Using NGSS-Aligned Lessons to Promote Cultural Responsiveness and Diversity

America’s current student demographic reflects a majority in minority students. With this changing demographic, the importance of providing science students with classroom experiences that embrace diversity is greater than ever. The literature is rife with research showing that females and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Providing diverse students with experiences that spark an interest in STEM careers is imperative and careful lesson planning in the context of the NGSS can help to promote greater cultural responsiveness and thus improved STEM career expectations. With this in mind, developing classroom level curricula that reflect cultural responsiveness is necessary for science teachers to embrace. By providing a variety of discussion points, relevant literature, a fully developed culturally responsive NGSS-aligned lesson plan, and opportunities to reflect on how to make existing curricular materials culturally responsive, science teachers and methods of science education instructors are the primary target of this workshop presentation. By providing methods of science education instructors an in-depth look at the importance of cultural responsiveness in the science classroom and the strategies that can be used to develop NGSS-aligned lesson plans that are culturally responsive, pre-service science teachers will be better prepared to meet the needs of today’s diverse student population.

Dr. Nancy Nasr has over six years of experience teaching in the culturally diverse science classroom. Teaching a population of approximately 50% Latinx and African American students, Nancy has found it imperative to ensure that lesson plans are designed with cultural responsiveness in mind. As a teacher in the state of California, one of the first states to adopt the NGSS, Nancy has become experienced at developing lesson plans that not only align with the constructivist vision of the NGSS but also consider the needs of unique and diverse students. Nancy earned her B.Sc. in microbiology from University of Alberta, M.A. in Education from California State University Northridge and a doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction from University of South Carolina. Dr. Leena Bakshi intensively studies STEM education and how we can create access and opportunities for each and every student regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status. Leena earned her B.A. degree in biology from UC Berkeley, M.A. in Education from Claremont Graduate University, and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Southern California. She has researched schools spanning all across the state of California and worked as a teacher and master teacher teaching math, science and health in middle school and high school. She went on to work as a site coordinator for continuation school students and served as the science program director at the county office of education collaborating with TK-12 teachers, instructional coaches and administrators on the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core, and ELD. After seeing the limited access that underrepresented students have in STEM subjects, she founded STEM 4 Real. In addition to quality professional learning, the company showcases real-life STEM stars that are breaking barriers and pioneering key breakthroughs in the STEM fields.

The learning objectives of this workshop presentation are as follows:
-Participants will learn the reasons why stereotypical images of scientists exist and what science educators can do in their own classrooms to overcome these images.
-Participants will learn why culturally responsive pedagogy is so critical in the science classroom.
-Participants will learn how to strategically plan NGSS-aligned lessons that reflect greater cultural responsiveness.

Workshop participants will be assessed on these learning objectives formatively through discussion responses as well as informal observations during collaborative opportunities. Additionally, workshop participants will have the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained through the workshop to develop their own NGSS-aligned culturally responsive lesson plan.

To meet the learning objectives of the workshop presentation the presenters will present a series of activities and experiences for workshop participants to engage with. Following an introduction of the presenters and participants, we will engage our audience with an activity, “Draw a Scientist”. Materials for participants to engage with this activity include blank paper, markers/colored pencils, and a post-it easel pad. Participants will be asked to draw pictures of scientists, and include features or characteristics that effectively describe what a scientist looks like. After participants have drawn their scientists, the presenters will display images of popular scientists in history. These scientists will include images of Einstein, Bohr, Watson and Crick, Curie, and Fauci. After participants have looked at the slides, the presenters will ask the audience to compile a list of features of each scientist drawn in the audience, and this list will be recorded on the post-it easel pad for all participants to view. Next, participants will be asked the following questions to engage in a whole-audience discussion: 1) How do your drawings compare to the images presented on the slides? 2) What or Who is missing on the slides? This section of the presentation will conclude with a brief YouTube video that highlights the importance of cultural responsiveness in the science classroom.

