Multimodality, Culturally Relevant Teaching, and STEM

Focus and Relevance
Building on the success of our workshops over the past two years (McDermott, Milford, & Tippett, 2017; Tippett, Milford, & McDermott, 2016) we continue to focus on the multimodal affordances of language in STEM as participants engage in a hands-on engineering activity that can be used in CRT. The activity serves as a foundation for the discussion of effective multimodal use of language in STEM settings, so although we are taking a hands-on approach, the presentation is a workshop in which we explore theoretical aspects rather than focus only on the experiential learning of one particular activity. With an increased emphasis on STEM and on science and engineering practices, even in areas where the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, Achieve, Inc., 2013) has not been adopted, the teaching of engineering, either as STEM or as a stand-alone, in a way that is relevant for all children is an area of concern for most teachers. Using CRT to teach STEM, along with emphasizing multimodal language, will enable teachers to engage students on a culturally meaningful level. This workshop will provide a foundation for exploring the interaction of language (multimodality) and CRT in STEM learning environments. After constructing a model of a Canadarm end effector, participants will construct robotic arms to meet a self-identified community or culturally relevant need and analyze possibilities for infusing multimodal responses into this engineering activity. A multimodal approach, along with CRT, can be easily extended to other STEM activities. CRT
A CRT approach allows teachers to leverage students’ cultural capital when building disciplinary literacy, as students use their personal (cultural) discursive experiences to navigate the conventional discourses of science or engineering (Moje & Hinchman, 2004). However, teachers need to become culturally competent – able to successfully communicate with and help students who are guided by a range of different cultural norms (Le Roux, 2001). Diverse classrooms require a CRT approach, as teachers design instructional situations that are engaging for all students, along with assessment strategies that accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of a wide range of students (Le Roux, 2001).
Connections to NGSS
The workshop also allows for an exploration of NGSS connections. The most obvious connections are to the Science and Engineering Practices of Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information and Developing and Using Models. However, focusing on multimodal communication opportunities also allows for an authentic engagement with other practices such as Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, and Analyzing and Interpreting Data. The practices all involve the use of language in one mode or another and the workshop activities will allow for exploration of effective and appropriate modalities for engaging in the various practices.
The presence of multiple visual representations and symbolic language means that science is a multimodal discourse (Yore & Hand, 2010), and by association so is STEM. Furthermore, conceiving of science as argument emphasizes the need to use linguistic patterns of evidence, claims, and explanation along with appropriate scientific meta-language to develop science knowledge and persuade others of the validity of the developed knowledge. Multimodal science communication includes nonverbal modes such as symbols, mathematical formulae, graphs, photographs, tables, animations, and diagrams, all of which are highly specialized representations and essential tools for conceptualizing science ideas (Lemke, 1998).The combination of verbal and visual elements used to communicate science concepts requires familiarity with the forms and functions of language and images in order to proficiently construct and communicate meaning (Yore & Tippett, 2015). Instruction encouraging the effective use of multiple modes in writing-to-learn tasks is emerging as an area of study in science education (Ainsworth, Prain, & Tytler, 2011; Eilam & Poyas, 2008). Multimodal writing-to-learn tasks have been shown to be effective instructional approaches for helping students develop scientific understanding (McDermott & Hand, 2013) and are likely to be effective for teaching STEM. Learning benefits have been most evident when multiple modes are purposefully linked within communication tasks. Research suggests that students who can integrate multiple modes are likely to experience greater science learning, possibly because they are translating and transforming information across different modalities (McDermott & Hand, 2015). STEM learning environments afford opportunities for translating across disciplines as well as incorporating multiple modes to improve student understanding. Just as science is a component of STEM, multiple modes are also an important aspect of language in all aspects of STEM, including engineering.
Sequence and Duration of Activities
We will use a sequence of STEM activities in which participants will create a model of an end effector and then design and build a robotic arm (using readily available material) as the foundation for a discussion of multimodal opportunities within NGSS practices that can be addressed through a CRT approach. After gaining experience constructing an end effector using a Styrofoam cup, participants will work within constraints to design, construct, and test a robotic arm that would meet a self (or group) identified cultural need. Participants will identify opportunities for multimodal language use in communicating about and developing understanding of STEM concepts, learn how to help students develop multimodal competency, and to encourage students to think about how STEM might be enacted in their own homes, communities, and cultures.
