Monday, June 27, 2016

Critical Race Theory

The most controversial, but most important element of achievement and race is Critical Race Theory (CRT). Critical race theory is a way of understanding race relations in the United States. This intellectual movement began in the 1970’s when civil rights lawmakers felt that the 1960’s movement was beginning to slow. CRT scholars analyzed how the legal system influenced this slow pace of racial reform. Primarily, “CRT scholars redefined racism as not the acts of individuals, but the larger, systemic, structural conventions and customs that uphold and sustain oppressive group relationships, status, income, and educational attainment” (Taylor, 2006).

Although this intellectual and political paradigm is multifaceted and complex, it has four basic tenets. First, Racism has a historical context so deeply ingrained, that it is a normal part of American society. The history of the opportunity gap in the United States is often viewed concurrently with the history of the United States. Racial inequalities have been present since the founding of our nation; however, depending on one’s perspective, these divisions may be difficult to see. Conversations about race and achievement often leave out a historical context in favor of discussing other explanations (poverty, community support, educational values). Race is an uncomfortable topic to discuss for many. It is not surprising, then, that an alarmingly high number of students do not know basic African-American history beyond that of slavery.

Next, narratives are used as a form of racial storytelling to deepen one’s understanding of race. Being exposed to multiple and varying perspectives is a powerful experience. “Critical Race Theory scholarship uses narrative—what it calls racial reality—to make visible the distinctive experiences of people of color” (Taylor, 2006). When looking at these racial realities, STEM inequity is made clear. Racial autobiographies are essential if one is to understand how skin color is related to how one is treated in our society.

Interest convergence: the majority racial group will only encourage racial equality for the minority group when it is in the best interest of the majority social group. The current demographics in any STEM program within public education or in STEM careers, indicates that hegemony is the status quo. White and Asian males dominate these fields (Change the Equation, 2015). Although we have officially desegregated schools with Brown v. Board of Education, there are still a high percentage of schools segregated, especially when looking at school programs (e.g.: Advanced Placement, SPED, and STEM). Unfortunately, the “best” education is not always one offered from a racially diverse school. This holds true for traditionally African-American schools as well.

Finally, racism is a permanent aspect of society. Although there have been amazing gains since the civil rights movement, racism has moved from a public event to a systemic (sometimes even subversive) act. Many feel that racism ended with Brown v. Board of Education, but the unseen (or ignored) is oftentimes the most damaging.

Most relevant to this dissertation is how discussing race, specifically within the context to STEM curricula and teachers’ expectations for students of color, can have detrimental effects on a faculty’s cohesiveness. Pacific Educational Group, which partners with educational organizations to “transform beliefs, behaviors, and results” (Pacific Educational Group, 2015) refer to these conversations as “Courageous Conversations” and encourages discussion about race and achievement (using a specified protocol) to come before any culturally responsive pedagogy (Singleton & Linton, 2006). However, many times these conversations lead to unintended implications of racism on the part of individual teachers. Litowitz (1997) mentions “critics also worry that CRT’s emphasis on racism promotes ‘balkanization’ and racial divisiveness.” Teachers recognize the need to differentiate instruction for individual students’ needs; however, once the topic of race is added, people shy away from recognizing that students of different colors learn differently (Cokley, 2003) and are capable of learning 21st century skills such as: (a) critical thinking; (b) collaboration; (c) communication; (d) creativity and innovation; (e) self-direction; (f) making global connections; (g) making local connections; and (h) using technology as a tool for learning. This indicates, and research literature supports, a lack of racial consciousness in STEM classrooms.

