Valuing the "Everyday" Practices of African American Students K-12 and Their Engagement in STEM Learning: A Position
Wright, Brian L., The Journal of Negro Education
This article is a call to the research community to look again at the "everyday" or community-based meaning-making practices-ways of seeing, knowing, talking, acting, valuing, representing-that African American students K-12 use routinely in navigating everyday life out of school and how these relate to learning and achievement in science and mathematics in school. Furthermore, the author asserts that research of this kind will have broader impacts by providing new ways of understanding the linguistic, intellectual, social, emotional, and experiential resources that facilitate STEM learning and academic achievement of African American students K-12.
Keywords: African American males, STEM, everyday practices, K-12 education, best practices
In the foreword of Carol D. Lee's (2007) book Culture, Literacy, and Learning: Taking Bloom in the Midst of the Whirlwind, Linda Darling-Hammond wrote, "[This book] names, vividly and with a resonant truth, how it is that the intelligence we know resides in African American youth - indeed, in all youth - gets missed, and how it can be uncovered and cultivated" (p. xvii). Building on the ideals expressed in this quote, this article is a call to researchers, school personnel and all those interested in the target population to engage in research mat focuses on the intelligent everyday practices mat African American students bring to the classroom and how these relate generatively to learning and thinking in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), specifically in science and mathematics.
In the sections that follow, the author presents a discussion of repertoires of meaningmaking practices in science and math taken up by African American students. The next section highlights examples of K-12 programs that have been successful in nurturing STEM development among African American students. The article concludes with a discussion of the broader impact of everyday practices on STEM learning as a framework for the generation of best practices for engaging African American students in STEM learning.
REPERTOIRES OF MEANING-MAKING PRACTICES IN SCIENCE AND MATH
In school only a very narrow repertoire of meaning-making practices is typically valued. This repertoire leaves out intellectually powerful forms of argumentation, explanation, narration, representation, and imagination across linguistic, visual, bodily, emotive, and symbolic modes of meaning making. As a result, the everyday funds of knowledge and meaning-making practices, which students from historically non-dominant communities bring to their school learning, are often missed or dismissed being interpreted as having no real intellectual value in the classroom. For this reason, scholarship that focuses on elaborating the community-based meaning-making practices (e.g., ways of seeing, knowing, talking, acting, imagining, valuing, representing) that African American students K-12 use routinely in navigating everyday life outside of school and how these relate to learning and achievement in mathematics and science is important to helping teachers understand that however "unfamiliar," "off-topic," or "strange," students are always making sense of their worlds (Nasir, Rosebery, Warren & Lee, 2006).
Warren, Ogonowksi, and Pothier (2005) of the Cheche Konnen Center at TERC have documented forms of argumentation, explanation, imagining, and metaphorical thinking among African American and Haitian American students that connect deeply with academic forms in the sciences. Furthermore, they have shown that when these are recognized and taken up intentionally in the science classroom, student learning is expanded in ways more reflective of professional scientific practice, becoming both more rigorous and engaging. To illustrate the point, they documented first and second graders' exploration of Newton's laws of motion using cars and ramps. The students investigated changes in the cars' motion. As they observed the cars downhill motion, Letisha (pseudonym), an African American girl, whose scientific thinking had not previously been acknowledged in her schooling, was able to link the worlds of the ramps, real cars and her experience with baby carriages through a Newtonian lens. In her explanation of the cars' downhill motion she demonstrated how lived experiences can and do facilitate the understanding of scientific ideas and vice versa.
Similarly, other scholars, such as those who contributed to a special issue of Mathematical Thinking and Learning, in the article, "Diversity, Equity, and Mathematical Learning," edited by Nasir and Cobb (2002), focused on understanding the everyday practices of students from non-dominant groups and how these funds of knowledge facilitate their mathematical thinking in school. For instance, Nasir (2007) investigated how middle and high school African American basketball players used their knowledge and expertise of basketball to construct mathematical goals as part of their everyday practice. Nasir was essentially tapping into the mathematical nature of basketball as an experiential resource to uncover, cultivate and extend the youths' mathematical thinking and knowledge.
The above bodies of work highlighted the importance of identifying and discussing the intellectual generativity of everyday practices employed by African American students and how these relate to learning and achievement in science and mathematics.
EXAMPLES OF K-12 PROGRAMS THAT NURTURE STEM DEVELOPMENT
In a complementary way, noted multicultural scholar Gay (2000) reviewed several successful elementary, middle, and high school programs such as the Teaching Excellence for Minority Student Achievement in the Sciences project (TEMSAS) in Los Angeles (see also, AdenikaMorrow, 1995); the Urban Schools Science and Mathematics Program (USSMP) in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit (see also, Archer, 1993); the Qualitative Understanding and Amplifying Student Achievement and Reasoning project (QUASAR) in six school districts (see also, Silver & Stein, 1996); EQUITY 2000 in over 20 school districts (e.g., http://www.mdrc.org/publications/98/printJitml; see also Everson & Dunham, 1996); and project IMPACT for K-3 students(http://www.teachmglearnmgcollaborative.oig/K-3IMPACT_detaU.html).
