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The following document is a synthesis of a longer paper on sociotransformative constructivism (sTc) that was published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching entitled, Strategies for counterresistance: Toward sociotransformative constructivism and learning to teach science for diversity and for understanding. JRST, 36, pp. 589-622, 1998, and re-published in JRST’s Special Issue on Multicultural Science Education, Equity and Social Justice (2011). This version is meant to serve as an introduction for practitioners interested in exploring the uses of sTc in their classroom, and it includes practical examples.
Sociotransformative Constructivism:
What is it and how can I use it in my classroom?
Alberto J. Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Education and
Professor, Cross-Cultural Science Education
(University of Houston);
Mary Endres Chair in Elementary Teacher Education Emeritus
(Purdue University)
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
Farish Hall, Room 318R
College of Education
University of Houston,
Houston, Texas 77005
The following document is a synthesis of a longer paper on
sociotransformative constructivism (sTc) that was published in the Journal of
Research in Science Teaching entitled, Strategies for counterresistance: Toward
sociotransformative constructivism and learning to teach science for diversity and
for understanding. JRST, 36, pp. 589-622, 1998, and re-published in JRST’s
Special Issue on Multicultural Science Education, Equity and Social Justice
(2011). This version is meant to serve as an introduction for practitioners
interested in exploring the uses of sTc in their classroom.
Science teachers continue to witness a relentless wave of education
reform as accreditation requirements and mandated assessments influence not
only what and how content should be taught, but how often as well. Adding to
this pressure is the expectation that teachers should be prepared to integrate
science knowledge with engineering practices according to the Next Generation
Science Standards (Achieve, 2013).
These sweeping changes come at a time when a wide gap in achievement
continues to exist between those pupils traditionally underserved in the sciences
and those from middle- and upper-class backgrounds. This achievement gap in
science is compounded by the high dropout (pushed out) rates of pupils from low
socioeconomic status and/or diverse ethnic backgrounds. While there has been
How to cite this article: Rodriguez, A. J. (2022). Sociotransformative constructivism: What is it, and how
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Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 2
some improvement across gender and ethnic groups, this achievement gap
makes quite apparent that many students are not provided with equitable
opportunities for access and success in our schools.
These school inequalities, and the lack of effective strategies to address
them, continue to frustrate and discourage teachers across the country. We
know that the economic and political strength of our communities will suffer if we
cannot provide equitable opportunities for everyone to pursue their educational
goals and dreams.
At the center of providing a better education for everyone and creating
positive social change is the effective preparation of teachers to teach for
understanding in innovative and socially and culturally relevant ways. This is
where Sociotransformative Constructivism (sTc) can play a role in bringing about
social change. sTc is the synthesis of critical cross-cultural education (a theory of
social justice) and social constructivism (a theory of learning). sTc takes into
account how social, historical, and institutional contexts influence learning and
access to learning in our schools. This concrete approach can meet the
challenges of learning to teach for diversity and understanding. Learning to
teach for diversity means learning to use more culturally inclusive and socially
relevant teaching techniques. Learning to teach for understanding involves
learning to implement more critically engaging and intellectually meaningful
strategies. If we are going to have equity and excellence in our science
classrooms, we must do both.
At this point the reader may be thinking, “Yeah, this is just another one of
those fads that will blow through my school and then blow right back out again.
Been there, done that.” Well, sTc is not being proposed as a “magic bullet” or the
“great new be-all and end-all program that will save our schools.” It is simply an
orientation to teaching and learning science meant to add to your repertoire of
ideas and strategies. It is also a way to make working for social justice a part of
your everyday classroom practice.
The following sections will provide you with background information on the
building blocks of sTc, critical cross-cultural education and social constructivism.
We hope to illustrate how you can put sTc into practice in your classroom, but the
best way to figure out how this orientation can be of use in your classroom is
simply to give it a try. We are open to your questions and suggestions, and we
are eager to assist you in anyway we can. Finally, one of the most often
overlooked aspects of trying new approaches to teaching and learning is the
discussion of some of the barriers teachers encounter when trying to implement
change. We are also eager to engage in a dialogue with you about what you
perceive to be potential barriers, and how we can work together to overcome
Teaching for Diversity: Critical Cross-Cultural Education
The basic premise of critical cross-cultural education is that all learners at
any grade level must be provided with equitable opportunities for success. All
too often, however, cross-cultural is interpreted at a superficial level. For
example, making a few minor curriculum changes to include the work of female
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 3
scientists or scientists from culturally diverse backgrounds in a lesson is not
enough. It is useful to encourage all learners to celebrate and study the
contributions of men and women from various ethnic backgrounds to the
advancement of scientific knowledge, but integrating superficial cultural elements
here and there or “diversity tokens” could end up making diverse students feel
resentful. Critical Multiculturalism requires that it be made a driving principle in
the development and implementation of policies, curriculum, and assessment.
