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 equality 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.