Gay found that these programs and several smaller ones provide evidence that students from non-dominant groups, in particular African American students are successful in STEM specifically, science and mathematics. To summarize, she found that when there is district and school-level support for diversity in curriculum implementation, which includes activity-based instruction in science and mathematics, science and mathematics clubs, mathematics competitions, a school banking program, science fairs, career awareness education, self-esteem building efforts, professional development for teachers, and increased school instruction time in science and mathematics, student outcomes in science and mathematics are significantly improved. The success of these programs with African American students in science and mathematics is encouraging.
THE BROADER IMPACT OF EVERYDAY PRACTICES ON STEM LEARNING
Given the pervasive influence of dominant ideologies which position non-dominant students as deficient (Noguera & Wing, 2006; Warren & Rosebery, 2011), the intellectual merit in focusing on the everyday practices of the intelligence we know resides in African American students PreK-12 is the opportunity to counter the often-dominant story of STEM education. This story emphasizes the lack of preparedness and absence of African American students in the STEM pipeline in which students are being prepared to graduate from high school with insufficient preparation to pursue STEM college majors and careers. By contrast, one can tell a different story by bringing together scholarship that focuses on the science (e.g., Summers & Hrabowksi, 2006) and mathematics learning of African American students K-12. This counter story, empirically supported, provides a much needed, more comprehensive view of African American students' everyday meaning-making practices and the generative intersections between them and science and mathematics learning and thinking. This story emphasizes the importance and value of understanding and mobilizing everyday funds of knowledge to achieve in science and mathematics in order to counter the hegemonic view or treatment of everyday funds of knowledge "as errors that impede learning" rather than "as generative resources in learning new ideas and traditions of inquiry" (Nasir et al., 2006; Warren et al., 2005, p. 121. See also, a special issue of the Journal of African American Males in Education - Vol. 2 No. 1, 2011 that features empirical studies focused on valuing the everyday knowledge of African American males).
Additional quantitative, qualitative, and ethnographic studies focused on the everyday practices of African American students K-12 who are achieving in science and mathematics will help one understand a finding by the National Science Foundation (NSF, 2008) that African American students are just as interested as their European and Asian American counterparts in careers in the STEM disciplines. In fact, in 2006, 34% of African American freshmen intended to major in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, according to data from the science and engineering indicators (NSF, 2008). That number is larger than the percentage of incoming White freshmen (29.5%) who planned to major in science or engineering (see also, Summers & Hrabowski, 2006).
The overall objectives of such research are to document the "multiple dimensions of learning, including cognition, discourse, affect, motivation, and identity" (Nasir, et al., 2006, p. 490) that African American students K-12 bring to the science and mathematics classroom. Work in this area should support the cultural view of learning described by Lee (2007) and Nasir and colleagues (2006) elaborating the adaptive expertise that students from non-dominant groups, especially African American students, bring to learning.
Results in research of this kind will offer an expanded view of science and mathematical learning among African American students, K-12. An expanded view will highlight everyday practices of African American students that can challenge teachers and teacher educators
in ways that do not trivialize the connections between everyday knowledge and school-based knowledge, [that] requires both developing a deep understanding of the subject matter and a capacity to overcome deficit assumptions about the nature of these everyday practices and about the students themselves. [It means] de-constructing colonizing mentalities and ethnocentric assumptions that create what Edmund Gordon has called 'communicentric bias' which limits understanding of areas of study as well as of those who are taught. (Darling-Hammond, as cited in Lee, 2007, p. xx)
Furthermore, STEM research will have broader impacts. While many programs in STEM have sought viable solutions to the problems associated with student achievement gaps, particularly among students of color, the potential of this work stands to uncover solutions for African American students. For instance, under the dominant paradigm the everyday practices of African American students are rarely viewed as "models that can be replicated in the public sector" (Lubienski & Lubienski, 2006, p. 651). Rather, these practices are viewed as deficits in learning in which the everyday nature of racism inherent in this perspective goes unacknowledged. Therefore embedded in the broader impacts of this work "is a call for additional research on the everyday nature of racism in students' mathematical [and science] experiences" (Martin, 2009, p. 298) to re-examine the manner in which racist ideology functions in promoting and inhibiting structures of opportunity to learn for African American students. In the section that follows, examples of best practices are highlighted from programs that do value and integrate meanings and certain practices - certain ways of knowing, seeing, speaking, writing, acting, and valuing of African American students in the disciplines of STEM specifically, science and mathematics.
BEST PRACTICES FOR ENGAGING AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS IN STEM LEARNING
There are a number of programs in STEM in which methods have emerged as best practices for engaging underrepresented groups. However, mis study discusses the research of three scholars and those best practices from their work mat have been effective with African American students.
