Teachers Explore Faith and Science At Summer Seminars

In June, science and religion teachers from across the country gathered in New Orleans for a week exploring faith and science. Science teachers learned how to engage the Catholic vision of creation and the human person while upholding the integrity and value of independent scientific investigation. Religion teachers explored how science informs and enhances their appreciation of God’s creation and action. They were participants in the Foundations New Orleans Seminars held at Notre Dame Seminary, with Dominican markings its third year as a host site for lab experiments. Concurrent seminars were held at the University of Notre Dame campus. Professors from universities across the country are regular Foundations lecturers.

Matt Foss lectures on the Photoelectric Effect during the Physics lab.

Matt Foss, Chair of Dominican’s Science Department, served again as lab manager. This year he also was an instructor and a seminar participant with fellow Dominican teachers Madelyn Maldonado and Mark Gonnella representing the school. Seminar participants learned teaching methods that enhance the dialogue between science and religion in Catholic education, challenging the notion that the two disciplines are in conflict. Attendees developed a deeper understanding of the task of Catholic education to create “a synthesis of culture and faith…reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge… in the light of the Gospel” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, no. 34).

Mark Gonnella and Madelyn Maldonado collaborate with fellow Foundations Seminar participants during the Biology lab activity, Caminalcules: Classification and Phylogenetic Reconstruction.

Labs, held on the second floor of the Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex, included Physics – Our Understanding of Light, the Photoelectric Effect and the Birth of Modern Physics, with instructors Foss and Tim Burgess, Ph.D.; Chemistry – Flame Test for Metals, instructor Stacy A. Trasancos, Ph.D.; and Biology – Classification and Evolution, instructor Dan Kuebler, Ph.D.

 “As science and religion teachers, we collaborated to generate lessons and activities for our students to help them make meaningful and informed connections between faith and science,” Foss shared.  “With the launch of the new NDFaithscience.com website, we can electronically share these lesson plans with other participating schools. As we continue this collaboration in future years, our resources for faith and science integration will grow and improve.”

During the Chemistry lab, Mark Gonnella conducts a flame test for metals.

Religion teacher Gonnella noted that in the Christian tradition, “there is the adage that God wrote two Books’ —Sacred Scripture and Nature. There can be no conflict between the two, for they both have God as their ultimate source and foundation. Contrary to popular belief, science and religion are not opposed to each other, provided that each are properly understood and practiced. We must, then, learn to ‘read’ both in order to enlarge our vision and understanding of God’s creation. By studying the relationship between science and faith, we can arrive at a ‘Big picture’ perspective of reality, and see it for what it truly is: not something blandly uniformed and monotonal, but rather something deeply beautiful and symphonic. A dialogue between science and faith is not something to fear but something to celebrate.”

Madelyn Maldonado studies data her team collected on electron ejection energy

For Science teacher Maldonado, working with a colleague from the Religion Department was instrumental in understanding how to effectively communicate Roman Catholic theology in a science class. “Attending this seminar will impact my lessons from now until I retire from teaching. Everything we discussed will always be relevant, regardless of the challenges I and my students are taking,” she said. Maldonado was impressed by the seminar faculty underscoring “that our ability to understand God and His creation is something that can be worked on in all subject matters. Being confident in saying ‘I don’t know that yet,’ will help illustrate the parallels between scientific study and theological study.”

Jill Cabes, Vice President of Dominican Catholic Identity, called the seminar, “a great opportunity for Dominican faculty participation. It was wonderful to have members from both the Science and Religion Departments collaborating on student-centered learning activities that can be incorporated into the classroom in the coming year. It provided a model for future collaboration among faculty across curriculum.”