The end result then being not just equitable opportunities for access, but also
opportunities for equitable outcomes.
Critical Multiculturalism seeks to provide learners with opportunities for
empowerment. This is particularly important in science education because a
very small percentage of our scientists come from traditionally underserved
backgrounds. It is important to distinguish between empowerment and equity.
While empowerment is the voice that individuals have to enact their rights and
responsibilities, equity is the social and institutional process by which individuals
can attain empowerment. Therefore, equity can be mandated by law, but
empowerment can only be facilitated. It is up to the individuals and/or groups of
individuals ultimately to enact their own sense of agency, and it is the teacher’s
job to create a safe and nurturing classroom where students’ voices/agency can
Teaching for Understanding: Constructivism
Constructivism has long been a blanket term to cover a wide body of
research and ideas in science education. It is important to clarify what is meant
by constructivism before it can be applied to and contrasted with sTc.
Cognitive constructivism, or individual constructivism, is a theory of
learning originating from the work of the famous Swiss developmental
psychologist Jean Piaget. Essentially, he proposed that “children’s learning is a
process of personal, individual, intellectual construction arising from their activity
in the world.” This original research struck at the heart of the typically teacher-
centered Western classroom and demonstrated that students bring with them
deeply entrenched prior conceptions that play critical roles in how they acquire
and use new scientific knowledge.
Another orientation, sociocultural constructivism--based on the work of
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky--attempts to be more holistic. Individual
constructivism tends to view learning as the mental process and the way in which
a person constructs knowledge from within. Sociocultural constructivism
perceives knowledge as being socially constructed and mediated by historical,
institutional, and cultural contexts, and that knowledge is centered on how
language is used in that culture.
Even though social constructivism is a framework more in tune with those
concerned about equity issues, one of the drawbacks of social constructivism is
the lack of specific suggestions for practice. In short, once a teacher is committed
to making their classroom more inclusive and socially relevant, how does he or
she go about it? Possible answers to this question are suggested by the sTc
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 4
Sociotransformative Constructivism
Considering all the research done on individual constructivism and its
apparent success in the classroom over six decades, why is there the need for
another approach? What necessitates sTc? When looking at the typical
classroom it is clear that individual constructivism is not being put into practice in
the school classroom. Furthermore, the Next Generation Science Education
Standards (NGSS) call for an emphasis on scientific and engineering practices
(Achieve, 2013; NRC, 2012). The NGSS also expects teachers to be responsive
to the cultural and linguistic diversity of their students who are increasingly from
Latino/a, African American and other ethnic backgrounds. These expectations
create a conundrum for the majority of elementary school teacher graduates; that
is, most (84%) are Anglo and middle-class females with little or no experience
working with culturally diverse students (Lee & Buxton, 2010; Rodriguez, 2004);
and often lack confidence in inquiry-based and student-centered teaching
approaches (Banilower, et al., 2013; NRC, 2012). These issues are now
compounded by the NGSS’ expectation that teachers know how to integrate the
engineering design process in their practice. However, the most recent national
science and mathematics teacher education survey (n=7,752) found that only 4%
of the participant teachers “felt very well prepared to teach engineering” and only
39% “felt very well prepared to teach science” (Banilower et al., 2013). It is
evident that unless we take action, this situation is simply going to aggravate the
pervasive low engagement and participation of culturally diverse students in
STEM-related fields (US DOE, 2012).
The realities and constraints of our current education system, and the lack of
instruction in concrete ways for implementing individual constructivism, inquiry-
based, student-centered, or engineering practices in diverse classrooms, have
made these terms just buzz words in education. In addition, while an excellent
starting point, individual constructivism does not pay attention to the current
inequities influencing what, when, and how students learn in our schools.
Individual constructivism primarily serves the interests of members of the culture
of power by not taking into consideration the complex social and institutional
issues affecting students in the classroom. For instance, issues such as tracking,
racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination affect the student
to student and student to teacher relationships in the classroom. One can be the
best prepared teacher in the world, know one’s subject matter well, and have the
best of good intentions, but if a teacher is not prepared to be culturally sensitive
and inclusive in the classroom, how can he or she facilitate an effective learning
environment for all students?
