In I-Engineering, we have worked collaboratively with teachers and students using participatory design research methods to co-develop and implement energy engineering for sustainable community tools and materials in their classrooms. In this video, we discuss how teachers and students implemented one of our units (“How can I make my classroom more sustainable?”). In the unit, they integrated community ethnography into the engineering design process as a way to engage with community perspectives. Using what they learned about engineering practices and the DCIs of energy transformations, sources and systems, students were supported by teachers in identifying problems meaningful to the classroom and local community, and applying their STEM knowledge to iteratively prototype working solutions. As the teacher of the Occupied group said, “this is one project that will really promote classroom sustainability.” As a student in the Occupied group said, “This was the first time I felt like I could be an engineer.” Our goal is to support teachers and students in developing their agency and identities in engineering while gaining deeper knowledge and practices in science and engineering.
With the ever-increasing (indeed, strengthening) inequities in science education (particularly along race and class lines), alongside the rise in the anti-science climate in the US, I suggest that we might re-think how we frame “science literacy” in the science education teaching and research communities. The recent election is a reminder that these joint issues are not going away, but only increasing. The Next Generation Science Standards simply do not go far enough in challenging access, opportunity, and engagement with science in ways that connect with and matter to people across our communities, nation and globe. Below I present some conjectures to “think with” that connect an equity perspective (who has access to STEM and why/how) and a global sustainability perspective (e.g., the need to push back against the anti-science climate).
- Current views of science literacy, as outlined in the NGSS and which focus on mastering disciplinary knowledge and practices, have kept science in a separate “elitist” domain, closing down symbolic access and opportunity. These views do not account for the knowledges and practices necessary for taking action with science in ways that are critical and connected to community needs or to becoming civically engaged with/through science.
- More critical and consequential forms of science literacy are needed. Critical and Consequential forms of science literacy attend to how learning and engagement in science is a) rooted in the history and geographies of young people’s lives in ways that b) value the connections they make among science, community and broader social issues in pursuit of c) transformative outcomes, such as action taking through science, and shifting power dynamics regarding who can access and take action in science and what this looks like.
- Critical and consequential forms of science literacy involve more than mastering the knowledge and practices of science (as described in the NGSS), (although developing such mastery is an integral aspect, see conjecture #4). They involve developing approaches to leveraging and hybridizing other forms expertise (e.g., community knowledge, engaging with others, interdisciplinary problems) with the knowledge & practice of science as individuals seek to engage the world meaningfully. Without taking into account how people (especially those from historically marginalized backgrounds in STEM) take up science as a part of their discourse and practice in the world, then science literacy is ultimately defined as a separate culture, community, and power.
- Pathways to critical and consequential forms of science literacy are iterative and adaptive. That is, deepening knowledge in one domain (e.g., community) can lead to deepening knowledge in another (e.g., science), in generative ways, leading to new forms of practice & knowledge not a part of the standard curriculum.
In a previous blogpost, Christina wrote about the importance of conscientization in teaching and learning science. I re-iterate that here, reminding us that critical and consequential science literacy, as implied in the four conjectures above, involves reading the world and reading the word (Freire, 1973). We must work together to critically reflect upon science and our world in order to take action and transform it – this is the heart of science literacy.
One of our commitments in Invincibility is to work towards authentic university-community-school partnerships in support of designing equitable STEM learning experiences for youth from non-dominant communities. This collaboration has been the forefront of creating serious conversations in our community around what high quality STEM experiences can be for youth in low-income communities, and the hoped for impacts on youth development.
For example, our collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing began in 2006. At the heart of our partnership are a set of shared beliefs about working towards equitable outcomes, including drawing upon the strengths that each brings to the table, on-going communication for building a shared vision, and working for change – change in how we make sense of, design, and deliver equitable programs for youth, and change in ourselves as we learn from each other and the process. The process is not always smooth, even when the collaborative relationships are strong. Change is difficult, and the process is always under the stress of external forces, such as limited access to resources for community and public organizations, competing external priorities, and broader sociohistorical narratives/practices about equity and STEM.
