The effects of scientific practices in ninth grade religious education lessons
Haas, Jacquelyn Charlotte
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High school religious education lessons were not effectively capturing students' attention or enhancing their understanding of basic faith concepts. From September 2013 to April 2014, scientific practices were integrated into newly designed ninth grade religious education lessons, using inquiry-based learning strategies and fundamental Catholic teachings. Classroom environment and Catholic resources were overhauled to provide students with Catholic Study Bibles, YouCats, YouCat Study Guides, YouCat Prayer books, Scripture reference sheets, Samsung tablets, and a lab-like setting, with elevated tables, stools, journals, and mini-whiteboards. Over the course of 20 lessons, scientific practices, including: asking questions and defining problems, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, using mathematics and simulation thinking, constructing explanations, engaging in argument from evidence, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information, were implemented with innovative demonstrations, case studies, peer-to-peer service projects, and mock court sessions to improve students' faith knowledge and engagement. With meaningful and relevant topics, mini-lectures with PowerPoint, Prezis, and video accompanied practices in lessons. Incorporating scientific practices proved to be an effective way for students to learn and personally engage in the Catholic faith. The Religious Education & Scientific Practices Questionnaire indicated that 92% of ninth grade students believed that scientific practices had a positive impact on their faith learning (N=12). One student reported, "This year I have learned more than I ever had in religion." Another student said scientific practices "made class more interesting than in other years." Ninety-two percent of surveyed students reported that using scientific practices in religious education lessons improved faith knowledge and 75% stated that scientific practices are an effective way of improving faith knowledge. Before scientific practices, 0% of students felt knowledgeable about their faith. After scientific practices, 75% of students surveyed strongly agreed that they felt knowledgeable about their faith. Data further revealed heightened engagement in students' religious education experience. Before practices, 17% of respondents strongly agreed that religious education classes were interesting and engaging. After practices, 75% strongly agreed that lessons were more engaging. One student reported, "It made the classes more interesting. I didn't know what was going to happen next."