This is an aspect that distinguishes sTc from other frameworks. While sTc
includes many pedagogical strategies from individual constructivism, it expands
on them by deconstructing existing power structures that may interfere with
meaningful learning in the classroom. In this way, all students are encouraged to
formulate their own knowledge and contrast it with the accepted knowledge and
norms. At the same time, students are urged to reflect on whose knowledge has
become the accepted norm, whose interests are represented by this knowledge,
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 5
and who are the people who have access (or power) to continue creating the
accepted knowledge?
sTc assists teachers and students interested in learning in new ways by using
four concrete elements: the dialogic conversation, authentic activity,
metacognition, and reflexivity. These are defined below, and examples are given
for each element. More can be learned about the sTc components from the
article published in JRST, and or by reading the example of a complete lesson
provided in the attached appendix. Also, it is important to keep in mind that these
elements are not proposed in any particular order. They are enacted as needed
and often take place simultaneously in an inclusive classroom.
The Dialogic Conversation: According to the Russian philosopher, Mikhail
Bakhtin, “To understand another person’s utterance means to orient oneself with
respect to it; to find the proper place for it in the corresponding context. Any true
understanding is dialogic in nature.” In any exchange of words or ideas, the goal
is to understand not just what is being said but the reasons why the speaker
chooses to say what he or she says in that particular context. “Cultural meaning
emerges from understanding how people use their ordinary language.”
Therefore, establishing a safe and inclusive environment based on trust and
respect is essential for making dialogic conversations possible in the classroom.
An example
Okhee Lee, a distinguished bilingual science educator, discovered through
her research with diverse learners that students’ personal beliefs about natural
phenomena strongly influence their understanding in science. For instance, many
children believe that violent weather such tornadoes or hurricanes are caused by
supernatural forces and are brought upon the earth as a form of punishment.
Now, through the dialogic conversation, a teacher would set a safe and open
learning environment where students would be free to express their views. The
teacher can then use this important information about the students’ beliefs to
present the scientific view as just another explanation. In this way, the students’
beliefs (or cultural knowledge) are not dismissed but understood. At the same
time, students are encouraged to explore the scientifically accepted view and
contrast it to their own and other students’ beliefs. The end goal is then to have
students learn more about science content and about each other in a respectful
and constructive fashion.
Authentic Activity: Involves hands-on, minds-on activities that are also
socioculturally relevant and tied to the everyday life of the learner. All learners
(including pupils and pre- and in-service teachers) should engage in activities
that closely resemble those commonly carried out by practitioners in the
community of practice of the subject under study.
An example
When my son was attending grade 6 in a school in Madison, Wisconsin,
the teacher had the class work in groups to set “an experiment” with crayfish. For
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 6
two weeks, the students set up to explore questions such as whether a crayfish
would walk across a desk and fall off, or how long it would swim around in small
container of water. This is an excellent example of activitymania in the science
classroom (Nelson and Moscovici, 1998). That is, the tendency of giving students
a lot of busy, hands-on activities having little to do with science and with being
minds-on. In other words, it is not very useful to put a crayfish on a table and wait
to see whether it walks off it (not to mention that the crayfish never moved in my
son’s group--why should it?). Second, the teacher never encouraged the
students to think about what the scientific method was, or about how to formulate
a useful hypothesis, nor she discussed the importance of doing socially relevant
research. It would have been more multiculturally inclusive and socially relevant
to first discuss how crayfish plays an important socioeconomic role in various
parts of the world or the US (e.g. Louisiana). It would have been more useful to
discuss how pollution may affect the delicate conditions that sustain the life cycle
of the crayfish, and then have the students design meaningful experiments to
better understand the crayfish biology and the factors that influence its existence.
Metacognition: Has been defined as the “knowledge, awareness, and control of
one’s own learning” (Baird, 1990). Students should be encouraged to ask
questions about what they are learning such as, “What am I meant to be doing?”
“Do I know what to write/look for?” “What is the purpose of this task?” “Have I
done everything necessary?” and “Can I explain this to someone else?” More
importantly, perhaps, is that students should be aware of the purpose and the
reasoning behind activities, asking such questions as “Why am I learning this?”
“Why am I doing it this way?” “What control do I have in how to proceed?” “By
what other method can I learn this best?”
An example
A teacher has students working in groups of three on a problem-solving
scenario. After each group had come up with a possible solution to the assigned
problem, the teacher has the groups pair up with one another to discuss not only
the solution, but the thinking process they used. In other words, students’ groups
would be expected to explain (think aloud) how they arrived at their solution and
contrast it with the process used by the members of other groups. In this way,
students are encouraged to expose their taken-for-granted ways of thinking and
become more aware of how their peers think.
Reflexivity: Has to do with becoming aware of how one’s own ethnic and cultural
background, socioeconomic status, belief systems, values, education, and skills
influence what we consider as important to learn. sTc employs reflexivity to
examine how scientific knowledge is produced, who are recognized as scientists,
how their work influences society at large, and how social issues determine
which scientific work is worth funding. In fact, through reflexivity, one becomes
more aware of how issues of power determine who has access to education and
to better opportunities in life, and the role each one of us plays through our
actions (or inactions) to maintain the status quo.
