EQUITY & Social justice
Centering equity and social justice as a central aim of science education is crucial for creating a truly equitable and inclusive learning environment. The pursuit of equity and social justice in science classrooms requires ensuring access to high quality and meaningful opportunities to learn and identify with science and acknowledging and addressing the historical and systemic injustices that have marginalized certain groups in science. Creating high quality and meaningful opportunities to learn can be facilitated through curriculum design efforts that anchor learning around phenomena and societal issues or problems that are relevant to students and connect to their interests, communities, and worlds. Acknowledging and addressing historical and systemic injustices can and should include examining how science has been used to perpetuate discrimination and oppression, and teaching students about the ways in which science can be used to promote justice and equity. In addition, justice requires centering the experiences and perspectives of marginalized groups in the curriculum, and empowering students to critically interrogate and challenge biases and inequalities in science. By prioritizing justice and equity in science education, we can help ensure that all students have the opportunity to engage in science on equal footing, and that science is used in ways that promote the well-being and thriving of all individuals and communities, rather than perpetuating systemic injustices to benefit a few communities while harming and disadvantaging other communities.
In the MBI template, we provide a structured way to engage in centering equity and social justice in your unit by reflecting on the approaches we use to think about what and why we are doing something. To accomplish this, we recognize that different equity approaches exist in relation to science teaching and learning and that engaging in different approaches at different times is essential for supporting students in navigating the existing educational system and society, while also supporting students to be part of creating a more equitable and just futures. To do this within MBI, we draw on equity approaches.
Equity Approaches: In the recent report Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades by the National Academic Press (NASEM, 2022, p. 24), the authors describe a spectrum of four different equity approaches that have and can be used to accomplish different equity aims for science education. They are:
Approach #1: Increasing opportunity and access to high-quality science and engineering learning and instruction (e.g., work to increase opportunities for children of color to engage with science and engineering).
Approach #2: Emphasizing increased achievement, representation, and identification with science and engineering (e.g., encourage children to tie their cultural and linguistic backgrounds to science and engineering concepts).
Approach #3: Expanding what constitutes science and engineering (e.g., recognize and build on the values and ways of knowing and being of their children and their communities, and integrate them into their teaching).
Approach #4: Seeing science and engineering as part of justice movements (e.g., learn about the connections among a science phenomenon or engineering design, local or global instances of the phenomenon or design, and implications for communities).
By naming the Equity Approaches in the units we create, we can design for more equitable and inclusive science units and instruction that prepares students to be active and engaged citizens in a diverse world.
Finally, like acknowledged by others, we recognize that Approaches #1-2 are more often found in curriculum designed for the Framework and Next Generation Science Standards. We appreciate how these discourses support students opportunities to learn and in finding intersections between their interests, identities, and the disciplines of science. This is important, since this can support students to find success and identify with science. However, as researchers like Philip and Azevedo (2017) note, it is within Approaches #3-4 that educational systems and society that have proven oppressive and exclusionary will be interrogated, troubled, and changed. Given this, we also want to be sure we are working to center these particular Equity Discourses as part of our curriculum design and instruction. In connection to Approach #3, this might mean us as teachers working to develop our 'interpretive power' (Rosebery et al., 2015) of the diverse ways in which students, communities, and cultures orient to and make sense of the world. In connection to Approach #4, we believe that students and society will benefit if we can identify at least one or two units throughout the year where Approach #4 can be elevated as a central aim of instructional units, so that students see science as part of social justice movements that support their dreaming of and involvement in creating more just and thriving futures.
Rosebery, A. S., Warren, B., & Tucker-Raymond, E. (2016). Developing interpretive power in science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(10), 1571-1600. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21267.
Examples Of Equity Approach #1
The following, excerpted from Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades (National Academic Press, 2022), provides examples of distinguishing features of high-quality science and engineering learning and instruction for Approach #1. Each of these is followed [in brackets] by an explanation of how these features are central to MBI unit design and implementation:
Learning activities are oriented to investigations and design in meaningful contexts, phenomena, and design challenges [the central aim of all MBI units is to explain a scientifically rich, complex anchoring phenomenon (e.g., What is causing pteropod shells to become damaged more on the West Coast of the United States than on the East Coast?) or solve problems of consequence (e.g., Why are cases of Lyme disease increasing in the US and being experienced differently among some racial and ethnic groups and what can be done about it?)]
