Equality, Equity, JUSTICE!

Equity versus equality has been a major theme of my week. This was the theoretical framework for class readings, a major component of a panel discussion I attended on Wednesday, and the topic for two presentations I saw on Thursday.

It was at the panel, Invisible No More: The Impact of the University of Rochester in Increasing Faculty Diversity on a National Scale, that I first heard that equity and equality are incorrectly used synonymously in conversations about inclusion. Dr. Laura Porterfield informed the audience that equity means treating everyone the same while equity is about fairness and providing everyone what they need. Dr. Paula Booke pointed out that, when these terms are confused, diversity efforts try to build on existing spaces with established traditions rather than creating new spaces where there are no privileged groups.

Left to right: Dr. Beth Olivares, Dr. Laura Porterfield, Dr. Alana Hackshaw, Dr. Paula Booke, and Dr. Michael Eric  Dyson

On Thursday I attended a presentation by the University of Rochester’s Diversity Resources department. Again, the topic of the difference between equity and equality came up along with a discussion about rethinking spaces so that specifics groups aren’t privileged. The Director of the department, Amy Wight, used the following illustration as an example.


She explained that her office focuses on equity by providing accommodations to students. However, since disabilities are environment-specific, the ultimate goal is to design spaces where certain characteristics aren’t privileged.

I encountered another version of this illustration later that afternoon in a webinar entitled Beyond Diversity: Confronting Racism and the Obstacles to Equity and Justice on Campus. In this case the speaker, Dr. David Leonard was speaking specifically about institutions of learning. He described the boxes in the illustration as representing things like the number of Advanced Placement courses offered at a school, access to tutoring, and the quality of the teachers.

What I am left to wonder is how do we restructure schools so that we don’t have to “accommodate” students? Is that something worth putting effort into? The speakers I listened to this past week seemed to focus on providing equity, giving all students what they need in order to succeed in spaces where they are disadvantaged. This may be where change agents will see the most change with respect to effort. Yet, how long will we have to continue to “accommodate” students. Is there a way to build public schools that don’t privilege certain groups?

Accidental Constructivism

In my quest to use more constructivist practices in my courses, I found a lot of writing about constructivist teaching and Scratch. Scratch is a free, visual based, programming software developed at MIT. I use it a lot when I teach coding because it is very accessible to novice programmers, can be run off of single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi, and (again) it’s free.

I read an account on ScratchEd by Sarah MacDonald about her experience teaching Scratch. She didn’t tell her students how to do certain tasks when they asked; instead she encouraged them to try different solutions on their own. The students would then try a series of solutions, complaining along the way, and would often come up with their own solutions. MacDonald discussed how this reflected constructivist pedagogy. This surprised me since so much of her experience was familiar to me.

I had a cursory knowledge of Scratch and I lot of knowledge of traditional programming languages when I taught a short programming course for high school students. My idea was to use Scratch to introduce coding structure and then move on to something more advanced. To my surprise, the students took my curriculum in an entirely different direction. We ended up spending several weeks on Scratch with students creating several video games and animations. The students were all working on different types of projects. But, for the first time in my experience, they were all engaged. I was learning right along with them. Together we learned how to program keys to control a car on screen, fire projectiles, and to get a character to jump on a platform.

Students demonstrating games they designed

I mentioned in class this week how teachers have to be careful to not act as a barrier to their students’ curiosity. As those words came out of my mouth, I realized why my Scratch curriculum was so successful. I got out of the way! I taught that course before starting at Warner or ever hearing about constructivism. Admittedly, I was just happy that I wasn’t having a hard time with classroom management. However, I realize that using these practices aren’t as difficult as I make them out to be. In the future, I definitely want to be more mindful about my curriculum now I know it’s something I can do.

More on Scratch and Constructivism (with lots of links to resources for learning Scratch):

Our Scratch Project


Low-Cognition Making

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2017 World Maker Faire. This was my first year and the faire was amazing, hot, and completely overwhelming. I attended in my capacity as Director of Diversity in STEM and my intent was to look for ways to incorporate more art into my STEM programming (STEAM anyone?). I have incorporated a lot of projects inspired by the Maker Movement into my lessons. Unfortunately, I have come to realize that these projects weren’t cognitively demanding. If students followed the instructions, they would end up with some pretty cool projects that they could not explain or repeat.

So now my task is to find ways to incorporate some of the amazing ideas I saw at the Maker Faire in away that is non-formulaic and incorporates constructivist practices. Here are some of the resources I’m using as I rethink STEM programming.

Maker Ed is an organization provides resources in the form of professional development, an online community, projects, and lesson plans that incorporate maker practices into learner-led education. There is a strong focus on building on students’ funds of knowledge and intrinsic motivation.

http://sylviamartinez.com/ Sylvia Martinez is a STEM educator and researcher who focuses on constructivist maker and engineering curriculums. Her blog links to a lot of articles and other resources about maker education (including her book).

FabLearn is a research collaborative based at Stanford University. Their research focuses on assessment, pedagogy, and socio-cultural factors in K-12 maker education.


