May 2022 | Editorial
An Ongoing Effort: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Chemistry
By Greta Glugoski-Sharp
In my September editorial, I discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the many challenges faced by teachers over the last two years. During this time, many of us in the chemistry teaching community have gained new insights regarding the many inequalities affecting our students and their home life, as well as racial injustices in our education system that have existed far too long.
With this in mind, one of my main goals as AACT president this year was to determine the best way AACT could support teachers in implementing culturally responsive and inclusive teaching practices in the classroom. During this academic year, members of the AACT Governing Board collaborated in a working group focused on the topic of culturally responsive teaching, and strategized about how AACT could provide support and resources to its members interested in the subject.
Our group focused on opportunities to provide support and guidance to chemistry teachers on the path to culturally responsive teaching. The working group wanted to be especially mindful that this school year was also going to be the first time that teachers would be back in the classroom, face-to-face with students. We were also aware that regular teaching responsibilities and school commitments are extremely time-intensive for all teachers. So, ultimately, we needed to create and share manageable, realistic strategies that teachers could actually use in their classroom without needing to invest much additional time or effort.
|Figure 1. Cover of the January 2022 Journal of Chemical Education special issue. Reprinted with permission from Journal of Chemical Education [Volume 99, Issue 1]. Copyright 2022 American Chemical Society.
After much research on this topic, I learned that despite having fairly good visibility among educators, culturally responsive teaching has not yet been universally accepted by all stakeholders.
For instance, some policymakers are beginning to understand the importance of culturally responsive practices, and are incorporating some aspects into their state education standards. On the other hand, a recent survey of teaching standards by the New America organization finds that most states “do not yet provide a description of culturally responsive teaching that is clear or comprehensive enough to support teachers in developing and strengthening their [culturally responsive teaching] practice throughout their careers.”
Even so, I’ve been excited to discover that there are many chemistry educators and researchers who are intentionally creating inclusive curriculum in response to the societal inequities exposed by the challenges of discrimination and the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, the January 2022 issue of Journal of Chemical Education was entirely focused on the topic. The issue highlights discipline-based education research (DBER) in chemistry that addresses diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR) in the classroom, and in the broader chemistry discipline. There were 64 manuscripts accepted for publication focusing on all areas related to DEIR, with 15% of the articles specifically addressing K-12 education. Many of the contributions describe teaching practices, inclusive learning environments, and culturally-relevant curricular strategies.
If you have the opportunity, I urge you to check it out — it’s an incredible resource for chemistry educators, offering a variety of insights and perspectives on the topic.
A memorable phone call
When I wrote the September editorial, I remember feeling like I was lacking a connection with my students. Fortunately, I knew about chemistry educator Sibrina Collins, Ph.D., who uses the power of storytelling to help address equity in the chemical sciences. Although I had not personally met her, I was excited after reading about her work, and decided to email her to ask if she would chat with me. I was seeking her expertise and guidance to assist our Board’s working group on culturally responsive teaching, and also how to determine the best way AACT could help its members be successful. In particular, I hoped she could share insights that our teachers could use to better connect with underrepresented individuals in their chemistry classrooms.
Then to my surprise, on my drive home my cell phone rang, and it was Dr. Collins! I pulled off to the side of the road and anxiously explained the reason for my call, and my goal as president of AACT. Speaking with her was an unforgettable experience. Not only was she willing to help our Board’s working group brainstorm over Zoom, but she also offered to give a webinar for AACT members about her experiences, and to share resources for teachers to effectively address equity in their classrooms.
On April 6, 2022, Collins presented her webinar, Using Storytelling to Advance Equity in Chemistry to AACT members, followed by a Q&A session. The event gave our members resources and ideas for implementing the practice of storytelling into their own chemistry curriculum (the webinar was recorded and can be accessed by AACT members through the AACT Webinar Archives). We had great attendance and positive feedback (see below) from our members.
Lessons from a recent AACT webinar …
Presented by Sibrina Collins, Ph.D. on April 6, 2022
“I attended your AACT presentation yesterday, and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. In addition to being inspiring, those stories make it clear that there were real people behind each scientific discovery. It’s reassuring for students to learn even great scientists sometimes struggled, didn’t always get the right answer, and still persisted to make great contributions.”
— A webinar attendee
Building on Collins’ successful webinar, my hope is that our culturally responsive teaching working group can eventually create an easy-access toolkit for AACT members, with articles, lessons, and other resources on enhancing or developing culturally relevant course content. I believe that this teaching strategy is important to helping students excel, and many schools and educators are exploring ways to expand its use in classrooms. My hope is that resources can be provided in the toolkit to encourage and equip our members to embrace the practice of culturally responsive learning in their classrooms. In the process, AACT will help these teachers be able to create successful learning environments that are accommodating to each student’s ability to learn, and consequently promote their lifelong learning of science.
AACT Resources for Culturally-Responsive Teaching: A Small Sampling
In this issue of Chemistry Solutions
Four times a year, teachers have the opportunity to use Chemistry Solutions as a platform for sharing ideas, successes, challenges, and strategies with the teaching community, and I encourage you to full advantage of it. In this May issue:
- 2021-2022 AACT High School Ambassador Stacey Balbach shares about her use of Jamboard in the classroom in an effort to make student collaboration opportunities more equitable.
- An article from Yale University professor Nilay Hazari and Ph.D. student Emily Barth describes a demonstration-based outreach effort aimed at getting young students excited about chemistry.
- Teacher Sarah Regli discusses how she incorporates topics of materials science into a chemical bonding unit. She includes several teaching resources as examples, including easy-to-use, show-and-tell style demonstrations.
- AACT Middle School Ambassador and science teacher Scott Valenta reflects on his work/life balance, remembering the adage, “teaching is a marathon, not a sprint.”
- Finally, Carmen Foschino provides insight about the importance of making chemistry content more relatable for students — and shares a few of her most successful tactics.
I've enjoyed serving this year as AACT President. Although the role was challenging at times, I had the support of the many AACT members — and I sincerely appreciate it. I know we will continue to work toward achieving the goals we set this year, and hope to continue to support the diverse needs of the teaching community. I invite you to think about contributing in any way you can to our chemistry education community, whether it’s sharing an article, webinar, or a teaching resource. A diverse membership of teacher contributors with a variety of voices and perspectives will continue to provide an inclusive chemistry community for all.
A culturally responsive classroom is important. Using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and the learning styles of diverse students is a valuable way to make learning more engaging and effective. Making teaching-related DEIR resources accessible through the AACT website will make it easier for teachers to find valuable tools and strategies for teaching chemistry to diverse students. I hope that making a toolkit available through the AACT website will allow ALL K-12 teachers of chemistry to easily access resources to support the incorporation of DEIR in their teaching.
President, AACT 2021–2022
(article cover): Cover of the January 2022 Journal of Chemical Education special issue. Reprinted with permission from Journal of Chemical Education [Volume 99, Issue 1]. Copyright 2022 American Chemical Society.