Join the Discussion: Social Justice in the Science Classroom
In this facilitated discussion, we will explore a wide range of specific, documented ways in which teachers effectively incorporate social justice ideas & practices in their science classes. We invite your participation!
Justice in the Science Classroom: Welcome to the discussion!
What a delight it was to connect with so many of you at our panel discussion (recorded here if you missed it!), and what an affirming experience to be in community with our panelists and other education-minded folks thinking about ways that teachers effective leverage social justice ideas and practices in science teaching.
Throughout the next few weeks, we'll be dropping resources and thoughts here, and we'd love to know yours --
I'll start by sharing a resource that was made public just today!
My dear friend (and former classroom teacher) Val Brown and colleagues have just created released a framework for teachers working on anti-oppression teaching. I've spent the last half hour thinking about my own teaching practice and these principles -- not just how I teach about issues of or adjacent to racism, but how I teach about issues of justice at large, and where I might next focus my efforts to grow.
Find more information on the CARE Framework at CARE's website, or skip ahead to just the framework here!
I'll end this first post by letting you know how excited I am to have this space for us to share and learn together. David and I are enthusiastically looking forward to learning more from you and sharing the questions and knowledge we're holding as a community of educators! :) Kirstin
Links to websites or research from the Panelists
The webinar last night was amazing. I'd love to read more from the panelists, but Sam Long is the only who has a website link. Is there anywhere we can go to learn more about the wonderful work from everyone else?
In reply to Links to websites or research from the Panelists by Kimberly Lichtenberger
Kimberly, Thank you for…
Thank you for kind comment and question. There are currently some links listed in the "resource" tab (https://stemtlnet.org/theme/January2022#resources) for this month's theme. Moreover, I believe more links will be added shortly with work from all the panelist.
Sincere thank you
I so appreciated the session the other night. It was invigorating to hear from like-minded colleagues who are inspired to do the hard work of addressing systems that have been broken for so long. I previously taught Biology and Environmental science, and was able to discuss social justice through the lens of environmental justice and inequity in terms of pollution and the impacts of climate change. I now teach chemistry and physics and am working to bring those same ideas into physical science. I live in a conservative district, in a conservative state. I often feel on an island. After this week's session - I am called to move beyond the superficial socioeconomic argument to equity and justice. I fear the backlash for shifting away from what I call "Ivory tower" chemistry to what I feel I should be teaching. This work is important to me, and I feel like I can never do enough. I want each of my students to see a path forward for themselves with scientific habits of mind. Many don't have any interest at all in science - which is fine. I just want them to be able to think scientifically when they leave high school.
In terms of successes - Dr. Milks's field experiences have been life changing. They have helped me build relationships with students, as well as helped the mental well-being of my students. But, to me, this is just a start. I have also convinced my school and colleague to center chemistry instruction around "real world" scenarios. We don't teach things "for the sake of chemistry" any more. I spend a lot of time talking about climate science. I've not been successful in convincing my colleagues that we need to spend significant time teaching about the disproportionate impact of climate change. There is a lot of fear about the way our community will respond to changes like this. For me, it boils down to wanting to be able to build high quality relationships and make an impact on each and every student in my room. I feel like I could be doing so much more to help them understand inequities and in so doing help them better connect to the content in a way that allows them to be agents of change.
I'm sorry - I'm all over the place! I'm excited to be better from this experience. Thanks to all who made it possible!
In reply to Sincere thank you by William Hiatt
Bill, Thank you for…
Thank you for sharing your powerful thoughts. A place to look for ideas about justice-centered chemistry lessons/approaches is in this article by Dr. Daniel Morales-Doyle: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sce.21305
In reply to Sincere thank you by William Hiatt
Links to sample field experiences
Hullo, friend! It is so nice to hear that field experiences have been useful to you and your students! I thought I'd post some examples, as well as a talk I gave about them in case anyone out there would like a more structured introduction.
