? The textbooks published by Novare Science and Math are all designed around our three focus principles which are explained in more depth on our Mastery, Integration, Kingdom page. But here are the specific ways that we implement those principles in our texts.
- Subject matter has been intentionally limited to the central and important material for each course. For both grade-level texts and accelerated or honors-level texts, the content has been carefully selected so that students can actually master the entire body of content in a normal academic year. The result is deeper learning of less material, but ultimately a superior science education.
- Specific learning objectives are presented at the beginning of each chapter so students know what they need to learn. Learning objectives are explicitly quantifiable (state, calculate, explain, compare, distinguish, define, describe, etc.)
- Basic skills (e.g., unit conversions, scientific notation) are embedded in exercises throughout the book so that students use the skills repeatedly, and thus master them.
- Answer keys to all computations are in the text so that students have immediate feedback about their success at solving problems.
- Each chapter includes numerous conceptual questions that students answer in complete sentences. By articulating the ways scientific principles apply to various cases, students’ level of comprehension is deepened through practice at selecting proper terms and constructing coherent explanations. Review of answers to these exercises in class helps draw out weaknesses in student understanding.
- Clear, proven problem solving strategies are presented and incorporated into all example problems.
- Both application questions and computations regularly relate to concepts presented in earlier chapters.
History: Key historical content appears in the text (rather than being limited to sidebars), and specific historical objectives are listed in the learning objectives for particular chapters.
Mathematics: Age-appropriate mathematical components appear as often as possible, given text content.
Language: Each chapter includes numerous conceptual questions that students answer in complete sentences. These regular exercises in verbal expression allow students to develop skills in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, clarity, coherence, logical development and economy of expression.
Philosophy: Scientific epistemology (the nature of scientific knowledge) is expounded in every text, giving students a grounding in the distinction between biblical truth and scientific theories and facts, what sort of knowledge each is able to provide, and in the nature and purpose of scientific facts, theories, hypotheses, and experimental results.
Other fields: Connections to the humanities, works of art, architecture, technology, and literature are intentionally made to demonstrate the inter-relatedness of all knowledge.
- Our texts faithfully affirm God’s creative design of the universe, and His intimate, ongoing involvement with His creation, as suggested by texts such as Psalm 104.
- Students are regularly invited to pause and consider the sophistication of design in nature, the regularity of natural law, the human ability to model nature mathematically, the fitness of earth as a dwelling place for mankind, and other telling aspects of creation. Students are encouraged to ponder the strong witness these provide to the “glory of God” (Psalm 19) and to God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1).
- We strive to take mainstream science seriously as we continue to study biblical interpretation and scientific findings. We consider this approach to be biblically faithful, as suggested by texts such as Genesis 2, Acts 17, and Colossians 3. (Note that this statement does not imply uncritical acceptance of the conjecture that there must be a naturalistic explanation for everything in nature.)
- Students are encouraged to think of nature in terms of conservation, stewardship and sustainability.
- References to God’s design in nature are allowed to arise naturally in the context of physical laws and natural beauty.
- Students are encouraged to think of nature as a wonderful gift, for which we should give thanks and worship to God.
- The tone, style and graphics in each text are age appropriate, lucid and engaging, and are designed to draw students upward toward the adult world of scientific inquiry and study. Though we enjoy humor, we avoid the deliberate use of silliness as a tool for appealing to students.
- Texts are compact and easy to carry around. Page trim size for all texts is 6.5 inches x 9.5 inches. Actual chapter content comprises approximately 300-500 pages.
- Page design, fonts, color palettes and graphics are elegant and tasteful.
- We use only four-color offset printing, matte paper, smyth-sewn bindings, and heavy duty cover boards in our texts, resulting in very high printing quality and very durable covers and bindings.