Use Students' Cultural Experiences

In order to ensure that STEM lessons are centered around the students, lessons should be created using students' cultural experiences.

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.

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There exists a need to generate more interest within urban youth in the STEM subjects. In addition, there is a need to improve upon urban youth’s knowledge acquisition of concepts found in STEM curricula.

The problem is that STEM curriculum is steeped in the framework of traditional, Western culture and lacks content that is steeped in critical or culturally relevant pedagogy. The result is that teaching strategies around STEM content in even the most inclusive of classrooms often become ineffective in fostering urban youth’s passions for the STEM subjects.  In addition, the majority of teaching practitioners do not have the necessary tangible tools to deliver STEM content that contains a critical pedagogy framework.

Solutions to this problem are not widespread, well known, and consequently lie within individual teachers’ heads. This is the primary challenge.

A first step to connecting students' experiences to the content you have in your curriculum is by spending time with the student in their culture.  This can be accomplished in a variety of ways: connect to the parents through digital media, spending time in the students' neighborhoods, asking students to bring in photos of their activities they do with their families and in extracurricular activities, and a host of other ways.

Click here for a more in depth unpacking of this idea:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1S-E2dRF1-b0JaGreOo1A8W0VgHUJVclwsjrfvi3YkmM/edit?usp=sharing

Click here for a preview of the prototype:

https://stemkidsnyc.mybalsamiq.com/projects/thebridgetostem/prototype/Bridge%20To%20STEM?key=d22f1d6c39fd74d6a61e9fad381626a9c3c334e2

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Photo of Trever Reeh
Team

Great activity that gets students thinking deeper.

We have a large hispanic population that is from Central American countries. These students are growing up on farms or in cities where they didn't have electricity.

How could you make a product that uses electricity or a modern day item and make it so that it doesn't need electricity or have them find an alternative.

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Trever Reeh , thank you for your post! Are you wanting to make a product that's free from electricity as a way to address building sustainable products, or are you wanting to build it because the students may lack the funds of knowledge around electricity?  In Africa, there are Amit of inventions that are created without the use of electricity, and some aid in farming, providing solar powered light to supports students in their completing homework at night, and a host of other ingenious makes. The guild should bring in these teachers and other groups to support your question. Look up Soccket. It's such an awesome concept that combines play with generating light for villagers.

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

If I may add to your post, Trever Reeh , the development of lessons that support the cultural experiences (and funds of knowledge) of the students also gets the teachers thinking deeper.

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Trever Reeh , would you mind contributing your ideas on my team?  Your input and experiences 'on the ground' would be helpful. Also, I'd love to prototype a solution and see how your students would respond.  Will you join?

Photo of Trever Reeh
Team

Yes I will join! Tell me what I can be doing to help.

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Trever Reeh , I would love if you could join my prototyping team and provide ideas on how further to flush out the idea. 

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Here's a prototype of one of the mockups of my idea on supporting educators in curating more culturally relevant STEM lessons! What do you think?

https://stemkidsnyc.mybalsamiq.com/projects/thebridgetostem/prototype/Bridge%20To%20STEM?key=d22f1d6c39fd74d6a61e9fad381626a9c3c334e2

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

Culture is such a critical element Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed. Can you share more about how you would uncover and bring students' cultures into STEM lessons? How can other teachers also do that?

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Hi, Margaret, thank you for the post. One simple way is to invite guests into the classroom who make a living in the particular STEM field you are exploring, and ensure that guest (who can be the teacher for that segment) resembles the ethnic makeup of the student population. Another is to take note of the valuable funds of knowledge skills (academic or otherwise) acquired by the students that could be utilized as the same skills to engineer, design, debug, improvise (i.e. called hacking). Yet another is to create cogenerative processes with core groups of students, in order to gauge teacher effectiveness in disseminating  STEM content that supports the learning needs (not the test needs) of the students. 

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Hi there, @Margaret Powers!  Thank you again for your input.  Would you mind joining my team to flush out this concept, and have a forum for your contributing your ideas?  I'm currently working on a prototype, and the goal is for this idea to be selected, so that we can really create one of the mindblowing STEM solutions.  Will you join?

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Hey teachers! Would you agree that...the problem with STEM curriculum is that it is steeped in the framework of traditional, Western culture and lacks content that is steeped in critical or culturally relevant pedagogy?  Don't you experience, if you teach in an urban classroom, that the results of your teaching strategies around STEM content often do not connect with students who may not show an interest in the STEM fields? Every wonder why???  I have some ideas on how to support us all in this mission to provide more mindblowing STEM.  First, I'd love to hear from you about what you experience in your classrooms, or what you've observed in other classrooms. Thanks for your contribution!

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

Yvonne!!! I was so awesome meeting you Friday at Steelcase! You are doing amazing work, I can't wait to connect again.

Did you meet Lan Heng Friday? She posted Collaboration , which I think is getting at the same idea as your post.  I like what Trever Reeh is suggesting. How might we make authentic connections to who we are and where we come from through STEM experiences. This would be a fun one to build out together! 

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Hello, Michael Schurr ! It was so great to meet you. No, I did not meet Lan Heng , but I am aligned with her Collaboration beliefs. Cultural relevance, cultural learning processes, and decolonization of curriculum is so important in STEM. 

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

Would you be interested in fleshing this idea out in more detail?  We could start a google doc and think about how we create STEM activities around cultural experiences? 

Photo of Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed.
Team

Michael Schurr , I've begun doing research at Columbia around this theme...so I'm not too sure about creating a Google doc around content that I will either publish or develop curriculum around (or most likely both). I'm sure there is a way to collaborate, but it may be more along the lines of periscoping folks into my STEM afterschool or out of school time programs at Columbia, or inviting folks to the site(s) in Harlem.