Unlock the secret strengths of a classical Christian education as it intersects with STEM, a narrative brought to life by my guest, Jim Dolas of Heritage Preparatory School. Prepare to be astounded by how this traditional educational model excels in fostering a profound understanding of math and sciences, proving that the humanities and technical fields are not worlds apart, but rather complementary forces. From Jim’s remarkable shift from software engineering to the classroom, to Heritage Prep’s forward-thinking pedagogy, we showcase how these students are equipped with not just knowledge but the wisdom to navigate a complex, scientific world.
As we chat with Jim, we highlight the unexpected symphony between science and literature, and how a liberal arts education can infuse curiosity and agility in learning. Experience the ways in which Heritage Prep students engage with science through a lens that spans from philosophy to “The Hobbit,” learning to measure the world around them with the elegance of a poet and the precision of a physicist. This episode is a testimonial to the power of a classical Christian education in preparing versatile, insightful minds, ready to embrace the challenges and wonders of the STEM fields.
Biography: Jim Dolas
Jim Dolas is the science department chair and teacher of physics and chemistry at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. As an accidental science teacher, Jim left the cubicle for the classroom (with a brief intermission as a full-time parent) after a decade-long stint as a software engineer. He has been teaching middle school and high school science for nine years at Heritage. Jim and Margo, his wife of 26 years, live in Atlanta, Georgia, with their three children, all of whom attend Heritage Preparatory School.
00:00 – Davies Owens (Host)
There’s a perception that classical Christian education is more exclusively focused on the humanities and the liberal arts, and that math and science are well more of a second priority. So what if you have a child who is more interested in math and science? Would they be better off at a school with more of a STEM focus? Well, the good news is that classical Christian education can and should be an outstanding launch pad for all students for understanding and doing science Well. In fact, classical education, historically and today, is an ideal setting to learn these subjects. You don’t want to miss this conversation on Base Camp Live.
00:35 – Tim Dernlan (Announcement)
Mountains. We all face them as we seek to influence the next generation. Get equipped to conquer the challenges, some at the peak, and shape exceptionally thoughtful, compassionate and flourishing human beings. We call it ancient future education for raising the next generation. Welcome to Base Camp Live Now your host, davies Owens.
00:56 – Davies Owens (Host)
Welcome to Base Camp Live Davies Owens here. Thanks for being a part of the journey of Base Camp Live. You know this is an exciting year we’re stepping into. I am personally in profession, leaning into this podcast and, to all things, parent education, advocating for classical Christian education, which continues to grow, not only in the five day a week brick and mortar schools, but hybrid, collaborative schools, homeschools, online school. There are so many folks right now saying, hey, we’ve got to do this differently. It’s not just about raising up the next generation. It’s absolutely that to love truth, goodness and beauty. But it’s really, I believe, at a very basic level. We are fighting for the future of our world and our civilization and it’s going to come through the raising up of the next generation, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than to not only direct individuals and families to a deeper walk with Christ but ultimately educating well to know how to think and speak and engage and reason and all those things that we advocate for in raising up the next generation. So thanks for being a part of this journey and if some of you are just now getting started in it, some of you have been doing it for decades, wherever you are, whether you’re a parent or an educator. We’re glad to be together in this community on this conversation and I look forward this year to getting on to many of your campuses speaking, connecting with you. There’s details and all of that on the Basecamp Live webpage under speaking and training doing a lot more with Keith McCurdy A lot going on. It’s all very exciting and it’s always good to hear from you Info at basecamplivecom. Thank you to Gavin, who listens from Memphis, Tennessee, with his family. Gavin, thanks for being a Basecamp Live listener. It’s always good just to hear where you’re listening from what’s on your mind, any questions you may have. We are definitely wanting to be sensitive to the things that are important and critical to families. Today there’s a lot of things going on in our world, so hopefully you’ll leave today being encouraged. That’s probably the ultimate goal for our time together. I do want to say thank you for the many organizations that come alongside the Support Basecamp Live and really provide fantastic resources America’s Christian Credit Union, the Classic Learning Task, Gutenberg College, Wilson Hill Academy and Gordon College, among others. I want to say thank you to them. Please check out more of their resources.
