Crafting a Multicultural Science Teacher Education: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Current reforms in science education call for science for all. In the most progressive sense, this means teachers finding ways to help all children feel comfortable with and connected to science. It also means helping all children develop strong, intellectual, conceptual understandings of the major concepts and theories in science.

Despite general consensus about ideal science for all, science educators have been largely unsuccessful in transforming the curricular and pedagogical strategies from traditional practices to practices inclusive of all students (Atwater, 1996). Teacher education programs have had little or no impact on preservice teachers' philosophy of teaching and learning, especially as it relates to underserved populations in science (Rodriguez, 1998). Teacher education programs are populated with many students resistant to deep exploration of racist and other socially oppressive classroom practices (Rodriguez, 1998). In this article, I explore the role of a community-based service learning project in enhancing the multicultural dimension of preservice education and on the development of preservice teachers crafting a multicultural science teaching practice.

Community Service Learning

Some (Checkoway, 1996) define community service learning as learning activities combining classroom work with social and service action to promote student development of subject matter knowledge, practical skills, social responsibility, and civic values. Although most research about community service learning has dealt with K-12 education, the literature points to the significant impact community service has on improvement in the attitudes, motivation, and achievement of all students, including college students (Barber, Schine, & Kielsmeier, 1997). These improvements have been attributed to how these educational experiences integrate life experience with substantive and practical knowledge and skills. Recently, service learning has garnered attention in teacher education programs as one way to help preservice and inservice teachers learn about complex social problems such as poverty encountered in schools (DeJong & Groomes, 1996). Preservice students can acquire this kind of learning in out-of-school settings in which they can develop relationships with children and families in nonschool contexts, learn about children as children rather than merely as students, develop ties with the community, develop social and interaction skills, and gain greater awareness of other cultural and social norms and values as well as their own beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses (Stachowski & Visconti, 1998).

Service learning in teacher education is not new. Many of the most influential thinkers in education and related fields, including Dewey and Freire, have advocated the idea of learning about children, community, disciplinary knowledge, and the relationships among these areas in informal educational settings. Dewey (1938/1963) wrote that the experience in itself is not enough, whether it be a service learning experience or any other kind of experience. He argues that not all experiences are genuinely or equally educative (p. 25). The experience has to be examined, understood, and challenged, thus providing intellectual and psychological continuity and growth.

In college-level programs, including teacher education, service learning historically has been enacted individually and collectively. In the individual approach, students must, either as part of a course or program requirement or for individual course credit, engage in some form of service such as volunteer tutoring, serving meals at a soup kitchen, or providing adult companionship for homebound adults (Checkoway, 1996). Students usually generate ongoing reflection journals and written or oral reports documenting the activity from conception to conclusion. Although these are individual service projects, students often share the reflections and reports in a group setting such as a course or seminar, where participating students receive critical feedback, support, and encouragement from peers and professors. …