Students refine their explanations and designs over time to support revisions and thinking in response to new evidence and ideas [In MBI, students initial ideas about a phenomenon are elicited as students develop initial models. These models are refined as students negotiate ideas and evidence through the tasks included in the unit. As students develop or refine their ideas and collect evidence, model revisions are made mid-unit and at the end of the unit when they construct final evidence-based explanations].
Students learn together as they negotiate meaning through asking questions, proposing mechanisms for answering questions, and co-constructing explanations [In MBI, students iteratively construct, share, and critique group models across the arc of a unit, engage in consensus building discussions around final models, and establish the credibility of their evidence-based explanations as they are supported through peer review].
Examples Of Equity Approach #2
The following, excerpted from Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades (National Academic Press, 2022), provides examples of how increased achievement, representation, and identification with science and engineering can be accomplished in science classrooms as part of Approach #2. Each of these is followed [in brackets] by an explanation of how these are accomplished in MBI unit design and implementation:
Teachers create safe environments where student diverse ideas and experiences are elicited, valued and recognized as important by others and crucial for for accomplishing classroom pursuits (e.g., explaining phenomena or solving problems) [In MBI, students identification with science is strengthened as students are supported to use their initial ideas as well as ideas they are learning to help the whole class explain scientifically rich, complex anchoring phenomena. Through negotiating ideas with peers as part of iterative model development and refinement across an MBI unit, students are afforded multiple opportunities to recognize and be recognized for the contributions they make in helping the class accomplish their aim of explaining the unit anchoring phenomenon].
Students are given opportunities to decide how to represent a phenomenon, to determine what questions still need to be answered, and what can be used as evidence in the development of their explanations [In MBI, because students are asked to create models that represent their ideas about how something happens in the world, they are afforded latitude and space for making decisions about how to represent their thinking, as well as opportunities to decide what parts of their representations are most uncertain and need more attention].
Examples Of Equity Approach #3
The following are examples of how teachers can create and support the identification of more expansive versions of what constitutes science and engineering in classrooms. Each of these is followed [in brackets] by an explanation of how these are accomplished in MBI unit design and implementation:
Examples Of Equity Approach #4
The following examples were created by students at Northern Arizona University. They are locally relevant examples of Approach #4 (i.e., Seeing science and engineering as part of justice movements).
MS-ESS3: Human Impacts on Earth Systems - Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun's heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. In our city of Phoenix this phenomena is perhaps of even greater importance as temperatures in the summer often rise well above 100 degrees. These high temperatures can quickly cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, or even death. Driving question: Why are there heat islands in the Phoenix area, who are most affected by them, and what can be done about it?
HS-LS3-1: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits - The incidence and severity of COVID-19 infections have been disproportionately high in Native American populations. Native Americans are a high-risk group for COVID-19 because of a variety of healthcare disparities. Deaths from H1N1 infections were higher in Native Americans and most cases and deaths from the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) occurred in Native Americans. Other infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis A and hepatitis C are more common. Diabetes, alcoholism and cardiovascular diseases, all risk factors for severity and mortality in COVID-19 infection. Driving question: How do genetics, environmental, and social factors make Native Americans a high-risk group during a pandemic and vulnerability especially during COVID-19 pandemic, and what actions might be taken to mitigate harm causes by historical social injustice experienced by Native Americans?
5-ESS2: Earth's Systems - During the winter months, the air quality in southwest Phoenix (the community I live and teach in) is worse than other wealthier communities in the northeast. Southwest Phoenix has a diverse, lower income population as well industrial businesses. Houses are more dense here than other areas of the city. In the winter, many homes burn wood to heat their homes, people burn trash, and fireworks are common. Additionally, pollution from transportation, industry, and forest fires contribute to the poor air quality.Warm air rises, so in the hot months the air along with much of the pollution rises above the city into the atmosphere. In the winter the weather is cooler. Cool air stays close to the ground and does not mix with the atmosphere, trapping the pollution in the Valley. You can see a yellow-brown haze over the city. Local winds also contribute to more air pollution in the southwest Valley. This area is lower in elevation than the rest of the Valley and the cool polluted air settles here. Driving questions: Why does Laveen have worse air quality in the winter months than other areas of Phoenix? How does air pollution disproportionately negatively affect the residents of Laveen and how can we decrease the impact of air pollution in our community?