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All we ask in exchange for the curriculum is that you fill out a quick form. It will immediately give you access to the lessons and teacher guides, and a link to join our online community of teachers. We collect this information to keep track of who is using our curriculum: we will not spam your email or share any personal information that could identify you.

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What is This?

This curriculum grew out of one teacher’s idea: what if we could use the tools of science to examine the culture of science itself through the lens of equity and inclusion? And what if we brought students into that process?

Thirteen years later, other teachers have picked up on his work and started putting their own spin on the curriculum. The resource you’re looking at now is a product of that collaboration.

Since different teachers have different needs, time and interests, the curriculum is designed so that you can easily choose the parts that will work for you and modify them to suit your needs. The unit has three subsections, click the Unit Subsections button below to see them. For a couple example timelines, click the Example Timelines button.

  1. Embarkation: Laying the Foundation
    1. Learning about Scientists Lives
    2. Data Analysis: Under-Representation
    3. Is Science Subjective?
    4. Why Does Representation Matter?
      "What Unique Perspective...?"
  2. Fueling: Gaining Relevant Knowledge
    1. Meritocracy
    2. Stereotype Threat
    3. Systemic Racism
      Systemic Sexism
      "Over-Representation" [Coming Soon!]
    4. Privilege and Affirmative Action
    5. Political Correctness [Coming Soon!]
    6. Implicit bias
    7. Intersectionality
    8. Model Minority Myth
  3. Ignition: Turning Knowledge Into Action
    1. Students Taking Action

Once you fill out this quick form, you’ll gain access to lesson plans, activities and readings, advice from experienced users of the curriculum, and much more. We hope we have created a resource flexible enough to work for you, whether you’re wanting to dip your toe into conversations about justice or an already-experienced practitioner.

It’s an amazing thing, to be writing this letter to teachers we’ve never met. It’s inspiring, to think about how, through our collective efforts, we’re doing our part to improve the educational experience for our students and the culture of STEM for all. By using these resources in whatever way you use them, you’re a part of that, too. Welcome aboard.


Why is it Important?

“Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in the power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is a privileged of an elite, but the birthright of all).”

- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.” “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.”

- bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
Abstract

Underrepresentation on many levels is endemic in STEM, and teachers in these fields have a unique opportunity and responsibility to address this. The attached curriculum offers those teachers a flexible, easily modifiable set of lessons with which to do so.


Scientists have long recognized that their ranks do not match the broader population; specifically, science in America is skewed more male and more white than the country as a whole. Numerous explanations have been offered to explain this disconnect and, while research has discredited the possible explanation of a lack of aptitude in underrepresented groups [i] , the problem remains complex and enormously consequential.

Implications Include:

• A lack of diversity in portrayals of science contributes to a lack of diversity in the students who pursue the field; as the saying goes “you cannot be what you cannot see.”. Research has shown that diverse groups do more impactful scientific work [ii]; science indirectly suffers as a result of this limited diversity. Our charge, in the words of the American Association of Physics Teachers, is “making [science] more inclusive and supportive of women and people of color is required for doing excellent[science]. [iii]

• The equitable access to science for all is, in the powerful words of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a matter of “fundamental human decency.” The current reality, in which this access is not fully realized, is a moral problem as much as a pragmatic one.

• In both society and science, the ability to recognize and work in diverse settings is increasingly valuable. By talking about diversity (or the lack thereof) as it pertains to science, we will be better preparing our students for their lives as scientists or as engaged citizens.

• When students are implicitly taught that science can only be done by a select few, science may be inadvertently portrayed as inaccessible or even irrelevant to “normal” people or people who love the arts. A population that regards science as outside their reference is unlikely to fund it and may even come to fear its power.

This underrepresentation is a problem for science teachers to help solve and, happily, we have effective ways to do so. One such way is to engage students in conversation about this underrepresentation, and to explore the societal forces that it reflects. In doing so, students will be using and practicing scientific skills, while gaining a deeper understanding of “science as a human endeavor” [iv]. Additionally, learning about underrepresentation has been shown to deepen the formation of scientific identity, belief in the value of science, and science self-efficacy in students from underrepresented groups [v], [vi], and learning about affective factors which keep students out of science has been shown to reduce their effect on those students [vii], [viii]. Learning about underrepresentation is both an important part of scientific learning for our students and a powerful solution to the challenges listed above.

By creating this resource, we hope to help science teachers facilitate these important conversations about who does science and why. We have undertaken this project because we love science and want it to be better, because we believe all students can learn and deserve to fall in love with science if they choose, and because we recognize that the history of science teaching and culture of science have ignored many students and misled nearly all. Considering the demographics of who does science is not only relevant but, more importantly, represents our recognition that science is, by its very nature, a human endeavor.

After years of doing this work with students, we have seen its transformative potential in our own classrooms and beyond, and heard it from our students:

[Race] does relate to what we learn. By discussing it in physics, we are able to connect what we have learned to other things in ‘real life.’ By learning about it, I feel less discouraged from perhaps pursuing a course in math or science.

