The science classroom has come a long way since the days of memorizing Latin names in zoology. Students are now encouraged to plan their own projects and investigations just like scientists and engineers do. However, do you still find your students struggling to connect with science? With so many new research-based best practices and standards, we often overlook the importance of culturally responsive learning in science class. Facilitating a culturally responsive science classroom can be the key to unlocking student engagement and success. It is crucial that we examine this to see where we can improve the student experience.
1. Representation matters: Ensure a diverse cast of people, scientists, and thinkers are represented in the classroom.
One way to make science more relevant to our students is by making sure they see names and faces they relate to in our lessons. Does the list of scientists covered by generations of textbooks represent the students sitting in your classroom? If they don’t, that can be a great obstacle in creating a culture of inclusion for your students. To them, it might not seem like they belong in the world of science at all. It is crucial for students to see a diverse cast of people, scientists, and thinkers represented in their classroom, in their texts, and in other multimedia. When students see someone who shares their race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, etc. in the classroom and science they are working on, they can feel empowered to succeed in that world as well.
2. Unconscious bias: Reflect on how unconscious biases influence our teaching, and proactively adjust our practices.
The classroom can be a much more welcoming place for student participation and success if we check for our unconscious bias. Whether it’s as simple as assuming boys prefer to do a certain activity or disproportionately reacting to so-called “bad” behaviors based on student ethnicity, we can very quickly build an uncomfortable environment. So how do we check ourselves if such biases are “unconscious”? We start by reflecting on our classroom practices and using technology tools to help us. For instance, if we tend to only call on certain students, a random number generator can quickly help us give every student a fair chance. By being open-minded about our approach, we create a more welcoming classroom.
3. Encourage respectful discourse: Create a safe and welcoming space for every student’s voice
Science is a world built on discourse and discussion. For our students to truly participate in this discipline in the same way a scientist or engineer would, we need to make space for every student’s voice and viewpoint. We can ask for simple connections between their learning and how it applies to their community. Students can work in groups as they perform lab and engineering tasks, and then provide each other feedback. Diverse viewpoints and discussion enrich science, and they can do the same for the culture in your classroom.
Finally, remember these changes don’t happen overnight. By borrowing from the incremental improvements of the scientific process, you can strive toward modeling a culturally responsive science classroom. Reflect on what you can improve, how your space can better serve student success, how your students can connect with the people in science, and how we can make sure every student has a voice. Once you do, you might find many more students calling science class their favorite.