Lesson plan and materials for radioactivity
This lesson plan has students learn about radioactivity by reading about Marie Curie and the other scientists involved in its discovery, cultivating literacy skills, as well as different levels of text for different literacy levels. Prior to my coursework, I would have taught this topic as a purely conceptual lesson, where students can learn about half-life and the mechanisms of radioactivity. Having read about the engaging life of Marie Curie, though, this seemed like an ideal topic to incorporate diversity, the history of science, and literacy into a lesson. I look forward to continually finding more ways to integrate the stories of under-represented scientists and thus provide role models and multiple perspectives for budding scientists and citizens in my classes.
Literacy is Essential to Teaching and Practicing Science
I designed a website to outline my beliefs on integrating science and literacy, enhancing the scientific understanding in my students while cultivating interpretation and communication skills. This site includes descriptions of language acquisition techniques to integrate in a science class, such as a Word Wall and learning logs.
I am particularly drawn to public education because of the high potential to help equalize opportunities, which indeed was one of the original goals of public education in the United States (Spring, J. (2012). American Education. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.). In my teaching, I therefore aim to:
Help all students succeed, especially those who are less prepared when entering my class;
Help train more high school physics teachers, since currently only 34% of high school physics teachers have a physics degree;
Use my classroom to spread knowledge and understanding of problem solving and complex issues, so that my students can be more responsible global citizens.
Research has repeatedly suggested that differences in academic success that fall along gender, racial and socioeconomic lines, are often due more to student and teacher expectations than to actual differences in ability (Nguyen & Ryan, 2008, Does stereotype threat affect test performance of minorities and women? A meta-analysis of experimental evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1314-1334.; Snowman et al. 2012). I thus strive to minimize these effects in myself and my students using evidence-based techniques for a more inclusive course.
FAQs about Equalizing Opportunity (currently in development): Many are understandably skeptical about the concrete negative effects experienced by under-represented minorities, so I am collecting questions and literature-based answers here.
What are the benefits of diversity?
(This is not yet a comprehensive list.) A 2014 PNAS study found that groups consisting of diverse students resulted in individuals that were more likely to think critically about and more accurately assess market prices rather than more blindly trust the actions of a peer from their ethnic background.
What are the concrete negative effects of perceived discrimination?
In a meta-analysis of 134 articles, Pascoe and Richman (2009) found that "perceived discrimination has a significant negative effect on both mental and physical health. Perceived discrimination also produces significantly heightened stress responses and is related to participation in unhealthy and nonparticipation in healthy behaviors."
Is there evidence that stereotypes alone affect academic performance? (a.k.a. "steretype threat")
Studies increasingly find that purely reminding someone of their gender or stereotypical attributes causes their performance to suffer (Inzlicht, Michael. 2011. Stereotype Threat: Theory, Process, and Application. Oxford University Press. pp. 5, 141–143).
How to Help Equalize Opportunity While Teaching
A recent report from the American Association of Colleges & Universities (p. 3) summarizes what universities can do to foster more equitable learning environments. The main points:
Create a welcoming and supportive community
Clarify and provide support for essential learning outcomes
Use Active Learning practices
Incorporate student-selected and/or applied learning projects.
Here are some ways in which I incorporate these suggestions in my own large-enrollment courses:
One simple way in which I minimize the use of “typical” non-minority names or genders in word problems is to always refer to the person in the word problem as the student: “You and your friends take an elevator up to space. What is your gravitational acceleration under different conditions?” I also have students work on a "Real World Application" project, so that they can see how physics applies to their own interests, and I've had many students integrate activities from their own cultures, such as Folklorico dancing, Japanese sword fighting, Chinese knives, and a Mexican event that involves dancers rotating around an extremely high pole attached by ribbons until the dancers softly land on the ground.
I’ve focused on Marie Curie in a lesson on radioactivity, used Neil de Grasse Tyson to emphasize the importance of scientific literacy, and sometimes integrate work done by current under-represented minority scientists, but I admit that I want to include much more of this in my teaching.
A recent Physics Today review article summarizes other actions I plan to take to enhance a sense of belonging, ability and inclusion in my classroom (Aguilar, Walton and Weiman; 2014):
Equalizing Opportunity Through Education
Lesson plan for potential energy
This lesson plan uses concept attainment to teach students about potential energy, using examples from their own lives or interests.
Examples of Integrating and Accounting for Diversity in Secondary School
I designed a parent informational pamphlet for a course on special education, in which I review some key special needs, how teachers should adapt to these needs, and what parents should know about students’ and parents’ rights.
Electromagnet Differentiated Lesson Plan
This lesson plan was originally intended for a fictional set of diverse students, accounting for different languages and abilities. The learning objectives are intended for all students, with scaffolding and additional components added to help students that may find the lesson more challenging. For example, groups are assigned heterogeneously to encourage students of different abilities to work together and leave every student with a working electromagnet to take home. While student teaching, I adapted this lesson plan to my middle school classes, and adapted it again based on the first two implementations to yield this final adjusted plan.
Diverse classrooms in the secondary school setting: Students with multiple intelligences and special needs
Helping all students learn in an increasingly diverse classroom is the major teaching challenge of this century, according to Arends (Arends, R. 2009. Learning to Teach. McGraw-Hill.). Instruction to culturally diverse pupils should include perspectives and contributions from diverse groups, analyze mass media for stereotyping, show different types of people in a variety of roles, activities, and positions of power, diminish attention to deficits, and be personally meaningful to life experiences of students from different backgrounds (Gargiulo, 2009, Ch. 3).
As a teacher in a diverse classroom, I promote learning in a variety of ways and using an array of teaching models that appeal to many ability types from Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Arends, 2009). In one lesson plan, I taught the concept of potential energy using a musical instrument, a soccer ball, drawings of objects, and descriptions of objects, appealing to musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, and verbal-linguistic learners (see description below). In another lesson that used Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (http://www.cal.org/siop/), I incorporated engaging biographies of scientists into student understanding of the concept of radioactivity (see description below). This technique helps students with special needs, as well as all other students, learn and practice abilities different from what is typically covered in science courses.
When teaching in middle school, I had a few students with hearing impairments and was therefore careful to have a lot of information on slides. One teaching aide pointed out, however, that when I had multiple choice questions on slides for formative assessment, I often announced the answer to the class, but didn’t circle it on the slides. So I started preparing an extra slide with the answer circled, which helped the aid, the hearing-impaired students, and any other students in the class that didn’t hear the correct answer announced by me or another student. Another way in which I attempted to better integrate the hearing-impaired student was during a review of reflection and refraction. Her aide had taught me the signs for these two terms, and I found them helpful in illustrating the concept to all students (for reflection, one hand bounces off the surface of the other hand, whereas refraction has one hand bend its path as it passes through the other hand, which is what light does when it refracts). So when students expressed confusion about the two, I had the class each practice the sign for each concept to help understand the difference. This experience reminded me of the repeated literature finding that teaching to a diverse student population benefits all students.