Think for a moment about the diverse students who make up your class. You might have students who speak English as a second language, students with different social or physical abilities, students of different ethnicities, and students with different socioeconomic backgrounds. With so much diversity in your classroom, it can be challenging to meet your students where they are because every student needs something a little different. And not to mention, there are a lot of them—and only one of you. In this post, we’ll cover some of the ways to make science accessible to all your students. Because, after all, science should be for everybody.
One of the biggest ways PhD Science® represents diverse cultures and backgrounds is through carefully selected phenomena. Upon first glance, some phenomena seem more relatable, while others seem to be rather distant. But upon closer examination, each multi-layered phenomenon incorporates students’ background knowledge in order for students to make personal connections to the science content. For instance, Level 5 students study the Statue of Liberty, but it could be that any number of students in your class have ever visited or know much about the Statue of Liberty. However, the module begins by highlighting phenomena that are relevant to students. For example, as students investigate the Statue of Liberty’s change in color from 1886 to 1920, they discuss similar experiences with metal changing over time.
Students might reference coins in a jar that were once shiny but are now old and dirty looking or a bike they left in the rain and is now rusty. It’s through related phenomena like these that students have the opportunity to make science ideas relevant to their personal experiences.
Multiple Points of Entry
While related phenomena are one of the ways students can find a connection to science concepts, PhD Science provides other points of entry for diverse learners.
Art and Primary Sources
Art serves as another lens through which students can engage with the anchor phenomenon. Art and science both begin by inviting students to observe, question, and make sense of the world around them. Each module integrates a purposefully selected art piece. For example, as students study Light in Level 4, they observe three paintings by Claude Monet. Their notices and wonders lead to a discussion around how factors such as changing light conditions affect the way an object looks.
This interaction with art allows students to engage with a phenomenon through artistic representation, explore the art itself as a phenomenon, or apply their science knowledge in unexpected contexts because all types of learners are capable of sharing unique perspectives. These pieces, by artists from diverse backgrounds and cultures, invite students to connect various cultural experiences to science in new ways. Additionally, students reflect on the current and historical cultural implications of science as they interact with other authentic resources throughout the module, including photographs, videos, trade books, and historical primary sources.
Core texts, an important component of PhD Science modules, inspire student learning through compelling stories. These award-winning texts provide yet another entry point for students to engage with the module’s anchor phenomenon. Our library of information-rich texts includes stories from all over the world and even from outer space.
And we can’t forget about the most engaging part of science instruction—investigations. PhD Science introduces students to new concepts by using investigations that allow them first to observe and wonder and then to explore and deeply understand phenomena. Exploratory investigations like the Science Challenge and Engineering Challenge promote the application of scientific processes in new contexts, making learning accessible to all students.
Inclusive Learning Environment
It’s important to choose a curriculum that has culturally relevant phenomena and multiple entry points for your students, but equity in science also depends on implementation within the four walls of your classroom. PhD Science elevates collaboration and dialogue, but it’s up to you, as the teacher, to create a space where students feel comfortable sharing personal stories, experiences, and interests that relate to their science learning. Make sure your students feel that their contributions are valuable and that everyone has knowledge to bring to the table. A great place to acknowledge all student experiences is on the Driving Question Board. As your class first starts exploring the anchor phenomenon, accept all responses. Place questions and contributions connected to the phenomenon under the Related Phenomenon section of the Driving Question Board. Use supports like Instructional Routines and Collaborative Conversation Prompts to get students sharing their ideas.
Keep in mind that many student contributions might center around family life. Encourage students to make personal connections to science and build on the experiences and knowledge that students bring to class. Involve families as much as possible. Our Teacher Resource Pack has Family Tip Sheets to accompany each module. Family Tip Sheets, available in both English and Spanish, provide families with context for classroom learning and offer tips for supporting science learning at home. And don’t forget to check out PhD Science’s tips for pulling off a successful Family Night. Also, consider referencing the Optional Homework assignments for ideas to encourage family involvement. Many of the activities outlined here center around conversations with family members or applying what students learned in class to an environment outside of the classroom.
Remember, students build understanding when they connect new ideas with prior knowledge. And there are multiple ways to draw on students’ prior knowledge. Fine art, core texts, and investigations broaden the point of entry for all students and spark curiosity. And above all, phenomena that are relevant to students, whether it’s because of their culture or their experience, are more accessible for all students. On top of choosing content and resources that promote equity, pay special attention to creating an inclusive environment for your students and their families. With these measures in place, along with a willingness to grow and learn more about improving equity in science education, science can truly be for everyone.
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Sally Robichaux is an implementation support specialist on the PhD Science team who creates and facilitates sessions and workshops that support teachers during different phases of implementation. Before joining Great Minds, Sally taught Prekindergarten and Kindergarten at various schools in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and also worked as an applied behavior analyst and transitional kindergarten teacher at the Emerge School for Autism.