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 7
An example
An Anglo female science teacher starts a new job in a culturally diverse
school where most of the students are on the free or reduced lunch program.
Even though she has many years of experience, she had never taught in such a
context. She had mainly taught students from middle class backgrounds whose
culture resembles hers. Through reflexivity, she recognizes that she has much to
learn about her students in order to become an effective teacher. Therefore, she
makes the following plan:
To call two parents each week to introduce herself, to invite them to visit the
classroom, and to find out more about them and about their son or daughter.
To contact a community leader and make a point to visit with him or her. After
finding out more about the issues of concern in the community, she invites the
community leader to visit her classroom.
To talk to students one-on-one during group work to get a sense of their
feelings toward the school and the curriculum. In this way, she can think of
ways to help students feel more included in the classroom.
To modify the prescribed curriculum in order to make it more culturally and
socially relevant to her students.
To explore ways to develop an environment of trust and respect so that
students engage in dialogic conversations with each other and with her.
To constantly ask herself the questions: Whose interests are being served by
what I taught today? How can I be more inclusive of my students’ cultural
backgrounds in what I teach? What else could I have done to help my
students find their voice and become more socially aware, active, responsible
Barriers to sTc
Often teachers are provided with curriculum materials or professional
development opportunities that they believe in and get really excited about. They
work very hard to utilize these new materials and strategies in their classrooms,
but they also often encounter many roadblocks. Not knowing how to deal with
these barriers, teachers can lose their enthusiasm and discard these new
strategies all together. Repeated episodes of this cycle can lead to teachers
becoming embittered and burned out.
Any time you embark on something new you will encounter resistance to
change. It may come from your peers, your administrators, your students, or
even yourself. Even if you truly believe in the principles of sTc, you will more
than likely encounter some roadblocks of your own. Some possible obstacles
may be:
Individual beliefs and assumptions as a teacher
Site/district policies and commitment
Student beliefs and assumptions
Lack of support
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 8
Parents’ beliefs and assumptions
Mandated assessments and curriculum standards that often appear
We must keep in mind that change will be gradual and sometimes we just
have to celebrate effecting change one lesson at a time.
One effective way to manage resistance to change is to invite fellow teachers,
parents, and/or administrators every so often into your classroom when you are
trying an innovative lesson. Once these individuals start seeing how your
students respond to student-centered, inquiry-based, and culturally/socially
activities, they will start believing that students can, and do, learn in this type of
classroom environment.
In short, a sociotransformative constructivist orientation suggests that to
become effective cross-cultural science teachers, we need to explore how our
own belief and value systems intercept with our ideas about teaching and
learning. In other words, an effective sTc teacher does not take anything for
granted and reflects on how his or her position of privilege influence what and
how he or she chooses to teach to whom. Furthermore, the sTc teacher believes
that education is the key for achieving social justice and is dedicated to assisting
her/his students enact their own voices in the pursuit of their dreams and goals.
Appendix: Putting sTc into Practice - An Example
I will describe one example of an activity I often do in my science methods
and professional development workshops for teachers to help them explore the
value of sTc for making science more culturally and socially relevant. The
specific names of the pedagogical strategies, as well as elements of sTc, are
shown in brackets. (NOTE: In this section, the word “students” could also mean
pre- or in-service teachers. Use these terms according to how they are relevant
to your context).
The goal of this lesson for pre- and in-service teachers is to explore the
pros and cons of performance/authentic assessment as they carry out an sTc
activity on polymers.
After each group of three had listed on the board the pros and cons of
using performance/authentic assessment, the same groups were engaged in a
hands-on problem-solving activity. The title of the activity is purposely odd,
"Polymers, diapers, and performance/authentic assessment." I begin by
performing a disappearing "magic trick" by pouring about 70 ml. of water in one
of three blue plastic 300 ml. cups. I then challenge the students to predict which
cup holds the water as I quickly switch the position of the cups [This is an
attention-getter/demonstration, a brief demonstration or activity performed to
focus the attention of the class on the science concepts]. After a few guesses,
most students are able to correctly predict which cup contains the water.
Next, I pick one of the other cups and warn pre-service teachers that if
they make the wrong choice, some of their peers will get wet. This one cup does
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 9
not contain water, but it has confetti, as a group of unsuspecting pre-service
teachers at the front of the class finds out. With two cups left, I turned upside
down the cup pre-service teachers believe to be empty, which it is. Finally, I
turned the remaining cup upside down and nothing happens. The water had
disappeared. I take this moment to remind pre-service teachers to avoid doing
science "magic tricks" in the classroom. That is, the kind of trick that involves an
engaging and fun activity without providing pupils with opportunities to
understand the scientific concept behind it and its relevance [Making science
meaningful and socially relevant: Doing “magic” in the science classroom also
sends the negative message that science is something “nerdy” and “exotic” that
only certain people can do].