Field experiences/sit spots do lots of good things in my classroom:
Here's a student-facing intro document that contains a link to my Google Drive folder with lots of ideas!
The talk I gave for the Institute for Citizens and Scholars (formerly the WW Foundation) in summer 2020 has several useful parts:
Find the talk, plus links to slides and resources, etc., at this link!
If you're interested in teaching environmental justice, I've got an amazing resource I'm about to post elsewhere in this discussion...
Thank you and comment
First of all, thank you so much for the conversation and the resources! It was wonderful to hear from so many educators doing such amazing and important work.
Second, I wanted to share a thought that came up for me close to the end of the presentation that puts together things that a couple of the presenters shared. As a biology/genetics teacher, I have found it very powerful to utilize the gender neutral language that Sam Long described. But old habits die hard, and I don't always remember the most appropriate terms in the middle of a class discussion. However, I have found it especially powerful when I make a mistake, and then correct myself in front of students. For example, saying "the mom, I mean the female parent, no, it's most accurate to say the parent with ovaries" naturally prompts student questions about the differences between those terms and why one would be more accurate or appropriate than another. And we all know student generated questions are the most powerful questions to drive learning.
Thanks again, so much for the presentation, and the opportunity to continue to share resources.
In reply to Thank you and comment by Karin Klein
Hi Karin! I love that you…
I love that you shared this important practice of correcting ourselves publicly as we grow and learn. It's an authentic part of scientific argumentation to update our claims, and it's important to model for students that learning involves making mistakes.
Simulations and resources for teaching environmental justice
Quite a few folks wrote on the panel registration survey that they want to learn more about teaching for environmental justice. One of the things I've loved the most about co-designing and co-facilitating a summer climate workshop for teachers is learning about En-ROADS, a climate change solutions simulator that grew out of work at MIT. Their website has lots of lesson plans for different ways of using the simulator, plus free training for teachers and other folks who want to facilitate workshops or just learn more.
Another great data resource for learning about climate solutions in a more descriptive way is Project Drawdown.
Like my friend Jon Darkow has written, running simulations to research climate solutions is a "powerful way for students to see that people (including themselves) can be agents of positive change for environmental resilience."
Please, keep your questions and ideas coming! We'll be continuing to post resources from panelists and participants, and we'd love to hear more from you! :) Kirstin
Thank you and Comment/Question
Thank you all so much for a very informative and engaging panel discussion. The work that you all are doing is so powerful and I am so grateful that folks share the work and resources being used and developed in classrooms. I can't wait to use some work from Sam and Gender Inclusive Biology next week. I want to revisit the idea of pedigrees using my new found knowledge. It has always been on my mind but I have not been sure how to present it. So, thank you Sam.
David - I would love to hear more about your Science/Society class. I developed a seminar course for seniors on Science in Society and we share some similarities. I love exploring the past with students to prepare for the future but I also add in the present. For example, when studying medical inequities we explore the past and then engage with community members to consider the present conditions that are persisting TODAY so they can be leaders of tomorrow. I found the most amazing historical paper about a free dispensary in my neighborhood of KC with data of differing drug amounts delivered to black versus white males. Then we visit an amazing place in the community dedicated to decreasing maternal/infant health inequity among black and brown communities. The current stories and data is eye opening for students. If I back track a minute, the whole exploration started with understanding what sickle cell disease is then we look at funding differences with cystic fibrosis . Somehow this all ties into our conversations/research about race biology (bad science) and how science continues to perpetuate the notion of race (SCD comes to mind). And somewhere in there David, I introduce them to Prodigy and we listen to a short podcast about him and SCD. At this point, they are really thinking I am old if I am listening to Prodigy! Blah, blah, blah.
I too think of "learning in parallel with students" - this is spot on Kirsten and what (I think) happens in my space but I have never had words for it. Thank you again everyone!
