7
Culture, Diversity, and Equity

Native Waters: Sharing the Source, a traveling exhibit developed by the Native Waters project at Montana State University, has a double message. Its goal is to share cultural views about water held by the tribal peoples of the Missouri River Basin as well as scientific concepts about the Missouri River and its watershed. The exhibit accomplishes its double-pronged goal through its design, informative text panels, and interactive features.

The exhibit is set up like an Indian tipi, with the inside space designated as a place to hear stories about native culture. A sculpture of a spring takes center stage, with four banners, pointing in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) emanating from the spring. Each banner is illustrated with native drawings and includes quotes from Missouri Basin elders and tribal members. Visitors learn about sunrise and sunset on the east and west banners and about the phases of the moon, which cut across geographical boundaries. On the tipi wall is the story of the Missouri River. It begins in the Rocky Mountains and travels east until it reaches Cohokia, a native settlement that once had a population of 50,000.

The story of the river is told as a blend of scientific and native elements. As the river moves eastward and downhill, seasonal changes affect its size, creating what often is referred to as its pulse. According to native lore, the movements of the river also represents the idea that while traveling forward, one should also remember one’s past, just as the river carries remnants of its origins.

This example illustrates one strategy for closing the gaps that can exist between the beliefs, values, and practices of some communities and those embodied in Western science. By incorporating elements of native culture into a science exhibit, the designers are blurring the border between Western and native approaches to understanding the natural world, requiring all visitors to examine their own worldviews.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 119
7 Culture, Diversity, and Equity Native Waters: Sharing the Source, a traveling exhibit developed by the Native Waters project at Montana State University, has a double message. Its goal is to share cultural views about water held by the tribal peoples of the Missouri River Basin as well as scientific concepts about the Missouri River and its watershed. The exhibit accomplishes its double-pronged goal through its design, informative text panels, and interactive features. The exhibit is set up like an Indian tipi, with the inside space designated as a place to hear stories about native culture. A sculpture of a spring takes center stage, with four banners, pointing in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) emanating from the spring. Each banner is illustrated with native drawings and includes quotes from Missouri Basin elders and tribal members. Visitors learn about sunrise and sunset on the east and west banners and about the phases of the moon, which cut across geographical boundaries. On the tipi wall is the story of the Missouri River. It begins in the Rocky Mountains and travels east until it reaches Cohokia, a native settlement that once had a population of 50,000. The story of the river is told as a blend of scientific and native elements. As the river moves eastward and downhill, seasonal changes affect its size, creating what often is referred to as its pulse. According to native lore, the movements of the river also represents the idea that while traveling forward, one should also remember one’s past, just as the river carries remnants of its origins. This example illustrates one strategy for closing the gaps that can exist between the beliefs, values, and practices of some communities and those embod- ied in Western science. By incorporating elements of native culture into a sci- ence exhibit, the designers are blurring the border between Western and native approaches to understanding the natural world, requiring all visitors to examine their own worldviews. 119

OCR for page 119
An important value of informal environments for science learning is being accessible to all people. However, social, economic, cultural, ethnic, historical, and systemic factors all influence the types of access and opportunities these environ- ments provide to learners.1 Learning to participate in science—that is, developing the necessary knowledge and skills, as well as adopting the norms and practices associated with doing science—is difficult for many people. It can be especially chal- lenging for members of traditionally underrepresented (or nondominant) groups. The challenges of engaging nondominant groups in the sciences are reflected in studies showing that (1) inadequate science instruction exists in most elemen- tary schools, especially those serving children from low-income and rural areas; (2) girls often do not identify strongly with science or science careers; (3) students from nondominant groups perform lower on standardized measures of science achievement than their peers; (4) although the number of individuals with disabili- ties pursuing postsecondary education has increased, few pursue academic careers in science or engineering; and (5) learning science can be especially challenging for all learners because of the specialized language involved.2 Addressing these chal- lenges requires rethinking what it means to provide equal access to science. ReTHinKinG eQUiTY Striving for equity in science education has often resulted in attempts to provide better access to opportunities already available to dominant groups, without con- sideration of the cultural or contextual issues that must be taken into account. Science instruction and learning experiences in informal environments often privi- lege the science-related practices of middle-class whites and may fail to recognize the science-related practices associated with individuals from other groups. In informal settings for learning science, such as museums, some initiatives are aimed at introducing new audiences to existing science content by offering reduced-cost admission or bringing existing science programming that is already offered to mainstream groups to nondominant communities. The logic of this view is that individuals from particular groups or com- munities have simply not had sufficient access to science learning experiences. To remedy that situation, educators deliver to nondominant groups the same kinds of learning experiences that have served dominant groups. However, simply exposing individuals to the same learning environments may not result in equity, because the environments themselves are designed using the lens of the dominant culture. SurrounDED by Science 120

