Share Your Ideas and Struggles

Our EDU 434 ended with a mini-professional-development-session for pre-service teachers where they shared their posters of the mini-unit they developed. As a doctoral student, I had to say I learned a lot from them.

I love the way how they used graphs and pictures on their poster to demonstrate the overarching phenomena in their unit. It was really interesting to see how middle-school teachers’ posters were different from high-school teachers’ ones. I don’t know why, but on site, I almost immediately recognized who was teaching middle schoolers and who was teaching high schoolers.

I love the way how pre-service teachers gave their students’ options to so their work. Some students preferred to describing the phenomena with pictures while others preferred to do it with words.

I love the way how pre-service teachers organized their units. Though I was not a science teachers, from their posters I could easily tell how the unit would proceed and what objectives they wanted to achieve.

I was also surprised and amazed by how hard those pre-service teachers tried to design authentic activities to engage their students. I heard more than one teachers said this was what he or she designed, but they were not satisfied about that. Chemistry teachers struggled with how to demonstrate the phenomenon at a molecular level and biology teachers struggled with the cellular level. I think they really get into the idea of showing students the “real science”.

They did really AWESOME job, which made me want to go back to teaching!

One thing I feel really great about the poster  session was that practicing teachers were there to help. Their advice were valuable resources to all of us, even for us as doctoral students. When I listened to the conversation between pre-service teachers and practicing teachers, I was amazed by how quickly the practicing teachers could respond to  pre-service teachers’ questions and give advice. What made it better was that the practicing teachers were also learning from pre-service teachers.

Another takeaway for me from this poster session is how important our research work is. Pre-service teachers’ posters demonstrated how fun, accessible and meaningful science learning could become when the teachers had all these culturally sustaining, ambitious teaching pedagogy in mind and actually tried to implement them. Moreover, Sam’s struggle with how to show students what really happened behind scientific phenomena enabled me to see the significance of integrating technology into education. As a qualitative or humanity person, I used to be against technology, believing to some extent, technology takes away students’ opportunity to feel the real things in the world. I remembered a couple of months ago, I talked with one of my friends who tried to persuade me with how amazing those educational technologies were. I said, “Okay, I understand they are fancy, but I just don’t see the point. When you can argue with others in face, why do you argue with them on phone?”

Probably now, I have a better understanding.

Overall, it was a fabulous experience to have this class with our pre-service teachers friends. I learned a lot from them and I see good teachers in them.

If you are an anti-technology person as I was, check this video out!

Science Leaning in One Hour

This week, my doctoral colleagues presented our ethnography study to the class. I was amazed by how individuals’ focuses were different when doing this assignment.

As for me, I focused more on the interaction between the learners and myself. So though I did not present this, on my fieldnotes, I put a notes of my thinking when interacting with the learners I worked with in my observer’s comments. When Heather was doing her presentation, she said that she paid a lot of attention to the physical settings in the school and the classroom, which reminded me of the importance of creating a welcoming environment for the students. Her description of the school’s environment, in my mind, reveal the power relationship in that school. Plus, environment information is an important part of ethnography study (:

Saliha’s presentation allowed to me see how fun it was to do an engineering project with kids. Currently, I’m working with a friend trying to develop an engineering unit for high school students in China. When searching for materials, I realized that a lot of projects were really interdisciplinary and required hands-on experiments. I even found a project that integrated the knowledge of anatomy, physiology and surgery with a final project of developing surgical tools. Reading the curriculum had me want to try out the project by myself desperately! If you are looking for cool engineering projects, this website could be very helpful:

Image result for learning engineering kids

Regarding Elizabeth’s work, I learned how much personal experience could impact our views towards the world around us. Although we were in the same classroom, our observations and findings were greatly different. Her past experience of working in Africa enabled her to have a deeper insight of those refugee ladies’ life back to their home country. She is also much more risk-taking than me. When we discussed the lesson, she was the person who always suggested we do this and that, while I was the one who had more concerns. She always believed we could achieve the objective though it might take more efforts while I was always worried about time. It was a fun experience of working with her.

Another big take-away from this session for me is how much science learning could happen within one hour. The OC captured a lot of moments I might never think about if I did not do it. I was very curious about what my colleagues actually put in their OC. It would very interesting to read their thoughts while they were observing.

Science should be a story.

I love the people who make science fun!

Dr. Tyler DeWitt is a research scientist, high school teacher, and digital content author. He has published a series of videos on his YouTube channel to help people with chemistry learning. In this TED talk, he shared the story that his students felt boring about science and how important he thought fun was for science learning. Instead of memorizing and taking precise notes of all the scientific facts, science should be a story.

