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Darkside and The Community Garden

“Good science would happen only if everyone were involved, because science was about finding answers to everyone’s questions and needs.” stated by Darkside, as he and his peers focused their efforts on the science activity of transforming an abandoned lot into a community garden in the shelter. Darkside was an extremely self-motivated 16-year-old Cuban American student. Although, Darkside’s had a broken leg, he was actively involved in his shelter’s garden project in more inventive ways, organizing and encouraging his partners. The community garden project was designed based on the student’s specified interest, aligning with the ideas of Hinchey (2006) – teaching based on students’ interest, background and experience.

This anecdote reminds me that teachers need to value students various qualities and features rather than ignoring students’ talents just because they cannot can quantitatively graded in exams. Many students who do not thrive academically do not receive substantial amounts of attention by teachers which can be harmful for students’ academic development and development of confidence. Specifically when examining students from high-poverty communities, poor test scores become more common due to limited resources and poor studying atmospheres. That being said, many of these students can offer something creative and different to your class, which should be valued by teachers. In other words, teachers should teach different students according to their diverse contexts. They should try to find the shining spot of each student, which would be beneficial for both students and schools. For students, they can accept equitable chance to be educated; for schools, some unique characters would help schools establish diversity cultural environment.

All in all, teachers should value the different characters of the students who are from high-poverty communities because the students’ different experiences will offer the class different and unique qualities. In addition, teachers should continue to develop their creative thoughts and conduct different, out-of-the-box ways to teach their students.


In-class Science vs. After-school Science

Our last post ended with the thought of how this after-school program translates into science that can be taught in the classroom. After reading chapter 5 of Teaching Science for Social Justice, we realized that the children decided that what they were doing, creating blueprints and eventually building a picnic table, did not coincide with their definition of “science.” The children thought that what they were doing focused more on simple construction compared to the traditional science experiments that teachers would lead in a classroom. We were curious in a similar manner, wondering if these projects that were supposed to be science-based actually encouraged these children in the shelter to learn more of science and to potentially pursue science in the future. Each subject has a set of standards that the teacher must follow, and so with this in mind, we wondered if this after school program supported at least some of the standards that would be met in the classroom.

These students would usually not enjoy science being taught in a traditional classroom, thus they turn to this after-school program to basically encourage their initiative to learn topics science-related. Yet, how could building a picnic table be considered science and fulfill standards that need to be met in the classroom? This was our concern when reading this chapter. Although the ideas in this book have great intentions, can these ideas be incorporated into the classroom? It would be ideal if science classes can utilize the ideas of their students to come up with student-centered activities that not only gauge the interests of the students, but also be beneficial to the community.

For this upcoming week, we will be discussing chapter 6 in hopes of our questions being answered.

Bringing Essential Standards to the Shelters

We have been reading the book Teaching Science for Social Justice, which discusses how afterschool programs at two different shelters have brought science to children living in these shelters. Last week we compared and contrasted science standards from two sources: NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and the NC Essential Standards from the Department of Public Education. By considering the two standards in the context of the afterschool program at the shelters, we discussed the differences in the meaning of science and goals of science education between the shelter’s program and a traditional NC school classroom. We discussed how the shelters’ science programs have enriched and empowered the youths living in the homeless shelters by framing science in unique ways that resonate with the student participants. However, the stories in the book commented that the youths in the shelters do not feel that the science they are exposed to is the same as the science curriculum in the traditional classroom. We discussed how important it was for the children to experience classroom science at the shelter. This raised several questions: Is it really important that the student’s experience is the same as traditional schools? Or is learning science that relates to ones own experience more valuable? And, importantly, would learning science as taught in classroom make some of the children feel more inclusive?

Knowing that classroom science is based on essential standards in the state of NC, we wondered if the shelters could provide more opportunities for science that encompassed state standards. We found many online resources that provide science activities that align with state standards. Keeping in mind that shelters have limited resources, both monetary and supplies, we found activities that used everyday household items and could be performed outside a school classroom. We discussed how the shelters could feasibly bring these activities to the shelter, but we questioned why the teachers at the shelter had not brought these types of activities to the shelter already, since these activities are easily found online.

