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Building an Anti-Racist Science Classroom

Posted on 2020-10-29

Building an Anti-Racist Science Classroom

Science Teaching and Anti-Racism

From Trayvon Martin, to Ahmaud Arbery, to Breonna Taylor, our country is witnessing Black lives heinously taken from us. Our students are witnessing how society is responding to the loss of these lives, which is traumatizing for our Black students. What does this have to do with science education? These social injustices are also seen in our classrooms with respect to school discipline, tracking students by perceived ability, displaced family engagement, and access to high-quality science instruction, especially for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students. This ultimately creates systemic issues that contribute to student inequities in the science classroom.

As stated in A Framework for K–12 Science Education, “The first source of inequity links differences in achievement to differences in opportunities to learn because of inequities across schools, districts, and communities.” To provide equitable opportunities for students to learn science, we must recognize and dismantle the structural systems that have created the inequities in the first place. Then collectively as a science education community, we can rebuild learning spaces that are inclusive of our student populations and create anti-racist environments that embrace diversity and social justice. Achieving the goal of an anti-racist classroom requires the following actions:

  1. Create a culture of discourse on social justice. As science teachers, we have a responsibility to practice the nature of science in our classrooms, which includes arguing from evidence on societal issues that directly impact our BIPOC students. Our students must feel heard and validated while participating in the science and engineering practices innovated by the Framework.
  2. Cultivate learning experiences that embrace each of your students. Actively seek phenomena that speak to the cultures, communities, and lived identities of our students. We must advocate for increased diversity in our curriculum and instruction and amplify the voices of Black and indigenous scientists’ contributions to STEM.
  3. Dismantle structural and systemic inequities in science education. Anti-racist teaching is not just for educators of color, it is also for our fellow white teachers. This creates an allyship in which students of all backgrounds see a united front against racism and structurally racist practices. This involves highlighting scientists of color and emphasizing historical science practices that celebrate the achievements of scientists from BIPOC backgrounds.

Anti-racist teaching is more than simply telling students about scientists of color. We must truly cultivate the students’ experience in science. Take time to continue professional learning about anti-racist teaching practices that address racism, implicit bias, and microaggressions in the classroom. Identify and connect with other equity-driven teachers or staff members and form committees to consistently advocate for social justice, diversity, inclusion, and equitable access in all areas of curriculum and instruction. As author and University of Georgia professor Bettina Love states, “Schools must support the fullness of dark life as a way to justice...White folx [the more inclusive version of “folks”] embracing Black joy is loving seeing dark people win, thrive, honor their history, and be fully human.” (Love 2019, p. 114)

As educators, we have a responsibility to be actively anti-racist in the science classroom. The articles in this issue amplify critical Black voices in the science education community and aim to encourage our fellow white educators to stand with us as allies in creating anti-racist classrooms.


Dr. Leena Bakshi

Dr. Leena Bakshi
Next Gen Navigator Guest Editor

Dr. Leena Bakshi is the founder of STEM 4 Real, a nonprofit professional learning organization committed to combining STEM content learning and leadership with principles of equity and social justice. In addition to quality professional learning, the company showcases real-life STEM stars who are breaking barriers and pioneering key breakthroughs in the STEM fields through children’s literature. She also serves as the board secretary for the California Association of Science Educators. She is a former county and state administrator, math and science teacher, and an advocate of social justice in STEM education.

Incorporating Anti-Racism in Elementary Science
Elementary science specialist Brandon Davis and veteran public school educator Dr. Terra Tiller Smith share why anti-racist teaching must be part of students’ everyday experience in the classroom. “As educators, we need to create a framework to allow students to effectively understand the importance of asking questions, understand the impact of race in their community, and explore their identity,” they noted. Read more

Anti-Racism in the Middle School Science Classroom
Science educators Rosanna Ayer and Yasmine Shakoor-Asadi, and Dr. Cheryl Talley, professor of neuroscience at Virginia State University, discuss how the lack of curricula focused on the contributions of black and female scientists reinforces bias in the science classroom through exclusion. “We all have contributed and continue to contribute to systemic racism when we are not actively working against the exclusions of facts. Unearthing the contributions and stories of all who have contributed to science is one of the first steps to creating an anti-racist classroom,” they explained. Read more.

White Science Teachers, Here’s Why Anti-Racism Includes You!
Veteran science educators Peter A’Hearn, Dr. Nancy Nasr, and Tara Sikorski discuss how a commitment to anti-racism is more important than ever, particularly for white teachers, as it is the moral duty of all educators to use their platforms to overcome racism. Read more.

Note: The Next Gen Navigator is a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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