People have been struggling with presenting science precisely. Tyler brought up the concept of tyranny of precision in this video, which described the phenomenon of how people cared about the precision of the scientific language. And the precision is usually what makes science dull and inaccessible to students. As a PhD student in MIT, Tyler contended that he understood the importance of the detailed and precise scientific language in the communication between experts, but he questioned: Is that language necessary for 13-year-old kids? What if the precise language shuts the students down in science learning? His talked captured the tension between accessibility and precision.

If I were a 13-year-old kid, I would like science to be a story rather than a scientific description. I think Tyler has made a good point that at the age of 13, all that matters is how accessible science is. In addition, as knowledge is constructed, even though the first concept students learn about a phenomenon is not accurate, as they learn more, they will reconstruct and refine their knowledge. However, if the door to science is shut down in the first place, it would be difficult to open it again.

Will you insert it or not?

I was watching a Chinese debate show the other day. The topic was if you would insert the chip into human brain if scientists invented a chip that had all the knowledge in the world and that could be updated if new knowledge came up. One interesting idea the two sides argued about was if it promoted educational equity when all of the people had access to knowledge. The negative side argued that this chip denied some people’s efforts to work so hard to acquire knowledge when knowledge became so easy to get. The affirmative side argued that this chip actually put everyone in the same starting point regarding knowledge storage in that children growing up in poverty usually did not have good teachers and some of them may not have the opportunity to learn certain knowledge in their whole life. Because of the lack of certain knowledge, they did not have the opportunity to succeed.

This debate allowed me to think about what it actually meant by educational equity, especially for science education. One person from the affirmative side said that the group who were well-educated were privileged of receiving education. When we were passionately saying we wanted to contribute to promoting educational equity, we usually didn’t know what education inequity was. And I think this is true.  I remembered how shocked I was when I started teaching in my old school.  The village where I taught was and still is the poorest village in the township so many teachers were unwilling to teach there or they tried their best to get out of there. Teacher shortage was a severe problem. To have some “teachers” in the classroom, many art teachers were assigned to teach math, music teachers were assigned to teach Chinese, and P.E. teachers were assigned to teach English. This is what I could not imagine: The teachers did not even have content knowledge, let alone pedagogic knowledge. Many of them had to learn by themselves first and then taught students. In this case, the accuracy of knowledge became the goal and how we wanted our kids to learn was far less important. For my kids, they did not even have the access to qualified teachers. They could not expect the educational resources the kids growing up in a comparatively rich family have, which kept them away from certain knowledge and shut the door of opportunities in front of them. Going back to the debate, I think I will insert the chip to people’s brain if there is one. Though equality does not equal to equity, at lease for my kids, the chip can create more opportunities for them even though knowledge facts cannot guarantee skills and abilities.

Equality and equity are not easy to distinguish and the graph below is a good demonstration. I love the explanation that “sometimes our differences and history can create barriers to participation, so we must first ensure equity before we can enjoy equality”. Equity is a concept for every kid regardless of their race, gender, ability, religion and sexuality. Each of them has a history that makes their participation in learning different and unique.


(retrieved from

Also, here is video to help us differentiate the idea of educational equality and equity. Hope you will enjoy it (:




How much science capital do you have?

I have been always wondering why certain people choose science as their career while others do not. What keeps people working in scientific fields and what prevents them from developing their interests in science into a profession choice? Recently, I found this cool concept of “science capital” developed to sort of answer my questions

First of all, what is science capital?

A bigger context of why science capital was brought up is that current science curriculum is trying to make science fun to students. However, a group of educational researchers from University College London found that fun was not enough. According to their data, most of the young people found science very interesting, but only a few of them chose to become scientists in the future. Through their research, they found that a lot of other factors contributed to people’s aspiration and involvement in science, such as attitude towards science, family education, etc. They defined all an individual’s science-related experiences as science capital and identified eight dimensions affecting it. Professor Louise Archer, the leading figure of research on science capital at UCL, in her TED talk argued that when young people had more science capitals, they were more likely to continue their scientific work and saw themselves as a science person, which was significantly related to their science identity. One of the approaches they found effective to build youth’s science capital is to value the resources youth bring to the classroom and make them relevant to science learning (Archer, 2015)

( 8 dimensions affecting science capital, retrieved from

(the TED talk Dr. Louise Archer gave)

To some extent, I think “science capital” is a combination of ambitious science teaching and consequential science learning: How can teachers provide students with an environment for sustainable science engagement and participation? What kind of formal and informal learning could impact students in a long run, especially considering their involvement in science?

At point of this semester, my feeling or opinions about science learning has changed significantly. I don’t know why, but I feel like for me, science learning becomes more and more social rather than scientific. Though scientific knowledge is hard and cold, science learning is more about an individual’s transformation through the tool of science that helps us make sense of the surroundings. But its core, it’s more about a person’s growth in a broader social environment.

