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With a continued focus on bringing equity, engagement, and diversity to the forefront of an inclusive STEM workforce, the ABE Program Office is committed to continuing our exploration of broadening participation in STEM and showcasing effective classroom strategies.

In the December 2020 issue of the ABE Teacher Quarterly, we shared some resources on culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP). Here, we explore practical strategies science educators can use to interweave culture into STEM learning and lay the foundation for a more culturally responsive classroom.

One of the easiest first steps is to start with student-centered instruction. Student-centered learning differs from the traditional model of teacher-directed learning in that students collaborate with one another and direct their own learning, pushing them to be proactive and self-confident. Lab settings lend themselves particularly well to this approach, but instruction outside the lab can also provide rich opportunities. Provide structured opportunities for students to collaborate with one another, share experiences, and create a sense of community. Provide prompt questions that develop students’ abilities to lead discussions with adults and with each other. These interactions allow students to build confidence, hypothesize without critique, and experiment with new ideas. Having students take the lead in questioning and exploration provides greater opportunity for them to make personal connections to content that is important and meaningful to them.

What this looks like in action: Have students lead discussion groups; work with students to generate a list of choice topics to research and experiments to conduct; invite students to reteach concepts and provide role descriptions for student-led labs.

Another way to incorporate culturally responsive teaching is to connect curriculum to community. Including real-life scenarios and students’ personal interests sparks curiosity and drives learning. Using curriculum and topics of research to empower students will create a classroom climate that evokes persistence and inquiry. Using personal experiences or local environments that are relevant creates meaningful connections between school and real-life. Authentic experiences also have the benefit of being interdisciplinary in nature—since the real world is not sorted into neat disciplines—which can open doors to students who may not perceive themselves as “science students.” A students’ self-perceived strength in one content area can be used to support learning in another.

What this looks like in action: Provide time for “Eye on the News” discussions in which students connect topical science dilemmas or discoveries to their own experiences and families; encourage student-led research on a science topic of personal interest that includes cross-curriculum connections to mathematics, reading, or art.

Finally, highlight and celebrate differences through a scientific lens. Provide opportunities for students to explore the concepts of genetic difference and similarity, to unpack concepts of race and ancestry, and to explore how understanding difference can lead to innovation and more equitable health outcomes. ABE’s new curriculum module, Exploring Precision Medicine, looks at the connections between genes and traits. Students learn how slight genetic differences can impact how well a patient responds to certain medications and explore how future physicians may use DNA sequencing to inform clinical decision-making. Students examine how variations in a gene influence individuals’ abilities to taste the bitter compound PTC, then compare these tiny differences to those responsible for variations in medication metabolism.

What this looks like in action: Explore topics around health equity and access; engage students in noticing the benefits of having similarities to and differences from their classmates, and how those differences build diversity in the group

Interweaving culture into STEM learning and laying the foundation for a more culturally responsive classroom is an ongoing process. But beginning with some of these small steps can help. To learn more about how science teachers can develop culturally responsive classrooms, check out these additional resources:

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