My conversation today with Jim Dolis. He is the science department chair and teacher of physics and chemistry at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s an accidental science teacher, he would say. He left the cubicles as a software engineer for the classroom and has been there now for almost a decade teaching middle and high school. Heritage Prep’s doing some amazing work as they’ve launched high school and they’re doing things kind of with fresh eyes, a little bit out of the box. How do we do things better? How do we do things differently than maybe traditionally has been done, even in our classical Christian schools? And so our conversation today is about some really innovative thinking they have around science class, and Jim is a passionate teacher. He and his wife, Margo have 26 years, live in Atlanta, they have three children who all attend Heritage Prep, and he’s really again part of a pioneering team that’s making this movement, this education, better than ever.
So, without further ado, here’s my conversation with Jim Dulles. Well, Jim, welcome to Basecamp Live. Thank you, Great to be here. Oh, it’s always good to be chatting with somebody at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia, one of my favorite schools around, since I had the joy of growing up in Atlanta and being ahead of school there, but a lot has happened since I was there. How long have you tell us about yourself, how long have you been there and a little bit about what’s happening at Heritage.
04:22 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, I mean, that’s the fun part. We joined the school as parents when you were there as headmaster, so our oldest started when he was in the four-year-old enrichment program. So we’ve been at Heritage since I think that’s 2015. No, that’s probably earlier than that, maybe early.
04:45 – Grant Wiley (Announcement)
Yeah, it was probably in 2007, or 2011.
04:47 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
That sounds right Because 2015, 2016 was about when I started teaching at Heritage. So we had been a parent there for a long time and, through various connections with other teachers, other faculty, other parents, I was invited to come in and do a guest teaching session and it was an interesting time period for me. I had quit my engineering job to stay home and be the dad of kids, so taking them on adventures around Atlanta, running them to and from school and all that, and I was invited to come try teaching a science class and realize that, wow, I think this is actually what I was supposed to be doing. So that was about yeah, that would have been the 2015, 2016 school year. So this is my ninth year of teaching science at Heritage, which has been around for 25 years now.
Our high school is three years old. I’ve been the department chair for that and planted the seeds of the science program and have built it out year after year as we’ve been going. So that’s where we’re at now. We have our junior class midway through this year and then next year we’ll have our first graduating seniors.
06:07 – Davies Owens (Host)
That’s fantastic. It’s so exciting. That was one of those realities. It didn’t happen when I was there, but I thought this this is what Atlanta needs certainly a classical Christian school through K-12. And what I love about where you guys are relevant to our conversation is that the school has been able to really approach high school with completely fresh eyes. There’s no legacy I mean you personally didn’t have kind of legacy science teacher and you you were able to come at it with fresh eyes. The school has said let’s rethink something. So just to give people a sense of what that’s meant, I mean heritage has done away with things like the bells and the 50-minute passing periods. Where are some other things? Just to give a sense of sort of this let’s approach this idea with fresh eyes. What else are you guys doing there?
06:47 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Sure, yeah, I mean the the no passing periods thing. You know most of the most of the faculty has kind of a love hate with that because it’s you know we love that we can go long, but then when the other teachers go long and we lose all of our classes it can throw everything off well, getting out at Five o’clock’s not too bad, I’m sure it would.
07:03 – Davies Owens (Host)
now it’s fine.
07:04 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
It’s fine. No, but it in general it works really well. There’s a flexibility, there’s more relaxed attitude Among the teachers and the students because there’s not the pressure of the bell oh, I have to get things done before the bell rings so that there’s a little more of a relaxed vibe around the school Amongst the students. One of the other things that we’ve really enjoyed doing is that these sidecar courses, interdisciplinary one day courses throughout the year that might bring together and you know, for example, we did one on the scientific revolution which did not just bring in science but also brought in the literature of the time, both enlightenment and romanticist, romanticist thinking, poetry, art, connecting all of the ideas in kind of a one big sit-down seminar session with the high schoolers. I’m cities a classroom. We live in Atlanta. There’s so much to do so Students in the afternoon can go. On Friday afternoons We’ll go and explore the city and learn the history of the city and connections to architecture or economics or, yeah, a policy, or whatever.
