Science in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education

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Harvard Education Press, 2019 - Education - 168 pages
Science in the City examines how language and culture matter for effective science teaching. Author Bryan A. Brown argues that, given the realities of our multilingual and multicultural society, teachers must truly understand how issues of culture intersect with the fundamental principles of learning. This book links an exploration of contemporary research on urban science teaching to a more generative instructional approach in which students develop mastery by discussing science in culturally meaningful ways.

The book starts with a trenchant analysis of the "black tax," a double standard at work in science language and classrooms that forces students of color to appropriate and express their science knowledge solely in ways that accord with the dominant culture and knowledge regime. Because we are in an interactive, multimedia world, the author also posits the necessity of applying what is known about best practices in science teaching to best practices in technology.

The book then turns to instruction, illustrating how science education can flourish if it is connected to students' backgrounds, identities, language, and culture. In this empowered--and inclusive--form of science classroom, the role of narrative is key: educators use stories and anecdotes to induct students into the realm of scientific thinking; introduce big ideas in easy, familiar terms; and prioritize explanation over mastery of symbolic systems. The result is a classroom that showcases how the use of more familiar, culturally relevant modes of communication can pave the way for improved science learning.

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Science in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education by Bryan Brown looks at the way language learning influences science pedagogy and science learning in K-12 classrooms. Brown is a professor of teacher education at Stanford University. His research focuses on student identity, discourse and learning in the sciences, specifically in urban communities. Brown begins Science in the City by reminding the readers of the systemic racism that undergirds our educational system by explaining the black tax. He then explores the complex nexus of minoritized and historically oppressed culture and academic language, and how this problem plays out in science classrooms around the country on a daily basis. Here Brown shifts from explaining the problem to sharing his research-based solutions. In the second half of the book, Brown introduces research he conducted that proves disaggregated learning, techniques for overcoming the language-identity dilemma, and generative instruction; he argues these are key for helping make science accessible and rigorous for the diverse students in our nation's K-12 classrooms. Although this book offers a wealth of pedagogical practices that make science classes more culturally relevant, it does not address how to support teachers in this pedagogical shift. The implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy should not solely fall on the shoulders of the teachers, but also on administrators, policy makers, schools and teacher educators. Ultimately it provides clear and powerful solutions for self-motivated teachers to implement in science classrooms to increase achievement and engagement of students of color. 

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As educators we often underestimate the richness of our students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds in their learning. In Bryan Brown’s “Science in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education” he argues that the socio-linguistic understanding that students bring into the classroom is especially relevant to their progress in science.
In the first half of the book, Brown provides an overview of how the psychological, sociological, and linguistic histories of oppression have made their way into contemporary science classrooms. In the latter half, Brown provides recommendations for practice and policy to improve the way culturally and linguistically minoritized students experience science. Brown guides his readers with a sometimes narrative, sometimes instructional tone interspersed with vivid anecdotes, about his Grandma, baseball and Netflix, as well as various illustrative examples of his research.
While the author presents a vision of instruction and assessment that challenges the status quo, it does not attack with a revolutionary fervor. Instead, Brown issues a balanced and empirically based design that offers clear advice for those who care about transforming STEM education so that it makes sense for students.

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About the author (2019)

Teacher, researcher, community servant, and scholar Bryan A. Brown is the author of Science in the City and over thirty published research articles. A native of Oakland, California, Dr. Brown made a career exploring ways to improve science teaching for students in urban schools. In 2009, his coauthored research on disaggregating science instruction earned him the NARST award for outstanding research of the year. He also received the 2007 NARST award for outstanding early career scholarship in science education. Dr. Brown was also named a National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation Fellow for 2005.

Dr. Brown's research explores how urban science education has underserved minority students by its failure to design instruction that is sensitive to the language and cultural needs of students of color. His early research projects led to the development of disaggregate teaching, an instructional approach that is designed to improve learning for underserved populations. He continued that research by examining how the language and technology can be used to improve science teaching for all students. Currently, Dr. Brown leads the Science in The City Research Group, which examines how technology can serve as a mediator between a monolingual and monocultural teaching force and the multilingual and multicultural student population.

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