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Designing Culturally Diverse Science Instruction

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Cultural awareness is a big part of being a teacher today, as our schools are becoming more diverse. In this lesson, we'll learn how to integrate contributions to science from diverse cultures into your curriculum.

Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

Imagine if there was life on another planet and you happen to be one of the lucky humans to travel to their cities. In school, you learn lots of new things but none of the curricula resonates with you. Although there have been tons of interesting things discovered on Earth, none of that is taught even though Earthlings live on this planet, too. People don't speak your language and no one really seems to try either. It's isolating and you miss your culture.

Although this is a fictional scenario, the underlying themes run clear for many of our students from a diverse cultural background. Culturally diverse students have different backgrounds that include variants in gender, language, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Students from culturally diverse backgrounds are growing in number in our public schools. As educators, it's our job to make all our students feel welcome and tap into their background and funds of knowledge. All backgrounds are to be celebrated. It can be difficult for diverse students to have a dream when there is such little exposure to adults who look like them living that dream.

Getting to Know Your Students

Science teachers can sometimes see cultural diversity as a job for English or history teachers, as science is supposed to be universal. But even in science textbooks, racial and gender biases abound. Science teachers need to take the time to integrate multicultural discoveries into their curriculum. But how to start?

First, you want to know your audience. Where do your students come from? What ethnicity or nationality do they identify with? What language(s) do they speak at home? Do they follow a religion in their family? Understanding all these facets of our students not only gives us a jumping off point for developing a culturally competent curriculum, but it also deepens our relationships with them.

To do this, consider using a survey at the beginning of the year or simply making time to have conversations with each of your students throughout the week. You can also call families and ask about their heritage. Most students and parents are excited to talk about their culture.

Planning a Curriculum

So now that you know what cultures are present in your classroom, what do you do next? Start by looking for examples of these cultures in science and taking the following steps to integrate them into your curriculum.

Including Examples in Class

The first step to including cultural diversity in your curriculum is to start by using examples of scientists in class. Let's look at some examples.

Ms. Habrel is teaching ecology to her 6th-grade science class. They're learning about sustainable farming. Considering many of her students are from the southern United States and of African American descent, she wants to find a scientist that reflects their culture. George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist who grew up in Missouri in the late 1800s.

He started some of the earliest research into crop rotation. This African American scientist educated farmers on ways to fertilize crops without chemicals and to integrate crops other than cotton to reduce nutrient depletion of the soil. Instead of setting aside this scientist for Black History Month, make it a part of the regular curriculum.

Physics curricula have a majority of white male scientists such as Einstein, Newton, or Galileo. Although these scientists are vital to the field, consider also including physicists from diverse backgrounds, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, an accomplished astrophysicist that has contributed many scientific discoveries and created content that is accessible for the public and students to increase interest in science.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an African American physicist that can easily be integrated into science curriculum
Neil Degrasse Tyson

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