08:17 – Davies Owens (Host)
So, yeah, so when you were thinking about the science program in the high school, I’m I’m curious your your sense of this. But it certainly seems like a lot of parents listening are probably thinking well, we put our child in the classical Christian school because, you know, there were a lot of great reasons for grammar school decisions and we love literature. But you know, we’re discovering our child’s probably less of a quote Shakespeare kid and more of kind of a math science kid, and it seems like the classical school is just a little bit more Oriented towards the Shakespeare kid. So we’re kind of wondering if we should stay and participate in high school. And you know, then there’s that stem thing and there’s AP credits and like how does all that wash out?
So there seems to be this fork in the road that a lot of parents hit. That I was we’re gonna talk about. Is is not necessarily a fork you have to choose between. In fact, I think there’s a better path. So we’re gonna talk about it. But how have you seen that fork and how did that trying to break down those walls impact the way that you guys built the science program?
09:12 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, I mean I think there is a lot of cultural pressure at least to have a very stem focus field, especially in industry, to bring stem in. But Our approach has been to say you know, the goal of this education is to shape souls. So what? What is it that science brings to the table for shaping souls? There is a lot of discipline that comes into learning physics. I Can learn physics. If I can learn physics, anybody can learn physics, I think, cuz I’m not. I’m not all that with physics, so anybody can really learn it.
But you have to be disciplined in order to do it. You have to have courage to ask for help when you need it. You have to submit yourself to the line of thinking and the equations same thing with chemistry and biology and the other sciences of Shaping your soul in such a way as to look at, look at reality as it is and See. What does that then mean for my soul? How do I conform myself to this reality that I see in front of me? In large part it’s Teaching how to see. How do we see the world around us? How do we see Nature creation? How do we see that? And then, how do we make sense of it? How do we do that? So that that’s kind of the the tech we took.
10:34 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well, I think that, which I think, is the right tact I know that again, is so often the case or there’s always like I feel like we walk the razor’s edge because there’s the ditch you can fall into, kind of the pure stem, the science, technology, engineering and mathematics education which we’ll talk about.
You know that’s great but it’s kind of the one-trick pony around Skills of science versus sort of the soul side of it, which if you’re only sold, then I think you again, if you ask, kind of there’s a general perception from a lot of people it’s not all that untrue that there’s also bad Christian science, not in terms of like Christian scientists, but in terms of people who say you know whether it’s honestly you know, you see it sometimes in some of the Bob Jones curriculum and maybe the abeca curriculum, maybe you know some of it’s where it’s like we love Jesus, but yeah, we were a little casual on the science side of it. So you’re talking about a robust, you know, high quality science education that at the same time Involves soul formation and imagination. You know, in formation of the imagination as well, is that is that kind of absolutely Like.
11:37 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
We need to be able to wrestle with Galileo and Einstein and Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday and the greats of the past and wrestle with their understanding of the natural world and their own wrestling with their, with their own, with their own fates. Each of these scientists that we look at have come from some faith tradition, whether they accepted or rejected it. Right, that’s something that we can dig into in the process of class and kind of look at the why of that.
12:06 – Davies Owens (Host)
So does that? How does that? You know we’re gonna get into sort of the practical side of it, but you know some of the just Realities. I mean. I know Newton is, you know you’ve talked about as a great example of someone who Very much wrote. You know he was classically educated and he wrote from a Perspective of looking at, you know, god’s, god’s connection to the world around us. I have a quote here from Principia 1713. He says the most elegant system of the Sun, planets and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Bealing being. He rules all things, not as a world soul but as Lord of all.
So this is Newton. Of course he would never get a job in the public school today, but you know, how does you know again? How does you know again, how does that intersection work? Because it sounds like if you’re not careful you could spend all your time, you know, doing literature or humanities in science class, because I know time, even though you guys don’t have periods, I guess you can go all day. But how do you balance that out? Because it seems like when are you doing true Hard science and when are you kind of looking at more of the mind behind the science. How do you balance those?