Monday, June 20, 2016

STEM Identities

Research indicates that very few students view themselves as STEM learners when investigating a question or problem in their community. Whereas previous research indicates a lack of diversity in STEM education and careers and specific schools structures that support successful STEM integration, there is a greater need to research what elementary school structures support students of color in STEM curricular areas. When researching mathematics education in working class Latina/o communities, Marta Civil (2014) feels that her interests in learning as a cultural process, and in particular the concept of funds of knowledge, can be extended to STEM learning. For example, Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma Gonzalez (2005, p. 72) explain “we use the term funds of knowledge to refer to these historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being.” By placing STEM education under a sociocultural lens, Civil (2014) sees connections between making connections to mathematics in the real world and STEM. STEM learning must be connected to the real world. At its heart, the engineering-design process lays a lifelong framework of the continual process of improvement by connecting the principles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She goes on to say that “we need to understand better the role of valorization of knowledge particularly as it applies to everyday practices versus practices in STEM disciplines” (Civil, 2014, p. 15). All students, especially marginalized students, need to see themselves as learners. Research supports that when students bridge out-of-school concepts with in-school content, they make “robust, authentic connections” in this third space (Gutierrez, et al. 1999). Researchers agree on the need to reform traditional ideologies of a rigorous education to one of STEM-foundational thinking. However, STEM education reform at the elementary school level, is missing from current educational research.

STEM Education Reform

According to Bybee (2013), STEM education reform differs from other educational reforms due to four STEM themes: (a) addresses global challenges that citizens must understand allowing for (b) changing perceptions of environmental and associated problems; (c) recognizing the importance and need for 21st century workforce skills; and addressing (d) the continuing issues of national security (p. 33). However, what good is a STEM education, if we, as a society, cannot provide equal access and opportunity to marginalized students of color? “Dually disadvantaged” people (both underrepresented minorities who are also poor, working poor, or working class) “collectively comprise the largest group left out of the expanding roster of people working in or training for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” (Bozeman & Gaughan, 2015, p. 27).

Underrepresented minority groups (URM) face a myriad of systemic barriers to accessing a highly rigorous education. For example, when just looking at socioeconomic status, in 2013, “one if five children lived below the poverty line. Fewer than 10% of White and Asian children lived below the poverty level. 38% of Black children and 30% of Hispanic children lived in poverty” (Bozeman & Gaughan, 2015, p. 30). Poverty matters. As Bozeman & Gaughan (2015) ask, “How, exactly, is the nation supposed to produce scientists from hungry children who cannot read when they get to school, and who then attend a failing school with other hungry children living in dangerous places” (p. 30)?

Obviously, it is a rhetorical question. Even more obvious is the fact that “STEM-related education should be accessible for everyone” (Findley, 2014, p. 19). Unfortunately, marginalized groups are underrepresented in STEM-related fields and STEM curricular courses in school. In the next twenty years, STEM-related jobs will increase faster than any other field. In fact, “between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs will grow by 17%, as compared to 12% for non-STEM jobs” (Rosen, 2015). African Americans’ and Latinos’ populations have grown substantially, but they are less likely to pursue a career in engineering, computer science, or advanced manufacturing than in 2001.
Research abounds surrounding the critical race theory, growth versus fixed mindsets, and stereotype threat. However, very little has been done to synthesize neuroscience and educational research with race and STEM education. With multiple attempts and failures at education reform, STEM education provides the first real opportunity for sustained culturally responsive, educational reform. Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz (2015) call this a “STEM shift” which “encourages, reimagining schools, from Kindergarten through the 12th grade, including the way curriculum is designed, organized, and delivered” (p. 8). Their call to action is deeper than a stronger focus in the individual STEM content areas (e.g.: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They call for an “entire systemic shift in how learning happens” (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015, p. 8). STEM educational reform is about “the learning process of inquiry, imagination, questioning, problem-solving, creativity, invention, and collaboration” (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015, p. 8).

Monday, June 13, 2016

Design Principles to Guide the Development of Equitable STEM Education

 Draw on values and practices from multiple settings. Instead of focusing research on obtaining specific goals for a single learning environment, STEM-education research should “require a more diverse set of perspectives for articulating learning goals, identify potential challenges to meeting those goals, and identify and leveraging resources that can overcome those challenges” (Penuel & Fishman, 2012, p. 6). It is not fruitful to assume that structures for STEM-foundational thinking in one learning environment will easily transfer to another school. One must take into considerations the differences in the organization of practices and values before importing new practices to another setting.

