Teaching Faith Across the Grades 6-12 Curriculum and Programs: Science

Written by Father Tom Simonds, S.J., Director of Secondary Engagement, NCEA, [email protected]

Teaching the Catholic faith is everyone’s job in a Catholic school. This is the second blog post in a series, and each post features ideas for teaching the faith in specific disciplines and programs.

In this blog, through six separate posts, I will be sharing how faculty can develop lesson plans and strategies across the curriculum and across programs to share the Catholic faith with students. In this post, I will focus on teaching the faith in the science classroom. In future blog posts, I will focus on language arts, social studies, religious education, physical education and athletics, clubs and activities, fine and performing arts and modern languages.

Catholic schools are one way that the Catholic Church continues the evangelizing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ. This ministry was given to the Apostles by Jesus and is shared with each of us in a variety of different ways. The commission of Jesus to evangelize and teach is found in the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20.

A close reading of the Gospel of Matthew highlights the parallels between NCEA’s themes for addressing the affiliation of students and the text of Matthew’s Gospel.

NCEA Themes in the Student Affiliation Learning Arc

Examples of Themes in Matthew’s Gospel

Understand student context

Jesus understood the struggles and culture of people before he ministered to them. For examples, see Matthew 9:9-13; 9:35-38; 14:13-21; 23:37-39.

Belonging precedes believing

Jesus called people to follow him and their belief in him as the Messiah developed over time as they were with him and experienced his teaching and healing. For examples, see Matthew 4:18-22; 8:23-27; 11:1-6; 12:22-24; 16:13-20.

Evangelize before you catechize

Jesus tells the Apostles to evangelize people and then baptize them and teach them (Matthew 28:16-20).

We can translate the NCEA themes for evangelization into a strategy for Catholic school educators to promote the affiliation of students with the Catholic faith. The first step for an educator is to learn about student context. By talking with students outside of class, listening to some of their music, watching some of the movies they watch, and attending some of their activities and events, teachers can learn about the personal and cultural context of each of their students. This personal understanding helps teachers adapt learning experiences to groups and to individuals.

Teens and pre-teens are very concerned about belonging and fitting in with their peers. If we want our students to develop a deep belief in Jesus and participate in the Catholic Church, we need to ensure that each student feels like they belong in our class and in our school. The movie, To Save a Life, is worth watching, both to learn about teen culture and to learn about how faith develops among teens. You can locate related movies by looking up To Save a Life on Amazon.

Evangelization is sharing the message of Christ with those who either have not heard the message or who have not fully received the message. When you read the letters of Saint Paul, you are reading about an early Apostle engaging in evangelization.

Saint Paul adapted his techniques of evangelization based on the context of his time and place and his experiences. We can do the same thing. We need to explore what strategies would be effective in attracting students to want to learn more about Christ and the Catholic faith. All of the religious education and mission formation activities we do in our schools can be forms of evangelization.

As student faith commitments increase, we can assist students in getting involved in a Catholic parish and seeking the Sacraments of Initiation. Even if a student was baptized as a baby, they may not have received the other Sacraments of Initiation: First Confession, First Communion, and Confirmation. Preparation for each of these Sacraments includes ongoing evangelization and initial catechesis or faith formation. After being welcomed into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation, then we can continue the faith formation and educational process in our schools.

The Four Pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church can serve as guides for science teachers exploring how to share the Catholic faith in science class.

The Four Pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

  1. What we believe. How do the theories of science relate to religious belief, for example, the Big Bang’s initiation?
  2. How we celebrate. How can I model the importance of prayer and the Sacraments for my students?
  3. How we live. How can I model the teachings of Jesus for my students, for example, the Golden Rule
  4. How we pray. Consider starting your classes with a prayer.

The seven themes of Catholic social teaching provide another framework for developing strategies to teach the faith in science class. One of the themes of Catholic social teaching is to care for the world that God created. This theme of care for God’s creation can be modeled and taught in science classes in many ways, including by how chemicals are stored and disposed of, by including lessons on environmentally sustainable living, and by discussing the connections between the health of the environment and the health and well-being of human persons.

Future Blog Posts in this series will cover teaching the faith in other grade 6-12 disciplines and programs. Additional themes of Catholic social teaching will also be added to develop strategies for teaching.

NSBECS Benchmarks: 7.9, 9.3