Why does community matter?

Recently, I am reading Angie Barton’s Teaching Science for Social Justice. Today, I am on chapter 6 Transformations: Science as a tool for change, which pushed me to think about why we wanted to invite students’ home community into the conversation of students’ science learning. In the past, at least for me, the purpose of incorporating students’ home community in teaching is to explore what can be used in instruction to provoke students’ prior knowledge and to make them feel valued in the classroom. However, Chapter 6 opens another window for me.

The chapter tells a story about a high-school kid Darkside using science as a tool to make a change both in his personal life and his community. Growing up and living in urban poverty, Darkside was facing “the harshworld” on the daily base. He felt he was dumbed down in school and was on lockdown. Like his peers, he faced the reality of being trapped and wanted to leave the neighborhood when he grew up. In his opinion, participation in science was limited to particular people who acted in a particular way. Yet, the engagement in a project that aimed at transforming an abandoned lot in his community into a garden recorded his transformation. Through the project, Darkside demonstrated a desire to use science to make his community a beautiful place he would be proud of and where outsiders would come. He wanted the project to be something that he would be remembered by. To Darkside, though everyone could transform the lot into a garden and claimed their efforts as doing science, only when it was done by the people inside the community could the action be called good science in that they were the ones who knew their needs and they were doing it for self and others. Good science is “something that you do in your community that you can be proud of. It is something that you do in your community to be remembered by. And science is something that will help to beautify and change your community to make it a better place for yourself, your family, and your community” (Calabrese Barton, 2003, pp. 134-135).

Darkside’s insight into what good science should look like makes me think about the role of students’ communities in doing science. It is true that kids’ community is a place where teachers can seek for resources, but what if we make it a goal for learning and doing science? What if we show students that science is a tool for them to change their community from a place they are trapped in into a place they can be proud of? What if we make community a place that science comes from, science is embedded in, and science will end at?

The other question for me that can be linked to the community question will go back to what science is. In Darkside’s story, science was something the kids could find and use in everyday life rather than an activity a particular group of people could practice in a particularly scientific way. In his argument with his peer, Darkside claimed that they were part of scientific community because they used science. So what should scientific community look like? Should it only include scientific people who have earned a high-level degree in scientific fields? Or should it include everyone since almost every individual is performing science every day? Should science be a privilege to smart people? Or should it be accessible to everybody? I’m asking because I heard kids saying they were not smart enough to do science and I’m struggling with what we should present science to kids.

References

Calabrese Barton, A. (2003). Teaching science for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press.

What is science?

What is science? I was struggling with this question when I was trying to answer it in class. I realized that I had never thought about it, even though for so many times, I proudly saying to others that I used to be on the STEM track when I was in high school.Image result for what is science

Growing up in a country where science class basically consisted of lecturing, drill and practice, and tests back in my time, I used to consider science as something to prove I was smart. In fact, the only reason I chose science in high school was that people always said girls could not do science and I wanted to prove that they were wrong, and I was smart. Throughout my high school life, achieving in science meant you had to figure out tons of formulas, to understand what the ridiculously abstract questions asked you to do, and then to solve them using complicated mathematic methods. I still remembered the day when I got the highest score in a physics test on the unit of the movement of celestial bodies. Topping a test full of questions like what the density of Earth is made me feel I was the smartest person in the world and I could do everything. However, after the college entrance examination, I quitted science because I did not see how it was related to my life. Everyone felt pity for me because they thought I was good at applying the formulas and answering the questions and could become a good scientist someday. However, I did not want to be a scientist if being a scientist meant sitting down and working with paper and pens all day. We did do experiments, but the purpose was to remember the procedures and then we could answer the questions of why some experiment design did not work in an exam. I felt I was done with science and did not want to do it anymore.Image result for kepler's third law

(I used to Kepler’s 3rd Law to solve the question of the density of Earth)

My opinion about science started to change when I was sitting in two science classrooms at East High School last year. The science learning there was totally different from my previous experience. The kids did learn scientific facts but in an explorative way. They spent a lot of time learning how to observe, how to compare, and how to use appropriate language to record and report their observation, the techniques a scientist should acquire. In the first place, I did not understand why it took them so much time to learn how to observe, which I only spent five minutes on its definition when I learned it. Then as my study at Warner went on, I realized that those basic techniques or strategies were the things students should learn if they really learned science. Learning science is not about memorizing scientific facts. Instead, it is about a kid learning how to become a scientist and how to sustain their passion for science. It demands scientific facts, but more importantly, it demands scientific practice, scientific values, and scientist identities. I went on a field trip with those kids later in the semester and watched how they observed rocks, how they recorded their observations and how they orally reported their findings. Then I thought, “Oh, they are like pre-scientists.”

Image result for science learning

The other thing struck me was when a kid explained to me how something worked, he said he learned it from his everyday life experience. In my narrowed mind, science was nothing about life. It was complicated, fancy and full of language only smart people could understand. But, at that moment, science was everything about life. Then I was thinking maybe science was not complex. The only reason why it was complicated was people made it complicated. It should be accessible to every kid, but we made it inaccessible.

Here I want to share a TED video clip from Cesar Harada. I want to share it because the projects his kids worked on allowed them to realize and solve problems in not only their local communities but also remote and even global communities. Through science, those kids were showing their empathy with the world and they were making a change in the world. People always say scientific science is hard, but in this video, it is soft.