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.
by Christina Restrepo Nazar
Today’s blogpost comes after my research group’s (and I) careful discussion on making sense of youth’s agency, resistance and empowerment in science. We read a book chapter by Daniels, Harnischfeger, Hos & Akom (2010) titled “Youth as Active Agents: Counter-narrating the Source of Reform” and it was absolutely on point with one of the important strands in my research as a science education scholar.
I have been interested in supporting youth agency in science for quite some time now. Through the cases I co-developed with AD, Faith and Christopher as part of my graduate student work at Invincibility Lab, (see ex. The Case of Faith) I have seen the importance of how youth identify and connect with (for what and for whom) meaningful science learning–as a source of promoting agency, identifying forms of resistance to the discursive/culture of power in science, and/or embracing and empowering themselves with the tools to use science–in meaningful and transformative ways for themselves and for their communities. But most importantly is how this learning does not only transform the youth in their particular learning spaces, but that it also supports meaningful others in transforming structures of power that youth have come to know/understand as determinants of their success in science education (e.g. teacher education, policy, curriculum, reasons for engaging in practices of science in the first place). (See also the blog post on critical and consequential science literacy).
Because of this, during this very important discussion last week, I asked myself two questions: how can people take up/make sense of youths’ meaningful learning in science? And how can people with the power to transform their spaces and/or practices (e.g. teachers, pre-service teachers, researchers, curriculum developers, policy makers, etc….) do so as they engage with these transformative messages?
It is well established in the field that when science learning is most associated with the lives of students–either the process of learning and doing science and/or the outcomes of the learning itself–they engage meaningfully with the discourse, practices, and norms of science (Basu & Calabrese Barton, 2007) . However, I argue that it takes a level of conscientization, or “the processes in which [people] achieve a deepening awareness of both the sociocultural reality that shapes their lives and their capacity to transform that reality” (Freire, 1985, p.93) to be aware of how this “meaningfulness” affects them and their pathways for learning. For the students I work with specifically, I can claim that they did not know science/engineering could become meaningful to their lives until they were able to bridge problems in their communities using science/engineering and that making sense of those problems can drive solutions that are important to them–and more expansively–their families and communities (e.g. The Case of Faith). Additionally, this conscientization became more powerful for the youth when they knew these messages can be meaningful for others, because now they knew these messages were going to be taken up by people who would view them as doing, making, creating, inventing, EVERYTHING in ways that were not normative in science education.
Hence, it is important that as researchers, teachers, teacher educators, we support youths’ “active agency,” through mutually empowering and collaborating with youth in co-constructing reform efforts by 1) helping them be aware of their realities (including the social, political, cultural, and economic structures that oppress and harm them) and 2) creating opportunities to challenge the narratives that oppress them to empower them.
This creates an important juncture in identifying different levels of “active agency” that we can help support. For example, as science educators who are interested in issues of equity, we should not only be creating spaces for youth to learn through our respective research programs, agendas and the like, but that we take the learning from one space and bring it to another, and support a multi-level approach to “critical consciousness” (Freire, 1973). We have the political, social, and economic power to identify and take action against the oppressive elements affecting youth in our society, in their classrooms, or in their daily interactions with youth–we just have to find the meaningful connections to them and create consciousness in the process.
Hence as we discuss these multi-levels of active agency, and the grain-sizes involved, let’s look at how learning from students conscientization can create critical consciousness in pre-service teachers to better engage with youths’ funds of knowledge in the classroom. Let’s take this active agency to curriculum developers and STEM pipeline programs so that they understand what it means to learn science meaningfully and how they can support youth in this work. Let’s take this active agency to national policy programs and foundations so that they understand exactly what student experiences are limiting or not their learning. Let’s move this work beyond research/academia and the like, but to new and expansive places where the conscientization of one youth can become “sources of reform” for others. By conscientizing these structures of power we are challenging the hegemonic cultural/social/educational/political/other structures that support or inhibit meaningful science learning, crossing time, space and place.