Category Archives: Worldviews

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!

Is science unbiased?

As a young student, I thought that science was unbiased. I believed that scientific methods were objective ways to uncover universal truths. I thought the history of science shared in my textbooks was a universal history of science. Even through undergraduate and graduate work in science, professors never discussed how culture affected science. It was not until I was in graduate classes in education leadership that professors engaged us in thinking critically about privilege, education, and science. Then I learned that my previous thinking was naive.

Why do White students grow up thinking science is unbiased? White students have the privilege of living in a world where nearly everything reflects their own worldview. Science textbooks described science as predominantly the domain of White men. We were told “the scientific method” was an unbiased, pure way to learn about the world. White students grew accustomed to this version of the world and did not see it as a culture. When we read the Eurocentric history of science, we believe (wrongly) that it represents a universal history of science. Nothing presented in my K-12 education communicated any other worldview.

When we are immersed in a culture we may not recognize it as culture. We often do not recognize our own biases. Dr. Melanie Joy presents an interesting case of not recognizing our own biases when she discusses why Americans think it is okay to eat cows, but not dogs. She also explains why people think eating meat is perfectly fine, but think a diet that excludes animal products is extreme.

She proposes a culture that she named carnism to explain this worldview. People that are immersed in carnism do not see it as a culture or bias. People who hold the carnism worldview may believe other worldviews are invalid or extreme.

Photo by Aditya Aiyar on

So what about science? In the Eurocentric (or Western science) worldview, science is a set of objective practices. Practices such as controlled experiments are highly valued and labeled as scientific. What about approaches to science in other cultures? In Indigenous science, carefully observing nature and prioritizing human relationships to the parts of the system they live in are practices that are highly valued. Someone who holds the Western science worldview might have a biased view about the value of Indigenous science practices. We need to recognize this bias when we teach about science. We work need to include the world views of students who come from diverse backgrounds in teaching and learning. We need to increase our knowledge of how Indigenous science and Western science approaches complement each other.

My current work explores Indigenous and Western world views through the lens of systems and system models in fifth-grade science curriculum.