The Underrepresentation Curriculum (URC) is divided into three units. This curriculum is flexible: you can choose the lessons that best fit your students & teaching context. We recommend that each instructor include lessons from each of three following units:
- Unit 1: Students explore the nature of science, who does STEM (and who does not)
- Unit 2: Students learn about topics relevant to underrepresentation
- Unit 3: Students apply what they learn to take action
Questions to ponder as you plan:
A. What topics are relevant for your students, school, community, and the current sociopolitical climate?
Representation is a lens that can be applied to any social identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc.) Most URC users choose one identity on which to focus, and we have found that choosing a focus that matches your context is important. Depending on what aspect(s) of social identity and injustice you want to address in your implementation, you might look at different demographic data.
Does the demographic makeup of your class or school make one identity or another more relevant? Are there topics in the news or your community that feel timely or necessary to address in your classroom? Are there social identities that you feel particularly motivated or able to facilitate discussions around? If you are not sure where to start, you might want to check out our articulation of Why This Is Important.
B. How do you fit these lessons into your course?
The number of lessons that you bring into your implementation depends strongly on your timeline. Instructors will often shorten other topics slightly to make room for these lessons. We as instructors seldom have time to cover all of the nuances of a particular topic during a course. Fitting these lessons into the course can affect a larger cultural change – and students can always learn about a particular topic (e.g. circular motion or fluids) in more depth later as needed. Once you’ve chosen your timeframe (one day to several weeks!), take a look at the estimating times on each of the lesson plans. The lesson plans are organized around ideas and not precisely whole class periods, so some instructors find that they can combine multiple lesson plans in a single period.
Teaching the URC requires establishing a good rapport with and between your students. Many instructors wait until they have established a classroom community (towards the end of first semester or in the second quarter) that allows students to be honest and vulnerable.
C. How much agency do you want to give your students?
One of the organizational pieces to consider prior to teaching the URC is how much agency you give to your students during both the planning phase and within the conversations themselves. Can students choose the topics to discuss or will you choose them? Will you want your students to facilitate and/or lead the discussion in class? Would you like to use student-led or instructor-led action plans?
D. What sort of community preparation do you need to do?
Social justice belongs in STEM classes, but because it’s not (yet) common some pre-work may be necessary. What your community – your students, your families, your administration, etc. – needs varies widely from context to context, but we encourage instructors to consider this question before jumping in. Who do you need to get support from ahead of time? How can you help them see the value in what you’re planning to do? Negative responses to the URC have been rare, but this preparation can not only mute that but amplify positive ones. You may find some of the resources below useful at this stage, including Why This Work Is Important and Working with Skeptics.
E. How do I facilitate this unit effectively?
What steps can you take to encourage students to listen to one another? To engage in difficult conversations? To respond bravely and respectfully? (And what steps have you already taken in your class that you can build on?). To help you in this effort, we’ve developed a Thinking about Facilitating Page devoted to thinking about facilitating conversation around equity and social justice. Like any skill, facilitating these conversations takes practice. With time however, you will get better, and you’ve got a dedicated community of fellow instructors with which to collaborate.
F. What additional questions do you have?
You should now have access to the online community of instructors doing this work. Don’t be shy – post your questions and thoughts to the Slack group!
Depending on your context and positionality, you may find some of these resources useful.
- Sample Intro Handout
- Pre Letter to Underrepresented Students
- Pre Letter Home to Families
- Working with Skeptics
- Why This Work Is Important
- Student Outcomes
- Year-Round Action
- How Student and Instructor Identities Shape Facilitation
The examples below illustrate several different instructors’ different implementations of the URC. Color-coded lessons correspond to Unit 1, Unit 2, and Unit 3.
L (a white teacher) teaches physics at a minority-serving two year college in Washington state. For the past few years, the school has tried to include social justice topics across the curriculum, so the students are familiar with the idea of inequity as a structural issue. L schedules a week of daily 45-minute classes for the URC lessons, supplementing heavily with homework assignments in order to complete the lessons. Students complete Student-led Activities over the next two weeks outside of class. Then, they share their projects in class as a celebration of action. In five 45-minute classes, L teaches:
|1||Setting the Stage and Subjectivity|
|2||Data Analysis and Why Representation Matters|
|3&4||Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat, and Systemic Racism|
R teaches biology at a small private school in Washington, DC that focuses on project-based learning. Class sizes at the school are small (8 – 15 students) and the student body is racially & ethnically diverse. R uses the URC with a biology class to generate interest and bring focus to the idea of “who does biology?” In five 135-minute classes, R teaches:
|1||Subjectivity in Science and Data Analysis|
|2||Learning about Scientists’ Lives and Why Representation Matters|
|3||Stereotype Threat and Implicit Bias|
|4&5||Teacher-Led Action project|
D is a public school teacher. D’s building is a small “choice” school, and students in the district apply by lottery to attend for 6-12th grades. Over half of the students identify as South and Southeast Asian, about 40% identify as white, and the remaining students identify as other racial and ethnic groups. Students have already known and worked with each other for 4 years by the time D meets the students in 10th grade for chemistry. Because of this peer-familiarity, D conducts URC lessons about once per month, starting in October. The day before the lesson, students are assigned to read a particular article/video/podcast and take an anonymous survey about the topic. After the lesson, students debrief themselves in an anonymous journal or verbally with friends. In seven 40-minute classes, D teaches:
|3||Identity and Representation|
|4||Racial Privilege and Meritocracy|
C teaches a year-long physics course to juniors and seniors at a public high school in northern New York State. The student body is 97%+ white. C’s implementation takes place about 2/3 of the way through the year. In ten 40-minute classes, C teaches:
|1||Setting the Stage|
|4||Why Representation Matters|
M teaches a year-long physics course to juniors and seniors at a private high school in Washington State. Most of the students are white, and about 30% identify as students of color. M’s implementation takes place about 2/3 of the way through the year. In seven 90-minute classes, M teaches:
|1||Setting the Stage and Learning about Scientists’ Lives|
|2||Data Analysis and Why Representation Matters|
|7||Multiple Identities and Brainstorming Action|
J is a white instructor at a large land-grant university with a majority-white population. J integrates lessons from the URC in a calculus-based introductory physics course during the classes after midterm exams. Students do readings before class, and are encouraged to complete their action projects after the third URC lesson. In three 50-minute classes, J teaches:
|1||Subjectivity and Data Analysis|
|2||Systemic Racism and Meritocracy|
|3||Racial Privilege and Brainstorming Action|