Many influential organizations, such as the United Nations Global Education First Initiative and the National Science Teacher’s Association, have called for science educators to include the perspectives and knowledge from diverse cultures. In a world that is increasingly globally connected, students need to understand cultures other than their own. At the same time, researchers have learned that students optimally engage in learning when teachers acknowledge the students’ perspectives, especially for students with a different cultural background from their teacher (Blanchet-Cohen & Reilly, 2013; Basu & Barton, 2007; Harris, 2011). Students also increase engagement in learning when teachers address social topics and current issues in class (Woods-McConney et al., 2013; Saunders & Rennie, 2013), such as global climate change, pollution, or the ethics of studying genetics. Different cultures can have diverse views on science topics, like how illness works or the value of privacy in deciphering DNA. Teachers can acknowledge these differences when they teach the perspective of a culture not represented in the classroom or allow students to share their perspective. Directly incorporating culture into the science classroom can help address the recommendations for diverse classrooms. However, teachers do not have enough resources or professional development to implement the recommendations for ideal multicultural, culturally responsive instruction (Buxton & Lee, 2007; Luft et al., 1999; Saunders & Rennie, 2013; Atwater, 2010). The purpose of this creative project was to produce a resource, in the form of a website, to help teachers create diverse, multicultural curricula for their own classroom by providing a sample unit plan and topic examples teachers can use to produce their own lesson and units. The following research questions were addressed:
· What is multiculturalism in science education, and why is this important?
· How can multicultural education in science benefit all students?
· What resources could teachers use in the secondary biology classroom to provide a broad multicultural perspective to students?
The research demonstrated a significant need for a multicultural perspective in the science classroom. There is a dearth of readily accessible instructional supplements to implement a multicultural perspective in a science classroom. The website produced for this creative project provides a free, accessible resource that other teachers can use as a resource to implement a multicultural perspective in the secondary biology classroom.
Summary of the Research
Multiculturalism in science has several definitions. Some view multicultural education as teaching to a specific culture of a group of students (Emdin, 2010; Banks & Tucker, 1998; Hanson, 2007). Other researchers have defined multicultural education as creating a link between the native culture of students and the discipline of science (Herbert, 2008). Still others see multicultural education as helping students develop empathy for the circumstances and viewpoints of people outside of their scope of knowledge (Milner, 2005). Each definition applies to a specific set of circumstances, and one definition may be appropriate for a specific school but not for another school or classroom.
Overarching these individual definitions are the two sets of steps for multicultural education developed independently by Banks (1993) and Gorski (2012). In both frameworks, the researchers advocate that teachers follow a series of steps to gradually incorporate a multicultural viewpoint into the classroom. The author combined these guidelines to create a cohesive set of steps for this project. The five steps are: 1) mention other cultures; 2) incorporate knowledge from other cultures into the curriculum; 3) juxtapose knowledge from multiple cultures utilizing the language of those cultures; 4) utilize teaching styles that create a student-centered classroom where students can investigate their own beliefs; and, 5) discuss the social issues and values conflicts that occur between Western science and other cultures. These steps, in total, address the various definitions for multicultural education as defined above. Multiculturalism in science can best be defined as embracing and incorporating the perspectives of multiple cultures into the classroom while also exploring the conflicts and values between those cultures.
Research indicates that the major benefit of multicultural education is increased student engagement in learning. One way multicultural education increases student engagement is the incorporation of social issues and values in relation to science. Students reported increased interest in science class when the topics covered pertained to their interests or had some purpose outside of school (Lee & Buxton, 2011; Woods-McConney et al., 2013; Freire et al., 2013; Basu & Barton,2007). For example, teachers can incorporate global climate change, smoking, acid rain, science ethics, endangered species, and other topics in class. Students were also highly engaged with the science instruction when learning began with what the students already knew and then built on their knowledge (Yerrick & Johnson,2011). Students appreciated the chance to share information, establish their own view of a subject, and then build upon what they already knew. As Harris(2011) discovered, the recognition and validation of student perspective was essential for engagement in the classroom. A true multicultural classroom addresses topics that have an application outside of school and offers students opportunities to share their knowledge while learning from others. Therefore, implementing multicultural education provides the benefit of increased student engagement for all students.
The research did identify several examples for biology topics that provide a multicultural perspective to students. Suriel (2010) published a sample unit plan for studying Spanish moss that incorporated biology and social issues; the activities include examining the physiology, geography, environmental adaptations, and cultural uses of Spanish moss. Another example is provided by Herbert (2008), who shared experiences blending Trinidad native knowledge with Western concepts so that her Trinidadian students could compare their own knowledge to accepted Western scientific understandings. One database of issues-based science lessons, PARSEL, was reviewed by Freire et al.(2013). They reported that students who participated in some lessons shared on PARSEL enjoyed the practical nature of their learning. These examples are excellent, but there continues to be a need for multicultural lessons and curricula.