There is an excited rumble in the first few days before school starts: the mad rush of trying to organize the classroom, the lesson plans that are being prepared, the excitement of seeing the students again, as well as a million other small things like finalizing seating charts, labeling folders, and trying to craft what a first week should actually look like. One of the projects I worked on in those anticipatory days was decorating the classroom door. At De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana, where I am serving in my second year, I am the science teacher. I have the privilege of teaching all the students in the school, fourth through eighth grade.
The science lab is across the playground from the rest of the school, attached to the back of the school’s thrift store. One literally has to enter into a different building to come to science class, so of course I thought the entrance should be something notable! Now I will have you know that I am not necessarily an artsy gal. I thoroughly enjoy the arts, but the last time I took an art class was in high school and even then it was my poorest grade. So I was pretty proud of myself as I carefully cut out royal blue construction paper mountains, a paper bag hiking trail, and a forest full of small green pine trees. I assembled my pieces into a small mountain scene atop the door. At the beginning of the hiking path that spans across the doorway there is a trailhead sign that reads “science” and on the trail I wrote a single phrase, “And so the adventure begins…”
One of the first lessons I wanted my students to discover—and continue to discover throughout the course of the year—is that science is so much more than equations, chemical processes, and laws of motion. Rather than being a noun, science is a verb—an action. It isn’t simply the content that is studied, but rather a process of coming to know, a journey of exploration, the forming of relationships, and thrusting oneself into discovery!
The scientific method is simply a way of documenting how learning occurs. We ask questions, search for answers, try new things, sometimes reach conclusions and then ask some more. There is an adventure in this process of exploring the unknown, seeking what we do not yet understand. Something that I’ve observed recently is that kids are natural scientists. We’ve been back to school for only two weeks, but already students have run up to me at recess, breathless and bursting with excitement to show me just how incredible the cricket is that they’ve been cradling so carefully in their hands. As I sit outside the gym before school, a fourth grader peppers me with questions about a story he has spun involving tree climbing, parachutes, and chainsaws. Together we forge into uncharted territory as we tackle those musings. To watch the fifth graders’ eyes widen in astonishment as they drop Alka-Seltzer tablets into test tubes containing oil and water, watching in fascination as the different reactions unfold is a joy! They beat me to the punch as they excitedly inquire what will happen if they were to mix the two tubes together. The lava lamp effect they receive is nothing short of fantastic to the learners who proceed to ask me for the “recipe” so they can create this magical feat at home!
The more I have observed, reflected and grown in relationship with my students I have come to recognize this: students are incredible scientists and learners because they see the world through a lens of wonder and awe. Their senses are so heightened and aware of the miraculous beauty that surrounds them, that they naturally desire to know more about it. They want to grow in relationship, to listen, seek, explore.
Being in a Lasallian school, we are constantly reminded that we are in the holy presence of God. As we journey together in science discovering more about the world that surrounds us we are likewise cultivating a relationship with the God who is so omnipresent. How could one not be awestruck by the small but mighty ant that through its seed gathering tendencies can help engineer the entire layout of a forest!? In the ant we meet the big picture God, the one who delights in our work no matter how humble, as he recognizes its importance even when we may not. Through learning about the glaciers that slowly trudged their way across the landscape forming sweeping valleys and striking pyramidal peaks we learn more about the patient and persistent God that does not give up when obstacles arise, but rather uses them to sculpt something truly magnificent. Learning about pH of acids and bases we meet the God of balance and harmony, who has constructed such a finely tuned machine in our bodies where cells work together to keep us in a state of homeostasis—He wants us to be at peace.
Through these experiences of discovery in the lab, in life, with others, the adventure of exploring is manifested. St. John Paul II once said that, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.” I am blessed beyond measure in the various ways I get to experience Christ as a Lasallian Volunteer. From the alarm clock of the gentle mooing of cattle in the pasture behind our house, to the rambunctious energy of the students throughout the day, to the soft glow of the pastel pink sky that envelops the slate silhouette of the mountains at sunset, I am steeped in beauty and therefore immersed in the holy presence of God.
So as my second year of service dawns, I look forward to discovery. The butterflies in my stomach before the first day are the side effects of the call my students know so well, the exciting, thrilling call that beckons me to explore: to explore in science, with the students, in nature, and ultimately with God. And so once again and as always, let the adventure begin!
Regina Bettag is a second-year volunteer serving at De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, Montana. She is a 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona.