Valuing the "Everyday" Practices of African American Students K-12 and Their Engagement in STEM Learning: A Position

By Wright, Brian L. | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview
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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

INTRODUCTION

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.

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