How to Be a Culturally Competent Science Educator

Six Parts:CurriculumPedagogyChallenging Structural Inequity in SchoolsSocial ActivismCommunicationRelationships

In order to provide an equitable education for all students and diminish opportunity gap, a teacher should examine the facets of being a culturally competent educator. Curriculum, Pedagogy, Challenging Structural Inequity in Schools, Social Activism, Communication, and Relationships all take vital roles in the classroom and community of your school. A science teacher can implement these tools in order to enhance science learning for all students. In order to implement these facets into your teaching style, you can follow a few simple steps.

Part 1

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    Examine your curriculum. Texts and teacher guides for content areas often contain deeply embedded biases. For example, a science text may include only the contributions of white European men. Make sure to look for multiple forms of bias, including:
    • gender
    • socioeconomic status
    • sexual orientation
    • race
    • ethnicity
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    Examine the materials that you use to supplement your lessons. Make sure that they are inclusive of all groups listed above and can accommodate all reading levels, communication styles and intelligence. Look at case studies and readings about social issues related to science and determine how authentic they are to the students.

Part 2

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    Adjust how you teach on a day-to-day basis according to the needs of your students. Think about how you can support critical thinking, cultural discussion and celebration of differences. Engage students in the scientific inquiry process in order to allow them to use background knowledge and experiences to guide their own learning and promote meaning making.
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    Adjust your assessment style. Use assessments that are accessible to students of all identities. You can do this by:
    • creating questions that are unbiased
    • offering support (modifications) where it is needed so each student has an opportunity to succeed
    • designing a format that includes multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning, including drawing, writing, collaborating, working individually, going outside or moving around.
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    Adjust your classroom management style. Think about differences in culture and values when deciding how to best deal with the challenging behaviors of students. Don't shy away from or ignore instances of cultural conflict. Embrace them as learning opportunities for all.

Part 3
Challenging Structural Inequity in Schools

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    Examine the institutional racism, sexism, and able-ism practices in your school.
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    Understand that equity does not mean equality. Equity takes context into account and provides the same opportunity for learning for all students. Making opportunities available has different meaning for different students based on their needs. For example, students with language barriers may need more support accessing the academic language of science than others. Students with physical disabilities may need more support navigating the lab space than others.
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    Familiarize yourself with the school-to-prison pipeline. Students are more susceptible to ending up in prison if they attend lower income schools or belong to minority groups who are deemed unable to succeed by the school system. Push for programs that set high standards and achievement goals for all students.
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    Be aware of the disproportionate amount of students of color in special education and examine reasons for why that is. These may include:
    • cultural differences in language structure
    • differences in cultural capital (the types of knowledge that different cultures take value in).
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    Engage in conversations with school faculty and staff about inequities you have identified. Work collaboratively to come up with solutions to address them.

Part 4
Social Activism

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    Find out the people or groups of people who hold power in the community. Determine what attributes give them that social power and use those attributes to motivate students in the classroom. Support students in succeeding academically to enable them to be a person of power.
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    Be an ally to students. Find out about what struggles diverse students face in society, what policies are in place to enforce those struggles, and what can be done to take action against those policies. For example:
    • be open to having conversations with G.L.B.T. people and celebrate the diversity of all students
    • avoid using labels and stereotypes when addressing students and their circumstances.
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    Create projects that address an issue or solve a problem in the community using scientific knowledge to motivate students to create positive change in their world.

Part 5

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    Know how communication styles differ among cultures and develop classroom activities to adapt to these differences. Styles include:
    • linear (beginning, middle, end; students can explain a scientific process)
    • circular (context around a main point; students can create a visual that allows them to see a main point and how it is supported by the context )
    • direct (specific statements; students can write out the steps of an experiment that they designed)
    • indirect (suggestive statements; students can propose additional research or experiments that can be done with a concept)
    • intellectual confrontation (based on idea; students can argue their hypotheses and support them with evidence)
    • relational confrontation (based on relationship; students can problem solve during group work).
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    Reach out to the guardians of students. Work to ensure that there is an open line of understanding, modifying communication where necessary. Send out a classroom newsletter that is easily translated. Make sure to notify parents what topics are being covered and when. Gain permission from parents for students to participate in lab activities and acknowledgement that they are aware of safety concerns (signature of a safety contract).

Part 6

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    Build relationships with students by establishing an inclusive classroom environment. An inclusive classroom environment:
    • focuses on learning in science
    • celebrates diversity of human life
    • allows students access into discussions where they are able to question what they are learning
    • lends itself to be shaped by the student's experiences and the uninhibited sharing of those experiences.
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    Examine your privilege in order to be more open to conversations about race. Privilege might include:
    • race (white is seen as individual rather than culture group)
    • socioeconomic status (money is power)
    • higher education (may not be available to all students).


  • Science teachers may have biases based on what we have been taught "counts" as science and may deny some students the ability to express their learning in a meaningful way. For example, the European American culture has very linear thinking patterns which aligns with science more than a circular thinking pattern. Teachers must be responsive toward how culture shapes different ways of thinking at all times.

Sources and Citations

  • Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There by H. Richard Milner IV. Harvard Education Press. Cambridge, MA (2010).
  • Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap. Paul Gorski. Teachers College Press. New York, NY (2013).

Article Info

Categories: Science | Education and Communications