African American Children Reflecting on Science, Mathematics, and Computers through Creative Writing: Perspectives from a Saturday Science Academy

Article excerpt

A group of seventh graders (N =23) enrolled in a weekend science enrichment program for African American youth explored concepts covered in their program activities using creative writing. Student writing samples were analyzed for thematic choice, self-expression, career interest, racial/gender identity, and evidence of parental influence and expectations. Participants overwhelmingly selected to write about science-related topics. Their writings further reveal a keen interest in science-related careers, both anxiety and confidence about ability in these areas, and considerable parental influence and involvement. Few students chose to dwell on racial or gender issues. The authors conclude that creative writing provides an alternative means of reflecting upon and interpreting these students' interest in and grasp of scientific knowledge.

INTRODUCTION

One of the key issues articulated by Mullis and Jenkins (1988) in their critique of science education in the United States is the "status of science learning for at-risk populations" (p. 7). Their report also notes the presence of "substantial disparities" between the abilities of females of all racial and ethnic groups, racial/ethnic minorities, and White males to use and understand science, employ scientific thinking, and consider careers in science (p. 7). While socioeconomic status is cited frequently as a key variable in explaining this disparity Johnson, 1992; Mullis & Jenkins, 1988), additional evidence indicates that females and minorities are provided with fewer opportunities to participate in science and to perceive themselves as potential members of the scientific community (Johnson, 1992).

Interpretations of National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) data indicate that improved school experiences alone (i.e., better curricula, more modem laboratory equipment, more teachers with higher levels of science preparation) will not alleviate the substantial disparities noted above (Mullis & Jenkins, 1988). The social context for science learning and use, which sends "the message that most of the notable accomplishments in science are attributable to White males" (Mullis & Jenkins, 1988, p. 9), perpetuates the image that science is not an option for females and minorities. Hence, the social context must change along with improvements in school experiences in order to achieve educational equity for all.

One approach to the social context dilemma is to model more appropriate, equitable social contexts for female and minority children. Equitable social contexts are those that allow an array of persons to participate in science-oriented careers, gain success and esteem from such careers, and enjoy the knowledge and power scientific proficiency entails. These contexts also model scientific behavior and provide opportunities for underrepresented groups to gain access to a sciences-oriented culture. One program that creates such a context for African American children is the Saturday Science Academy (SSA) at Clark Atlanta University.

Established in the late 1970s, the SSA's mission is to bring African American children into a culturally compatible setting to facilitate their science learning. Since its inception in 1979, enrollment in the SSA has steadily increased from 110 children and 3 teachers to 200 participants and 7 teachers. Students enrolled in the Atlanta (Georgia) public schools interested in science, mathematics, and computers are encouraged to apply to the SSA. During 1993, the selection criteria for the 200 mostly African American attendees consisted of a teacher's recommendation and an essay describing reasons for desiring to attend the Academy. The Clark Atlanta program distinguishes itself from other academic enrichment programs in several ways: first, by targeting students in grades three through seven; second, by specializing in a science-, mathematics-, and computer-based curriculum; and third, by taking a uniquely holistic approach to education, in which opportunities for creative expression are integrated with physical science, computer science, and mathematics instruction. …