Visibility in the STEM Curriculum: Exploring Science in the Lived Experiences and Heritage of the Gullah People

The Gullah people of South Carolina are African Americans who have been afforded the unique opportunity to maintain African customs in America while adapting to Western culture. This workshop explores the cultural resources of the Gullah people of South Carolina and the connection between their lived experiences and specific disciplinary core ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This lesson presents some background information that provides historical and current context. A presentation and inquiry hands on activity using the 5E model and supported by the NGSS will explore science concepts that support the narratives of the Gullah Geechee people of South Carolina. For example, we will explore contributions of the Gullah people to the farming of rice, which introduced rice farming using irrigation systems to the Western world. Explorations may include but are not limited to the use of interdisciplinary approaches that highlight the role of science as a human endeavor (NGSS Lead States), argumentation to explore ideas in science and culture, an examination of the importance of sustainability methods amidst rising sea levels that threatens the world’s supply of rice. This science lesson presentation will show how a STEM curriculum that is culturally representative of African Americans can be implemented in the K-16 science classroom.

Background information
The lived experiences of the Gullah people lend itself to various science topics. In Botany, there is the science of rice and the cultural implications for rice. There is a strong possibility that the Gullah people were brought to the America for their skill in rice farming (African rice). The genetics of rice is implicated in the crossbreeding of rice. It is possible that the Carolina rice is a product of the Gullah farming, which introduced new irrigation systems (engineering design) as a new way to farm rice in the Western world. More probable is that this region that has actively begun to engage in sustainability methods because of rising sea levels might supply a large amount of the world’s rice.

Research shows that environmental sustainability might have been more important to this coastal region before it was to the rest of America as the Gullah Geechee people formed one or more committees eight years ago to sustain their way of life because of coastal rising. The Gullah Geechee Queen Quet, who is a Mathematician and viewed as an expert in preservation, can be seen testifying before the US Congress about the importance of a well thought out environmental sustainability plan to the persistence of the culture. As a matter of fact, it seems that the Gullah people are actively engaged in environmental sustainability methods.

Therefore, the lived experiences of the Gullah people provide a context to explore various science concepts. These include Earth Systems, biology, ecology, and other disciplinary core ideas, scientific and engineering practices (ex. growing rice), cultural (rice irrigation, genetic origins of rice). There are even connections between ecology, economy, and society. The history of the Gullah people and rice farming provides a bridge with time, when climate was not an overarching issue.

Overview of workshop
This workshop will implement one or two of the lessons of this larger work. The presentation will focus on two main topics – (1) Using the lived experiences of the Gullah people to provide a context for exploring other areas of the curriculum and (2) Exploration of the topic environmental sustainability as it pertains to the current lived experiences of the Gullah people.

Argumentation is only one of the science pedagogical approaches that will be used to demonstrate the science. However, it is highlighted here for the opportunity to promote talk and meaning making in science. Argumentation is a science pedagogy approach that facilitates the learning of various types of concepts as students examine evidence and use this to create claims and warrants. These concepts learned using argumentation will be anchored by specific contexts that provide one model for anchoring the disciplinary core ideas in the culture of the Gullah people.

This workshop will use the 5E model in a lesson that explores the data, articles, and other materials from collections on the Gullah people. Connections to the Next Generation Science Standards such as the relevant disciplinary core ideas, understandings of the nature of science as it pertains to the role of human endeavor and culture in science, and argumentation activities will be included in this workshop.

Length/nature of workshop. 2 hour workshop. Powerpoint presentation and exploration in a hands-on and interactive workshop that begins by exploring data and continues with an engineering design activity.

Focus of science teacher education. This workshop can be tailored to various grades for the preparation of preservice teachers and the use of culturally representative science. More specifically this workshop addresses the lack of equity in the science curriculum as it pertains to making people of African origins, in this case African Americans, visible in the STEM curriculum. Current developments in our society shows that this is very important in ensuring that generations understand the context, relevance, and extent of the scientific contributions of people of African descent, particularly African Americans who have thrived in science despite opposition and despite history. This means addressing approaching science using with the vested interests of African American students in mind.

Experience of workshop presenter
As a third year, Assistant Professor in STEM Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, I have spent a great deal of time, 16 years, teaching biology and chemistry in the K-12 setting (high school). Thus, my beginning work reflects my focus on what is practical for the classroom teacher. This includes my involvement in preservice students and in professional development for inservice Washington DC teachers. Combined with my experience, the challenge to not simply celebrate people of African origins during Black History month and the challenge to even consider how to integrate the importance of the contributions of Blacks into the science concepts, has been one that has plagued me as a practitioner in K-12. This meant investing the time to create relevant curriculum materials. Now as an Assistant Professor, I have decided that this is one of my main goals. A profile of my content knowledge and pedagogy is seen in my content and pedagogy based publications available in my profile at

This journey to create curriculum materials began with the creation of African Art Image Analysis for the 2018 ASTE conference titled: “Making People of African Origins Visible in the STEM Curriculum: An Exploration into the Science and History of African Rock Art and Reverse Engineer and History of Benjamin Banneker” proposal. The curriculum resources, powerpoints, handouts, are available on the website: Some of the research background connected to this presentation is available in the publication titled: “An Interdisciplinary Investigation of African Rock Art Images to Learn about Science and Culture: Blending Biology, Geology, History and Ethics” (American Biology Teacher 81(1), 40-46).

This was followed by my second presentation at the 2019 ASTE conference. This was titled: Visibility in STEM: Use of Archive Data to Explore the Nature of Science and the Scientific Concepts in Charles Drew’s Scientific Contributions.” This conference presentation workshop was well received and better attended than the first presentation. Since then I have used the background research for this conference presentation to create a manuscript which is currently accepted with revision. The materials from this presentation are also available on the website

Learning Objectives:
o Participants will become familiar with the historical and current narratives of the Gullah people of South Carolina.
o Participants will learn about the science connections to the lived experiences of the African American Gullah people.
o Participates will be introduced to the disciplinary core ideas and scientific practices in the NGSS that support the content and narratives of the Gullah people.
o Participants will participate in an exploration of one case that situates the narratives of African Americans in the K-12 science content.
o Discussion about other possible connections to other disciplinary core ideas, reflection on the lesson, and suggestions for improvements and implementations will be discussed.
o Participants will be referred to the website where a page with the resources will be made available in time for the conference and where they can offer valuable feedback after implementation and where they can contact me with further questions/suggestions.

Instructional Strategies:
I usually use an exploratory, interactive, Socratic, investigative type of presentation style, giving information when needed. In this case, background information on the Gullah people and their relation to the exploratory hands on activity will be presented. Participants will carry out hands on and inquiry activities as if they were students and then we discuss it as the instructors. You are welcomed to look at past presentations on the website. Participant responses and feedback to the last presentation led me to prematurely launch the site after the 2018 presentation to make the resources available, as requested. Participant discussion and formative feedback provides useful information on the usefulness and interest in the presentation.