Co-design in initiatives focused on promoting learning across settings. This requires the perspectives and voices of multiple stakeholders. Any initiative, including STEM education, should be a collaborative effort that strives to create lasting partnerships for all members involved. In structuring these partnerships, “it is important not only to consider what stakeholder groups need to be involved, but also the history of communities and the relations among different stakeholder groups” (Penuel & Fishman, 2012, p. 8). Without taking these into account, any change initiative will not be sustainable.

Engage participants in building artifacts that facilitate meaning across contexts. STEM-foundational thinking and access to that learning requires strategies that learning across educational settings, and into the real world. Penuel et al. (2014) discusses the use of “Transmedia storytelling” to engage learners in “creating a single story or story experience across different media” (p. 8). Students are active members of creating these stories that then translate to lessons in questioning, observations, and constructing claims, evidence, and reasoning for real-world scenarios.

 Help youth identify with the learning enterprise. Penuel et al. (2014) discuss the importance of identifying and integrating students’ cultural practices into deep learning experiences. This is how students co-create their STEM identities that do not conflict with their cultural identities. A STEM identity “develops as people transform their participation in culturally valued activities and come to imagine new possible futures for themselves and others” (Penuel & Fishman, 2012, p. 9). Students need multiple opportunities to develop their STEM identities while solving authentic problems.

Use intentional brokering to facilitate movement across settings. STEM-foundational thinking does not solely live in the classroom. Students take themes and content knowledge from STEM instructional activities and use them in other settings, mainly outside of the classroom. This type of brokering “facilitates a form of learning that comes about form expanding personal networks” (Penuel & Fishman, 2012, p. 11). Students can then become active members of their communities because they have developed social networks of others who have knowledge, skills, or resources needed to solve authentic problems.

Research literature on systemic change states that any lasting initiative is more likely to occur and be successful through an emphasis on multiple co-designed capacities because “the focus is on developing and testing innovations that can improve the quality and equity of supports for implementation of [STEM] reforms” (Penuel & Fishman, 2012, p. 282). Unfortunately, there is a lack of STEM self-identity for students of color at the elementary level.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)

STEM learning aims to “foster connections among people, settings, and practices” (Penuel, Lee, & Bevan, 2014, p. 2). In fact, fostering diversity in STEM education promotes equity by (a) expanding access to STEM learning opportunities; (b) brokering continuing opportunities for participation in STEM learning opportunities; and (c) helping young people appropriate STEM practices to address issues they feel matter to their personal lives or communities (Penuel, Lee, & Bevan, 2014, p. 1). This includes leveraging minoritized students’ background knowledge or schema from a classroom setting to outside the classroom, or from one context outside of a classroom to another, different context. Therefore, in order to promote equity in STEM, requires attention to providing young people access to powerful settings for learning; supporting them to make connections and take up opportunities across settings, and attending to how access to disciplinary practices is shaped by what goes on in particular learning environments” (Hand, Penuel, & Gutierrez, 2012, p. 255). Penuel and colleagues (2014) synthesized current equitable STEM learning and identified characteristics for effectively supporting access to STEM learning across educational settings (i.e. formal and informal learning environments). Greater equity in K-12 STEM education requires: (a) expanding access for students of color to learning opportunities (e.g. Bevan et al., 2013; National Research Council, 2012), (b) brokering STEM learning across practices (i.e. disciplinary, cultural; see Bell et al., 2013) as well as across informal settings (e.g.: school, home, community; see Gonz├ílez, Moll, & Amanti, 2013), and (c) supporting students of color in connecting STEM education content to their own interests, communities, and cultures (e.g. Civil, 2014). Penuel et al. (2014) recommends five design principles to guide the development of equitable STEM education: (a) draw on values and practices from multiple settings to articulate learning goals and identify resources to meet those learning goals; (b) structure partnerships to encompass multiple stakeholder groups as a way of supporting co-design of initiatives focused on promoting learning across settings; (c) engage participants [students of color] in building stories, imaginative worlds, and artifacts that span contexts and that facilitate meaning making across contexts; (d) help youth [students of color] identify with learning enterprise by supporting and naming them as contributors to authentic endeavors; and (e) use intentional brokering to facilitate movement across settings, preparing both educators and parents to be brokers.