13:13 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Sure, I mean it’s a both and in the class right. So Newton’s a great example. When we, when we introduce the laws of motion, we start with reading his definitions out of the Principia which are defining what, what is matter, what is mass, what is motion. And by defining it, by understanding it, we can see how the equations that we would use kind of fall out of his verbal descriptions. So, yes, we need, we need that, we need to be able to do the literary literature side. We need to understand what his words mean, because it’s from those words that we understand the math. The math is kind of a shorthand for the laws of motion, for laws that describe how the universe works. So it’s kind of a both and by putting those together we can look at what these greats of the past have done, understand the words that they spoke and then show that connection between the concepts and then the mathematical modeling.
14:13 – Davies Owens (Host)
Yeah, that makes it so. Then you’re working intentionally as well with the literature those who are teaching the liberal arts segments, that are looking at the great books and others to sort of see where those ideas are also happening that you can reference over to. In other words, you sometimes reference ideas that they’ve read in the other class, just because you’re aware of these conversations.
14:37 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yes, exactly. So in the sense of the class, that’s reading the ancients we can lean heavily into Aristotle’s Four Causes, for example, and then they’re covering it in their philosophy of religion, class. And these are covering something else in history that we’ll reference, because there’s a historical context to the Protestant Reformation connecting to Galilean revolution and so forth. So there’s lots of areas where we can make connections with them.
15:10 – Davies Owens (Host)
Which what you’re describing, Jim, is really that part of what I call the secret sauce of classical Christian education is that we’re an integrated learning experience. We’re not bell rings and we’re doing science, and then bell rings and we’re doing literature, and these two things shall never meet. I mean, it’s an integrated whole, which is the way we did educate people for centuries, was sort of following that idea, and I love that you guys have built a system where you’re aware of what’s happening down the hallway and you’re able to continue the conversation by even doing literature in the science context. So I want to take a break and come back, and I want to kind of come back again to this what do I do with my kid that’s not the Shakespeare kid? And people are like, well, it’s okay to be. All kids should read both. We understand that I’m being kind of exaggerating a little bit here, but my Einstein kid is not my Shakespeare kid. How do we kind of, if we think we’ve got a child that’s aiming towards the sciences and you know what does it look like to prepare well, even when you start heading off to college, and that your oldest is about at that stage and you guys are starting to think about college, and so let’s take a break and come back and continue along those lines of questions, because I think it’s on people’s minds.
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I think a lot of folks who are listening who have again more of this science minded child which, by the way, I always discourage families from sort of labeling their kid oh, that’s my Shakespeare kid and then it tells the kid who’s well. Then I guess I’m not supposed to be interested in that. I think we want to deliver children that are well-rounded truly, in the sense that they can do all things, understand all things. But what do you do with a family that says we really do believe our child has these gifts. He’s been building Lego statues and robots in his crib and we think this is his gift and he’s going to get a Georgia Tech and all of that? How do you kind of help make sure that in the midst of reading all those Newton essays, you’ve not maybe missed something? They’re going to need to be excellent in more of the STEM world.
18:16 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, that’s a great question and I have had a few of those students over the years who are just excellent at science. In some cases it involves doing a little extra independent study with them. I have one student now who really wants to take the AP chemistry test. So he and I are sitting down pretty much weekly doing over stuff that we’re not covering in class, talking about different experimental methodologies and then helping him understand kind of the house of taking an AP test. For other students it might be encouraging them to explore programming or something else on their own. The skills really yes, you may have the STEM skills, but if you lack a sense of wonder and a sense of humanity, I’m concerned about how those skills would be used. Having a well-formed human soul. We need those people. We need people with well-formed human souls leading us in the process of science and technology more than we need somebody who has all the skills. It’s really honestly kind of easy to get the skills, but building the soul is the hard part.
19:32 – Davies Owens (Host)
And when you say soul because I know some people are thinking well, they prayed the prayer, they love Jesus and that’s great Are you talking about something more than what you’re talking about, Because I know we’ve talked about it is? It’s your soul at the deepest level of your being, In other words, your moral imagination, your ability to probe and ask deep questions. So unpack that a little bit more, because it’s definitely more than just I’m. Theologically, I have a soul, but my way of engaging even science itself with the soul, what does that look like?