OCR for page 119
“ Promoting collaboration, partnership, and diversity in power and ownership may provide greater opportunities for nondominant groups to see ” their own ways of thinking and meaning-making—or making sense of what they are seeing and experiencing—reflected in informal settings. For example, the signs and labeling of an exhibition or the content of a program may be in English only, or a program for families may be designed to accommo- date the one- or two-parent family structure typical of many middle-class, white families, rather than the multigenerational, extended family structures that may be prevalent among other groups. To achieve equity, practitioners must consider ways to connect the home and community cultures of diverse groups to the culture of science. Angela Calabrese Barton, professor of science education at Michigan State University, argues for allowing connections between learners’ life worlds and science to be made more easily and “providing space for multiple voices to be heard and explored.”3 An important first step toward designing more inclusive and genuinely equi- table learning experiences in science is for educators and designers to recognize that they may be acting under assumptions that reflect the dominant culture of middle- class whites. As a result, the programs, activities, and exhibits they design may have narrow appeal and lead people from nondominant cultures to perceive them as directed by and designed for the dominant group. Cecilia Garibay, principal of the Garibay Group, points to a number of indicators identified through research that can support this perception, including the lack of diverse staff, a feeling that the content is not culturally relevant, and the unavailability of bilingual or multi- lingual resources. In fact, recent research with various cultural groups suggests that these issues result in nondominant communities feeling unwelcome in museums.4 Approaching these problems with outreach efforts may inadvertently rein- force the image of informal settings as being part of the dominant culture. The term outreach itself implies that some communities may be external to the institu- tion. Promoting collaboration, partnership, and diversity in power and ownership may provide greater opportunities for nondominant groups to see their own ways of thinking and meaning-making—or making sense of what they are seeing and experiencing—reflected in informal settings. 121 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
To this end, making adjustments such as providing labels or program con- tent in multiple languages has been shown to make a significant difference. Not only does this practice help members of other cultures identify key elements in an informal experience, but it also facilitates conversation and enhances learn- ing among intergenerational groups.5 That said, it is important to point out that providing content in multiple languages is a big undertaking for a museum or other provider of informal science learning experiences. It requires adjustments to the exhibition or program development process and incurs costs for translation, proofing, and production. It may also require tough choices regarding which lan- guages and cultures to include. However, the additional investment is an impor- tant step toward providing more equitable learning experiences. Electronic labels on touchscreens equipped to display multiple languages, while expensive, can address a variety of challenges, including the option of providing more detailed information on request. Alternatively, another way to accomplish the same goal is to have a non-English-speaking mediator available to “talk through” the experi- ence with the visitors. Again, a non-trivial investment. Attention to language differences is only one component of designing for equity. It also is important to consider variation in beliefs, values, and norms of social interaction, such as variability in family structure, gender roles, and pat- terns of discourse (e.g., the role of questioning in a conversation). Many informal institutions nationwide are addressing these issues and modifying exhibitions to reflect these differences. The next case study is one such example. It describes how a large children’s museum, Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, California, established an ongoing relationship with the city’s growing Vietnamese popula- tion; through this partnership, the museum was able to develop a significantly more inclusive learning experience. The museum’s work in this area highlights both its challenges and rewards. SurrounDED by Science 122

