Friday, November 1, 2013

Science, Natural Processes, and Theology: Observations and Reflections: Part I

Our current investigative project work continues to tie in with our umbrella theme (time) and our science curriculum (natural processes and the use of basic scientific tools).  We have begun to introduce the scientific/experimental method by encouraging the children to think about how scientists develop questions
that will become hypotheses to be tested.  

We have asked the children what they know about natural processes that take time (that recur as cycles in nature and/or occur over long periods of time, reflective of growth and change).  Based on our project conversations, four strands of interest emerged:  gravity (a force within nature that the children are thinking of as a natural process), fossilization (a process over time),
plant life cycles, and the water cycle.  All children rotated among four groups to think more deeply and share what they knew about the subjects, share any questions they may have had about these topics, and then think of plans to help them answer their questions. Later, we refined these questions to consider those that would be most easily testable for the children – the water and plant life cycles. 

During our discussions, some children consistently used theology to help them understand time and natural processes, and we are continuing to see this as a thread in our investigative research work.  It appears to be connected to their interest in life and death – and what you can tell about the life of something after it has died (fossils, dead frogs).  At other times, it seems to be some children’s “go-to” answer for many questions.  In toto, it is reflective of the children’s “sense-making” response as they seek to understand the world around them in a way that is coherent to them.  As educators/researchers, the challenge has been to keep the project dialogue respectful and supportive while encouraging our students to:

·         take risks to consider other possibilities and theories – balancing the subjective (multiple points of view) and the objective (that which is measurable) in order to deepen their scientific understanding;
·         utilize the scientific/experimental method to create and test hypotheses; and
·         see that science and theology do not have to be mutually exclusive.
As a Sabot colleague put it, we are responsible for holding the children to their lines of inquiry, letting them fully ponder the path in all its complexity; conversely, we are equally responsible for helping them to stay on the path. Asking how things work and what parts work together can offer more concrete and productive lines of questioning than simply positing why something works.  However a natural process was designed – through divinity, evolution, or both – we shouldn’t stop questioning the world around us. 

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