A Case Study Analysis of Rural Middle School Science Teachers: The Perception of Culture to Inform Pedagogical Practices in the Classroom
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology
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Since the early 1980’s, a push for equitable learning practices has resulted in the creation of culturally centered pedagogy to counter educational disparities targeting marginalized populations across disciplines—particularly within the Black/African American community. More recently, scholarship centering on race in science education, language and culture integration in science, and justice-centered science pedagogy have been examined and utilized to address the achievement and opportunity gaps in science across racial/ethnic groups (Larkin, Maloney, & Perry-Ryder, 2016; Lee & Luykx, 2007; Lynn, 2006; Morales-Doyle, 2017; Nasir & Hand, 2006; Underwood & Mensah, 2018). With the steady rise in cultural diversity within the current demographics of the American school system, issues surrounding equity-based instruction illuminate the need for learning environments to enact practices that are inclusive, culturally relevant, and understood by teachers across multiple disciplines (Brown, Boda, Lemmi, & Monroe, 2019; Goldenberg, 2014; Johnson, 2010; Milner, 2014).Within this qualitative case study, attention is given to teacher epistemology of culture and how one’s understanding of the concept informs and guides one’s pedagogical practices in middle school science classrooms. Teachers within this multisite case study reflect on their use of cultural referents, also noted as “real world connections,” to meet the academic needs of their students. Drawing from the theory of culturally relevant pedagogy, Gloria Ladson-Billings (1992, 2009, 2010, 2014) positions learning at the helm of cultural and social connectedness to reduce the gaps in achievement which persist among Black students and their peers. Although an abundance of scholarship surrounds teacher understanding and use of culturally relevant practices across disciplines (Aronson & Laughter, 2016; Boutte, Kelly-Jackson, & Johnson, iii 2010; Johnson, 2010; Morrison, Robbins, & Rose, 2008; Underwood & Mensah, 2018), a dearth of research exists, specifically examining teachers’ understanding of culture to aide in their successful enactment of culturally inclusive and relevant pedagogy in the science classroom. This qualitative multisite case study examined how teacher epistemology of culture guided their pedagogical practice in middle school science classrooms. Gathering empirical data from interviews, classroom observations, transcripts and document analysis, presented opportunities to gain insight into how teachers perceive and utilize cultural components in the science classroom. The sample of participants included 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade teachers who taught life, earth, physical science, or a combination of the three science areas. Research suggests that for teachers to employ instruction from a cultural lens, some knowledge and understanding of how culture is defined and interpreted is warranted to avoid a cultural mismatch (Gay, 2000; Howard, 2017; Siwatu & Poloydore, 2010; Stephens, Townsend, Markus, & Phillips, 2012). Findings from this study showed cultural understandings coupled with various pedagogical approaches were used by middle school science teachers to bridge student understanding in science. From a stance embedded in community-based associations, student social and academic needs, and an array of worldviews, teachers chose specific components within culture to address science content. Within this study, the following became evident: for teachers to understand how to enact culture in science education, it was necessary for teachers to understand culture and how science fit into the lives of their students. Scholarship supports the notion that science and culture are not static; learning is shaped by our experience and interactions.