After the video, the presenters will focus on the reasons why stereotypical images of scientists exist and what science educators can do to overcome these images. Materials for participants to engage with this activity include various textbooks, and popular media images, and messages from parents and students. Participants will be provided a variety of textbooks, popular media images, and actual messages from parents and students, and will be asked to identify examples in the provided materials wherein cultural responsiveness is lacking. After identifying the ways that the materials lack cultural responsiveness and diversity, participants will be asked how to change the materials to make them more culturally responsive. Additionally, participants will be asked to identify strategies that can be used in the classroom to ensure that the underlying curriculum represents greater diversity. Following participant discussion, the presenters will detail the strategies that can best ensure cultural responsiveness in the science classroom: the use of diverse role models, culturally relevant classroom experiences and learning opportunities that allow students to draw social meaning in a variety of diverse community contexts.

Next, participants will learn why culturally responsive pedagogy is so critical in the science classroom. Participants will be provided with a short educational article that describes the importance of cultural relevance in science. Participants will be asked to identify the major takeaways from the article and determine their own reasons why culturally relevant pedagogy is important in the science classroom. After this discussion, the presenters will explicitly describe several strategies that can be used to modify existing curricular materials to ensure that classroom curricula are rooted in cultural responsiveness. These strategies will be described via a PowerPoint presentation and an example of how each strategy can be incorporated will be presented. Strategies such as the “Scientists Like Me” activity, wherein students are asked to decorate figures in a way that best captures their cultural identity and then to identify scientists that exemplify that cultural background will be discussed. Additionally, keeping abreast of current events in communities with high numbers of minorities and people of lower income such as events in Flint, MI, Rialto, CA, and Richmond, CA will also be discussed. It will be emphasized that these current events connect diverse students with their communities, and provide opportunities to connect the science curriculum with real-life events. Finally, it will be emphasized that the NGSS itself promotes cultural responsiveness by allowing students ample opportunities to collaborate and capitalize on students’ unique experiential backgrounds, and providing opportunities for students to connect science learning to their own diverse communities.

Participants will then experience an NGSS-aligned lesson plan that promotes cultural responsiveness by addressing the strategies outlined above. Materials for participants to engage with this activity include data sets, an online magazine article, blank paper, and markers/colored pencils. To introduce the learning segment (focused on PE HS-ESS3-4) the presenters will begin by showing a short YouTube video describing air pollution conditions in California. Following this short video, participants will be provided with data sets and investigate the guiding question: How does vehicle type impact air quality? Participant groups then analyze the data sets provided, and answer the guiding question in the form of a claim, evidence, reasoning format. The scientific arguments constructed by the participants will be presented as a mini-poster. The mini-poster format was chosen to demonstrate to participants that this streamlined approach to the traditional lab report promotes access to scientific language for English Language Learners, and relies on the experiential background of diverse learners in order to arrive to an agreed upon scientific argument. After participants are finished with their mini-poster scientific arguments, the presenters then ask them how the activity and their scientific claims might connect to diverse community contexts, and participant responses are recorded on a post-it easel. Following this discussion, participants are provided an online magazine article that describes how people of color and the poor are disproportionately exposed to air pollution. After reading the short article, participants will be asked to reflect on how the scientific arguments they generated from the data analysis relate to the reading.

Using the information that participants gathered throughout the presentation, they will then evaluate how an existing lesson can be modified to reflect greater cultural responsiveness, using the steps described in this presentation. Specifically, participants will be asked to identify a diverse scientist whose work may be related to the lesson topic, how the lesson can allow diverse students to engage in positive science learning experiences, and how the lesson can connect within diverse community contexts. Finally, the presenters will thank the audience and have participants complete a satisfaction survey.

All workshop participants will be provided a sample lesson plan in the area of Earth Science, that reflects the strategies described during the workshop. Earth Science was chosen as the discipline because many states that have adopted the NGSS integrate the Earth Science standards through a three-course or four-course model, and thus Earth Science is a ubiquitous topic amongst science teachers. Additionally, Dr. Nasr and Dr. Bakshi can be reached via email at and, respectively, to provide additional support and guidance for science teachers and science teacher educators wishing to incorporate greater cultural responsiveness in their science course curricula. Finally, STEM4Real asks participants to opt in our mailing list to receive weekly updates on educational tools, instructional planning resources, and virtual webinars to continue the learning.