The need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals has become critical in the United States. A recent Washington Post article stated there is a shortage of qualified U.S. workers needed to fill openings for high-paying STEM jobs. And this trend, says the Post, “is primarily caused by the lack of women and other minorities pursuing careers in the STEM fields.” APS President Douglas Medin (Northwestern University) and former student Megan Bang (University of Washington) are helping tackle this issue by investigating current approaches to STEM education and determining how culture may affect the way people learn.
Previous research often assumes that science, and science learning, is acultural—that how we gain knowledge does not depend on culture. Medin and Bang say current attempts to include minorities in STEM education are incomplete because they tend to focus on the goal of increasing minority involvement in STEM professions, rather than discovering how minority individuals best learn STEM concepts based on their cultural background. Medin and Bang do research to gain a better understanding of learning and development as a cultural process, taking the perspective that one’s culture is not an impediment to learning, but rather a tool that can support how they learn.
Taking a new stance on STEM education, one that views cultural differences as a device and not a deficit, could open new avenues of involvement in STEM areas according to a report the researchers published in Science Education. Medin and Bang will offer more on this topic at the 24th APS Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois, USA in the Presidential Symposium “Diverse Perspectives: Who Owns Science?”
Bang, who is Project Director at the Chèche Konnen Center and Director Education at the American Indian Center of Chicago, will speak about her research on science education in historically non-dominant communities. Her presentation, “Seeing Relational Epistemologies and Impacts on Cognition: Towards Improving Science Education for Native Youth,” will focus on cross-cultural differences in the ability to focus on relational understandings, or how people might understand connections between various things. She will discuss the implications these findings have for science education as well as research-based learning strategies that have been tested in Native American communities.
Bang told the University of Washington that her research empowers Indigenous communities “while contributing to the field’s fundamental understandings of teaching and learning. We have done this through better understanding culture and cognition broadly construed and more specifically in the context of community-based science teaching and learning.” She also said, “For me, seriously reworking our understandings of culture in our foundational theories, curricula, pedagogies, and the like, is critical for designing and implementing learning environments that are transformative for youth typically placed at risk.”
Bang, M., & Medin, D. (2010). Cultural processes in science education: Supporting the navigation of multiple epistemologies. Science Education, 94 (6), 1008-1026 DOI: 10.1002/sce.20392