20:02 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah. So to approach something, to bring your soul into it. For me in the sciences, a lot of it is just humility. One of the things that I’m trying to encourage the students in is a little bit of epistemic humility. You don’t know everything there is to know about the physical world. Physicists don’t know everything there is to know about the physical world. We’re learning as we go. So having that sense of I could be wrong. Wrong in how I’m interpreting nature, wrong in how I’m interpreting this book I’m reading, wrong in how I’ve figured out what errors may have caused my wrong results in a lab. Having that confidence to be able to be teachable, to be able to learn, I think without that humility it becomes really hard to learn. It becomes hard to actually grow as a human being. If there’s not that humble approach to I want to understand this thing and I don’t think I understand it fully. So having students who have the courage to come in and say, hey, I don’t really understand this concept, can we go over it and work a couple of problems, that shows me a student who is teachable and wants to learn, versus the ones who make the same mistakes over and over and over again but aren’t willing to come ask for help. There’s still some training that needs to be done there. Okay, then we need to keep working on this In the sense of building that soul.
It’s what is the purpose of this science that we’re doing. What is the goal, what is the end goal of it? The scientific pursuit is really to create mental models of how the physical universe works. It’s inherently imaginative, and if we remove any sort of moral imagination from that, then we could take that imagination anywhere, and sometimes that imagination doesn’t really need to go anywhere. In abolition of man, cs Lewis is all over.
And, of course, on our uses of technology, we will tend to use technology to dominate others. I heard it described in another I think it was another podcast described technology as power without effort. You’re not having to put the effort, the sole effort, into mastering some technique. That technology is giving you power that you wouldn’t normally have, so that that desire that we have for power is almost shortcut by technology, because now we don’t have to work for it, we don’t have to conform our souls to reality in order to gain it. So by shaping souls, by shaping our moral imagination, by shaping our imagination in physical world, the hope is that we have human beings who can go into these fields and then really do something that is good for human beings.
22:57 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well and again in the history of Western civilization. Certainly when you look at the greatest scientist, you could argue that from Kepler Gallo we talked about Newton, they were actually. Even Einstein was classically trained. And it wasn’t just that. Again they could just quote Shakespeare in a vacuum. But what I hear you saying is that they had the ability to really ask the why and to go hold a question up against the divine order of the world and to not be afraid of pursuing mysteries and uncertainties, as opposed to just sort of I’ve got my skill training. I took my you know my programming language. I’ve learned whatever was in it. That moment that you took it in it was probably switched out again. I mean, there’s a lot of I guess it’s contrasting kind of skill training which feels like just STEM in a vacuum is just a lot of skills, as opposed to really training someone to think scientifically and holistically. Is that a fair way to kind of separate those differences?
23:56 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
I think that’s fair. Yeah, I think, with most of the scientists throughout history that we cover, had an understanding that what they were studying could not explain everything. I think that’s where Newton kind of trips and falls a little bit is. He is almost trying to explain everything Instead of going well, okay, yeah, okay, we’re looking at material and efficient causes here. We maybe can’t say a whole lot about a natural explanation for formal causes that we might have to just recourse to the supernatural for that. In the same thing with final causes, we may not be able to find a naturalistic explanation for that. And so, yeah, and that’s useful too, right, newton kind of overextended a little bit. Galileo overextended a little bit, which is why he was put on trial. There were a little bit of overextensions on both the part of Galileo and the church saying no, no, no, this is true. Like well, this is a model that makes way more sense of the universe. This is something that I think could be factual, but right to insist that this thing is absolute truth.
25:12 – Davies Owens (Host)
Now you’ve set up a dividing line that you can’t really and that’s kind of I mean, in our modern world science has become well, it’s kind of become God and it’s sort of the infallibility of science and the truth is it’s messy at best and there’s a lot. That’s periodic table doesn’t change every day, but there’s a lot of things we don’t know that well and I love that again, you’ve used. You talked about imagination and curiosity and wonder, so maybe share just an example of what does that look like in the classroom for you in terms of just experiments you do or, yeah sure, teaching moments.
