Science educators who attempt to enhance their classrooms with technology, but fail to empower students through culturally responsive teaching (CRT), will find student engagement to be only screen deep. That is to say, technology alone may increase student engagement, but only superficially. Students must be able to see the relevance and value of science and engineering practices in their own lives if they are to invest intellectually.
The “character profile” of CRT, as described by Gay (2018), is validating, comprehensive and inclusive, multidimensional, empowering, transformative, emancipatory, humanistic, normative and ethical (p. 36-45). If technology-enhanced science teaching is to be effective, it ought to share all of these characteristics.
In Brown’s (2017) metasynthesis study, we can find many examples of complementarity between Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practices and CRT. Here, using Brown’s study as a guide, I offer ideas about how technology might be used to facilitate culturally responsive science education.
ISTE standard for educators 1: Learner calls on educators to “continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning.” As teachers, our most insightful and effective collaborators are our students. We should be continually integrating what students know and want to know into our instruction.
Part 1c of the Learner standard asserts that we should stay current with research that supports improved learning outcomes. In turn, the research suggests that, in order to improve learning outcomes, we should stay current with our students through culturally responsive science instruction. Brown (2017) cites several studies showing “the benefits of culturally responsive science instruction for students of color, such as, positive science identities, scientific literacy, and content knowledge” (p. 1144). Students can take ownership of the science learning process if they feel included and supported.
For students, science should not feel like an unsolvable mystery or an exclusive club. Science should feel like a new way of thinking and a useful set of tools that empowers students. Similarly, when enhancing science classrooms with technology, the technology should not feel like something the students the students need to fit into. The technology should be something tailored for each student, that fits them like a glove, grants them access to new learning experiences and empowers them to take on new challenges.
Empowerment within the classroom should lead to empowerment outside of it as well. When students feel that they are capable to tackle real world problems in school, they will be better prepared to face them outside of school. Brown (2017) argues, “Engaging students in examining community-based issues and injustice in light of available evidence while working toward the most credible explanations is necessary to develop not only critical thinking skills but also critical consciousness” (p. 1166).
Brown analyzed 52 studies including case studies, surveys and experiments involving science instruction in levels K-12, and coded for instances of inquiry-based science instruction in conjunction with CRT, or instances of complementarity. These instances provide a snapshot of areas in science education that may be most (and least) likely to hold culturally relevance for students, examples of culturally responsive science instruction and starting points for progress.
Taken all together, Brown’s data shows that much complementarity exists between NGSS science and engineering practices and CRT. In order to code for CRT in the study, Brown used the Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (CRIOP) (Powell et al., 2012), a protocol that operationalizes CRT over seven pillars.
The table below (Table 1) (Brown, 2017, p. 1152) describes each CRIOP Pillar:
Table 1, descriptions of each CRIOP Pillar (as cited in Brown, 2017, p. 1152).
The graphic below (Fig. 1) shows all instances of complementarity coded in Brown’s study, represented by lines connecting the NGSS Practices to each CRIOP Pillar. The weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity and dashed lines represent situations where no complementarity was found. In this view, we can see that the CRIOP Pillar “Pedagogy / Instruction” showed the most complementarity across NGSS Practices and Assessment “Assessment” showed the least.
Fig. 1, all instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) between NGSS Practices and CRIOP Pillars (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).
A CRIOP Pillar that showed low complementary with NGSS Practices across the board was Assessment (as denoted by thin and dashed yellow lines in Fig. 1). Luckily, assessment is one of the areas with the most potential for technological enhancement. Online assessment tools can help to differentiate assessments for students, and digital tools can offer students more ways to demonstrate knowledge.
If we isolate two of the NGSS practices, we can analyze the data more precisely and determine whether technology may be able to facilitate CRT in certain areas of science instruction.
Brown (2017) reports that Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information was the NGSS Practice most often intersected with clear, observatble CRT practices (please see Fig. 2 below). “In such instances, there was evidence of meaningful learning opportunities that drew directly upon students’ experiences where students were encouraged to pose questions, investigate answers to those questions, and develop scientific literacy through activities” (p. 1157). Here, technologies like a classroom discussion board and a research database can help to field questions and provide resources for research.
Fig. 2, instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) for NGSS Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).
One example in Brown’s (2017) analysis was a lesson where students helped each other compare fast food restaurants using data tables including nutrition facts from different menus. The classroom environment reflected a “collectivist orientation, where students were accountable for one another’s success,” which reflects the CRIOP Pillars Classroom Relationships, Pedagogy / Instruction and Sociopolitical Consciousness. Students were willing and able to help one another, the lesson built on students’ existing cultural knowledge, and raised sociopolitical issues such as inequitable access to dietary options and food security (p. 1159).
In order to construct learning environments and plan lessons that are culturally responsive, teachers need to meet their students where they are – to know their students and where they come from. This knowledge is most likely to come from positive face-to-face interactions with students and families, and may be facilitated with technologies like survey tools (e.g., online forms) and data analysis tools (e.g., spreadsheets and graphs).
Fig 3, instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) for NGSS Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).
The NGSS Practice least frequently encountered alongside a CRIOP Pillar was Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, which points to an area of improvement. Brown (2017) points out an example of a math activity that included data from student food logs, which may be problematic in that they require students to share and compare what they eat each day, but connects math to students’ everyday lives and makes it relevant to them. In a previous post, I detailed how student agency and choice has been built into computational thinking (CT) activities.
We have examples of NGSS Practices being taught alongside CRIOP Pillars, leading to valuable learning opportunities for students. Moving forward, educators can use the framework provided by the CRIOP Pillars to help guide planning and create more culturally responsive, technology enhanced science classrooms.
Brown, J. C. (2017). A metasynthesis of the complementarity of culturally responsive and inquiry-based science education in K-12 settings: Implications for advancing equitable science teaching and learning. Journal Of Research In Science Teaching, 54(9), 1143-1173. doi:10.1002/tea.21401
Gay,G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). NewYork,NY: Teachers College Press.
Powell, R., Cantrell, S., Gallardo Carter, Y., Cox, A., Powers, S., Rightmyer, E. C., . . . Wheeler, T. (2012). Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (revised). Lexington, KY: Collaborative Center for LiteracyDevelopment.