Imagine you are a fifth grader learning about science. In your book, you read page after page about the world’s most famous scientists: Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Edwin Hubble.
Now, picture yourself as a Hispanic student. What do you see?
“Many students today are disenchanted by science because they don’t see themselves in their textbooks, there isn’t a face looking back at them that looks like them,” said Alberto J. Rodriguez, interim chair of SDSU’s Department of Policy Studies in Language and Cross Cultural Education. “When they see page after page of white men, it’s hard for girls and ethnic minorities to believe that one day they could be making the scientific discoveries that earn them a page in a science textbook.”
But with the increased demand for more scientists and engineers, and schools becoming more diverse, making science relevant to everyone is critical.
Rodriguez has focused his career on helping teachers make their curriculum more inclusive and multi-cultural. In fact, his article on socio-transformative constructivism, a theory that connects social justice to teaching and learning, was named one of the most influential articles on multicultural science education in the last 30 year by the Journal of Research in Science Teaching. The journal is the top in its field and fourth most read of all education research journals.
As co-director of the Center for Equity and Biliteracy Education Research in SDSU’s College of Education, Rodriguez works with future teachers to help them become more inclusive in their teaching.
“It’s not enough to have a multi-cultural moment or day assigned to talk about ‘minorities and women in science’ – which is often the norm,” Rodriguez said. “This has to be ingrained as part of the world-view of our teachers and the culture of the class.”
Rodriguez has led several major research projects since joining SDSU in 2002. His work has been published in various research journals, book chapters, as well as in four books he co-edited.
Revamping science curriculum
Currently, in partnership with UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State and San Francisco State and sponsored by a $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, SDSU revamped the science methods course which prepares teachers to teach science to elementary school students, making it more culturally inclusive and attentive to needs of English-language learners. Then by following up with those students during their student teaching placements and their first-year as teachers, researchers are investigating the impact of the project on their practice.
“We found that when the course content included more of the contributions of women and minorities, and were more hands on and minds-on, students were more engaged and had better outcomes,” Rodriguez said.
The next step is promoting this kind of research and helping schools understand the benefits of teaching within this framework.
Rodriguez and the teachers that participated in the research have developed dozens of lesson plans and activities and he hopes to eventually collect them into a science activities handbook of hands-on, minds-on, and culturally/socially relevant science activities.