The work of Christopher Emdin (2010) in urban science education combines the cultural principles of hip-hop with the teaching and learning of science. This content integration approach nurtures the personal and social development of students through a rigorous learning component that recognizes and validates their everyday thinking. In addition to engaging students, Emdin instructs teachers on how to incorporate the method of hip-hop with the teaching of science. His methods emphasize culturally relevant pedagogy designed to make learning interesting and culturally relevant to student interests and experiences. For example, Emdin explained that a lesson about the scientific process of photosynthesis can become a hiphop rhyme. (See Emdin' s book, Urban Science for the Hip-Hop Generation, for other examples).
Bryant T. Mark
Bryant T. Mark's work offers effective strategies and best practices in the recruitment and retention of African American males in STEM at the middle school, high school, and college levels. He emphasizes three key practices working with young African American males: (a) get to know them (African American males), (b) organize scientist identity workshops, and (c) design teaching teams. In his first practice of getting to know African American males, he explains, that young Black males, like African Americans in general, are diverse (e.g., income, education, neighborhood, social and political attitudes, assimilation) and should be engaged with this understanding. He further notes that getting to know young African American males through their diverse interests, hobbies, and challenges is not just necessarily in a social and personal way, but also as a means to incorporate their interests and experiences into the classroom, specifically in STEM disciplines by making teaching and learning relevant. In his second practice, Mark describes the design and implementation of a scientist identity workshop to expose young African American males to their rich history of African Americans from STEM past and present. His third and final practice teaching teams (TTs) Mark highlights the purpose of TTs and explains their short- and long-term goals and objectives.
According to Mark, TTs were developed to increase interest in STEM among African American males in middle school, high school, and first-year in college. These TTs are comprised of one senior and three freshmen per team. The young men develop engaging mediabased learning modules to teach concepts across the STEM disciplines. Freshmen team members, for example, use the modules to teach scientific concepts in Morehouse College courses to minority males in high school who, in turn, will use the modules to teach science concepts to minority males in middle school. These pedagogical modules are compiled in discipline-specific manuals that are men used by the science departments at Morehouse College and will possibly be used by other colleges in the future.
The Work of Robert P. Moses and Onto Moses
Robert P. Moses, a Harlem-born and Harvard-educated civil rights leader and founder of The Algebra Project (AP, Moses, 2001) in 1982 and Omo Moses one of the founders of The Young People's Project (YPP, 201 1) that focuses on math literacy and social change founded in 1996 conclude this study. YPP is an outgrowth of the Algebra Project. The AP grew from teaching mathematics in one school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to more than 200 middle schools across the country by the late 1990s, from developing successful models of whole-school and community change. The AP' s unique approach to school reform intentionally develops sustainable, student-centered models by building coalitions of stakeholders within the local communities, particularly the historically underserved population.
Since 2000, the AP has continued to provide the context in which students, schools, parents, and communities maximize local resources and take ownership of their own commumtybuilding and mathematics education reform efforts, which now includes both high school and middle grade initiatives. The Algebra Project's grassroots lie in the civil rights work of the 1960s, specifically, the fundamental right to vote. The current work of the AP seeks to mobilize the nation to ensure that the fundamental right of every child to a quality public school education is upholded.
Similarly, The Young People's Project (YPP) is committed to the development of math literacy and social change among students age 8-22 from historically marginalized groups. Through math and media literacy, community-building, and advocacy, YPP mobilizes "young people who are better equipped to navigate life's circumstances, are active in their communities, and advocate for education reform in America [and mathematics intellectuals]" (see Website, http://www.typp.org).
Together, these best practices embody the three Cs for urban science that Emdin (2009) articulated in his work,
which involve engaging in dialogues with students (cogenerative dialogues), having students be teachers Ln the classroom (coteaching), and having them develop a responsibility for each others' learning both within and outside of the classroom, (cosmopolitanism, p. 6)
Finally, these programs all structure opportunities to learn that encourage students from non-dominant groups, particularly African American students, to engage deeply in science and math. Moreover, these co-constructed learning environments purposefully value and build on the existing repertories of practice of African American students positioning them in positive, authoritative ways that have the potential to nurture their social and academic identities that in turn spur their future learning and engagement in STEM.
Research and programs of this kind will provide concrete empirical data to identify robust factors that lead to increased academic learning and achievement, particularly for African American students as they take up, modify, and appropriate science and mathematics knowledge. Moreover, programmatic initiatives, policies, and procedures will be developed and subsequently implemented using these generative everyday practices as a framework. Furthermore, by noticing, naming, and engaging with the "intelligence we know resides in African American" students K-12, this kind of research will provide initiatives toward increasing the number of African American students who graduate from high school with a strong foundation in science and mathematics and will then go on to pursue postsecondary education and careers in STEM.
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Brian L. Wright Technical Education Research Center, Inc. (TERC, Inc)
BRIAN L. WRIGHT is a post-doctoral research fellow, with Technical Education Research Center (TERC, Inc.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Publication information: Article title: Valuing the "Everyday" Practices of African American Students K-12 and Their Engagement in STEM Learning: A Position. Contributors: Wright, Brian L. - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Negro Education. Volume: 80. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2011. Page number: 5+. © Howard University Summer 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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