Next, I tell pre-service teachers that I can explain why the water
disappeared by doing another demonstration. This time I use a diaper and I ask
pre-service teachers to predict how much tap water I can pour into the diaper
before it gets completely full. Pre-service teachers are also required to write
down their predictions with a rationale, and observations. Then they explain in
writing whether their predictions were correct [Predict, Observe, & Explain, POE].
Using their suggestions, I first pour 50 ml. of water, then 100 ml. and so on, until I
have poured more than 500 ml. of water into the diaper. At this point the students
are very curious to find out how the water can disappear in the cup, and how a
diaper can hold so much water [Create a need to know; that is, conduct an
activity that motivates students to learn by piquing their curiosity, or by drawing
attention to what they do or do not know about the concept under study]. At this
point, I switch back to the cup holding the vanished water, and I pull out a gel-like
substance. I explain that prior to coming to class, I put a few grams of sodium
polyacrylate polymer (a white powder) into the cup. This superabsorbent polymer
is similar to that contained in diapers, and it can absorb as much as 300 times its
weight in tap water (Woodward, No date). For the next eight minutes, students
hear a brief history of how synthetic polymers were pioneered by US and French
scientists in the early 1800s [mini lecture--an interactive form of teacher
presentation with media lasting no more than 10-15 minutes]. This presentation
is punctuated by interesting facts such as how one of the first synthetic polymers,
cellulose nitrate, was used to make movie film and false teeth in 1868 (Lipscomb,
Students are usually shocked to hear that because cellulose nitrate was a
highly flammable polymer, buckets of sand had to be kept around film projectors
when it was used. Similarly, some smokers who had false teeth made out
cellulose nitrate met with unfortunate accidents. Note that instead of giving
students a scientific definition of polymer, and providing students with complex
formulae right away, the students are first given opportunities to define what a
polymer is by connecting the scientific concept(s) with practical and everyday
things [Making curriculum socially relevant]. Therefore, the formal scientific
definition and chemical structures of polymers are discussed later when students
have built an interest in the subject and can relate the concept to everyday life.
To continue facilitating this process, the next five minutes are spent doing a large
group brainstorming session.
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 10
During this time, two students are sent to the board as recorders. One
records examples from the class of natural polymers and the other records the
names of synthetic polymers. It is always interesting to see how well students
can list even complex names of synthetic polymers, but how little they know
about natural occurring polymers. Many of them exclaimed that they knew that
PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride (a waterproof polymer), or that PVA stands for
polyvinyl alcohol (a water-soluble polymer), but many of them have never heard
that cotton, silk, DNA, animal hair and nails are all naturally occurring polymers.
This revelation makes them reflect on the nature of their science education and
how they have learned to memorize concepts, but not really understand them in
relation to everyday life [metacognition and making curriculum socially relevant].
Finally, we conduct a hands-on, minds-on activity through which they are
required to design a more environmentally friendly diaper [Problem posing and
problem solving; engineering design process; authentic activity]. Students are
required to work in mixed groups of three and asked to be attentive to the
gender-dynamics of their group [Reflexivity and monitoring power dynamics]. To
model the use of authentic/performance assessment, students are provided with
a rubric sheet describing how they will be evaluated on design, use of materials,
observations, conclusion, and group collaboration. Each item is rated, for
example, from zero (not clear problem statement) to three points (very clear
problem statement). They are provided with "boy" and "girl" diapers and a variety
of equipment and supplies. They are also encouraged to deconstruct the sex
stereotypes reproduced even in diapers by noticing the color and designs on the
diapers [e.g., blue cowboy teddy bears for boys as opposed to pink ballerina
squirrels for girls—Reflexivity]. To demonstrate how to keep pupils focused on
the science concept(s) during open-ended activities of this nature, the preservice
teachers are urged to note how the activity--writing the problem statement--was
designed. In other words, students are required to use the words "polymer" and
"diaper" in the problem statement. They also get bonus points if they include
words such as pollution, economical, recyclable, safer, effective, and
environment. In this way, students are encouraged to write problem statements
which stay within the boundaries of the main science concepts to be covered--
that is, what polymers are and how they affect everyday life [authentic activity].
The next class is spent engaged in a metacognitive discussion of each
aspect of the activity. Preservice teachers find it very useful to discuss questions
such as how the activity was multicultural, how it was gender and ethnic
inclusive, how it was an example of performance/authentic assessment, in short,
how the activity was an example of sociotransformative constructivist teaching.