OCR for page 119
everyday SCIENCE The Vietnamese Audience Development Initiative In 2002, the Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM) about some cultural icons and discussed the pros and launched its Vietnamese Audience Development cons of having the labels translated into Vietnamese. Initiative to better understand San Jose’s growing Throughout our collaboration, the welcoming mes- Vietnamese community and to develop strategies sage that we sent was very important.” for helping the museum better meet the commu- The Community’s Perceptions nity’s needs. San Jose is home to more residents of Vietnamese descent than any other city outside Saigon. An analysis of the data from the focus groups shed After gaining experience working with another some light on what the Vietnamese look for in their cultural group—the Latino community—museum leisure destinations and how CDM did—and did staff decided to begin working with the Vietnamese not—meet their needs. Many Vietnamese parents community. They also recognized that the Vietnamese saw a number of positive aspects to the CDM experi- community represents a fairly low percentage of its ence, including visitors and wanted to develop exhibitions and pro- grams that would appeal to this audience. • a safe, clean environment, Based on the success of the Latino Audience Development Initiative, the Vietnamese initiative • important focus on math and science, used an outreach model that involved a three-phase • excellent customer service and friendly staff, process: • valuable exhibits for younger children, and 1. Community assessment and relationship building; • genuine efforts to reach out to the Vietnamese 2. Development of an operational strategy, an community. exhibition, educational programs, an event, and marketing and governance strategies; and However, focus group participants also pointed out many barriers to visiting the museum, such as 3. Full-scale implementation of developed the cost of admission, lack of transportation, park- strategies. ing fees, and the location. More specifically, many first-generation respondents were not comfort- From the outset, the initiative brought in able with the location of the museum, which is not advisers from the Vietnamese community to build close to areas of high concentration of Vietnamese, long-term relationships and to help with exhibition making the neighborhood less familiar. They also and program planning. “We held focus groups to found the logistics of paying for parking challenging. find out what was important to Vietnamese visitors,” Furthermore, the lack of Vietnamese-speaking staff, says Jenni Martin, director of education. “We learned particularly at the museum entrance, made it difficult 123 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
for some families to communicate, contributing to tions reflected in their community and like the idea their lack of comfort. of exposing their children to the traditions. However, It also appears that perceptions of muse- they also value multicultural perspectives and seek to ums were a barrier. The word “museum” seemed instill in their children respect for all cultures. to carry negative connotations for a lot of families. Planning an Exhibition for Respondents saw museums as passive, old, and academic versus interactive and engaging. In their the Vietnamese Community minds, museums were associated with places that display old historical artifacts for visitors to view but One of the first major projects for the partners in not necessarily touch and interact with. Many focus the initiative was to plan a museum exhibition on group participants did not see how CDM provided mathematics and science called Secrets of Circles. The more educational and fun experiences; in some goal of the exhibition was to introduce young chil- cases, they weren’t even sure what the goals of the dren to the concept of a circle as a geometric shape museum were, despite having visited the museum seen in nature and their everyday life. The exhibition before participating in the focus group discussions. included stations at which visitors can use a compass Values related to education more broadly may to draw circles; explore the rolling and spinning have played a role in these perceptions. Traditionally patterns of three-dimensional circles; and observe education is highly valued in Vietnamese culture and spinning circles that change into cylinders, a sphere, is perceived as being the sole responsibility of the and a torus. Throughout the exhibition, children and school system and the teachers. Parents tend to keep their caregivers learn about the math, science, and some distance from their children’s education. In ad- beauty of this shape. dition, to some extent play and learning are seen as Based on feedback from the community and two distinct activities. This perception may be one of their own research, museum designers incorporated the reasons that focus group participants were not some key Vietnamese cultural icons into the exhi- clear on the goals of the children’s museum, which is bition. For example, bamboo was selected as the intended to be both fun and educational. main building material for the exhibition, and the Generational differences in the Vietnamese Vietnamese round boat and a rice sieve were used as community also emerged. First-generation members, examples of circular objects. Museum staff also de- or those born outside the United States, tend to liberated about whether to translate the labels into speak Vietnamese in the home and tend to live in Vietnamese. Despite their awareness that younger more insular communities. They value their cultural Vietnamese people may not read the language, they traditions and enjoy sharing and talking about their decided to move forward with the translations. “It memories of life and traditions in Vietnam. was a good decision,” says Martin. “In particular, Individuals who immigrated to the United first-generation Vietnamese were glad to see the text States as children (referred to as 1.5 generation) and and graphics in their language.” second-generation members (those born in the United According to the summative evaluation of States) are more likely to be acculturated, may speak Secrets of Circles completed by Allen and Associates, the Vietnamese language but have limited reading many of the exhibition’s elements succeeded in help- and writing abilities, and in general are less tied to ing families feel more comfortable at the museum.6 Vietnamese customs. They enjoy seeing their tradi- SurrounDED by Science 124

