Mapping the terrain of culturally relevant science classrooms

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Journal Article

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Science education has undergone a number of reform efforts since the release of Sputnik in 1957 (DeBoer, 1991). Despite the many efforts, science achievement in the U.S. still lags behind that of other industrialized countries (IEA, 2007), and an achievement gap still exists between White and minority students (Monhardt, 2000). Several factors contribute to the persistent lag, one of which is science teachers’ ability to teach science in ways that are meaningful for and relevant to the diverse learners within their classrooms. This qualitative study examined middle school classrooms in which teachers used aspects of culturally relevant pedagogy to teach science. The researcher used portraiture methodology to search for the goodness (Lawrence –Lightfoot & Hoffman, 1997) with the aim of constructing portraits of what these classrooms could look like. The data revealed that teachers who have been prepared to use culturally relevant pedagogy are confident about using it, but find CRP difficult to integrate in science teaching. Parallels between culturally relevant pedagogy and reform based teaching are drawn, thus arguing that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and all science teachers should be prepared to use both. Additionally, the researcher presents an incomplete portrait of culturally relevant science classrooms as they relate to promoting academic success among all students, and provides brief illustrations of what culturally relevant teaching could look like, drawing from the missed opportunities from the investigated classrooms.