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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
a complex set of sociocultural and systemic factors not often recognized in such science equity efforts. Principal among these is the idea that one’s social world and context shape values, skill sets, and expectations (Nasir et al., 2006). Thus, the act of exposing all individuals to the same learning environments does not result in science equity, because the environments themselves are designed in a manner that supports the cultural repertoire of the dominant culture.
Alternatively, a group of theories portrays equity in science learning as a political process (Lee, 1999, 2005). This view assumes that as students from underrepresented populations gain access to science, they learn to appropriate the language and discourse of science and use it to address local or personal concerns. This perspective assumes that engagement in science by underrepresented populations will lead to a politically driven shift in the nature of science to better reflect the cultural practices and concerns of those underrepresented populations, which may result in more equitable power structures (Calabrese Barton, 1997, 1998a, 1998b; Calabrese Barton and Osborne, 1998; Eisenhart, Finkel, and Marion, 1996; Howes, 1998; Keller, 1982; Mayberry, 1998; Rodriguez, 1997). Thus, this orientation is a major departure from the assimilationist view, which sees science as the central goal to be reached by students who are at the margins and assumes the practices of science will remain unchanged by their participation (Calabrese Barton, 1998a, 1998b).
A third perspective on science equity stems from the cultural anthropological perspective. From this perspective, equity in science learning occurs when individuals from diverse backgrounds participate in science through opportunities that account for and value alternative views and ways of knowing in their everyday worlds (Aikenhead, 1996; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998; Costa, 1995; Gallard et al., 1998; Maddock, 1981; Pomeroy, 1994), while also providing access to science as practiced in the established scientific community. This approach centers on making science accessible, meaningful, and relevant for diverse students by connecting their home and community cultures to science. Lee (1999) likens this perspective to biliteracy or biculturalism, whereby an individual can successfully bridge the culture of science.
Carol Lee (1993, 1995, 2001) has used this approach to design learning environments that leverage knowledge associated with everyday experiences to support subject matter learning (in her case, literacy practices). Lee’s approach, termed cultural modeling, works on the assumption that students who are speakers of African American vernacular English (AAVE) already tacitly engage in complex reasoning and interpretation of literary concepts, such as tropes and genres. She engages students in metacognitive conversations in which students make explicit the evidence and reasoning they are using in their discussions. The conversations might focus, for example, on how students know that rap lyrics are not intended to be taken literally and the