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.
We are concerned with understanding the possibilities for designing pedagogical practices in support of equity-oriented and STEM-rich making for youth from historically marginalized communities.
One approach we have been developing is what we call “community ethnography as pedagogy” in support of equity-oriented STEM making. We are concerned with how youth are granted opportunities and supported in taking on making projects of relevance to their communities – both as they consider the social, political and ethical dimensions of the problems and solutions they hope to tackle, as well as the importance of their work towards community development. We are also concerned with the opportunities that youth have to move from understanding inequality to taking informed action. As facilitators and mentor-teachers, we recognize the urgency of exploring our pedagogical actions and choices for consequentially structuring and guiding/gatekeeping such opportunities.
Our stance on community ethnography as pedagogy is rooted in the traditions of critical ethnography. Community ethnography as pedagogy supports young people in engaging in reflexive inquiry with community members around both problems and solutions that drive their making. It also promotes opportunities for youth to see and critique systemic injustices in their communities and their future lives. Take for example, this quote shared with us by Samuel:
When you are engineering, when you are making your invention, first of all, you have to talk to people. You have to interview people in your community. You might know what the problems are, but you might not know how it matters to other people. You have to figure out how other people care, and you have to get their ideas, and learn what they know. . . When we made our library, we had to figure out that we needed to make it. We needed to know where it would go, what it could look like, and stuff we put in it. We had our ideas, but our ideas weren’t enough.
Samuel shared this view with us while reflecting upon his recent involvement in an afterschool STEM Club where he and his friend Fall built a “Little Free STEM Library” that they housed at their community club. They made the library so that the children at their club could have free and unfettered access to science books and mini-maker kits. They added blinking LED lights around the library, powered by a handcrank generator, to call attention to it, and to get kids curious about how it worked. Samuel and Fall were concerned that children in their community have ample time to practice their reading while also having the chance to “make things” for their community — concerns they felt were not adequately addressed at school.
This quote captures, in large part, how Samuel frames the importance of sustained engagement with his community as a part of the process of making. He makes the point that by interviewing and talking with different people in his community he could see the problems he cared about in new and different ways. Samuel also viewed his engagement with community as shaping the outcomes of his work as well. He needed to know, for example, where to put the finished library so that it would be accessible to others. His idea for including the mini-maker kits in the library was also inspired by observing how much the younger children enjoyed sneaking into the making space to play with the paper circuit materials.
Drawing upon ethnographic tools, such as dialogic interviews and observation, we conjecture that community ethnography as pedagogy can expand the boundaries of making – where making takes place, who makes, what counts as making, and expertise in making. Such practices can position youth’s historicized experience within a broader context and in direct connection to making. In addition, these practices may support youth in being recognized as creators of their own stories about their community, capable of representing themselves and others, and with important insider knowledge for doing so in powerful ways.
In our next blog post we will share a few examples of what this looks like in practice.
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.