Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Donna — Grade 5

Teacher Profile

Name Donna
Experience 22 Years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 5; all subjects
Classroom 25% Native American; 25% Hispanic
Demographics Elementary school in a rural district
Science Teaching 5 hours per week
Curriculum Teachers are given the freedom to make choices in an integrated curriculum.


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

Donna wants her students' heritage to be part of the science teaching and learning that takes place in her classroom. As teacher of a class that draws many students from many backgrounds, Donna looks for ways to incorporate their rich cultural heritage with her teaching of science. This year, because she has several Native American students in her class, Donna has decided to focus on the views held by many native peoples about nature as her class studies the local environment.

Thom Alcoze from Northern Arizona University discusses how one way of integrating Native American ideas with other science activities is by studying their myths and stories about nature. Donna decides to integrate storytelling by asking students to study and retell Native American myths as part of a unit on native plants and animals. Donna wants her students to understand that the observations expressed in the myths and stories often have scientific understandings at their foundation. By developing a deeper understanding of their own ancestry and cultural heritage, Donna believes that all her students will be better able to integrate the science they are learning with their backgrounds.

Storytelling Activity

As the conclusion to a study of native plants and animals, students share myths and stories about a familiar animal, the coyote.

Discussion Questions

What are your thoughts about the importance of bringing ideas from the different cultural backgrounds of your students into science teaching and learning?

How do you react to the idea that "only mainstream America has science?" If this idea were actually reflected in science teaching and learning, what might the impact be on the science understandings that minority students develop?

Using storytelling about nature to bring ideas from different cultures into science teaching and learning, how could you help students develop sound scientific ideas about the natural world? What are some other ways you might integrate ideas from different cultures to foster science learning?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

As a way of continuing to work toward bringing ideas from different cultures into science teaching and learning, Donna and her class investigate regional archaeology, while focusing on the Native Americans who once lived in the area.

Donna uses students' stories and essays about these early peoples as a starting point. The class then takes field trips to nearby archaeological dig sites, one of which is preserved while the other is active. Students view the sites and artifacts found there as a way of finding answers to the questions that students have. Guides at each site are available to help students explore the site and also to provide interpretations of the findings at each site.

Students return to their classroom to discuss what they learned and use it to answer questions. Donna continues to work with her students, helping them to respect their past and to assume responsibility for the future.

Archaeology Study

Students write stories that reveal their ideas why people living in the area centuries ago may have abandoned their settlements. Later, the class takes two field trips to a nearby archaeological site. The first is to a preserved archaeological site, where the park ranger leads students on a tour to help them consider the conditions under which the native inhabitants lived. The second field trip is to an active archaeological site where the public, with instruction and supervision, can help excavate. Using these experiences, students begin to answer some of their own questions.

Discussion Questions

How would you critique the archaeological study as a way of introducing students to the scientific ideas of a culture different from their own?

In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of bringing the ideas of past civilizations into the study of modern science? What are the greatest challenges?

How would you integrate an ethical dimension into the study of science?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Donna and her students continue to use archaeology to focus on the ideas of different cultures in a scientific context. She begins by asking students to list elements that are common to every culture, such as food and shelter.

Using this list, students make a chart identifying artifacts that represent these elements through several generations: the students' own, their parents', their grandparents' and those of more distant ancestors. After querying family members, groups of students make shoe box middens by collecting household items that represent cultural artifacts of a combined "clan," both past and present. Middens are exchanged between groups, who "excavate" the shoebox middens to determine the "past" as evidenced by the artifacts of the clan.

As a way of furthering students' understanding of the implications of decisions for which scientific knowledge has a bearing, students participate in role-play activities. Students take on the roles of different interested parties, including non-human species and inanimate parts of the environment, when a piece of land with Native American ruins located on it is made available to developers. Donna is hopeful that her students are becoming citizens who will care about others and value ideas from other cultures.

Middens Activity

Students complete a chart identifying elements, such as food, shelter, medicine, and transportation, that are common requisites of different cultures. Groups then work together to construct shoe box middens (collection of items that would be found in a refuse heap), which are taken to be representative of a "clan." Groups then anonymously exchange middens and excavate, map, and interpret findings. Groups share their findings with the full class and offer conjectures about the habits of the clan.

Discussion Questions

Using the middens activity as an exmple, how would you uncover, value, and use ideas from different students' cultures in your classroom in another content area?

In your opinion, what is the appropriate balance between helping students build scientific knowledge and helping them explore the ethical use of science throughout their lives?

What is your position on including, as a part of science teaching and learning, an examination of the values and ideas about the natural world that students bring with them from their cultures?


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