Because the lab activity included the application of several of the pedagogical
strategies discussed in the class, and because it provided an opportunity to
experience first-hand how performance/authentic assessment can be
implemented, several students commented that this activity became a turning
point for helping them rethink their conceptions of teaching and learning.
Even though carrying out these type of activities—with a focus on socially
and culturally relevant teaching—can sometimes be risky and time-consuming,
the risk is not only worth taking, but also rewarding. This is especially the case
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 11
when the very act of taking risks in the classroom can be used as a teachable
moment to help students reflect on the kinds of choices they must make in order
to teach for social justice (or learn to become agents of change). Through
reflexivity and the dialogic conversation, pre- and in-service teachers participate
in frank discussions about how to be effective teachers and to take risks, but at
the same time how to be strategic and build alliances with colleagues and
parents. Similarly, when this activity is done with school students, they become
more aware of the importance of being more critical consumers and producers of
knowledge, and how to use that knowledge to effect change. For example,
students are often shocked to learn that diapers contain the water absorbent
polymers powder inside, yet this ingredient is not listed on the diaper package.
They also realized how gender stereotypes get reproduced so early (even before
a child is aware of his/her own gender expression/sex) by noticing the
domesticating images on the diapers (pink ballerina vs. blue cowboy). Students
also learn about the engineering design process and the need to protect our
planet by seeking to design a recyclable and affordable diaper. Through sTc, all
of this can be done and more even when the prescribed curriculum only required
students to learn about polymers or about the engineering design process.
Other Related Curriculum Resources:
Rodriguez, A. J. (2021). Engineering Your Own Liquid Soap: An Example
of How to Use a Culturally and Socially Responsible Engineering Design
Process. Science & Children, March, 58(4). (Special Issue on Culturally
Responsible Teaching).
STEM Teaching Tools - Practice Brief#55: Why is it crucial to make cultural
diversity visible in STEM education. Available at:
STEM Teaching Tools - Practice Brief#53: How to avoid known pitfalls
associated with culturally responsive instruction. Available at:
Related Articles (several of these articles are available at:
Rodriguez, A. J., Mark, S. & Restrepo Nazar, C. (2022) Gazing Inward in
Support of Critical Scientific Literacy, Journal of Science Teacher
Education, 33:2, 125-130, DOI: 10.1080/1046560X.2021.2009973
(Editorial, Special Issue on Exposing and Dismantling Systemic Racism in
Science Education).
Rodriguez - Summary of sTc 12
Rodriguez, Alberto J. (2021) How to Avoid Seven Common (but Seldom
Discussed) STEM Curriculum Pitfalls: Making STEM More Culturally and Socially
Relevant, Multicultural Perspectives, 23:4, 224-231,
DOI: 10.1080/15210960.2021.1979402
Rodriguez, A. J., Shim, S. (2021). Addressing Critical Cross-Cultural
Issues in Elementary STEM Education Research and Practice: A Critical Review
Essay of Engineering in Elementary STEM Education. Cultural Studies in
Science Education. 16, 1–17.
Rodriguez, A. J., Morrison, D. (2019) Expanding and enacting
transformative meanings of equity, diversity and social justice in science
education. Cultural Studies in Science Education. 14: 265-281
Rodriguez, A. J. (2016). For whom do we do equity and social justice
work? Recasting the discourse about the Other to effect transformative change
(pp. 241-251). In Nicole M. Joseph, Chayla Haynes & Floyd Cobb (Eds.),
Interrogating whiteness and relinquishing power: White faculty’s commitment to
racial consciousness in STEM education. New York: Peter Lang.
Rodriguez, A. J. (2016). Finding our compass for sociotransformative
STEM education (189-202). In Carla C. Johnson, Erin E. Peters-Burton and
Tamara J. Moore. (Eds.). STEM road map: A framework for integrated STEM
education. New York: Routledge.
Rodriguez, A. J. (2015). Managing Sociocultural and Institutional
Challenges through Sociotransformative Constructivism: A Longitudinal Case
Study of a High School Science Teacher. Journal of Research in Science
Teaching. 52 (4), 448–460
Rodriguez, A. J. (2015) What About a Dimension of Equity, Engagement
and Diversity Practices? A Critique of the Next Generation Science Standards.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 52 (7), 1031–1051
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... While culturally relevant or inclusive pedagogy has been focused on teacher professional development, the sTc framework makes clear that teaching and learning are parts of an inseparable equation by which the success of one is dependent on the success of the other. Furthermore, the main goals of the sTc framework are to increase knowledge and awareness, leading to transformative action (see Rodriguez 2018). ...