25:45 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
The yeah, the interesting thing with science is I’m trying to remind students that it’s a process. It’s not just a thing, it’s a process, it’s a way of learning about how the natural world works. So a few of the things that we do in class for example, one of my favorites came out of a Michael Faraday book. He describes a trip he took to a tavern and the tavern keeper would set a stool by the fire and in that stool he would have ice with rock salt and that rock salt would sit by the fire and he would let it sit there for a while and then he would go grab the handle and lift up the handle and the stool, because the stool had frozen to the pot. Fascinating, it’s sitting by the fire. How does it do that?
So I recreated that in class set up a pot sitting on a stool with some ice and salt and let it sit while we were talking about conservation of energy and heat transfer and what does it mean? That matter is changing phases from solid to liquid and liquid to gas. And then, at the end of it, picked it up and it was oh, what just happened. And so then it’s a teachable moment when does the energy come from to met. It’s not just putting salt on the ice that causes it to melt. It has to take energy from somewhere.
Where does it take it? Well, the only place it can get it the outside atmosphere, which causes the pot to get even colder, which causes any water that’s condensed under the pot to freeze and freeze itself to the stool. And so not only does it give them a wait, you could do that, there’s almost like a magic trick aspect of it, and it’s not magic, it’s just. This is the way the physical universe works. Energy is transferred and it’s conserved. We’re not creating or destroying anything. We’re taking this water that’s sitting underneath the pot and we’re freezing it so that we can melt the water that’s in the pot, and it’s the salt that makes it do that.
27:47 – Davies Owens (Host)
Well, and it’s such a great again, they’ll remember that 50 years from now and you probably got some emails from parents saying, hey, my child was just warped the kitchen stools, putting pots in the kitchen and you know. But again, we’re encouraging exploration and curiosity and it’s more than again just memorizing something static so that we can check the box for some skill training that we’ve got. So I love that’s a great example. Why don’t we take another quick break? I want to come back. I’d love to hear some more examples and again talk a little bit further just about some of the unique work you guys are doing to awaken the joy of learning about science, even in a liberal art school. It’s pretty encouraging as schools and families. We engage with businesses every day and unfortunately, many of them are increasingly embracing more progressive ideologies and practices. That’s why Basecamp Live we’re proud to partner with America’s Christian Credit Union, a banking institution that only serves and invest in kingdom causes. So whether you’re managing a school, a home, a small business, accu can meet your banking needs while upholding biblical values. Find out why tens of thousands of families and ministries across the country, including Basecamp Live, have chosen to bank with ACCU by going today to americacristiancucom. Jimmy, you know it’s interesting.
A lot of the folks that we think of as the science technology. People in the world today are often very much fans of the liberal arts and classical Christian education. A couple of quick examples, like Steve Jobs quote from him. He says technology alone is not enough. It is technology with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing. That’s from Mr iPad himself, and there’s another article I found, david Kalt, who is a CEO of an online brokerage firm. He had an article in the Wall Street Journal that this is very interesting. He said it’s very simple A well-rounded liberal arts degree establishes a foundation of critical thinking and critical thinkers can accomplish anything.
Critical thinkers can master French or Ruby on the Rails, which I think is a web app framework, python, which is a programming language, or whatever future language comes their way. A critical thinker is a self-learning machine that is not constrained by memorizing commands or syntax. It sounds like that’s a lot of what the point you’re making. It’s like, again, you’re not training up just a one-trick pony here on skills. You’re really giving a child the ability to think holistically. So again, just as we come back to this point, but it’s just so critical, talk again a little bit more about. How does that manifest itself in your classrooms?
30:24 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, so I think I would push back on that definition of a self-learning machine. I don’t know that. I would use the term machine. We’re shaping humans to fulfill what it is that we’re intended to do, which is to rule and have dominion over the world. And how can we do that if we don’t understand what?