Empowering them or Releasing the Power in them?

I started reading Paris and Alim’s (2017) Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy recently. To be frank, though we have talked a lot about culturally sustaining pedagogy since last semester, I feel I don’t know too much about it. My thoughts on it concentrated on how to know students’ home community and culture, how to value the resources from students’ native community, how to build instruction upon them, and how to help students think critically about different cultures and sustain their own. Though we kept taking about how important it was to integrate the resources from students’ home community into instruction, somehow, I felt there was a piece missing about why it was important. After reading Paris and Alim’s chapter 1, I realized that the missing piece for me was power.

In EDU 523, we talked about how problematic the word “empower” was when we were using it. Though “empower” sounds like a powerful word, it actually creates an unequal relationship between teachers and students: Students’ power is granted by teachers. In Paris and Alim’s chapter, they argue that for students from non-White culture, their native culture and language is their access to power. However, for a very long time, educators have tried to teach youth the Dominant American English (DAE) and other White middle-class normed practices and ways of being alone are the key to power, which actually denies their access to power by devaluing and even denying their languages and cultural practices. Therefore, instead of assimilating students into mainstream culture by having them learn the White culture, educators should capitalize on students’ own language and culture to understand what they have already known (Paris & Alim, 2017).

Image result for power relationship teachers and students

(retrieved from

This description of the power issue reminded me of my experience of working with a Chinese ELL girl five years ago. When I started working with her, she was in the third grade and had been in the United States for a year. Once she told me that she liked and didn’t like American schools. When asked why, she said she loved her teachers, but she didn’t know the content because she was not good at English rather than not know the content. As a matter of fact, she had already learned a lot of them before. She loved math at that time because most of it was about numbers and that was the time when she felt she was smart. Thinking about this experience now, I am amazed by how insightful her argument was. Since she was not good at English, her knowledge base of the content was denied. Since she was not good at English, she could only be smart in math because she had no difficulty in understanding and using numbers. She had power in her body, but because she was not good at English, she could not release it. This makes me wonder if education is about empowering or releasing power.


Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York: Teachers College Press.

What does STARS mean to STARS and pre-service teachers? Why is STARS different?

For the past few months, I have become more and more curious about the question what STARS means to the kids in the after-school science club. As a doctoral student at Warner, I know STARS stands for Science Tackling Authentic and Real Science, but do the kids know this? Or does STARS have a different meaning for them?

This question came to me when I was working with East High STARS in the summer. All the girls used science STARS to refer themselves and I felt like STARS gave them a unique and special identity. This fall, when we were at School 58, I sort of had the same feelings. I remembered when I was on the field trip with the InCredible team, I heard a girl introduced themselves as Science STARS when they interviewed others. That was their third time in the club and no one taught them to say that. They said they were Science STARS like they were saying their names. Another time was when a boy ran into IncrEdible’s base room, a team member told him the room was only for Science STARS. This week when a girl was doing their invitation letter, she asked the teachers if she should sign her name or Science STARS. Those were the moments when I was wondering what STARS meant to them. An after-school science club or a unique identity for them? If it gives them a unique identity, what is that? Why is it important?

Besides STARS, I’m also wondering how the pre-service teachers’ teaching in STARS is different from their student teaching at their placement schools? In addition to the role of teachers, how do they see themselves in STARS? When they were trying to tell Science STARS how important it was to help their communities through science, did they consider themselves as activists for their students’ communities? I hope I can have the opportunity to ask them all these questions at some point.

I think my head is quite not clear now, but I’m wondering where the culturally sustaining ambitious science teaching (CSAST) would lead both students and teachers. In addition to the basic ideas such as student-centered inquiry-based instruction, I feel there is something new CSAST would give to both students and teachers. For me, there is a scientist+ identity for the student and science teacher+ identity for the teacher. Then what is the +?Image result for identity

When I was searching scientist identity on YouTube, this project, TOPS Identity Project-I’m a scientist jumped into my eyes. I watched all the clips. In this one I shared here, the girl said she wanted to be a politician and she realized that science could help her achieve that. I was impressed by this claim. I think this is might be the + I questioned before. Science is not only science itself and it is not only a discipline. It is something we can use to achieve in other fields. It is something that we can build upon to make a change. Then how can we help students see that possibility science can afford? How can we integrate this + possibility into science learning and teaching to make it more relevant or more attractive to students?

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.

Darkside’s Story

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).

What’s Community’s Role in Science Education?

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.

Democratic Science Teaching

After searching science in community, I found this video that introduces the concept of democratic science teaching. In this video, the students conducted a project of the harm the cars did to their neighborhood. Through the project, students did not only learn the relevant scientific facts, but also advocate how to improve their community. This project is similar to what we did at school 58 and I think it’s supper cool.



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.