This article provides a practical example for how to integrate STEM with equity, diversity and social justice. It also illustrates how students can learn about viral disease transmission, as well as the role (agency) students can play in keeping everyone safe. Link:
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The book, Engineering in Elementary STEM Education: Curriculum Design, Instruction, Learning, and Assessment, written by Cunningham (Engineering in elementary STEM education: curriculum design, instruction, learning, and assessment, Teachers College Press, New York, 2018), highlights examples of engineering curriculum and pedagogy that Cunningham and her team have developed for the last 15 years. Additionally, she contends that engineering education has the potential to provide underrepresented students with opportunities to experience authentic and relevant STEM education, as well as to help them understand their strengths and abilities as future scientists or engineers. Given the popularity of this book and of the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum on which it is based, we conducted a critical review essay to more closely examine Cunningham’s claims. Using sociotransformative constructivism, as a theoretical framework, we found Cunningham’s book and supporting EiE curriculum to be rich resources of well-intended concepts and activities for integrating engineering practices in the science classroom. However, the EiE curriculum—like many other curriculum materials in the field—fall short of meeting their equity and diversity goals. In this essay, we argue that some of the EiE curriculum highlighted in Cunningham’s book seem to unintentionally promote colonized thinking, romanticized notions of engineering as a pure human endeavor; and culturally and socially unauthentic scenarios. Our goal is to generate reflection and transformative discussions so that we can elevate this and similar types of popular curriculum. To this end, we also offer suggestions for making STEM curriculum more culturally and socially relevant.
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This monograph offers a realistic look at current trends in student achievement in science education, the participation of underrepresented populations, and the many factors that serve to sustain them. In addition, it offers new insights and concrete suggestions for change based on the analysis of recent reports and promising field-based studies. It begins with a short review of key national reports that provide more specific suggestions for bringing about change. These reports do highlight legitimate threats to our economic, social and political stability, but at the same time, they move beyond just ringing the same alarm that has been rung in the last three decades. This section is followed by an update on trends in student achievement and participation by gender and by ethnic groups. Key reports, such as the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), are included in the discussion in order to explore whether so many years of intensive school reform efforts in various parts of the country have had any impact on student performance and/or teachers' practice. After an update on the achievement trends, it them reviews what many researchers and teachers consider to be the key factors affecting this issue. This review focuses on exploring whether anything has changed after three decades of research have pointed out repeatedly the factors that impact how students learn and how teachers teach. To meet one of the major goals of this monograph, an analysis is provided of some key school-based studies that are either very promising or have already had a significant and positive impact on student performance and teaching practice. A summary of promising strategies for enhancing the academic achievement and participation of traditionally underrepresented students concludes the monograph. Terms used are appended. (Contains 17 figures, 6 tables, and 17 footnotes.) [This report was written in collaboration with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center.]
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In this paper, we provide a conceptual critique of the various constructs often used to justify policies and/or research to promote equity, diversity and social justice in science education. As research expands in these areas, we seek to provide some clarity to support researchers in deepening their work toward transformative goals in science teaching and learning. First, we explore the ways in which researches often argue why equity, diversity or social justice should be addressed, detailing arguments for economic superiority, morality and sociotransformative action. Next, we outline how researchers have argued that equity, diversity and social justice should be addressed including approaches such as equal distribution, mandated policy and sociotransformative education. We conclude with some examples of recent research that bring into practice the lesser known of these, the sociotransformative approach, arguing that this approach provides the field of science education research with a more promising way to create sustainable change. The sociotransformative approach is centered on improving the lived experiences of historically marginalized youth and encourages researchers to focus on reporting research as narratives of engagement. That is, a more representative and balanced analysis of the challenges and successes of teaching and learning in culturally diverse schools and of the responsive (and responsible) role researchers can (and should) play in helping bring about positive social change. This paper helps situate the other articles in this special issue in the larger conversations on equity, diversity and social justice occurring within the field of science education. Here is a link to the full article
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"The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In the field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allow us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom" (hooks, 1994, p. 207 emphasis mine). When we consider these powerful words, “an openness of mind and heart,” “face reality,” “move beyond boundaries,” “to transgress,” we are inspired to take the risks necessary to engage in the on-going struggle for establishing equity and social justice in our culturally diverse society. However, as we seek to transgress—and by doing so, enact our ideological and epistemological positions—we should critically reflect and ask ourselves for whom do we do equity and social justice work? Potential answers to this question might be more problematic than we think; especially, when our good intentions might blind us and work against our noble efforts to establish a more just and inclusive society. Thus, I seek to transgress, to provoke and instigate complicated conversations in which all of us are implicated by our (in)actions and by our unchecked good intentions. I start the chapter by briefly defining--without attempting to essentialize--what some core terms mean to me at this time and moment in my personal history. I am in agreement with North (2008) that the term “social justice” has become the new catchphrase in educational research. This term, as well as the constructs equity and diversity, continue to be readily used without authors making explicit their conceptualization of these terms in their specific ideological, epistemological, and sociocultural working contexts. Therefore, it is essential that we seek to (re)define the core concepts that presently guide our work. This brief introduction to key terms is followed by a discussion of three approaches for recasting the discourse on working for the Other.
