February 28, 2017 | Jacquelyn Hubbard

“I’ve never thought about it that way before.” These are the words that David Smith, the director of Calvin’s Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, heard from a teacher at a conference in early 2009 after Smith had explained the importance of not dichotomizing faith and science in the classroom.

“[The teacher] felt he was only being Christian in his science classroom when he was debating controversial issues,” Smith said. “I then said to him, what about scientific ethics? Or virtues needed to be a successful scientist? Or kindness and humility when collaborating with others? He then sat back in his chair and said, ‘You know, I’ve never thought about it that way before.’”

From that comment, an idea sparked for Smith to create an online resource for science and Bible teachers. The Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) Project was born, and a website with teaching activities, training materials, background essays, book reviews and more for science and Bible teachers was well underway.

Creating the FAST website

The initial steps toward building the website began a few years after the conference in 2009 when Smith began to correspond with Michael Gulker, president of The Colossian Forum, to collaborate on the FAST Project. “Our mission [at The Colossian Forum] is to use places of cultural conflict as occasions for discipleship, and witness by placing those conflicts within the practices of Christian worship,” Gulker said. Thus, The Colossian Forum was the perfect partner for David’s vision for the FAST Project’s prospective website.

One of Gulker’s various contributions to the FAST Project was writing the grant that was accepted by the John Templeton Foundation in June 2013, which commenced phase one of the website.  After a process of recruiting Christian high school teachers, Smith created a team from eight science teachers and four Bible teachers to develop material for the website. Now that the teachers have been trained in creating materials for the website, they are equipped to train others in this pedagogy as well, in their own schools or local schools.

Crystal Bruxvoort, a science education and chemistry professor at Calvin, consulted with science teachers to develop lesson plans focused on faith and science contexts. “I’ve led a workshop on teaching the nature of science and faith,” Bruxvoort said. “I’ve also consulted with science teachers who attended the workshop to develop materials for the website. I’ve written some materials myself and I developed a foundational article for the website.”

One of the science teachers involved is Kristin Visser, a physics teacher at Grand Rapids Christian High School. “I applied to be part of the FAST Project in 2014, and they offered me a position on the development team, which I gratefully accepted,” Visser said. “Over the course of development, my contributions focused on activities related to community in the physics classroom; science, society and services; and creative homework that is about more than just the individual.”

A new pedagogy

One of Smith’s main objectives with the FAST Project was helping teachers use this particular mindset in creating the online materials. “Part of the challenge was helping the teachers move past thinking that they were providing a lesson plan, and to think more about pedagogical process,” Smith said. “There’s nothing on the website that tells you the right answer to any faith and science question; it’s all about how we teach, and teaching in a way to help kids keep their faith and love of science in play at the same time, not feeling like they have to choose between the two.”

Smith is optimistic that the FASTly website will make a positive impact in Christian education. “I hope [the website] will give teachers lots of great teaching ideas, and contribute to students’ faith development,” Smith said. “I hope it will make teachers and students grow more confident having conversations about faith and science.”

By summer 2017, FASTly will transition from 80 activities online to 180, due to the second grant they received in summer 2016. Smith is also writing a book on faith and pedagogy with hopes to have it out by 2018, and a book on technology in Christian schools by 2019.

A collaborative effort

Nate Adema and Ben Tameling helped in developing the website with Smith. Adema teaches biology, anatomy, and media discernment at Calvin Christian High School, and Tameling teaches Old Testament survey, reformed doctrine, and U.S. history at Grandville Christian High School.

“I had [done] some work with the Colossians Forum before and I know their leader, Mike Gulker, very well,” Adema said. “Since the intersection of faith and science is something that concerns me greatly and something that I'm very passionate about teaching, I was excited to apply and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.” Adema developed units about DNA history and discovery, and stewardship.

Tameling contributed from his knowledge of Bible classes. “[My contributions came from] how reading and being formed by the whole narrative of Scripture might shape the way we approach the "story" that God is revealing to us through modern science,” Tameling said. “Subject matter that I've helped initiate has included seeing God's purpose for creation from beginning to end as an ongoing drama, and the nature of believing in the resurrection of Jesus in a scientific world.”

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