A Profoundly Human Pursuit
By Connie Blair, Upper School Mathematics and Science Teacher
Chemistry is the branch of science that directly studies the material composition of the created universe. It's a study of matter and energy and how they interact to make the physical world. In addition to the study of atoms and molecules, Covenant’s Rhetoric Chemistry course is designed to provide a foundation of practical and conceptual skills central to the study and practice of science at a more advanced level. The class also includes frequent discussion of the fundamental nature of science and the complex ways in which scientific knowledge is built.
At Covenant, our goals for Rhetoric school science go beyond mastery of technical information. We want to connect scientific understanding and scientific endeavors to the broader narrative of human knowledge, development, and history which students explore in the rest of their curriculum. To this end, our General Chemistry class intentionally emphasizes the history of the science we're studying. As we examine our contemporary understanding of the natural world, we look to historical understanding of the same phenomena and the path of inquiry scientists took over time to explore the issue. Looking at science this way draws our attention to the human side of the scientific pursuit. When we examine the historical work that has led to our current knowledge, we see how the particularities of history, culture, and philosophy have influenced the types of questions mankind has chosen to ask about the natural world and the methods we've employed to attempt to answer those questions. In turn, we can see how advances in knowledge about the natural world have affected culture and history by coloring our ways of thinking about ourselves and our place in the universe.
One of my personal highlights from the class is a lesson that effectively tied together these technical, historical, and conceptual ideas. We studied the principle of conservation of matter, which states that matter (and more specifically, individual atoms) cannot be created or destroyed by a chemical reaction. This truth wasn't always obvious. An early scientist who observed wood burning in a fireplace might have noted a large amount of wood present on the hearth at the beginning of the fire but a much smaller mass of ash present after the fire. These early modern observers hypothesized that mass was lost during combustion - a reasonable idea, based on what they could see. But then an eighteenth century chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, chose to look more closely. He discovered the true nature of combustion and realized that mass wasn't lost; it was just transformed into smoke. The class read a passage about Lavoisier's work and was able to reflect on the personal and intellectual pathway he took to arrive at this crucial discovery. Finally, I asked the class to analyze Lavoisier's method of inquiry and compare it to the complex interchange of serendipity, curiosity, collaboration, observation, and experimentation that comprises the work of modern science.
An essential goal of science education should be to create well-equipped graduates who possess scientific literacy and the ability to critically assess scientific information increasingly encountered in the modern world. As Christians, the study of science - of the creation through which God has revealed Himself - should also draw us into worshipful awe of our Creator. The Rhetoric school science courses at Covenant give our students not only a body of technical knowledge and appreciation for the workings of creation, but also a deep awareness of scientific inquiry as an intellectual, spiritual, and profoundly human pursuit.
To learn more about Covenant's Grammar and Upper School curriculum, please visit the following:
· Grammar School Curriculum (Grades Kindergarten - 5th)
· Logic School Curriculum (Grades 6-8)
· Rhetoric School Curriculum (Grades 9-12)
To schedule a tour and visit our classrooms, please contact the school office: