FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Strategy: Attention


A teacher decided to teach her young students about the place of laws in society by creating a simulation. Students were to imagine they were shipwrecked on a desert island and needed to decide how to live together. A researcher who was observing the lesson asked one of the students what they were learning. After a moment’s reflection the student reported that it seemed that their teacher wanted to teach them survival skills in case they were ever shipwrecked.

This example is amusing, but shows a common danger—that abstract goals may get missed by students amid the busy completion of tasks in the classroom. How can we help focus our students’ attention on what matters most? One important strategy for doing this is to turn abstract goals into concrete focus points by using:

  • an image
  • an object
  • a quotation
  • a key word or phrase

Many FASTly activities include strategies for focusing students’ attention on particular aspects of the relationship between faith and science. These include:

  • having students investigate key words connected to faith and science through Ngrams or word clouds. Activity: Images of Science 
  • using a particular object or creature (in one case a kitten!) to discuss how science, as compared to other disciplines, sees the world. Activity: Here Kitty Kitty
  • using a digital photograph for reflection on how science describes the world and for interaction with parents and peers around the same question. Activity: Photo Scrapbook
  • using an image of actual warfare to frame discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of a conflict model of the relationship between faith and science. Activity: Not Just Warfare

Key words or images can be used to introduce an activity, then referred to repeatedly as the lesson unfolds, and finally used to guide reflection during the debriefing phase. Presentation slides are useful for this and can become a tool for creating a strong common focus rather than for presenting lists of information. We can create a focus by presenting a key word or image to the class, by asking students to search for key words in a text, or ask students to think of their own examples of a key connection. Our management of time also plays a role in directing attention. We need to interject opportunities for students to refocus on the goal of the lesson, reflect on what they are doing, and why they are doing it. As you browse the FASTly activities, look out for focusing strategies and consider which ones you could adapt for other lessons.