In reply to Thank you and Comment/Question by Marjorie MacGregor
Marjie, I truly appreciate…
I truly appreciate your comments. The Science & Social Justice class has been an amazing ride for all of us involved. The students in this class have been so engaged and have created wonderful products. This course was designed to introduce students to the subject of science through philosophical, historical, and practical lenses, and situating that knowledge within the social context. I aimed to promote cross curriculum literacy and provided research, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, and discussion opportunities. The NGSS skills we focused on were: Asking Questions And Defining Problems; Analyzing And Interpreting Data; Engaging In Argument From Evidence; and Obtaining, Evaluating, And Communicating Information. Lastly, there was a focus on "Storytelling" and all of us were engaged in telling stories (rather than presenting information).
Some of the topics/resources we covered included: the demarcation of science (philosophy of science), the Bobo Doll experiment, the Clark Doll experiment, JAMA editorial on race (race and medicine), Our shared future (Smithsonian), identifying the difference between human variation and race, Eugenics history, Racial thought and racist thinking, Why African slaves, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abj7779, Human Geneticists curb the term ‘race’. I am currently working on organizing this information into a concise set of lessons and I hope to have that ready for dissemination by the summer time (this will include a reflective piece on the experiences from the class).
Lastly, I want to learn more about the experiences you described in your comments. And sadly, I'm afraid I don't know who "Prodigy" is in your description. Please teach me.
In reply to Marjie, I truly appreciate… by David Upegui
Prodigy was a well-connected…
Prodigy was a well-connected, beloved rapper who experienced complications of sickle-cell disease! :) K
In reply to Prodigy was a well-connected… by Kirstin Milks
The Realness ...
And this is an amazing podcast about Prodigy. This last episode (Missing You) always chills me https://youtu.be/xp0Gwu4iYiI and is fine to listen to without hearing 1-5.
Where has this week went?! Thank you for those links David. I can't wait to poke around your materials. I know what also comes to mind in my class - a big part of how I start class is the goal of developing our science literacy skills. Many students come to the class with a strong dislike for science. So I take them on a journey of learning to be "consumers" of science rather than "producers." Somehow we look at the greatest challenges that intersect both science and society. And what science content, processes and skills do they need to be participatory members of society. Perhaps a science seminar for non-majors! For example, we study cancer starting with Henrietta Lacks moving through Bob Marley and ending with Chadwick Boseman and colon cancer today. Then, we eat lunch at a Jamaican Restaurant (well, order sodas is more like it).
In reply to The Realness ... by Marjorie MacGregor
Ah, yes! Mobb Deep! That…
Ah, yes! Mobb Deep! That makes so much sense.
Thank you for sharing these ideas! I will be using some of these for the unit we are going to cover this week (cell division).
Navigating Standards within Justice-Oriented Science Classrooms
In response to the prompt:
"Have you designed frameworks, lessons, or other materials that address issues of justice in science or STEM education? Tell us a little about them!"
I have developed a sequence of activities that use NGSS standards that have been assigned to a course I teach, while simultaneously oriented towards surfacing and addressing issues of justice. It starts with a sequence of activities based on chemical reaction rates, and then making this NGSS performance meaningful by connecting to students' interests and identities through exploration of environmental factors that contribute to variation in concentration of one source of pollution (ground-level ozone) across the state. Students access and analyze public community environmental data -- something they can continue to monitor as community members. This then connects with a subsequent sequence of activities -- urban heat island effect/climate change -- in which students explore environmental (e.g. surface type, land use) and social factors (e.g. urban planning and home financing policies) that may contribute to disproportionate impact of climate change on low income and marginalized groups' health. The paired sequence culminates with identification of a variety of actions students/community members can take to mitigate the disproportionate impact.
As I am assigned to support other NGSS "performance expectations", some of which are very specific, I find it challenging to maintain coherence with my vision of a justice-oriented science experience. I realize I can have some activities be justice-oriented, but I feel there is a disconnect when, say, there is a sequence of activities designed to support students' ability to identify several sources of evidence for the Big Bang Theory.
