Equity is Rooted in Cognitive Apprenticeship

September 22, 2018

Exploring through Twitter other professional work that is being done on Cognitive Apprenticeship led me to a few interesting tweets this week that drew awareness to the small number of educators aware of the theory and cognitive apprenticeship as a source of equity.

Cognitive apprenticeship is learning that is rooted in authentic activity and contextually situated in the students’ lives. Authentic activity means the tools and skills that are being learned represent the practice of a practitioner in the world. Contextually situated illustrates that students’ cultural communities, experiences, and interests are the starting point for learning. Interestingly, looking through Twitter, I was surprised to find two things:

#1: the amount of teachers who are unaware of this theory of learning, cognitive apprenticeship

#2: Cognitive apprenticeship is a source of equitable education.


Dr. Pedro Noguera addresses that equity is often thought about as access to resources and distribution of resources, but in the context of how people learn through the theory of cognitive apprenticeship there is a new consideration. Knowledge is not only access to the development of authentic Practitioner skills, but for deep learning to occur education is dependent on the knowledge being situated in the context of the learner. That is a equitable education. Dr. Pedro Noguera states, “The path to higher achievement is through engagement, but engagement is multidimensional. It’s not simply about whether the kids are present and doing the work; that’s the behavioral part. But there’s also the cognitive part—how deeply do they understand the work? How much can they connect what they’re doing on one project to other things they’ve learned or to what they’ll have to learn next? And third, there’s the emotional part. How much do they actually care about what they’re doing? How invested are they? We all work harder when we have a passion for what we’re doing.


I felt a sense of urgency reading Dr. Pedro A. Noguera connections between deeper learning and cognitive apprenticeship. If learning happens in authentic activity and in the context of the learner it leads to deep conceptualization, anything less than this is what Collins, et al. call ersatz.

On the other hand, I felt reassurance and hope these past two weeks in Get Real! Science. I think Dr. Pedro Noguera would be pleased to see that our team is offering authentic activity that is situated in their actionable participation, connected through community practitioners and emotional investment in science that students care about. This came to be through advisory panels that elicited students’ ideas about what they care about which generated our three investigations: care for environment led by the Recycling RockSTARS team, IncrEDIBLES focusing on access to healthy eating and Captivated that is advocating for the care for animals. These three investigations originated from students gallery walks that led to rich discussions about science that matters to them, and nine pre-service teachers that care about listening to students.  Get Real! Science has the most students enrolled in the after-school STARS club than ever before and they are engaged in science that is situated in their cultural realities and personal interests. This is an example of Deeper Learning that is equitable and sustainable.

Revealing Community that will Impact Future Change

September 14, 2018

The beginning of a school year is always an exciting time of year! One of my favorite professors, stated that our job is not to “build community” but to “reveal a community” that already exists. Revealing community is the most important opportunity in the beginning of a school year and there are many different ways to nurture the community that is in our science classrooms and schools. This past week on Twitter, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, twitter feed #NGSSchat, posted the  following question:

Last fall, I implemented a new routine and norm in my tenth grade biology class- circles. Every Thursday, class started with a circle that served as a community check-in and also served as a place to elicit student ideas for a science topic. When introducing the concept of a circle to 10th graders, I knew that it would have to be meaningful or I might lose them. One the first day of school, I assigned a homework assignment to bring in one artifact that answered the question, “What is life?” Or an artifact that finished the sentence, “Life is like…” This artifact would launch not only the norm of circles, but my introduction into biology- the study of life. The next day, each class sat in a circle with their artifacts, and one-by-one each student shared why it represented life to them. This opportunity not only illuminated students’ creativity, important elements of their life, access to resources, or who might forget their homework and grab something out of their bag, but it also grounded each them in a connecting activity that science is relevant in all facets of life. After the “Life is like..,” circles we took class pictures that led into establishing class norms, which hung together in our classroom for the remainder of the year. This grounding activity was an anchor for supporting the norm of “circles” in the science classrooms.

Circles have the potential to create a safe place for students to celebrate their wins, and understand their failures in a supportive environment. Both wins and loses are going to happen in science classrooms, and nurturing this environment promotes a safe space for all students. Not all students will feel instant success in modeling a phenomenon. Not all students will feel confident about sharing a potential solution to a problem in their community. But I believe that if a supportive, respectful and trusting community is established from the beginning of the year, it is more likely that students will feel more comfortable in the attempt. This small nugget of trust can be the “game changer” for a young scientist seeking solutions to change their community in meaningful ways.