All teachers want to see their students succeed.
They don’t want to see students fall behind, but everyone learns differently and comes into the classroom with a different level of preparedness.
Teaching to these differences isn’t always easy, yet striving to achieve equity in the classroom is essential to ensure every student has the specific resources they need to meet the academic demands of your class.
Especially when looking at more technical subjects, those requiring a substantial knowledge base to excel, gaps in learning can be wider, and the ability to understand the information can challenge students in different ways.
With the right tools and activities that promote a collaborative learning space, even equity in science is achievable.
What does equity mean in education?
There are two basic tenants to the definition of equity in education.
First, all students should be given the opportunity to reach the goals of the class.
Second, all students should have access to similar resources.
Depending on what age you’re engaging with students, your classroom may start from a more diverse place.
If your students are feeding in from various elementary or middle schools, chances are they’ve all learned a little differently. It’s then up to you to bring your class together equitably.
Doing this can require different strategies and activities, but the goal is always the same.
You want students to get what they need out of your class so that, combined with what they learn in other classes, they leave school prepared for future success.
It’s not about creating a different set of expectations for each student but giving them the right-sized platform to achieve those expectations.
Why is equity important in education?
Speaking directly to equity in science class, the definition gets a little more complicated. Creating an equitable science classroom often requires more than providing equal resources.
Instead, it’s about looking at students' learning experiences and whether they’re meaningful for all or just some.
It’s the meaningful component that’s key here because to get students to understand science, they must be able to relate to it.
They have to see how this scientific concept solves a problem that makes sense to them or how that chemical reaction helps make a product they use all the time.
Creating equity in science requires teachers to look beyond the material being taught to think about the cultural resources students bring into the classroom and how to apply them to the learning they’ll do in your class.
How to promote equity in the classroom
Starting with the mantra that everyone can learn science (even if the concepts are complex) will help drive you in the right direction toward equity.
It will help you remember that a room full of different learners isn’t a hurdle; it’s an opportunity to think outside the box and bring in a variety of activities to engage your class.
The value of group work
Cooperative learning is an excellent way to help decrease the achievement gap in your classroom.
By being strategic in how you build your groups, students can play to their individual strengths. This helps them build confidence in what they’re learning while also getting support from their peers.
It engages them with the “hard” stuff in a meaningful way.
Collaboration also enables students to learn a valuable lesson — sometimes, you have to try something, see it fail, and try again.
The trial-and-error lesson saves students from getting frustrated when they don’t immediately know something. It teaches them to keep thinking and to show resilience.
It turns them into an empowered learner.
Some students may have to work harder at this than others, but everyone has the same goal: to complete the project by putting in the necessary work.
Students will learn from and help each other as well, and we all know that sometimes a peer is the most influential teacher.
Science is such a powerful discipline because of its hands-on component.
There’s not much science you can study that won’t have some kind of interactive component or experiment to complement it.
Even better, these activities can constantly change. You’re able to update them so they’re relevant to your specific classroom, and so they reflect the cultural diversity that’s already represented.
These activities are also an excellent way to open up students’ minds to the applicability of science.
What jobs are out of the norm that would use the exact science they just learned? How could someone who doesn’t have a scientific job employ these concepts? Why is this experience significant?
This adds value to the science and makes students interested in learning it.
Working through science concepts with hands-on, engaging activities gets every single student involved.
They begin to see the value when they’re learning because they understand that science does pertain to them.
You’re eliminating the “Why do I need to know this?” question, a sentiment that can widen the achievement gap.
Using project-based learning to promote equity
While developing a curriculum that integrates these pieces, you can look to a project-based learning approach rather than just adding activities here and there.
This allows you to take all the positives of these activities and utilize them throughout the entire length of a course.
Whether you’ve got your kids for a semester or all year, uniting them through project-based learning keeps equity at the forefront.
PBL also ensures you’re able to introduce real-world issues into the classroom, helping all students connect to the science by making it relevant to them.
And, while PBL functions as a group activity, you have the opportunity to let students connect with the material individually through personal reflections on their work and what they’ve learned.
You can keep tabs on who’s plowing through the assignment and who may need a thicker foundation from you to stay on top of things.
One of the most significant benefits of a PBL curriculum is that a single project can last over an extended period of time.
This enables you to incorporate multiple units into a single activity, which can also help students connect the dots in science.
You’re also able to create long-term groups, dividing students up so there’s always a mix of achievers to provide support and balance.
The high-achieving students will help motivate their peers and make group discussions more dynamic.
Instead of having a group of students sit down and all say, “I don’t know,” when asked to solve a problem, you’ll have a few inspiring the group with a, “What if we tried this?”
Making PBL work in the science classroom
Infusing project-based learning into the science classroom is sometimes easier said than done, but a few key elements that can make this change easier include:
- Aligning projects with state standards
- Timing projects to cross over related units so connections are more easily made
- Allowing for adaptations in the curriculum should the order in which units are taught need shifting to make a project make more sense
- Building in time, in advance, for project presentations, group time, and reflection writing so nothing feels rushed
Keep equity in science at top-of-mind
The truth is— Achieving equity in the classroom will not happen overnight.
There’s a lot to overcome when it comes to preexisting bias, socio-economic differences, and so much more.
But, by making it an important goal to work toward equity through your activities and the way you teach, you’re helping all your students take the right step forward.
You’re ensuring they are all properly prepared to find success later in life, and you’re giving each one the right tools to understand why science is so very important to understand.