What has been your experience with designing and implementing justice-oriented science activities within standards-based courses?
What strategies have you found helpful as you simultaneously navigate your different course assignments, personal vision/expectations for justice-oriented science classroom, and external (e.g. NGSS, College Board) expectations?
In reply to Navigating Standards within Justice-Oriented Science Classrooms by Susan Meabh Kelly
Navigating external standards can be challenging! Here's what I'm thinking right now - would love to hear from others!
Regarding some of the content where justice tie-ins or themes seem difficult, sometimes it's about context. My students spend just a few moments in the part of the Earth/space unit you're describing learning about Stephen Hawking and disability awareness, for example. In AP Bio, they spend a few minutes thinking about historic Indigenous cultivation of beloved food crops, as well as contemporary issues of food access, before beginning to learn about the macromolecules that food provides (here's a link to a lesson I designed that does this!).
Where is physics important? Mechanics matters when you are building safely banked roads for communities, or when you are trying not to poison nearby fields with too much salt as you fight the decreased friction coefficient of icy streets. And knowledge of electricity and magnetism is what creates our foundation for wind turbines!
I agree it's not perfect. But if students get a little hit of justice-oriented pedagogy adjacent to their performance standard every class, that's (in my case) about 120 times they've had a nudge -- and that's pretty good!
Again, I'd love to hear from other folks - how do you navigate so-called "external" standards? :) Kirstin
Resources to tackle issues of oppressions
From the intro blog to webinar panel and all the resources provided, all I can say is whew and thanks! There’s enough quality professional learning here for months! I’ll be hanging out with the (W)HOLISTIC SCIENCE PEDAGOGY resources for a bit which ties in nicely with social justice standards.
One way I’ve been learning about social justice teaching has been though the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. During 2021 environmental justice workshop, we learned about hog farming, cancer alley, and Flint water crisis. Participants were shown how to use EPA enviro atlas and Eco-Health Relationship browser.
Lessons I’ve designed to address social justice involves helping students read and comprehend complex text using inquiry charts. The Case For Multiple Texts is online ASCD article and Building Background Knowledge Through Reading: Rethinking Text Sets by Sara Lupo are good places to learn more. I also have a pinned Twitter thread, a compilation of Michigan disciplinary literacy professional learning (@GELN and @wandabryant :)
Watching Sidney Poitier describe how learning to read was pivotal in his career, brought tears to my eyes and explains why I will always strongly advocate for better reading instruction in science. Reading is FUNDAMENTAL! Reading is ABOLITION!
Building relationships to share these ideas
I just had the opportunity to watch the recording, and I want to thank each of the panelists for their thoughtful contributions and resources. There is a lot to process and many valuable resources to examine! As the webinar prompts reflection of my own practices in the classroom, I realize there is a lot to learn and integrate into my own teaching.
As the department chair in my k-8 building I am thinking of how to expand this conversation. I am wondering if anyone can share some strategies that have been helpful to begin these conversations with colleagues? How can I build relationships with new and veteran teachers so that we can begin to discuss our own practices, learn from each other, and identify opportunities to strengthen social justice in the various science classrooms?
Any recommendations on where/how to start would be appreciated. I also wonder how frequently do you circle back to these conversations?
In reply to Building relationships to share these ideas by Katheryn Kennedy
Response to Kathy Kennedy's Request for Recommendations. . . .
As a semi-retired science educator who has co-directed a (CA) state-wide science/equity project and has been conducting state (CASE) and national (NSTA) STEM/equity workshops for over two decades, I understand and appreciate your request for recommendations on where/how to start equity-related conversations/discussions with your colleagues. So here are some potential "starting points," based upon my experiences:
• Identify and reach out to potential allies. Doing equity-related work, even if only with students in your own classroom, is hard. So identify, and then approach, potential allies, whether they are members of your school staff, other teachers in your district, or even friends or associates in other endeavors. This is good place to start, because you can "experiment" by discussing some important topics among yourselves. If they are staff members, perhaps they would be interested in joining you in forming a school "equity leadership" group that can then start formulating plans on how to begin working with the entire school staff.
