by Mark Witwer,
who has taught earth science and physics (among other things) for 25 years, the last 20 at Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA. In addition to teaching, Mark is the school's high school science chair and K-12 curriculum director, and is a doctoral student at Oxford Graduate School in Dayton, TN.
The following ideas are excerpts from three of his longer papers, condensed (as indicated by ...s) to 25% of their original length. If you are interested in seeing more complete versions of the papers, you can request these from Mark via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian truth cannot impact students' lives until they understand it. Contextualization, a term borrowed from hermeneutics and missionary theology...is the task of expressing Christian truth in such a way that it becomes relevant and meaningful to a specific audience (i.e., it makes sense within the audience's social and historical context). ... Academic
contextualization requires a school to articulate a distinctly Christian
perspective on each subject area and to do so in a way that is relevant and
Despite good intentions, many Christian schools have failed to contextualize their academic instruction. Some have confused the integration of faith and community life with the integration of faith and academics. Others have mistaken the creation of a distinct educational subculture (e.g., characterized by Bible memorization, chapel attendance, modest dress, etc.) with educational contextualization. In both cases, the challenge of effectively integrating faith and academics remains. ...
What does effective contextualization in academic areas look like? ... Christian truth must be expressed in a way that shows its relevance to the subject at hand and is meaningful to students. Every unit of study must answer two questions: First, what relationships exist between this subject matter and what God has revealed in the Bible? Second, from a student's viewpoint, what does the answer to the first question mean and why should he or she care? ...
Together, these questions define an effective process of integrating faith and learning. The first question begins the process; the second completes it. ... Academic contextualization begins with articulating a distinctly Christian perspective on a subject area and concludes with finding clear points of contact between this perspective and the student.
Appendix: Examples of
Integrating Faith and Academics
[ The remainder of the complete paper lists examples of academic contextualization in common school subjects, with key questions to establish their relevance to students. Several science examples are below. ]
1. Since the universe is God's creation, the more scientists discover about it, the more His genius and power is evident. "How can this [the subject matter being studied] help me to trust and/or worship God more?"
2. God transcends and governs nature. The Bible identifies God as the cause of natural events whose mechanisms have now been described by science (e.g., "Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O LORD our God" Jeremiah 14:22 NIV; "... it is the LORD who makes the storm clouds" Zechariah 10:1 NIV). Therefore, natural processes are God's secondary agents and fully under His control. "Does God cause this or does it happen on its own?" ...
3. Both science and theology make truth claims, based on human interpretation of data from nature and the Bible, respectively. ... Thus, theological and scientific claims are equally vulnerable to human error. "How will I respond when science seems to contradict my understanding of the Bible?"
Science students need to learn two types of material, which this paper designates "content" and "context." Content includes the data, conclusions, and applications associated with a particular area of science; it makes up the bulk of most textbooks. Context consists of three broad perspectives that give significance to the content. Two of these perspectives are important in any school: science's process (i.e., how content is obtained) and science's relevance to students. Christian education includes a third perspective: the relationship between science and faith. Thus, content is information about the natural world, and context is how that information is obtained, its relevance to students, and its relationship to faith. It
is difficult to teach both content and context adequately. ...
The quality of precollege science education in the United States has become a source of concern in recent years. ... As a result of such concerns, 49 states now have curricular frameworks for science...and national standards have been written ... Some of these frameworks are extensive...[which] creates a problem for teachers. Teaching the content alone can occupy most of a teacher's instructional time, leaving little time to teach context. ... Christian school teachers have extra context...the relationship of science to faith, a topic public schools can ignore. ... When science content and context vie for instructional time, content usually wins. The most obvious reason is that most science textbooks emphasize content over context. Another factor is the influence of high-stakes tests. ...
After twenty four years in the classroom, and after reviewing the literature, it is this author's judgment that a simple, effective method of teaching the content and context of Christian school science is needed. The method proposed here, contextual teaching, involves occasionally asking five questions about information being taught. The questions develop understanding of context by conveying three ideas: scientific claims are accepted because they are supported by evidence, scientific information has personal relevance, and it is important to integrate scientific information into a coherent biblical worldview. The five questions are:
1. "How do we know this?" Scientific claims are accepted because they are supported by evidence. Like detectives, scientists gather clues and try to explain them. ...
2. "How sure are we?" This question dispels the assumption that the word "know" always connotes certainty. The claims in science textbooks may be placed along a continuum of confidence, ...
3. "What should you do, as a result of this?" Better understanding of the things God made facilitates better management of them. ...
4. "How does this show God's genius (or power)?" ... Science content contains many examples of God's genius and power that can strengthen faith and encourage worship.
5. "Did God do this?" This question is rhetorical, reminding students to give God frequent credit for the science content being studied. ... The notion that a natural process happens "on its own" — meaning it is not done by God — confuses God's use of secondary causes with His absence. As students build a Christian view of science, they stop asking whether God did something in nature, and begin asking how God did it.
Contextual teaching is practical for Christian
schools in four ways:
A. It minimizes the competition for instructional time between content and context. Rather than replacing or adding to content, contextual teaching views the information from certain perspectives — how the information was obtained, its relevance to students, and how it relates to faith — ...[that] give it higher meaning and engage student interest.
B. It does not require that a school with limited funds buy new materials. ...
C. It is not complicated. Any science teacher can highlight the context of a unit, by asking the five questions at appropriate times. Even if a teacher is unsure how to answer one of the questions, or if little time is available for discussion, students will learn by being asked. ...
D. Contextual teaching is based on educationally sound principles. ... It engages students in educationally productive thinking.
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Witwer, all rights reserved
Originally this was Section 5 of a newsletter, in 2004, for
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