A. Overview (20 minutes) The Workshop, Goals, and Key Ideas
1. Introduction of presenters
2. Discussion of prior knowledge and goals of participants
3. Overview of CRT, multimodality, and connections to NGSS
4. Outline of model building and design activities
B. Activities (70 minutes) End Effector Model and Robotic Arm Construction (Small Groups)
Using materials provided, participants will build a model of a Canadarm end effector. With this experience as a starting point, participants will then identify a culturally relevant need that can be met with a robotic arm and design, construct, and test a robotic arm. Participants will be encouraged to consider the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices, as well as the multimodal opportunities that arise in the context of this activity. This STEM activity affords multiple opportunities to emphasize the roles and functions of language, as well as multimodal representations of concepts and ideas. Suitable for K-12 and using readily available materials, creating parachutes is an ideal anchor activity.
C. Activity (30 minutes) Identifying the Multimodal and CRT Affordances of a STEM Task (Whole Group)
1. Highlight multimodal and CRT aspects
2. Brainstorm ideas for additional access points with this particular STEM activity
3. Consider application of multimodal and CRT approaches with other STEM activities
4. Discuss other topics generated by the group and the activities, which might include:
a. things to consider when emphasizing language with STEM activities (challenges? possibilities?),
b. changes in participants’ thinking about multimodality, CRT, and NGSS connections
Objectives and Instructional Strategies
Participants will be able to:
1. Identify the utility of multiple modes of representation in STEM learning
2. Construct CRT learning experiences that incorporate language and STEM
3. Identify ways to infuse CRT and multimodal approaches in the context of STEM activities in teacher preparation courses
4. Outline future research directions for CRT and multimodality in STEM education.
Instructional strategies that will be used to achieve these objectives will include: hands-on design and construction, Think/Pair/Share, and writing-to-learn.
Judging Workshop Effectiveness
After the workshop, participants will be asked to complete an online Likert scale questionnaire. Statements might include: ‘I am able to describe NGSS connections with STEM’, ‘the activities offered in this workshop effectively demonstrated the utility of multimodality in STEM’, and ‘I am more able to construct learning experiences that incorporate CRT and STEM’. Continuing Contact All participants will be invited to join a Google group that will provide resources and access to similar activities and/or share contact information with the presenters. We will provide our email addresses and send out a summary email after the session to all participants who wish to be contacted. Information gathered from the workshop will be combined with feedback from previous workshops to develop improved methods for providing impactful resources to the participants.
The workshop will be of interest to science teacher educators and graduate instructors because the activities and concepts can be easily incorporated into pre-service teacher education and graduate science education courses. Because we will be discussing the hows and whys of the activities, the workshop will also be of interest to curriculum developers seeking to infuse language and literacy into current STEM materials or wanting to create new materials,
Presenters’ Experience and Expertise
Mark A. McDermott is a clinical associate professor of science education in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. Mark taught secondary biology and chemistry for 14 years, and at Wartburg College before joining the University of Iowa. Mark serves as the College of Education STEM Coordinator and helps organize STEM Outreach efforts. Mark’s research interests include the impact of writing-to-learn and multimodal activities on student science learning, best practices in teacher education and preparation, and STEM pedagogy. Mark develops and evaluates professional development programs for K-12 science teachers.
Todd M. Milford is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. He has science and special education teaching experience. Todd teaches at the postsecondary level primarily in the areas of science education, mathematics education, and classroom assessment. His research has been and continues to be varied; however, the constant theme is using data and data analysis to help teachers and students. Todd has provided professional development in a variety of formats.
Christine D. Tippett is an associate professor of science education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Chris was an engineer before she became a teacher, which influences her ways of thinking about science and STEM education. Her research interests include visual representations and professional development for science educators. Current projects focus on preservice science teachers’ images of engineers, early childhood STEM education, and assessment of representational competence. Chris has facilitated a number of professional development workshops for in-service teachers.
Budget and Room Requirements
We can accommodate 30 people. We will provide all materials, although we will ask participants to bring wifi devices.