• Obtain a copy of Courageous Conversation About Race, by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton (Corwin Press, 2016). This book has specific strategies for initiating those difficult conversations, as well as specific suggestions for working with educators. We've incorporated some of their ideas into our workshops.
Hope that any of these suggestions are helpful. Do feel free to email me directly at email@example.com. Take care. Gary N.
In reply to Response to Kathy Kennedy's Request for Recommendations. . . . by Gary Nakagiri
Gary, Thank you for the…
Thank you for the suggestions on approach and resources. I have ordered the book, and look forward to learning more.
The Underrepresentation Curriculum Project
Hi everyone - so great to see these conversations today, as we celebrate a leader whose teachings remain some of the most important around these issues.
I wanted to add a link to a resource mentioned in our breakout room: The Underrepresented Curriculum Project.
The Underrepresentation Curriculum is a free, flexible curriculum for STEM instructors to teach about injustice and change the culture of STEM by using the tools of science to investigate data on representation in STEM fields. The project has been supported by a grant for Learning for Justice and the American Association of Physics Teachers, and several folks I know have found it a valuable resource in their settings.
Keep it coming - we're loving learning from you!
Racial Justice Action Week - Genetics Lesson
My district just completed our second annual Racial Justice Action Week. Our science teachers in grades where students are learning about genetics (8th and Biology). They used materials available from the Fred Hutch institute, which you can access here: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/about/education-outreach/science-education-partnership/sep-curriculum.html
I had the privilege to teach a lesson with a group of 8th graders (my primary responsibility is supervisory, so I don't get to teach as often as I would like). We did lesson 6 (I think), where students where able to explore and figure out that there is not a genetic basis for race. Students were very engaged and got some great ideas and discussion from it. Huge shout out to the team at Fred Hutch for creating these lessons. Some of our Biology classes are also piloting the entire unit this year.
Our district is working hard to be an antiracist school district that is welcoming and inclusive for all. We always are seeking educators who are interested in this work joining our team. Let me know if you might be interested in joining our community. (Hartford, CT area)
Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom
Today, I'm excited to share a book suggested by someone in our breakout room (Yvonne?) -- a reconnection to the counter-movement of refuting scientific racism in our nation in the 1800s.
FUGITIVE SCIENCE: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture!
From the publisher's description:
Traversing the archives of early African American literature, performance, and visual culture, Britt Rusert uncovers the dynamic experiments of a group of black writers, artists, and performers. Fugitive Science chronicles a little-known story about race and science in America. While the history of scientific racism in the nineteenth century has been well-documented, there was also a counter-movement of African Americans who worked to refute its claims.
Far from rejecting science, these figures were careful readers of antebellum science who linked diverse fields—from astronomy to physiology—to both on-the-ground activism and more speculative forms of knowledge creation. Routinely excluded from institutions of scientific learning and training, they transformed cultural spaces like the page, the stage, the parlor, and even the pulpit into laboratories of knowledge and experimentation. From the recovery of neglected figures like Robert Benjamin Lewis, Hosea Easton, and Sarah Mapps Douglass, to new accounts of Martin Delany, Henry Box Brown, and Frederick Douglass, Fugitive Science makes natural science central to how we understand the origins and development of African American literature and culture.
I'm excited to read this book soon.
We still have time for you to share your ideas, resources, and questions! I hope you'll join this conversation if you haven't yet. :) Kirstin
Science in the City ...
Love the work being done by Bryan Brown out of Stanford. I highly recommend the book Science in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education.
They also have some great lessons including one on redlining, urban heat islands and climate change https://scienceinthecity.stanford.edu/resources/redlining-urban-heat-a-lesson-in-climate-change/
In reply to Science in the City ... by Marjorie MacGregor
Yes! I got to read an early…
Yes! I got to read an early version of that book!! A great resource!