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This volume takes on the vital tasks of celebrating, challenging, and attempting to move forward our understanding of equity and diversity in science education. Organized thematically, the book explores five key areas of science education equity research: science education policy; globalization; context and culture; discourse, language and identity; and leadership and social networking. Chapter authors -- emerging to established US science education scholars -- present their latest research on how to make science interesting and accessible to all students. The volume includes international voices as well: Scholars from around the world crafted responses to each section. Together, authors and respondents attempt to refine our methods for examining equity issues across classrooms, schools, and policies, and deepen our understanding of ways to promote equity and acknowledge diversity in science classrooms. Moving the Equity Agenda Forward is endorsed by NARST: A Worldwide Organization for Improving Science Teaching and Learning Through Research. The volume gains authority from the fact that it was edited by one current and four former chairs of NARST’s Equity and Ethics Committee.
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In the last four decades, we have made tremendous social, technological, and scientific advances. We have the Civil Rights Act. We have explored the moon and are now making plans to explore Mars. We have completely mapped the human genome. We have also made computers smaller, faster, and smarter. Yet, during this same period, we have not been able to close the student achievement gap. How is this possible when the science education research community has produced so much knowledge clearly describing the social, cultural, and institutional factors that obstruct and/or facilitate equal access to educational opportunities (National Academy of the Sciences [NAS] 2010; Rodriguez 2004)?
Even though significant progress has been made on raising awareness about equity and diversity issues in science education in the last two decades, the current push to address the Next Generation Science Standards' (NGSS) emphasis on integrating engineering and scientific practices has opened up new pitfalls. Here, I describe seven of the most salient pitfalls we should all seek to avoid if we are committed to making STEM education more culturally and socially relevant. Suggestions are provided to encourage educators, researchers, and curriculum developers to distinguish and stress the importance of engaging children in STEM instead of teaching STEM to students.
Making engineering and science culturally and socially relevant requires teachers to have broader content knowledge and an increased repertoire of pedagogical skills. One aspect of being an effective and culturally inclusive teacher that is seldom discussed is the ability to engage with the emotions associated with working for social justice. In other words, teachers need to be prepared to address the mixed emotions and desire to effect social change that students (children or adults) often experience when exposed to the very real social inequalities present in their own communities or in the world. This issue is particularly important now that the Next Generation Science Education Standards, and its emphasis on engineering practices, calls for students to engage in more problem solving of real world issues. This article seeks to raise awareness about critical emotional pedagogy and critical emotional literacy as 2 additional tools that are likely to augment teachers and researchers’ professional tool kit when interested in building a culturally inclusive and socially relevant learning environment.
This book provides a theoretical basis and practical strategies to counter resistance to learning to teach for diversity (in culturally and gender-inclusive ways), and resistance to teaching for understanding (using student-centered and inquiry-based pedagogical approaches). Teacher educators from across the United States present rich narratives of their experiences in helping prospective and practicing teachers learn to teach for diversity and for understanding in a variety of mathematics and science contexts. Mathematics and science education has been slow to respond to issues of diversity and equity. Preparing Mathematics and Science Teachers for Diverse Classrooms: Promising Strategies for Transformative Pedagogy helps to begin a network for support and collaboration among teacher educators in science and mathematics who work for multicultural education and equity. A unique and much-needed contribution, this book is an essential resource for teacher educators, K-12 teachers who work as student teacher supervisors and cooperating teachers, and graduate students in mathematics and science education, and a compelling text for science and mathematics methods courses.
In this chapter, I provide some highlights about what we know regarding some of the key institutional and sociocultural factors affecting the equitable access and success of diverse students. This is followed by a brief description of sociotransformative constructivism (sTc) as an alternative theoretical framework that merges critical cross-cultural education (as a theory of equity and social justice) with social constructivism (as a theory of learning). Finally, an example is provided to illustrate how STEM education can be enacted through sTc. Regardless of the approach we may decide to use, we must recognize that business as usual is unacceptable to meet the learning needs of an increasing culturally and linguistically diverse student population. We need to collaboratively develop a new sense of direction—a compass—to guide our efforts, and these efforts need to be informed by promising educational research.