OCR for page 119
Children explore the Vietnamese round boat, an icon Martin observed that the use of Chinese cloth of this culture. hats turned out to be particularly problematic for Vietnamese visitors. “We started out with tradi- tional Vietnamese straw hats, but they did not hold Many visitors especially enjoyed seeing the round up, which made them a potential safety hazard,” boat, which sparked conversation about their lives in explains Martin. “Making the decision to change to Vietnam: As one visitor stated, “The round boat re- the cloth Chinese hats had ramifications that we did minds me of the area where I used to live in Vietnam. not expect.” This kind of boat is popular in the middle of the To address some of these criticisms, the mu- country. In the mornings, I used to walk to the beach seum is already working to improve the exhibition. to see the fish, shrimps, or crabs unloaded from They have purchased a traditional cyclo (or pedicab) these boats. The bamboo, the pulley, and the rice to add as another example of a circle. They also are sieve on the wall all remind me of the good times in considering adding a Vietnamese drum. Vietnam.” It is interesting to note that much of the Other visitors, however, were concerned that negative response to the exhibition, especially the too many Asian elements were incorporated into inclusion of non-Vietnamese elements, came from the exhibition along with the Vietnamese ones. One first-generation Vietnamese. Generation 1.5 and visitor said that “the Circles exhibits should make second-generation Vietnamese were much less par- it clear whether the theme is countries in Asia, like ticular about those issues and were very enthusiastic China, India, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, or just the about the exhibition. One community leader felt Vietnamese culture, when you have Chinese charac- that despite these problematic details, the exhibition ters on the hats and Chinese lanterns and umbrellas.” captured the essence of what she considered to be 125 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
Vietnamese: “I love the look of it, coming in to the project. Because of the crucial role that partners play bamboo makes it really comfortable. . . . Sometimes in the initiative and the fact that many are already science exhibits are more professional or academic, stretched in terms of time and money, advisers com- and less inviting. But this one with the umbrellas, mented on the need to expand community relation- it’s a really fun place to be in. And it reminds me of ships beyond the current team. Vietnam, just the different bamboo that I’ve seen The experience working on the exhibition and in my life, it makes me really comfortable. And the the initiative as a whole has been an eye-opening fabrics and colors feel very rich.” one for the museum staff. For one thing, the staff discovered that developing an understanding of and Progress Made, More Work Ahead competence with a culture is an ongoing process. In fact, according to the Garibay Group’s final evalua- tion, even after working on the project for several From the outset, the initiative brought in advisers years, many staff members still felt tentative about from the Vietnamese community to build long- their decisions and were concerned that they may term relationships and to help with exhibition and inadvertently offend Vietnamese community mem- program planning. The evaluation of the initiative bers. One recommendation made by the evaluator indicated that museum staff have developed very that may help considerably is to hire Vietnamese strong and solid relationships with community advis- staff who can serve as “cultural translators” for the ers. Advisers noted that they felt the partnership was museum staff who are not Vietnamese, helping to a positive one, in which everyone’s ideas were heard bridge the gap between the museum’s culture and and which gave them an opportunity to share their that of the Vietnamese community. knowledge and experiences. What’s more, the advis- Although staff members learned a lot from the ers expressed great appreciation for being invited to initiative, they recognize they still have a long way to participate and partner with CDM. go. “Being involved in the Initiative has raised many The strong relationships forged with advisers questions for me,” says Martin. “I’m still not com- have resulted in a cadre of people deeply commit- pletely satisfied that we have been successful in our ted to the mission of the museum and the vision of work with the Vietnamese community. We would like better serving the Vietnamese community. These to continue to build that relationship.”7 advisers mentioned that their ongoing involvement emerged from the museum staff’s commitment to diversity, manifested in the open, collaborative way they worked with the advisers. While relationships with the advisers are strong overall, the most active and supportive part- ners were those who worked at organizations whose mission closely aligned with that of CDM. These partners not only understood what the museum offers, but also noted that their own organizations are working toward similar goals, such as education; as a result, these organizations were invested in the SurrounDED by Science 126