30:44 – Davies Owens (Host)
it is Well, that’s from an online breaker. So I mean I know you, yeah, but it’s a great point.
30:50 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah we are so like yeah, I agree with him 99%.
That critical thinking is key in the sciences especially. The whole goal of the scientific process is the creation of these theories. It’s the gold standard creation of a mental model that explains some physical phenomenon in the universe. It explains all the related facts around that phenomenon. So the law of gravitation is intended to explain the facts about why objects fall, why do they accelerate, how are they attracted to each other and so forth. Being able to come up with a good theory requires being able to understand and look at what facts are, and being a solid thinker fits in the science, fits in with that liberal arts framework, because that’s what science is training us to do. What are the facts? What are the things that I have measured when I have mixed these two chemicals? What are the times that I have measured?
One example from class that we do is we recreate Galileo’s incline experiment. George Johnson’s book the Ten Most Beautiful Experiments is a reference that we will use in all of our science classes. We’ll refer to some of those experiments from the past, some of them. We will recreate Galileo’s incline as one of them. In Galileo’s incline it takes a piece of wood that’s 20-odd feet long and he puts it at different elevations and he rolls a ball down different lengths to try to figure out the relationship between distance and time. He knows that it’s accelerating. It’s not falling at a constant velocity. He knows that it’s accelerating but he’s trying to figure out that relationship. What is the relationship between distance and time as something accelerates? So he was at the forefront of understanding gravitation as an accelerating force in terms of doing an experiment that would show a relationship between distance and not time, but the square of time. By recreating that. We set that up. It takes most of the length of the classroom. We’ve got students lined up and they’re timing it, enrolling it.
Go stop, check what is it, noting down all of the numbers and all the data and then saying, all right, what sense can we make of this? So having to think through explanations, how can we explain this thing that we see, we read in really any literature? We can find a connection to something in the sciences, in physics. We look at buoyancy. Everybody likes to float in a boat and go fishing or go water skiing or just go out boating. Sometimes you need to escape from the Elven King’s Hall and jump into a barrel if you are Bilbo Baggins in the Dwarves. So one of our problems that will work is how many pounds of dwarf could we stuff into a wine barrel from King Thranduil’s Hall? Would bomber actually float? Yes, I think he would, and it’s just a fun way for them to go. Oh okay, yes, you can actually bring science into my Lord of the Rings. That’s okay, right, but it gives them that little like oh wait a minute, this is not just siloed here in this classroom.
This is a skill that pertains to what I read and what I see in the news and what I look at in the history books. And music is another great example. When we talk about frequency and pitch, we’ll play guitar and we’ll do chords and show how the chords map to different frequency structures and how do those frequencies overlap. And what do those frequencies do when you play a chord, why does this chord sound pleasant? Why, when I just play these random notes, does it sound horrible? So, looking at the mathematics of music, color and art, we’ll look at that and see okay, why is this color combination pleasing?
What is it about the frequencies that are pleasing to us? So what are the facts? What are the things that we can measure? And then how can we make sense of that? And so we see not just the facts and the truth of it, but we can see the beauty of it, because I think that is really the key to unlocking the curiosity and the imagination. Wonder is, oh wow. This physical universe that we’re looking at is actually really, really beautiful if we have the eyes to see it and if we have the willingness to look and see the beauty. And that beauty will draw us even further in to a sense of wonder, to a sense of yearning to discover what is the reality that we’re here living in.
35:35 – Davies Owens (Host)
When it seems the value proposition is not only creating a better science-minded student in terms of their ability to question and to ask the why and to look beyond just a skill set, but really in terms of ultimately forming human souls, as we were talking about before. I mean, these are people who are going to grow up and move on into a very complicated world where there’s a lot of rhetoric and narratives that are sort of shoved at them that the assumption is, well, you never question these things. You’re basically creating a generation of students that still know how to question and, whether it’s a political issue or a scientific issue, they have that ability to dissect and to hold against logic and ultimately hold against scripture, which is, I think, a really important and critical gift for graduating into the world today.
