Next Generation Science Standards Under the Equity Microscope

Next Generation Science Standards Under the Equity Microscope

The bell rings, and thirty-three 9th-graders in a high-poverty urban high school slump into their seats. Time for biology class. Some lay their heads down, some are agitated, some talk with their friends–but not about DNA, this week’s focus from the Next Generation Science Standards. This was the picture Annette, their science teacher, recently shared with me. “They’re tired, hungry and stressed,” she said. “Why should they care about cells and DNA?” It was a good question. But as the curriculum consultant hired by the district, I had to help Annette not only find an answer, but also build a unit around it. The unit needed to integrated Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Language Arts Standards. Culturally responsive instruction was essential. We had a big job ahead of us. I told the teachers to put their standards aside. We weren’t going to plan around standards. Instead, we were going to focus on the significance of DNA in students’ lives, cultures and histories. “And what about the standards?” they asked. “Standards will take care of themselves,” I assured them. With some uncertainty–even anxiety–about the approach, we dove into DNA as a social and cultural issue. I introduced Annette and her team to a process of reframing her content using the concepts of ethics and equity. We used hands-on activities that helped teachers explore the history behind DNA and its use and misuse in social policy. The content naturally enabled us to integrate NGSS Crosscutting Concepts such as cause and effect and systems thinking. Through the process, the teachers placed the science of DNA in the context of social...
Relevance and Equity in Next Generation Science Standards: 3 Little Words

Relevance and Equity in Next Generation Science Standards: 3 Little Words

Science educators across the country are rolling out the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and equity is top on their minds. The teachers and administrators we work with ask us one thing: How can we make these standards relevant in ways that engage diverse learners? The urgency is real, especially in districts serving low-income students and students of color–those whose experiences are often unheard and unseen in the curriculum. Three little words can turn this around. Three little words can infuse relevance and equity into cells, soil structure, the periodic table, and other yawn-worthy topics (at least from the kids’ perspective). In a new blog series, we’ll introduce the power of ethics, wellbeing, and community to transform curriculum. We’ll share strategies for helping teachers use these words to (re)designing scientific inquiry to answers the questions kids really have: Why are things this way? How can we explain this? How can it change, and what can I do?  These are real stories from real classrooms and on-the-ground professional development programs. Read the first post here: Next Generation Science Standards Under the Equity Microscope New posts will be shared via Twitter with links to in-depth resources. We also want to hear from you. Get in on the action. Follow us and share your Tweets using the hashtags including #ContentThatMatters, #ContentMatters, #NextGen, #edequity, #CurriculumMaker, #UnitMakeover, or your...
Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Clamentia Hall Jr. He is a double major in elementary education and language arts in elementary education. Along with being an advocate for democratic education, Clamentia hopes to create more opportunities for students to experience the arts with his music education & academic support project called My Gift From Above.   Diversity is a fact of life and schools are not exempt. Race is not a negligible concept within the classroom. Teachers cannot afford to take a colorblind approach to teaching because race absolutely does have an impact on educational and economic opportunity. Educators that teach or promote colorblindness counteract the focus of democratic education and standby to the repetition of cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes. A democratic education is one that goes beyond just helping students to develop the skills necessary to be successful. A democratic education fosters self-worth and purpose within the student, teaches active communication skills, and encourages civic and community involvement. A democratic education should allow students to challenge and discuss topics; especially those that directly relate to the demographics of their own school and community. Community involvement gives students the opportunity to discover their possible calling while also developing a purpose for their lives. David Orr, author of Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, states that “a calling has to do with one’s largest purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wants to give back to the world.” Educators should give students as many opportunities as possible to have these types of experiences and by practicing colorblindness in...

Shifting Demographics: How schools should respond

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Chandler Lach, a junior at Eastern Michigan University studying Secondary Education English and TESOL. There are a number of factors that are contributing to a change in demographics within K-12 schools. Professionals have noticed a trend where changing patterns of fertility and immigration have diversified the United States population. Though the implications of this trend may vary from region to region, they are universalized through our education system because each individual child is required to go to public school. This means that a diverse population in society means that our school populations become increasingly diverse. Schools must respond to these demographic changes accordingly. The Center for Public Education (CPE) released a document which addresses these issues and the appropriate responses in 2012. The research was founded by Ron Crouch and he interprets demographic changes along with their implications, especially in their application to ELL students. The CPE recommends that when demographic shifts, the need for highly qualified bilingual/ESL teachers will increase dramatically. Issues of equity have always been problematic within the education system, but with increased diversity, race will continue to cause conflict among schools. Crouch identified that we are growing older, we are growing more diverse, and the effects of the two is having an effect on school demographics. One of the primary issues that educators face in communities of diverse populations is the “achievement gap.” It is considered the cause of many social problems and it boils down to this: schools are built for white, middle-class, students. Public education and standardized testing is responsible...
Can Grit Undermine Critical Thinking?

Can Grit Undermine Critical Thinking?

Educators are hearing a lot about “grit” and the need to help kids persevere toward long-term goals. We’re told we need to deliver lessons about how successful people got there by keepin’ at it. But is grit the new bootstrap? And can an individualistic focus on grit keep kids from thinking critically about the social structures that impact their efforts? The narrative in the US is that hard work reaps success (typically defined in material terms). But the evidence keeps mounting that race and socioeconomic status are bigger predictors of advancement. For example, you’re 2.5x more likely to be wealthy as an adult if you were born wealthy and didn’t go to college than if you were born poor and had the grit to graduate from college. Don’t get me wrong: Kids need to set goals and work hard. But they also need critical thinking skills to challenge the inequalities that undermine their best efforts. Critical Thinking Strategies Here’s one way to build critical thinking into the curriculum: Have students ask who benefits? Language arts and social studies provide great opportunities for kids to hear the voices of those often underrepresented in the curriculum– people of color and the working class. Students can examine the impacts of historical and events by analyzing the impacts on different social groups. Who is really benefitting from this law/decision/policy? Who has the power to make the decisions? Understanding structural inequalities is a prerequisite for grit. When students understand problems, they will develop solutions, set goals, and persevere to make them happen. They will rise to the challenge both socially and academically. In this...
My Bootstraps Aren’t As Big As I Thought

My Bootstraps Aren’t As Big As I Thought

Poverty and academic achievement are two big topics most educators are grappling with. What’s the relationship? What factors really determine student success? Some people say hard work and “grit” are the main ingredients, and that if someone isn’t achieving it’s due to their own deficits. These educators say that everyone gets the same opportunities, and that lack of success is really just a lack of effort or character. Others, like myself, believe we address stubborn social and educational inequalities. While hard work certainly matters, I’m very passionate that we need to look beyond bootstraps. Why? Because bootstraps made all the difference in my own life. Sound ironic? Allow me explain: My grandfather, an Italian immigrant, never attended school. He was completely illiterate and could not even sign his own name. He worked as a day laborer and then landed a factory job during WWII that enabled him to move the family into a house with plumbing. My father entered school speaking only Italian and learned English without the benefit of ESL classes. Neither he nor my mother attended college. (She and her siblings took turns going to school because there were not enough shoes to go around.) After a stint in the Army in transportation and logistics, my father transferred his sharp skills to a white-collar job in the private sector. He climbed the proverbial ladder, and after 35+ years, retired the vice president of a major corporation. His hard work and talent continues to inspire me and I’ve learned so much from his example. This rapid advancement is the classic American dream. But the long road to success...