OCR for page 119
This case study illustrates the value of drawing on participants’ cultural practices when designing informal learning environments. This can be accom- plished by incorporating everyday language, linguistic practices, and local cultural experiences. While designers of informal programs and spaces for science learning have long recognized the importance of building on participants’ prior knowledge and experiences, the integral role of culture in shaping knowledge and experience is not always appreciated. There are many challenges to forming true collabora- tions resulting in programs, exhibitions, and activities that integrate traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices with the knowledge and practices of Western science. However, the CDM’s Vietnamese initiative demonstrates that success is possible. Indeed, research and evaluation on other efforts in museums to better address diversity show that the resulting enhancements can improve learning. For example, bilingual interpretive labels in English and Spanish in communities with large Latino populations allowed adult members who were less proficient in English to read the labels and discuss the content with their children, directly increasing attention and improving learning outcomes.8 In another case, providing a Spanish-speaking mediator promoted more scientific dialogue. Finally, in a bilin- gual summer science camp at an aquarium offered in English and Spanish, partici- pating girls were very positive about the experience in part because they learned science terminology and concepts in both languages and thus could better commu- nicate with their parents (who were predominantly Spanish-speaking) about what they were doing and learning. This increased their confidence and helped bridge the program and home environments.9 “ There are many challenges to forming true collaborations resulting in programs, exhibitions, and activities that integrate traditional ” knowledge, beliefs, and practices with the knowledge and practices of Western science. 127 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
DeSiGninG inFORMAL Science eXPeRienceS FOR PeOPLe WiTH DiSABiLiTieS Another group that is often excluded in informal science settings is people with disabilities. With the number of people with cognitive, physical, and sensory dis- abilities currently making up a significant portion (18 percent) of the population, this group also needs to be considered in the planning and development of infor- mal science experiences. People with disabilities face multiple obstacles when trying to take advan- tage of these opportunities. Some issues are physical; for example, navigating a space can be problematic for people in wheelchairs and for those who are blind. Other issues, however, are related to a culture gap that must be bridged, much like cultural differences between various ethnic groups and informal science set- tings. Removing cultural barriers, however, is much more difficult than address- ing physical ones. Exhibit and program designs that serve visitors who face physical, sensory, or cognition challenges tend to benefit all visitors: larger font sizes and improved lighting are essential for vision-impaired visitors but also make any visitor less tired from reading. “Universal design,” the practice of accommodating all visitors regardless of their ability levels, tends to make designed learning spaces accessible and useful for all. The following case study explains how designers at the Museum of Science, Boston, went about this task as they planned and developed an exhibition called Making Models. As planners at CDM did, Museum of Science staff worked close- ly with members of the targeted communities to make the experience both acces- sible and equitable. SurrounDED by Science 128

OCR for page 119
Key StepS to building relationShipS with communitieS If there is one lesson that can be learned from the experience of the CDM, it is the importance of building strong relationships with communities of nondominant groups. The museum accomplished this goal by forming an advi- sory committee at the beginning of the project, and its assistance proved essential to the program. But even with the committee’s guidance, subtle differences within the community, such as differences in attitudes between first and subsequent generations, were not recognized until after important decisions had already been made. Other institutions have also begun their work with different cultural groups by starting at the community level. At the Exploratorium, for example, museum staff recognized how little they knew about both the Latino and Asian communities that visited the museum or could potentially visit. As a result, they set out to learn more about these communities before doing any program planning. In 2004, the Exploratorium began the learning process by going out into both communities to conduct informational interviews and recruit members for their advisory committee. Through collaboration with these leaders, the Exploratorium discovered that overcoming the language barrier is essential, along with developing a program that has some cultural significance. As the first step in reaching out to these two communities, the Exploratorium developed a series of public programs. The first of the three, Ancient Observatories: Chichen Itza, used a compelling science topic as its starting point. The program was enriched through the addition of cultural activities and interpretation. It was con- ducted in two languages—English and Spanish. The next effort, Science of Dragon Boats, began with a cultural topic that was enhanced through the addition of science activities and demonstrations. The third program, Magnitude X: Preparing for the Big One, emphasized the relevance of a science topic to daily life and added activities and demonstrations to make this point. This program was conducted in three languages staggered over the course of the day. There was an English session, a Chinese one, and a Spanish one. “This was not easy to pull off,” notes Garibay, who worked with the Exploratorium on its front-end evaluation. “It was an indica- tion that museum staff took this work very seriously.” The experiences of both CDM and the Exploratorium point to several strategies that could be applied to other informal science environments. These strategies are summarized below. Draw on cultural practices of the learners. The language, practices, and experiences of visitors clearly • affect their experience. By becoming aware of some of these practices, professionals in informal science can incorporate them into their settings. CDM had success with this strategy by incorporating cultural icons, such as the round boat, into its exhibition. Develop bi- or multicultural labels. Not only can labels translated in different languages provide specific • content to diverse audiences, but also they can spark conversation and meaning-making, especially among intergenerational groups with varying language abilities. Garibay notes that bilingual labels allow adult visitors who were less proficient in English to read the labels and then discuss the content with their chil- dren, directing their attention to important features of the exhibit. Build relationships with the community. Working with community-based representatives from nondomi- • nant cultures is an essential part of the process. CDM’s Jenni Martin notes the role that the Vietnamese community played throughout the initiative: “Working with the community is part of our mission as a chil- dren’s museum,” she says. “Leveraging trust with our partners, which include a community advisory group and the Vietnamese language media, has been critical to the success of our initiative.” Community leaders also can demystify museums (or other informal learning settings) for members of their community and help them understand the full range of available programs and activities. 129 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
everyday SCIENCE Culturally Relevant Exhibits for People with Disabilities The Museum of Science, Boston, has a long-standing member brought a much-needed perspective to the commitment to developing exhibits for people with conversation. disabilities. More than 20 years ago, Betty Davidson, The elements in the exhibition ended up incor- a museum exhibit planner who was in a wheelchair porating many of the ideas discussed by the advisory herself, paved the way by working with a team to group. For example, the human models were not just redesign a diorama exhibit with multisensory com- of able-bodied people. One of the male models was ponents. Christine Reich, manager of research and a tall African American with a prosthetic leg. The evaluation, drew inspiration from that early work leg shown was not state of the art, either; it was the during the design of Making Models. The goal of kind of prosthesis that ordinary people would prob- this exhibition is to explain what a model is, present ably purchase. And three models of hands showed examples of different models, and give visitors the them signing the letters A, S, and L, which stand for opportunity to experience how to make models. Their American Sign Language. hope was to ensure not only that people with dis- Interactives also were a part of the exhibition, abilities would have access to the exhibition, but also and the key to designing them was to ensure that that they would be able to learn the science behind visitors could access them using multiple senses. “At making models, largely because the material was presented in a culturally sensitive way. Making models by placing beaded metal chains on to Reich and the other members of the Making magnetic boards allows visitors with physical disabili- Models team set the bar high. They wanted to create ties to interact with exhibit materials. some exhibits for people with many disabilities: wheelchair users, those who are blind or have low vision, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. To accomplish this goal, they organized a community advisory group that consisted of people with various disabilities who were also experts on access, representatives from state agencies, or activists in the field. One member of the group, a science illustrator, had some expertise about modeling and also had multiple sclerosis. Another member had low vision and worked at a community services organization for older adults with low vision. Another, who was in a wheelchair, could move only his hands; this individual had extensive knowledge about psychology and the arts. Each advisory group SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE 130