From our book reading, we do not underestimate the growth and cognitive development the children at the shelters have undergone through the science programs. We have read how they have experienced science in unique ways that goes beyond the attainment of scientific knowledge. And we are not suggesting that science in the classroom aligned with state standards is the right or only way. But we question whether the children who feel that the science at the shelter is not real science might benefit if they were exposed to activities that were more aligned with state standards. Some online activities directly state how they align the activity with a state standard. We are suggesting that some of these activities might even be similar to classroom activities, therefore, making the children feel like they were doing the same science and feel more inclusive with other students at school. We are interested to know if this has been done at the shelter. Is it really about resources or just a different type of science practice?

The Power of Language in Science Curriculum

The NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) is a program currently implemented in twenty six states across our nation. Next year, the state of North Carolina is going to be voting on the implementation of this science curriculum into our public school system. Because of this, our group thought it might be interesting to compare the current NC State Standards with the Next Generation Science Standards; specifically, the language used in the objectives and prompts. Right off the bat, it is easy to see very blatant differences in the wording of the two curriculums. The verbs used in the current NC curriculum outline lends itself to very passive instruction. Reading down a bulleted list of instructions you will see:

  • explain …
  • explain ….
  • explain …
  • summarize …
  • explain …
  • identify …

When you compare this to the the NGSS, you will see a much different pattern:

  • analyze …
  • develop a model …
  • plan …
  • conduct an inverstation …
  • construct an argument …

These verbs provide aid to help a teacher learn to engage her students. There is no doubt in my mind that the students of a teacher following the Next Generation curriculum will be much more invested and intrigued by science and the learning process when compared to a student being taught by the current North Carolina guidelines.

Because the curriculum is just a list of objectives and topics for teachers to cover, teachers can relay this information to their students in any way they desire. It is easier for teachers to just pass out worksheets and lecture in order to reach the standards that they need to reach rather than going out side and doing a larger project and getting students engaged. The NGSS standards are what I would expect a teacher like the one in our book to be using. These teachers created a large class project engaging the community- which is much more interactive and inquiry based than a standard classroom would be. To promote innovation in our classrooms, it is time for our state to adjust their standards.

Borderland – The Place of Strength

Facilitator: Cailey Solomon

Notetaker: Haoruo Li

Link: Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman is a documentary film, which criticizes the public school system and the many struggles that students and teachers face with no easy solution on the horizon. Waiting for superman can be analyzed through a social justice perspective and causes the viewer to think about the relationship between poverty and schooling

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“One of the saddest days in my life was when my mother told me superman did NOT exist.”—Geoffrey Canada

People in America are waiting for Superman; people in Gotham City are waiting for Batman; people in poverty are waiting for a philanthropist. However, why don’t we change our neighborhood by ourselves?

In the movie, Canada -an educator who dedicates himself to change the poverty living condition from the inside- has always made the point that schools can not educate effectively without improvements made in their communities, and he is willing to take funds from anywhere he can get them to provide the services he thinks are required. This man is similar to the reformer mentioned in Chapter 7 of Teaching Social Justice in Science Education who created a student-centered, community-based science project in Southside Homeless Shelter. Students in Southside Shelter stated, “we are charity”, when they realizes that they needed to be the ones to make a change —change from the inside. The program these students used to make a change is the REAL science program, which we talked about previously. This program showed people how to change by themselves and educate others about how science can transformative in inner-city communities. They are not waiting for Superman, because these students are their own Superman.

In Chapter 3 of Teaching Social Justice in Science Education, the book continues to talk about how the science program motivated children to change their lives. Firstly, this program encouraged teacher to incorporate children’s background into instructional practices and their teaching. Secondly, the author maintained that we should use “borderland” instead of “margin” and “poverty”, because borderland is a place of strength. It talked about two children with different backgrounds and how they used their location on the margins of community as a place of strength. Some children in poverty resist the stereotypical and dangerous boundaries that keep them separate from those in power, but these children learn to use the borderland to survive and succeed. They have some great qualities and skills that cannot be learned in other places. For instance, they showed how to elevate their power and prestige relative to her position with few resources. They don’t believe in Superman, because they believe they can save themselves by their own power.

God only helps those who help themselves. Don’t wait for Superman, be your own Superman.


  1. When we have our own classes, how can we promote social justice in the classroom setting? The book and resources we found online focus entirely on ways to promote social justice for these students in afternoon programs and clubs.
  2. How can we keep the balance between culture diversity and unity in the classroom?