The Best Interest of the Students

The GRS team has been reading a lot on the roles of language and identity in science education over the last few weeks. Language and identity serve an important role in teaching and learning, particularly if you hold a constructivist view of knowledge. I am beginning to see how teachers help students “bridge” the language they bring to the classroom to language that is used by the larger scientific community. They also help students’ reconcile their outside-of-the-classroom identity with a new scientific identity they are developing. In Ball and Wilson (1996) describe a teacher’s duty as a balance between a knowledge endeavor and a moral enterprise. This is a balance that I’m struggling with as I think of how the theory I learn needs to be applied in the classroom.

In Integrity in Teaching, Ball describes teaching fractions to third graders. One student, Sheena, is adamant that 4/4 does not equal 5/5. She reasons that if you have a cookie divided into fourths, you cannot share it with five friends. However, if that cookie is divided into fifths, you can. Ball states:

I worried about what was in the best interest of the children. Which children? Only 4 out of 19 children were waging this battle – all girls. Two of the four – Jeannie and Sheena – were not regular participants in whole group discussions, and I was glad to have them involved. But I wondered what others were thinking. Were they engaged with this argument, and, if so, what was their position? I wanted to help all the students learn, not just teach four children, while the others observed. But how best to do it? (p. 169)

Ball does not come up with a solution that solved this problem and several students believed that 4/4≠5/5 when the class ends. Sheena was given the opportunity to present her, rather strong, argument as to why this was the case and won students over to her side.

I try to reconcile that anecdote with some of the teaching practices suggested in our reading. Cartier, Smith, and Ross (2013) describe “calling for volunteers but then strategically selecting from among them, the teacher signals appreciation for students’ spontaneous contributions, while at the same time keeping control of the ideas that are publically presented” (p. 31). I can understand why the authors recommend that teachers control the ideas that presented in their classrooms after reading Ball describe how conflicted she felt about the misconception that gained traction in her classroom. However, I love the discourse in Ball’s classroom. Though Sheena did not regularly participate in-group discussions, she was willing to present an argument and challenge the teacher. I would feel much more accomplished as a teacher if I had students willing to engage in discourse like Sheena. However, I struggle with whether or not students can afford to hold on to misconceptions. The fraction lesson Ball described happened at the very end of the school year and it is possible some of her students entered fourth grade not understanding this point. Thinking specifically of marginalized students, I wonder if it is in the best interests of the students to teach them the “right” answer or give them the tools and confidence to participate in discourse. I realize, like Ball and Wilson, that there is a balance. Yet there are times a choice has to be made.

Ball, D. L., & Wilson, S. W. (1996). Integrity in teaching: Recognizing the fusion of the moral and the intellectual. American Educational Research Journal, 33(1), 155-192.

Cartier, J., Smith, M.S., Stein, M.K. & Ross, D. (2013). 5 Practices for Orchestrating Task-Based Discussions in Science , NCTM, Reston, VA, (pp1-18).

What, exactly, am I doing here?

Greetings! I’m a doctoral student in the Teaching, Curriculum and Change program at Warner. I’m taking a course with the Get Real! Science teacher cohort and working as part of the GRS research team. I’ve spent this week trying to figure out my role in this community, not succeeding, and trying to be okay with that. I’ve had a lot of great experiences during this week with East students, teachers, and staff so I’m relying on the warm-and-fuzzies from those interactions to keep me buoyed while I figure things out.

Warm-and-Fuzzy #1 – Watching the Ultimate Rock Guy do this:

It’s wonderful being around people talking/doing what they’re passionate about

Warm-and-Fuzzy #2 – being laughed at by a student. We took the first group of students on the trip to the gorge this morning (more about that anchoring experience here). I was there as a researcher, but was able to have enough interactions with the students that I could be laughed at (while laughing at myself). I’ve found that my best interactions with students happen when I’m not taking myself too seriously, so this is a good sign!

Thoughts on the nature of science and the science community

I think a lot about diversity and STEM; it’s what I do in my full-time work and I just spent five days discussing those topics at a conference. I’ve done some reading on the nature of groups and have learned that a) members of a community or group define who belongs to that group and b) since insiders define who is in a group they are naturally resistant to outsiders trying to diversify the group. The work I do makes it very easy to assume that this behavior is always bad and unfair. I consider myself to be comically jaded when it comes to being treated like an outsider by the engineering community. However, I advocate for kids, which makes it really hard to let it go when an adult insiders appear to go out of their way to make those kids know they are outsiders. It was a relief to read about how Settlage and Southerland (2012) describe the importance of a science culture/community and what the nature of science (NOS) is to that community. “To study science without understanding the nature of science is to become familiar with the surface features of that culture but to never fully understand, be comfortable with, or be able to work within the culture of science” (p. 33).

Insider status isn’t gained by secret handshakes or by being born into certain demographics. Outsiders become scientists through understanding the nature of science, which will allow them to work within the scientific community. This isn’t an easy and linear process. There isn’t complete agreement as to what NOS is, and what is agreed upon can change. There are still insiders that think attending certain schools or speaking a certain way precludes insider status. However, as science educators, we can provide opportunities for outsiders to interact with science at a deeper level. We can collaborate, advocate, and challenge biases. The task for me, moving forward, is to be thoughtful and deliberate in the types of opportunities I make available in my programs.

Settlage, J. & Southerland, S. (2012). Teaching science to every child: Using culture as a starting point. New York, NY: Routledge.