Planning Science Units with Equity in Mind

This post gets deeper into Chapter 2 of Ambitious Science Teaching. This chapter explains a systematic unit design process used to create a series of lessons that can build understanding coherently. What struck me the first time I read this chapter is how well this planning process supported creating units that embody the vision of science teaching and learning in the Next Generation Science Standards. This design process is also useful for creating problem-based learning units. This post describes the three practices in this process, how the process builds in some equity considerations, and how the process might be extended to address other equity issues.

The process consists of three major practices:

  • Practice 1: Identifying big ideas
  • Practice 2: Selecting an anchoring event and essential question
  • Practice 3: Sequencing learning activities that build specific understandings

Descriptions of each of the three practices are supported by detailed examples from work with teachers.

Practice 1 includes a whiteboard activity to help curriculum writers select the most important ideas that have the most explanatory power. Considering a tentative anchoring event can help guide this process. These important ideas become the conceptual threads that ties the unit together.

Practice 2 focuses on choosing the anchoring event. Curriculum writers should consider features that make the anchor context-rich and more compelling for their students, such as historical significance or issues of social justice that can motivate interest. See Angela Calabrese-Barton‘s Twitter feed for examples of how to incorporate social justice, such as this one about the water in Flint, Michigan. Students will model and explain the causes of an anchoring event over the course of instruction, and these explanations should integrate multiple science ideas. The anchoring event should be complex enough to provide space for students to create different kinds of explanations.

Practice 3 is a strategy for identifying and sequencing learning activities in a unit. A key part of this planning is a teacher-developed gapless explanation for the anchor event, which should be written just beyond the expectation for students at grade level. Learning activities are identified and sequenced to support development of the gapless explanation.

Although the planning process seems straightforward, there are a few other things we might consider in planning for equity. Equity is a key concept in AST (see my post on Chapter 1). The authors made strong connections between the anchoring event and equity, but they did not make connections between the gapless explanation and equity.

Who decides on the content of the gapless explanation?

Philip Bell raised an interesting question on Twitter about gapless explanations. From whose perspective are they gapless? It is important to consider explanations from multiple perspectives and not focus only the Euro-western perspective. How can different ways of knowing be recognized and developed in science teaching? There is much work to do in this area that has the potential to increase equity. We need to acknowledge and build upon the funds of knowledge that all students bring to school science. We need to expand our views of science as a way of knowing to be more inclusive of all cultures. There is a lot of work that remains to be done in this area.

I appreciate reading the posts from my science education colleagues on Twitter that help deepen my understanding. I look forward to working with members of the #ASTBookChat group as we explore AST together.

What are your thoughts about the AST unit design process? What other ways could the unit planning process be more attentive to equity? Share in the comments!

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