Academic journal article Science and Children

Culture Matters in Science Education: A Festival Creates Culturally Relevant Learning Opportunities for Students and Parents

Academic journal article Science and Children

Culture Matters in Science Education: A Festival Creates Culturally Relevant Learning Opportunities for Students and Parents

Article excerpt

On the Saturday before Halloween, hundreds of students and their parents went from booth to booth participating in science activities at our annual Fall Festival and Learning Fair. A fourth-grade Captain America could not overcome the force of friction. His parents watched as he tried to pull apart two magazines held together by their overlapping pages. His mom pulled the left side of one magazine while he pulled from the opposite side. The magazines did not budge. Pulling on them was not strong enough to overcome the force of friction.

Across the way an "Angry Bird" listened as her mother explained in Spanish how the projectile from a catapult could be used to knock down a tower of bright red cups. Only the child's face could be seen in the costume as she smiled and launched the stuffed toy. The sixth-grader had studied energy and knew that when the catapult moved forward it transferred its energy to the toy.

The Fall Festival and Learning Fair is a valuable annual partnership where culturally relevant teaching engages each child in hands-on, standards-based science lessons. This event is a joint venture between parents and faculty of a culturally and linguistically diverse K-8 school and teachers from San Diego State University. The Fall Festival and Learning Fair is an excellent tool for building a community of science learners that can be replicated in other schools.

It's a Family Affair

The festival focuses on the three dimensions of science education: scientific practices, disciplinary core ideas (Physical Science), and crosscutting concepts. While each dimension is individually important, the three can be hard to tie together in a coherent way that is meaningful to students. This led to the inclusion of culturally relevant teaching, an essential cognitive approach found in the Caring-centered Educational philosophy (see sidebar, p. 46). Through culturally relevant teaching (CRT), teachers integrate into their instruction the use of student identities, experiences, ideas, and knowledge so that what students are learning becomes more comprehensible and ties in with their own lives. Culturally relevant teaching can also provide a strong foundation for instruction in the science classroom.

For the purpose of the Fall Festival and Learning Fair activities, teachers integrated the following three culturally relevant teaching principles in the creation of their lessons (Pang 2010):

1. Instruction should affirm the cultural identities and abilities of students and parents;

2. Instruction should build on the cultural and linguistic knowledge of students and parents and integrate elements of home culture into the curriculum; and

3. Through engaging instruction and activities, students, along with their parents, construct their own meanings and take ownership of the knowledge construction process.

These three tenets support positions found in A Framework for Science Education (NRC 2012). A chapter of the document is devoted to the importance of equity and diversity in science education. The Framework states:

"Teachers pursuing a culturally responsive approach to instruction
will need to understand the sense-making practices of particular
communities, the science-related values that reside in them, and
the historical relationship that exists between the community and
local institutions of education. Instruction can be crafted to
reflect these cultural particulars and engage students in related
disciplinary practices and associated learning.... " (NRC 2012,
pp. 284-285)

Because social context is crucial in learning (Pang 2010; Nelson 2010), when parents and other family members assist students by using home languages, this affirms the importance of what is being taught by teachers and gives value to students' family cultures. In the social interaction process, parents also contribute to science learning when they employ their home languages to help explain and reinforce science vocabulary, concepts, and models (Nelson 2010). …

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