OCR for page 119
the model-making station,” explains Reich, “people Blind and low-vision visitors, however, did find with limited reach could create a model using beaded some parts of the exhibition difficult to access. Some metal chains on a magnetic board. At another station, expressed disappointment that they couldn’t touch they could build a model by pressing buttons.” the objects described in the audio, while others were Two particularly innovative options allowed vis- frustrated if they had trouble getting the sound to itors to build models using light or sound. On a stage, work. One blind visitor suggested the following: visitors could manipulate color, the position of light, “The exhibit needs an overall orientation, and a and its intensity to create a seasonal image, such as Braille map would be helpful, too. Some of the sta- a sunset in winter or a sunrise on a summer day. The tions need to provide more feedback to blind visitors buttons and knobs that manipulated the light were in order to be accessible. . . . Some type of clearer easily reachable without moving, and there were pathway would benefit some disabled visitors.” places where visitors could rest their wrists. The report also revealed that even though it At the sound station, visitors could select is extremely difficult to make every exhibit acces- sounds from a series of electronic files to create a sible to every visitor, enough options were available, scene. Sounds included snoring, meowing, an alarm making the experience equitable in the opportuni- going off, or people chatting. Like the light stage, ties it provided for learning. According to the evalu- the sound models were created by pressing buttons ation report, about one-third of these visitors said and turning knobs. their understanding of models changed as a result Throughout the exhibition, visitors had access of the exhibition, a response rate similar to that of to audio and text labels, so learning was possible able-bodied visitors. Yet there was still room for through either mode. The availability of multiple mo- improvement. dalities for learning also meant that a sighted visitor “The goal is to make sure that there are enough could explore the exhibition with a friend with low experiences so that all visitors feel included,” says vision, or that parents could have different ways to Reich. “And some exhibits carry more weight than oth- explain ideas related to the science to their children. ers. If people are excluded from ‘landmark exhibits,’ The exhibition area also was easy for individuals in they feel like they missed out on the experience.” wheelchairs to navigate. Moving forward, Reich notes that many mu- seums, including the Science Museum of Minnesota The Impact of the Exhibition and the North Carolina Museum of Life Sciences, are working hard on issues of accessibility and equity. But there is much to learn. “Professionals want a Did these adaptations increase the ability of disabled checklist, a list of items they can check off and then visitors to engage with the exhibits and to learn the say that they have done everything right,” says Reich. science? According to the summative evaluation “But that’s not the way this works. What is really report,10 in many ways, they did. For example, those involved is a willingness to engage in a process of with mobility impairments—wheelchair and scooter involvement and engagement, a change in mindset, users and amputees—could get around without any and a re-assessment of what is ‘normal.’ Then people trouble. One obstacle reported, however, was that will realize that they need to tend to all these issues objects in a case were hard to see, and an amputee in order to reach everyone.”10 noted the need to have more places to sit down. 131 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
inTeGRATinG nATiVe AMeRicAn cULTURe WiTH Science In our discussion of the importance of culture in science learning, we have focused on how informal learning institutions can partner with members of the commu- nity, particularly those who represent nondominant groups, to rethink the way the institutions approach designing programs, exhibits, and other activities. When suc- cessful, these kinds of initiatives integrate elements drawn from the nondominant culture with scientific ideas and practices and offer access points to science that may previously have been unavailable to members of the group. The role of culture and the need for collaboration are particularly impor- tant when the beliefs, language, and cultural practices of a particular group have historically been devalued or even suppressed. The experience of many Native American tribes provides one such example. Native Americans have long been disenfranchised from their land and culture, and they have even been discouraged from speaking their languages and carrying out traditional ceremonies. As a result, the value of native knowledge and their beliefs about the natural world have often gone unrecognized; in fact, many people perceive a conflict between native under- standing of the natural world and scientific understanding. The need to make science education meaningful for Native Americans has long been recognized by respected leaders in the field. Thirty years ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) called for using an ethnoscientific as well as bilingual approach to teaching science in particular con- texts.11 In response, scholars called for science education that directly relates to the lives of native students and tribal communities. Scholars such as Glen Aikenhead, who is an expert in this field, agree that to be most effective, learning environments must be connected and relevant to each particular Native American tribe.12 Native Science Field Centers, supported by the efforts of the Hopa Mountain program, strive to create such environments in their year-round programs for elementary and middle school students. These programs connect traditional cul- ture and language with Western science. Currently there are three Native Science Field Centers—one on the Blackfeet Reservation in collaboration with Blackfeet Community College (Montana), one on the Wind River Reservation in collabora- tion with Fremont County School District No. 21 (Wyoming), and one on the Pine Ridge Reservation in collaboration with Oglala Lakota College (South Dakota). The following case study focuses on the Blackfeet Native Science Field Center. SurrounDED by Science 132

