I am incredibly grateful to live and work in the area with the University of Washington College of Education & Learning Sciences, where teams of people are doing powerful work around social justice and culturally engaged teaching practices.
These are a few highlights from a recent set of presentations done by folks in that community, shared by Philip Bell on an awesome Facebook group called “Advancing Ambitious Equitable Practices.” (It’s closed; it’s worth it. Science and STEM teachers, join in the conversation about Ambitious Science Teaching!) I was not able to go to the fall NSTA conference in the West this year, but got to check out a few resources from the conference, including these presentations.
These three slide decks from that conference cover a variety of topics related to equity in STEM education.
Designing and Using Equitable 3D Formative Assessments – Ellen Ebert and Philip Bell
Learning to See the Resources Students Bring to Sense-Making – Philip Bell and Ellen Ebert, with support from Megan Bang, Deb Morrison, and Enrique Suarez
Snapshot #1: reframing student participation and “misbehavior”/”misconceptions”
One thing I think about a lot is how I mishear or misinterpret student behavior all the time, including in ways that they are authentically trying to connect with learning goals. I also observe peer teachers frequently with some audience irony – that is, knowing something that the other teacher is not aware of, and seeing the painful results of miscommunication.
Creating space for students to do their own reasoning, speak their minds to one another, and correct one another’s mistakes is so incredibly important. Out in the world, there won’t necessarily be a teacher there when kids are sharing their ideas and trying to determine what is true and what is not. Practicing deep listening to students’ ideas and not shutting them down is essential to building schema that support students’ growth.
Bell and Ebert recommended the free article What We Call Misconceptions May Be Essential Stepping-Stones Toward Making Sense of the World as another way of reconsidering student talk and scaffolding to better-understand students’ perspectives.
Snapshot #2: Equity in education is met through a variety of avenues
I really loved seeing this slide and thinking about the many different ways promoting equity can look in the work of teaching. Sometimes I can get down on myself for the ways I am failing to, say, increase who ends up in STEM fields or for not doing more explicit identity work in my classroom. However, there are a lot of ways that equity focus in STEM teaching shows up in the classroom. In particular, I think #2, #3, and #4 show up a lot in my classroom as ways to just be a better teacher, but it is important to remember the ways youth are so often disenfranchised and not seen as capable of making their own decisions and participating in scientific endeavors. Just giving kids – all kids in your space – an avenue for feeling effective is enough to change their conception of both science and themselves.
Snapshot #3: Science education is cultural, no matter who your students are
I have been reflecting on this last piece quite a lot this year. I work in an affluent, white school culture where the reality of my students is significantly different than the one I grew up in. Many kids have parents who are doctors, nurses, and medical personnel. Kids are experienced travelers, and have hobbies that range from skiing to SCUBA diving to parkour. Meeting them where they are at requires thinking about what matters most to them and honing in – while also creating avenues for kids who might be more on the margin an avenue for understanding what the dominant culture looks like.
As one example, I have a large number of girls in my classes who row on a crew team this year. The most recent phenomenon I chose as an anchoring event studied the bones of female crew athletes to compare them to prehistoric female bones as a standard for strength and endurance. This provides a chance for those students who are crew athletes to connect with the phenomenon, and allows for conversations around how sexism shows up in science (this is the first study known to look at the bones of living female athletes as a baseline – all others have looked at males). It also provides a space for kids who don’t know what crew/regatta are to understand those sports, which is an important equity tool for engaging all students in the culture of privilege and power – one big reason I am glad that I went to private school as a kid who grew up in a lower middle class household is because it gave me insights into the language of power that allows me to “pass” in wealthy spaces.
Anyways, there are many more things to draw from the presentations – definitely check them out and see how they can help shape your practice in ways that are effective and equitable!