Spotlight on Middle School Science: Making Science More Inclusive
Shipley’s Middle School science curriculum aims to help students build curiosity and knowledge of scientific concepts while developing critical thinking and problem solving skills in both collaborative and individual settings. The Middle School science teaching team, made up of Caroline Feldman ’05, Sean Legnini ’07, and Ace Schwarz, also wanted to find meaningful ways to make their curriculum more inclusive, highlighting diversity in a discipline that has historically been dominated by white men.
“I was excited to talk about representation in STEM because there is so much research that points to the fact that girls and minorities make their decision about whether STEM has a place for them as early as sixth grade,” explains Mr. Legnini. “When students don’t have an opportunity to see themselves in today’s scientists and engineers, they don't think they can be a part of the field.”
In order to change that, Middle School science students will study the work and impact of scientists from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented groups. The work will be an important part of their curriculum, not only to highlight cultural diversity, but to show the positive impact that diversity can have on the scientific process. “Including diverse scientists in our curriculum teaches students that the discipline benefits greatly from approaching research and investigations in a variety of creative ways,” says Ms. Feldman. “A more diverse scientific community is better able to generate new research methods, explanations, and ideas, which can help science take on challenging hurdles and shed new light on problems.”
In Mx. Schwarz’s sixth and seventh grade classes, students recently focused on the work of Latinx scientists as a way to celebrate Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month. In sixth grade, where students were studying the characteristics of life, they learned about María de los Ángeles Alvariño González’s work with zooplankton. In seventh grade, where students were studying sound, Wanda Díaz Merced’s work with sonification (using non-speech audio to perceptualize data) “was a natural choice,” says Mx. Schwarz. “Teaching about different scientists is so important because students typically know about Einstein, Edison, and Newton, but they have never heard of Johnson, Maathai, or Ride. Science is such an epically diverse field, and we want to make sure students know that. There are so many scientists that relate to the concepts we’re studying, and students deserve to see themselves and others represented in science.”
In Mr. Legnini’s sixth and eighth grade classes, students generated questions about the statement, “More than 50% of scientists and engineers are white men.” Students used those questions to research the barriers that have typically existed in STEM fields for women and people of color. “Students discovered that people of color get accepted for STEM degrees at a lower rate than white people, women get paid less in almost every category, and a disproportionate number of professors in graduate schools are white men, which all contribute to this huge gap,” explains Mr. Legnini. “At the same time, they discovered that scientists of color and women scientists do exist and had a chance to see the growing diversity in the field.”
The inclusive focus will help students learn that they can play an important role in equalizing those disparities, says Legnini. “My hope is that our students of color and our girls have a chance to see themselves in a field that's dominated by white men and that our white students and boys can understand that they also have a role in being changemakers with these issues.”
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.