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The Consciousness that Equitable Teaching Requires in STEM Classrooms

Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews talk at Purdue DLRC on Friday, January 29, 2016

Posted by Mike Canning

 

Key takeaways

Society’s depictions of a scientist and of an engineer are too narrow. Help students to reach far beyond these depictions. Build students’ self-concept and self-efficacy in STEM work, so that they can see themselves in the disciplines that they are studying. Culture matters. Universities and disciplines typically operate under and promote the dominant culture’s codes. Equity is fairness and access to the same opportunities. I need to get to know my students as deeply as possible so I am truly including them. Inclusive teaching leads to learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible. It is important to contextualize what I teach. Reject deficit mindsets and promote growth mindsets. Do self-reflection, and do it critically. How does my own social identity shape my pedagogy? How do I learn more about what I don’t know? Where might I have implicit bias, where might I have expectancy bias, where are there stereotypes about individual students or groups of students? Video my classroom and me at work. Have someone observe me. Accountability is important if I am to grow in awareness and skill in becoming a more equitable STEM educator.

 

A summary of the talk in more detail

On January 29, 2016, a group of Purdue faculty and students were treated to a ninety-minute talk entitled “The Consciousness that Equitable Teaching Requires in STEM Classrooms” by Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews. Dr. Andrews is Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, whose teaching and research is focused on race, culture, and equity in education. 

One of Dr. Carter Andrews’ first statements emphasized the need to help students see themselves in the disciplines they are studying, to help them imagine what they could be beyond the normative definitions and images of what the STEM fields are like. She cited examples where children were asked to draw what they thought a scientist looked like. Many drew pictures of white men – often, older white men – wearing lab coats. If we do a Google Image search on the word “scientist” these ideas are reinforced – most of the images are people in lab coats, mostly white men, with safety glasses, test tubes, and microscopes.

The Google Images for “engineer” largely bring up people with hard hats, holding construction drawings. Most are white men. Though we know that there are many white male scientists who work in laboratories and many engineers who work on buildings, these are very narrow depictions of the work of scientists and engineers across disciplines and around the world. 

We need to help our students imagine themselves working as a scientist or engineer or mathematician or technologist in ways that go far beyond these depictions. We need to build their self-concept and self-efficacy in STEM work, and help them to truly SEE themselves in the disciplines they are studying.

Dr. Carter Andrews asked us to consider three questions – Who am I? Who are my students? and Who are we together? She then focused on the concepts of culture and equality vs. equity. In broad terms, culture is a shared, symbolic system of values and traditions, encompassing relationships among people, worldviews, and behaviors. Culture is dynamic, not static, and is context-specific. STEM classrooms and departments have a culture that is also dynamic and context-specific. And this culture matters. Often, universities and disciplines operate under and promote the codes of the dominant culture. Dr. Carter Andrews noted that these codes are often “inherently racialized, classed, gendered, heterosexist, and homophobic spaces” where equity and fairness are not operating. She provided this quote from Alan Johnson (2008) on why culture matters and the challenges we face regarding diversity and its perceptions -  “The trouble around diversity isn’t just that people are different from one another. The trouble is that society is organized in ways that encourage people to use difference to include or exclude, to reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppress, value or devalue.”

While equality is sameness, equity connotes fairness; in other words, access to the same opportunities. Dr. Carter Andrews stressed that “outcomes should drive what needs to take place in the classroom.” Who are my students? A brief survey, given on the first day of class, or even better, online before the first day, will yield important information on who our students are, their backgrounds and their goals, and other important information that will help me shape my class. Relationships with my students are critical – the more I know them, the better equipped I will be to provide the access that each student needs to connect and thrive.

A slide entitled “Privilege, Power, Difference” showed a rendering of two students on ladders. One student was higher on his ladder than the other, indicating that he has a head start; in addition, the rungs on this student’s ladder were closer together than the others student’s, signifying that he has an easier climb than other student has. This is an image to keep in mind as I consider each my students, their backgrounds, and their aspirations.

Dr. Carter Andrews stressed the importance of critical self-reflection for the STEM educator. To help with self-reflection, she posed four questions that we should ask ourselves continually:

  1. How does my own social identity shape my pedagogy and teaching philosophy?
  2. How do I learn more about what I don’t know?
  3. What accountability measures do I (and hopefully my peers) have in place to ensure that I am dealing with these issues?
  4. How am I planning and implementing strategies to reach all learners?

She went on to describe implicit bias, expectancy bias, stereotype threat, microaggressions, and role congruity/incongruity, and how each of these can hinder equity in the classroom.  She urged the group to ask ourselves where we might harbor unconscious biases and where they might come from, and where there are implicit assumptions that could be influencing our judgments about our students and their capabilities.

 

Dr. Carter Andrews finished with suggested strategies. These included the following:

  • Integrate cultural relevance and diverse role models into the course curricula.
  • Build students’ self-concept, identity, and self-efficacy as it relates to STEM work. Some, perhaps many of our students are novices to STEM, and need us to introduce them to the different STEM fields in relevant ways, ways that are meaningful to them.
  • Contextualize STEM teaching to reach all students.
  • Emphasize to our students the importance of developing and practicing communication skills, which are increasingly called for in the STEM work world.
  • Encourage a growth mindset – that interest, commitment, and hard work matter and will help them to persevere when there are the inevitable setbacks.
  • Establish clear grading policies.
  • Videotape my class and observe my questions and my interactions with students
  • Ask a colleague to observe my class with a focus on how I am promoting or hindering equity.

 

We are grateful to Dr. Carter Andrews for the content and the encouragement to cultivate a consciousness that will lead to more equitable teaching in our STEM classrooms.  We at the TransSTEM Center want to continually be learning from people like Dr. Carter Andrews and furthering equity in each of the learning environments that we are involved with at Purdue and beyond Purdue.  

Comments on this entry

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