OCR for page 119
everyday SCIENCE Merging Native Culture and Language with Science During one of their after-school field trips, youth learn the process of constructing backrests and snow- participating in the Blackfeet Native Science Field shoes—technologies that their ancestors engineered Center went out to gather willow. Before they be- generations before them. gan, the group huddled in a circle, recited a prayer Activities such as this one are part of the in their language, and held hands while making an Native Science Field Centers, whose overarching goal offering of tobacco. Helen Augare, director of the is to merge Western science concepts with traditional center, explained that the youth are learning that ecological knowledge of tribal communities. The pro- this is the respectful way to proceed before picking gram, launched in 2006, is held year-round, with four plants. By practicing this tradition, students learn 6-week sessions that run in concert with the seasons. that they have a reciprocal relationship with Mother During the school year, participants meet three times Earth and that they should take only what they need. a week, and during the summer they come every The participants then started their hike day. The Blackfeet site is designed to provide science, through knee-deep snow and thick brush to find and technology, engineering, and mathematics learning gather willow for their projects. They planned to opportunities for youth and adults by introducing travel back to their meeting place on the campus of them to culturally significant sites, birds, plants, and Blackfeet Community College and use the willow to animals. Activities incorporate their tribal language and offer learning enrichment through presentations by tribal elders and professionals. The program is a community-wide effort. An advisory board ensures that program developers are implementing traditional knowledge in an appro- priate way and provides guidance and support in developing cultural curriculum materials and finding resources. Parents, teachers, and tribal elders contrib- ute by donating materials for youth projects, sharing their knowledge, and volunteering their time during activities. Buy-in for recruiting and retention is achieved during the program’s orientation session for parents, who are generally amazed at how much their chil- dren are learning. “We’re trying to do more than just teach biology and ecology, and even more than just teach culture or history,” Augare explains. “We’re trying to show kids the spiritual element—how to take that in and make it a part of their worldview.” 133 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
A big part of the program is introducing par- Because of improved education systems and positive ticipants to the land by monitoring sites and collect- learning environments, there are a growing number ing data about culturally significant plant and animal of Native Americans studying science and select- species. “We went to tribal leaders to ask them what ing careers in different disciplines. More and more, animals to include,” says Augare. “Then we explain native students feel proud of their heritage and how they are part of the ecosystem, which they have celebrate the contributions to science made by their a responsibility to care for.” ancestors. They also are motivated to work toward To reinforce the importance of care for the the advancement of their tribal nation. land and the plants and animals that depend on it, The Blackfeet program is still quite new, and the group worked with community members to put its leaders are currently working on evaluation tools on a skit about climate change. A teacher fluent that reflect the indigenous perspective. Their goal is in the native language wrote the skit and helped to be able to demonstrate how the spiritual con- the kids learn their lines—all in the Blackfeet lan- nection can be a motivating factor in learning. “The guage. The show emphasized how lessons can be Blackfeet are proud of their culture and proud of learned from animal behavior and by observing the their history,” says Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, execu- balance of the four elements—wind, fire, water, tive director of the Hopa Mountain Program. “This and land. Learning these lessons is meant to allow program, rooted in their values, will help give today’s the Blackfeet to adapt to climate change and keep children the foundation they need to make informed mother Earth healthy. decisions about their land and water when, as adults, they are called upon to do so.”13 Over the long term, the program is working to build an interest among native people in pursuing careers in science. With professionals from the com- munity serving as role models, this generation has opportunities not available to their grandparents. SURROUNDED BY SCIENCE 134