In response, we have found that we are able to sustain our efforts by foregrounding the importance of youth perspectives. By inviting the youth to play powerful roles as co-researchers and co-developers, their voices provide a centering mechanism.
Inspired by the Research + Practice Collaboratory, three practices have helped us along the way that draw upon this youth-based focus.
First, youth participatory methodologies have served as a grounding mechanism of our partnership. We focus on the importance of a weekly conversation we hold with youth, where they provide on-going direction and feedback regarding our partnership programs. We also focus on the importance of youth researchers – youth who play the role of broker between our partnership and other participating youth and families. We also believe that youth participatory methodologies are important in supporting youth in trusting the process and the ones delivering the process.
Second, we have a set of both informal and formal tools and routines that have emerged from our efforts to listen to and learn from youth that keep us focused on our commitment to work for equity, such as the importance of deliberate efforts to talk about particular youth and their work/development, “thinking big” conversations (what we hope/dream for), and weekly check-ins on youth progress.
Third, we our committed attention to youth voices enables on-going productive change in ourselves and in our partnership. For example, what started off as a partnership focused on offering short term programs for middle school youth, has developed into year-round programming that incorporates family and community engagement, authentic community concerns, and opportunities for youth to form empowering relationships with leaders of local professional and academic communities. This partnership has also resulted in physical changes to the club, as they secured a new green roof based on youth research and action taking on energy- and community-related issues, and now with the construction of a dedicated makerspace.
If you have useful tools and practices towards research + partnerships, we would love to hear about them.
Collective STEM literacy: Pushing us all forward
Written by Sarah Keenan
We usually think of literacy as an individual competence – whether it has to do with our ability to read and write or to understand and apply scientific concepts. Scientific literacy, and STEM literacy more broadly, is the ability to make sense of the science in our world; but how does this develop? Sense-making, knowledge about and interaction with scientific concepts happens constantly – beyond the walls of school, beyond books, and definitely extending beyond adult authority figures who hold the “right” answers. This kind of literacy learning is a social and collective act: collaboration with peers helps youth decide what counts as important knowledge and gives them the opportunity to scaffold each others’ growth, as their individual strengths and understandings combine to develop a strong, collective STEM literacy.
In Making4Change, youth take action on community problems that hold meaning for them, engineering and designing solutions to these problems with an eye for green energy technologies. By exploring the ways in which our community culture shapes the nature of problems, the STEM literacy of the youth in this program is tapped into a community need. This gives them a platform to highlight their own STEM literacies beyond what might be recognized in school, and to challenge existing solutions.
Every project in M4C is shaped by the collective STEM literacy of the groups – every participant influences the direction of the project. By developing solutions with a group, individual competencies needed to achieve the goal of the project are identified and unite youth by giving them each a chance to share their STEM abilities. Each year we find students position themselves as experts in certain STEM literacies (for example: soldering, light bulb energy usage, etc.) in such a way that their peers can take advantage of this knowledge, building their individual STEM literacy and while contributing back to the collective literacy and ability of the group.
A lot of time our time in M4C is spent in groups, with youth members leading and mentors giving advice to help develop the collective STEM abilities of the group. For the most part our sessions take place in one room, which allows for a crossing of boundaries between projects, so youth are able to share skills and knowledge across different groups. The “expert feedback” days are an opportunity to expand the collective nature of this literacy, as youth present their inventions to professionals, receive their feedback and use outside expertise to inform the direction of their project and push their own abilities.
M4C provides a place where STEM is connected with the daily lives of youth, legitimizing their interests and abilities, giving them a platform to showcase their expertise and collaborate with their peers. As these youth frame STEM as useful to themselves and their projects, individual abilities build a collective literacy that pushes every person’s ability to act as an agent for the public good.