March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Everybody In! Using Cultural Awareness to Support Diverse Classrooms

Posted: Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

by Emily Schoerning

California science teachers work with some of the most diverse student populations in the country. Finding ways to help students from all sorts of backgrounds achieve in the science classroom can be a real challenge. Learning science often means learning a lot of vocabulary, but it also means learning how to present scientific arguments and utilize the scientific method. By recognizing the intense language and cultural demands of classroom science, we can help to build inclusive environments where diverse students can succeed.

If you work with many students who are English Language Learners, you may have considered that learning the language of science is in some ways like learning another new language. When we also consider cultural differences, we can start to see what a unique environment the science classroom can be for our students. Some cultures do not encourage children to engage in questioning or produce arguments. Other cultures have a lot of anxiety around children making mistakes or experiencing failure.

Not only is the science classroom a place with lots of new words, it is a place where you can argue and it is a place where you are expected to make mistakes. Every scientist knows that not every experiment works out! The resilience involved in going back to the drawing board is as important a scientific skill as learning the vocabulary of scientific communication.

Research suggests that a concept-first approach to science learning, which de-emphasizes vocabulary lists, is useful for many students from all sorts of language backgrounds. By working to explain ideas before introducing new vocabulary words, you may find that your students actually retain new vocabulary more successfully. A concept-first approach to language can help level the playing field for your students regardless of language background, but there is more you can do to increase access for students from varied cultural backgrounds.

When you go back to the classroom this fall, think about the cultural backgrounds of your students and how they compare to the unique culture of the science classroom. This can help you make valuable changes to your teaching practice. What types of backgrounds do your students usually come from? If you can think of ways in which their cultural practices may be different from the science classroom, you can provide targeted support.

For example, many science teachers do not provide students with explicit instruction or practice time in questioning skills. This is because they assume this is a skillset their students bring to the classroom from their home environments. Similarly, many science teachers assume that students are familiar with the question-claim-evidence structure of scientific argument, or that students understand that mistakes and failure are essential elements of the scientific process. By breaking down these processes and concepts for your students, and giving them opportunities to practice with you and with their peers, you can build student confidence and skill regarding these scientific cultural practices. By explicitly discussing these potentially major cultural differences, we can reduce the anxiety our students might feel at finding themselves in a new environment with unfamiliar expectations.

Welcoming students to the unique language and culture of scientific practice is an important part of teaching science in today’s America. By helping them navigate these differences, you can show them that science is for all of us!

Emily Schoerning is the Director of Community Organizing and Research at the National Center for Science Education

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

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CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.