OCR for page 119
The Blackfeet Native Science Field Center program shows the potential power of informal learning experiences in science for engaging individuals from groups that are historically underrepresented in the field. In fact, several studies suggest that informal environments for science learning may be particularly effec- tive for youth from historically nondominant groups—groups with limited socio- political status in society, who are often marginalized because of their cultural, language, and behavioral differences. Evaluations of museum-based and after-school programs such as the Blackfeet Native Science Field Center suggest that these experiences can support academic gains for children and youth from nondominant groups. Programs and experiences that are successful often draw on local issues. Several case studies of community science programs targeting youth document their influence on partici- pants’ engagement with science and on their course selections and career choices. In these programs, children and youth play an active role in shaping the subject and process of inquiry, which may include local health or environmental issues about which they subsequently educate the community. O O O Informal institutions concerned with science learning are making efforts to address inequity and encourage the participation of diverse communities. However, these efforts typically stop short of more fundamental and necessary changes to the organization of content and experiences to better serve diverse communities. Much more attention needs to be paid to the ways in which culture shapes knowl- edge, orientations, and perspectives. A deeper understanding is needed of the rela- tions among cultural practices in families, practices preferred in informal settings for learning, and the cultural practices associated with science. The conceptions of what counts as science need to be examined and broadened in order to identify the strengths that those from nondominant groups bring to the field. We highlight two promising insights into how to better support science learning among people from nondominant backgrounds. First, informal environ- ments for learning should be developed and implemented with the interests and concerns of community and cultural groups in mind: project goals should be 135 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119
mutually determined by educators and the communities and cultural groups they serve. Second, the cultural variability of social structures should be reflected in educational design. For example, developing peer networks may be particularly important to foster sustained participation of nondominant groups. Designed spaces that serve families should include consideration of visits by extended families. Things to Try To apply the ideas presented in this chapter to informal settings, consider the following: • Think about how to design environments and materials that are compatible with different cultural groups you are serving. For example, would it be helpful to design an exhibition or a program for one specific group, or would incorpo- rating cultural icons into an existing exhibition be more effective in your set- ting? Would adding multilingual labels be useful for your multiple audiences? Would programs in other languages be important to offer? Would it be useful to involve bi- or multilingual interpreters or docents? • Explore and nurture partnerships with local communities. Determine which groups you want to work with and then invite representatives from these groups to partner with you to define goals and serve as advisers throughout the project. Cooperate or collaborate early to ensure true partnership on equal grounds. Allow yourself to question cultural assumptions. • Learn more about the cultural ramifications of learning. Invite a local expert in this field to come to your venue to discuss how culture affects the work being done there. What do you need to learn about visitors to your setting? How can you make your environment more culturally relevant? Contact colleagues in your field who may already have garnered considerable expertise. • Be informed about and coordinate approaches with neighboring venues. Contact nearby informal science learning environments to discuss their strate- gies for working with different members of the community. Can you work together to develop a joint program or activity that will be particularly mean- ingful to the different groups you are trying to serve? SurrounDED by Science 136

OCR for page 119
For Further Reading Calabrese Barton, A. (1998). Reframing “science for all” through the politics of poverty. Educational Policy, 12, 525-541. National Research Council. (2009). Diversity and equity. Chapter 7 in Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M.A. Feder (Eds.). Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Web Resources Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose: http://www.cdm.org/index.asp?f=0 Cosmic Serpent: http://www.cosmicserpent.org Exploratorium: http://www.exploratorium.edu/ Hopa Mountain: http://www.hopamountain.org/nativeScience.html Making Models: http://www.exhibitfiles.org/making_models Museum of Science: http://www.mos.org/ 137 Culture, Diversity, and Equity

OCR for page 119