Background: Recent policies have given momentum to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the USA and throughout the world. This has resulted in rapid growth in engineering and STEM curricula, many of which incorporate global contexts to frame student experiences; however, little research has been done on the effects of this contextualization. Thus, it is critical to explore the impact of these curricula on student learning and the development of STEM identities, especially those who have historically been marginalized in STEM fields. The purposes of this study are to critically examine how STEM curriculum helps shape students’ perceptions of the underlying cultural context and suggest ways that anti-oppressive education theory can be applied in middle school physical science classrooms. This study draws on classroom observational data and the curriculum text itself to understand how students perceive culture that they do not identify with. Results: We found that the curriculum provides very limited perspectives of the non-dominant culture in which the learning was situated. Our results also indicate three emerging themes showing students to be demonstrating an elitist viewpoint, having a narrow view of another culture, or being indifferent toward the embedded cultural context in the lessons. As a class, deficit-based views of the people and places presented in the lesson were created rather than the desired culturally competent views. These negative perceptions were imprinted and solidified through limited portrayal of the embedded culture in the curriculum. Conclusions: This work highlights the importance of curriculum context in students’ learning. Beliefs about the people and places are created through global context presented in the curriculum. Portrayal of these people and places was not representative of the culture; thus, resulting in limited perceptions of the situated contexts. It is crucial that the teachers critically evaluate the curriculum prior to its implementation to make sure Others are represented appropriately by drawing upon the anti-oppressive education theory. Lastly, we also advocate for the incorporation of global culture in STEM curriculum by having students learn beyond what the written curriculum offers.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Recent policies have given momentum to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the USA, as well as many other countries throughout the world. Support for STEM education has come from both private and government sectors with many of them advocating for and painting the image of STEM being product- or thing-oriented (Bairaktarova & Pilotte, ). For instance, the Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academy of Sciences, ) highlighted the importance of STEM education programs as the key mechanism to get more students interested in STEM-related careers. Additionally, STEM education is also supported by the government through the president’s recent commitment to fund K-12 STEM education (STEM and Computer Science, Preparing the 21st Century Workforce, ). Arguments for improving STEM education and creating a stronger STEM workforce to maintain global status in the USA date back to the Sputnik crisis in 1957 (Gardner, ). Similar argument from corporations, preparing qualified candidates to fill in STEM-related jobs such as “software developers, petroleum engineers, data scientists, and those in skilled trades” (Xue & Larson, , p. 12), drive current STEM reform initiatives. Thus, STEM education is an important topic for educational practitioners, policymakers, and researchers, especially in K-12 settings where students’ STEM identities are being developed toward consideration for future STEM pathways (Archer et al., ; Aschbacher, Ing, & Tsai, ).
© 2020, The Author(s).
- Anti-oppressive education
- Middle school
- Physical science
- STEM education