Panelist spotlight: Salina Gray
Hi, everyone! As we enter the last days of this open discussion, I want to thank everyone for the resources, conversation, and solidarity you've shared. What a difference it makes to know that, as science educators, we are not alone in working on orienting our teaching to issues of social significance.
Today, I'd like to spotlight the work of our panelist Salina Gray. Salina received her doctorate from Stanford University in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education. Her work focuses on social justice in science education. Salina currently teaches 7th and 8th grade science in the Moreno Valley Unified School District and serves as a member of the California Teachers Association’s Human Rights Cadre.
If you're interested in learning more about Salina's wonderful work, here are some places to start:
Stay tuned for spotlights on our other panelists! :) Kirstin
Science Educators for Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice
Related to this discussion and theme, there is a relatively inexpensive virtual science conference this weekend that has been organized by a new network Science Educators for Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice:
In reply to Science Educators for Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice by Susan Meabh Kelly
This looks EXCELLENT! Thank…
This looks EXCELLENT! Thank you for sharing, Susan! :) Kirstin
Panelist spotlight: Sam Long
Today's panelist spotlight is Sam Long (he/him), a Chinese-American-Canadian transgender man and high school science teacher. Sam is a cofounder of GenderInclusiveBiology.com and the Colorado Transgender Educators Network. Sam teaches at Denver South High School in Denver, Colorado.
If you'd like an overview of Sam's beautiful work, here are some starting resources:
Stay tuned for info about Upegui and me -- coming soon! :) Kirstin
Panelist spotlight: David Upegui
Hello, everyone! Today's panelist spotlight is David Upegui (he/him), a Latino immigrant who found his way out of poverty through science. Upegui currently serves as a science teacher at his alma mater (Central Falls High School in Rhode Island) and as an adjunct professor of education. Upegui started, and runs, his school's Science Olympiad team and has contributed to several publications on science education and appropriate pedagogy. He recently completed his doctoral degree in education at the University of Rhode Island, focusing on science education and social justice.
These past few weeks of facilitating this Theme of the Month have been a delight for me. Some reminders about materials and resources:
Last but not least, I'll be posting some resources from my own teaching tomorrow! :) Kirstin
Panelist spotlight: Kirstin Milks
Hello, friends! What a wonderful few weeks it's been facilitating our discussion and the webinar. Thanks so much to everyone who attended, as well as those who have contributed here. I'm so thankful to have been in community with you all!
Our last panelist spotlight is me - Kirstin Milks. I love creating innovative, collaborative, science- and justice-oriented learning experiences for children and adults. I generate wisdom and co-design curriculum with high schoolers in Bloomington, Indiana and collaborate with educators across the country on efforts to engineer world-changing learning opportunities for students and teachers.
I'm so grateful to STEMTLnet for this opportunity and for continuing to support STEM teachers through their Themes of the Month. I hope you've had an opportunity to sign up for STEMTLnet, and I hope to get to learn with many of you in a future program.
Signing off for now,
:) Kirstin Milks
The purpose of education = Justice
As I consider the power we have as educators, I am reminded of Freire's quote, "There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom." What we do in our classrooms matters and aside from being instruments for content-delivery we can become comprehensive nurturers of the next generation. Given the grave socio-culture and environmental problems our students will inherit, it is our responsibility to empower them with the tools for improving the world--and there are no better tools then the tools of science! As a democratic endeavor, science values empirical data/evidence more than anything else. This fact, allows our students to see that science progress needs their voices and perspectives (especially if voices like theirs have been historically left out).
Science and science education is not divorced from society and therefore cannot be treated as a sterile and value-free exploration and manipulation of our natural world. Instead, we have a duty to teach young minds about the uncomfortable truths (past and present) so they can create a more sustainable future.
This month's topic and discussion has been a reminder that many of us already appreciate the values of science education that empowers our students. I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate and learn with this amazing community. Freire was right when he wrote, "What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves."