Ney, Cheryl; Ross, Jacqueline; Stempel, Laura (ed.) / Flickering clusters : women, science, and collaborative transformations
How can we improve our science teaching? A case for cultural knowledge, pp. 53-58
TRANSFORMING PEDAGOGY - 53 The preceding examples of pedagogical innovations have implicitly assumed that many aspects of science learning and teaching do not depend on the cul- tural backgrounds or identities of either student or teacher, but there are many ways in which cultural differences do play an important part. In this section, Catherine Middlecamp, a chemist at the UW-Madison, tackles the goal of expanding curricular reform and faculty development so that it becomes sensi- tive to an even wider array of underrepresented student populations. (Her sug- gestions for trouble-shooting appear at the end of the essay.) How Can We Improve Our Science Teaching? A Case for Cultural Knowledge Catherine Middlecamp Cultural mismatches between faculty and students easily can lead to misunder- standings and miscommunications. For example, if a traditional or bicultural Navajo student is asked to dissect a frog, the student may choose not to return to the biology laboratory.4 If the lowered eyes of a quiet Hmong student are mistaken for lack of interest, the intellectual potential of this student may go untapped.5 If the different language patterns of an African-American student go unrecognized, the student and teacher may fail to communicate and both may become discour- aged.6 Thus, those who can teach with sensitivity towards a variety of cultural norms for behavior are better equipped to facilitate the learning process than those who cannot. With such knowledge in place, teachers can build bridges that are respectful of both the culture of students and the culture of science. Cultural mismatches also can lead to unconscious and consistent biases against particular groups of students.7 For example, when native English speakers listen to those lacking fluency in English, they unknowingly may discourage those students' further participation in class activities by their facial expressions (e.g., a pained expression of intense concentration, with furrowed brow). They may never learn the names of students who have "strange" names. . . . Clearly, any such actions are problematic: Students who do not feel respected, connected, or safe are less likely to feel motivated to learn.8 These issues are especially troublesome when a student's participation in class is subtly discouraged, yet linked to the course grade.
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