These conversations are not only for the benefit of students from underrepresented demographic groups. Students who identify in the majority will benefit as well. Being able to work in diverse groups and participate comfortably in conversations about society and representation is an important skill for graduating students, according to employer surveys.

Scholars generally agree that the problem with under-representation of specific groups in science stems not from any characteristic of these individuals, but rather from the culture of science itself [ix]. Given this origin, any solution to rectifying the lack of diversity in science must find a way to change the culture of science to be more welcoming and inclusive.

It is our fervent hope and assertion that this can happen in part through education, not by changing the mindset of individuals who might be categorized into one or more of these under-represented groups or by helping them achieve particular experiences to better prepare them for careers in science, but rather by effecting a change in those students who DO belong to the dominant paradigm of who does physics. Yes, change is hard, but scientists solve hard problems all the time. Our goal, in simple terms, is to equip the next generation of scientists with a broader sense of who should do physics so that they can challenge and, thereby change, the culture of the field.

At the most fundamental level, the actual population of scientists is more diverse than most common portrayals suggest it to be. For reasons of accuracy alone, science teachers should share an appropriately diverse group of scientists to their students. When this is not feasible due to geographical isolation, teachers need ways to expose their students to this diversity since they might not see it firsthand.

As secondary teachers, we are in a unique position to influence our students [x] and, by extension, society. Though many of us were not trained to bring conversations about representation and equity and society into our classroom, we recognize that by not doing so, we suggest that these things do not matter in science. In the words of Na’ilah Suad Nasir, “To not discuss or address issues of race, culture, and inequality is to accept the current patterns of inequality and marginalization.” [xi] Moreover, our students are living in a world in which these topics are discussed more and more widely; bringing the conversation into the science classroom is a matter of continuation, not insertion.

Our students will exist in society, as scientists or otherwise, and this unit offers a way to better prepare them both for a life in the lab (so to speak) and a life in society. We hope these resources prove useful to our science teaching peers, and that with your help, this work will continue to expand and evolve.


References

[i] Brickhouse, Nancy W. “Embodying science: A feminist perspective on learning.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, vol. 38, no. 3, 2001, pp. 282–295.

[ii] Richard Freeman and Wei Huang, “Collaboration: Strength in diversity,” Nature 513, 503 (Sept. 2014) [To see more research supporting this work, go to this folder.]

[iii] Statement on Fisher v. University of Texas. (2016). The Physics Teacher, 54(6), 326-328.

[iv] NGSS Lead States, “Appendix H – Understanding the scientific enterprise: The nature of science in the Next Generation Science Standards” in Next Generation Science Standards: For States By States (2013)

[v] Erica Weisgram and Rebecca Bigler, “Effects of learning about gender discrimination on adolescent girls’ attitudes towards and interest in science,” Psychol. Women Quart. 31, 262–269 (Sept. 2007)

[vi] Zahra Hazari et al., “Connecting high school physics experiences, outcome expectations, physics identity, and physics career choice,” J. Res. Sci. Teach. 47, 978-1003 (Oct.2010)

[vii] Michael Johns, Toni Schmader, and Andy Martens, “Knowing is half the battle: Teaching stereotype threat as a means of improving women’s math performance,” Psychol. Sci. 16, 175–179 (March 2005).

[viii] National Center for State Courts, “Strategies to reduce the influence of implicit bias,” http://www.ncsc.org/ibeducation

[ix] Leslie, Sarah-Jane, et al. “Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines.” Science, vol. 347, no. 6219, 2015, pp. 262-265., doi: 10.1126/science.1261375

[x] Hazari, Zahra, et al. “The Importance of High School Physics Teachers for Female Students’ Physics Identity and Persistence.” The Physics Teacher, vol. 55, no. 2, 2017, pp. 96–99., doi:10.1119/1.4974122.

[xi] Nasir, N. S. (1996). Why Should Mathematics Educators Care About Race and Culture? Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 9(1), 7-18.


Other Resources

The Underrepresentation Curriculum Project is just one of several organizations working to address underrepresentation and inequity in STEM. Here are some other resources we would reccomend!

StepUp

From StepUp's Website:

Drawing on research evidence, STEP UP will mobilize thousands of high school physics teachers to reduce barriers and inspire young women to pursue physics degrees in college. The goal is to increase the representation of women amongst physics bachelor’s degrees and begin to shift deep-seated cultural views about who does physics. If half of the high school physics teachers encourage just one more female student to pursue physics as a major, a historic shift will be initiated — female students will make up 50% of incoming physics majors.

Teaching Tolerance

From Teaching Tolerance's Website:

Our mission is to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy... Our program emphasizes social justice and anti-bias. The anti-bias approach encourages children and young people to challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives. Our Social Justice Standards show how anti-bias education works through the four domains of identity, diversity, justice and action.