Scientific Literacy for All – Group 19

Facilitator: Pam Dominick

Notetaker: Cailey Solomon

This week we decided to read Chapter 2 of Teaching Science for Social Justice because we realized that each chapter is not a single vignette, but rather the chapters come together cumulatively to tell a story. When we read chapter 7 the previous week, we noticed that the narrator kept referring to situations that were mentioned in previous chapters. To get a complete view of what this book is trying to explain, we decided to skim Chapter 1 and read Chapter 2 thoroughly.

In Chapter 2, Kobe returned to school in hopes of gaining some knowledge on Science to ensure some backup career if his pursuit of sports did not work out as planned. He previously dropped out because he believed school was not a necessity in his life. After working with the after-school science project, he thought he would give the classroom another chance. Unfortunately, Kobe was welcomed with snide remarks from his teacher, mentioning, “he didn’t remember him, laughed, and informed him that it was too late for him to try to pass the semester” (23). This part of the story stood out for our entire group. As future educators, we noticed that this is not how a student-teacher relationship should be. If anything, teachers should want to encourage students to not only do well in school, but to stay present and active in the school community as well. Science classes should especially not play out in this manner because the material can be difficult and somewhat intimidating to teach in general. The chapter mentions that there is a goal for all students to gain scientific literacy, and that students in the more urban settings are “quantitatively lagging behind their more affluent and suburban counterparts” (23). If this is so, why did that one particular teacher decide to isolate Kobe, knowing that Kobe would not dare come back after being made fun of? As educators, we should realize that the inequalities are more present in these types of situations, where there is minimal encouragement for students to achieve higher than what they normally could see themselves achieving. It is easier to focus on the flaws and lack of knowledge that the students might have in certain subject areas, also known as the Deficit Model, but this is not conducive for learning or teaching (27). Why discourage students for doing something wrong, when instead you could be supporting and correcting their ways instead? Science teachers should make Science accessible to all students, and to do that they must understand the needs and wants of their students and incorporate that into their lesson plans and teaching methods. The last thing educators want to do is to scare a child away from a subject that is not only interesting, but also incredibly necessary to gain scientific literacy (and to also graduate).

REAL: Restoring Environments and Landscapes

Facilitator: Haoruo Li

Notetaker: Pamela Dominick

This week, our PLC discussed Chapter 7: Building Communities in Support of Youth’s Science Practice from Teaching Science for Social Justice. We originally chose this chapter because our group was interested in continuing our discussion on the importance of science awareness and how science could be applied to a larger community. Specifically, we were interested in how to actively engage students in creative ways (especially given the inequalities of teaching science in some urban settings.) Overall, this chapter focused on the impact that science can have on forming a community. The power of science was illustrated both among a group of homeless teenagers living at a shelter and the members of the community at large.

This chapter began with the main teacher at the homeless shelter encouraging her teenage students to create a community-based science project. Ultimately, the teenagers designed and created a multi-purpose community garden in an abandoned lot across the street from the shelter that was previously being used for criminal activity. The process of creating this garden included both the teenagers working as a group to see their plan to fruition as well as the neighborhood community providing insight and aid where they could to help the garden grow to its full potential. The project involved a lot of planning and could not have been done without everyone’s cooperative efforts. At the conclusion of their project, the teenagers named themselves “REAL”- Restoring Environments and Landscapes. Their efforts have since been documented in a video documentary entitled The Urban Atmosphere.

As a group, our PLC discussed our interest in how the group of homeless teens came to the idea to build this community garden. Originally thinking about raising money for a charity for their science project, it was only after they realized that they themselves were a charity that they decided to choose a different project that would unite their community and provide a more tangible change. Throughout the design and implementation of their project, our group was inspired by the students’ desire to be respected by the adults in the community and to be in good standing with them. Additionally, our group brought in the idea of power of culture from our class reading. Did the teenagers create a power of culture when they talked about whether or not to include the drug dealers from the neighborhood in their project? Some teenagers thought that only those who actually contributed positively to the community garden should be included. However, we discussed how allowing the participation of everyone -whether or not they actually contributed to the building of the garden, including the drug dealers- would be positive on a larger scale for the well being and protection of the wider community.

Our group ended our discussion by posing the question, how did these teenagers fund this large endeavor? Being that the homeless shelter was the teenagers’ only form of community, we were all curious where the money for this project came from. The school? The government? A grant? Because we were not able to get an answer for this question, our group decided that for our reading next week, we will to go back and read the first two chapters of the book in hopes of obtaining more background knowledge about the shelter and the roots of this community science project.