36:21 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, I agree. Was it Wordsworth who said there’s more faith in honest doubt? I think there’s something good to be said about questioning what it is that we see when we’re doing a lab. Wait a minute. Was that the result I was expecting? What should I have seen? Did I see what I should have seen? And that is a transferable skill, like you said. Looking at the news Wait, does that make sense? I don’t know that it does. Let me check that against this other thing that I know makes sense and see if that connects Well and again it fits.
36:55 – Davies Owens (Host)
Classical folks talk about the frame of the child in the grammar school versus the rhetoric stage. I mean you’re leaning into the frame of a child that’s naturally trying to become more independent and own their own faith and own their own identity, and that requires pushing a bit and questioning. And how do you question? Well, which, again you think that might be coming out of a kind of humanities class, but you’re really modeling it in the science class. So again, there’s a beautiful integration crossover. It sounds like from what you’re doing that Well, as we wind our time down, jim, thinking about just words of encouragement to parents, especially those who are maybe a little earlier in the journey, and thinking about we’re going to go the whole distance here, k-12, with our student that does seem to have some science inclinations. What would you say, again, just by way of encouragement?
37:45 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, I think the biggest encouragement is that the goal of science is to understand the natural world and to put it in its proper context. What better place to do that than in a classical Christian environment? I would much rather have my own kids and the students that I teach wrestle with doubts in the presence of a faithful Christian who is their teacher, Rather than wrestle with doubts about origins or the age of the earth or other hot button questions that students are always going to be wrestling with when they’re in high school science. They’re going to start asking those questions. They should be asking those questions in a safe place, a place where there is both a rigorous scientific answer and a faithfully historically Christian answer. I think those two can marry very well together.
In terms of skill sets, those are easy to supplement if you feel the need for it. Learning how to learn, learning how to think scientifically about the natural world that’s a skill that’s going to go a lot farther than some of the sort of what would I call them techniques, technical skills. Learning a programming language, say, or how to mix the right chemicals. Yes, students should know how to do an experiment. Should they know, necessarily, how to set one up themselves when they get further along? Sure, but first they need to learn how to think scientifically about it before they start randomly mixing chemicals from under the sink and fill your kitchen with chlorine gas. Please don’t do that. Probably a good idea.
39:32 – Davies Owens (Host)
Yeah, now we’ve frozen the stools in the kitchen and we’ve also set all kinds of havoc that could be wreaked if we don’t know what we’re doing.
But you mentioned like programming language, and again it’s not just to clarify for folks, it’s not that you’re saying your child shouldn’t be exposed to that. I mean I know at Ambrose here in Boystay they used to teach Python in 7th grade. I mean, so there’s a place to teach a programming language, especially when it becomes another example to the student of here’s how the world is ordered logically. And here’s a way to think again, not only in terms of just I mean to think beyond just that skill training. I always joke and say I mean I actually was trained in 7th grade on a TRS-80 computer and if you know what that is and you’re really old like me and I learned Microsoft basic, well, I don’t know anybody that’s hiring to train, you know, because I’ve got basic training and so that’s your point is that that skill in a vacuum is going to change a lot. But the broader ability to think and problem solve and ask questions is really the richness of a classical Christian education in a science environment.
40:38 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Yeah, I mean I would see programming as the culmination of a logic curriculum. Programming is applied logic. You’re taking logic and applying it. Yeah, I was at DECP, pdt 11 that I learned to program on and I don’t even know what that is. That’s good yeah sounds like a lot older. So yeah, yeah, yeah, ouch.
40:59 – Davies Owens (Host)
But all those languages you know are important and there’s a place to use them as a way of, you know, training in broader thinking, and so it is a means of, not an end. Exactly.
That’s a great way to say it. So well, jim, thanks so much for your time today. There’s obviously a lot more to talk about. I’m sure there’s all kinds of more stories of floating hobbits and things that you do, but appreciate your making science exciting. If I were a student today, I would have really loved being in your class. That sounds like a wonderful experience every day there. So well, jim, thanks so much, appreciate your time and look forward to chatting with you again.
41:34 – Jim Dolas (Guest)
Great Thanks for having me.
41:35 – Grant Wiley (Announcement)
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