STEM Lesson Planning
“There is increasing recognition that the diverse customs and orientations that members of different cultural communities bring both to formal and to informal science learning contexts are assets on which to build—both for the benefit of the student and ultimately of science itself.” (p. 28; National Research Council, 2012)
To get started, grab a piece of paper and draw a picture of a scientist. STOP reading here and come back when that is done. Once everyone is ready, share and describe your drawings, talking with the class about what you drew and why. What are the similarities and differences among the drawings? Why did we ask you to do this? What does your drawing reveal about your definition of a scientist? We include this experience to illustrate what researchers have found for years about children’s and adults’ ideas of what it is to be a scientist (similar studies have been done with engineers and mathematicians). Although women appear more frequently in these drawings than they used to, they still appear less often than males. And those from racial and ethnic minority groups appear even less often. This reflects what we find in STEM careers as well, with females making up less than 16% of engineers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). It is promising that representation is increasing in some fields (check out the diverse backgrounds represented across the 18 astronauts chosen by NASA in late 2020 to train for the next mission to the moon). However, there is much work to be done.
“A Framework for K-12 Science Education stresses that “all science learning can be understood as a cultural accomplishment” (NRC, 2012). Therefore, STEM education and culture are intertwined and should be inclusive of students’ diverse cultural backgrounds in instructional planning and delivery. All students should see themselves represented throughout the STEM curriculum, including printed text, videos, guest speakers, classroom libraries, activities, and classroom decorations (e.g., posters, photographs, etc.). Students should learn about the contributions of diverse scientists, engineers, and mathematicians of different genders, races, ethnicities, and abilities. When STEM learning experiences are combined with their own cultural perspectives, students are more engaged in their learning, positive science identities are nurtured, and STEM career aspirations are formed.” – Chris Bowen, 2020
Science, in and of itself, historically has taken a white, male, privileged approach that has typically not recognized the science contributions, knowledge, and perspectives of other ethnic and cultural groups (Bianchini, 2013). We must be aware of the history in order to provide context for the suggestions and strategies we discuss and so that we can as educators try to address these issues. The most important thing to focus on is that science has social, personal, and cultural components and assumptions, and our future students may experience and express science-related phenomena and understanding in different ways too. As a culturally competent teacher, it is important to pay attention to who your students are and how their lived experiences and meaning-making may differ from your own.
Strengths-based approaches. Research increasingly suggests the importance of us as researchers and educators to focus on how different aspects of students’ lives, experiences, and background should be viewed and treated as strengths, rather than weaknesses. This is contrasted with deficit models of education, in which a student with a disability or a student who speaks a language at home other than English might be viewed as being “deficient” or having a weakness to be overcome. This is related to the funds of knowledge [see more here on funds of knowledge] that students bring to the table. This shift in mindsets can have huge implications for us as educators as well as for the students in our classrooms.
Appreciating cultural and linguistic diversity. It is extremely important to understand children’s backgrounds and home experiences and how these can be strengths on which to build in creating science and STEM experiences that invite engagement for all students. This connection will increase engagement with the content and each other in the classroom. For more tips, see related resources from tolerance.org.
Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.