Enacting and Researching Culturally Sustaining STEM Pedagogies Across Informal Settings in Gullah/Geechee Communities in the Southeastern United States
The University of South Carolina will develop and research an educational program in the Southeastern United States designed to recognize and foreground the scientific contributions of the descendants of West Africans and West Indians. Though these contributions have been vital to many scientific enterprises, including land stewardship and aquaponics, they have remained largely underappreciated in educational programs. To address this issue, this project will develop an informal science education program for youth from Gullah/Geechee communities whose ancestors were formerly enslaved West African and West Indian peoples. Across centuries, Gullah/Geechee people have developed historical and contemporary scientific, engineering, and technological practices that enabled the mastery of fishing and the cultivation of numerous crops across barrier islands and coastal cities from North Carolina to Florida. Guided by Gullah/Geechee scholars and community members, pre-service and in-service teachers will co-design culturally sustaining summer programs, which provide Gullah/Geechee youth with opportunities to engage in culturally-embedded scientific and engineering practices as they learn about numerous STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career pathways related to these practices. The University of South Carolina will host these summer programs in partnership with the historic Penn Center, an African American historical and cultural institution, and in partnership with the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, a research organization dedicated to improving the management of marine and coastal resources. Researchers will study how the in-service and pre-service teachers enact pedagogies that sustain Gullah/Geechee cultural practices. They will also study how the Gullah/Geechee youth share their understandings of culturally-embedded scientific content through creating iMovies and through giving community presentations hosted by the Penn Center, Baruch Institute, and other community partners. This project will advance knowledge on broadening participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career pathways in informal settings through culturally sustaining pedagogies. This project will also advance partnerships through illuminating how different institutions and stakeholders—such as community leaders, cultural centers, university educator programs, and scientific research organizations—can work together to support culturally-embedded learning across informal settings. The University of South Carolina will conduct a mixed-method study grounded in principles of design-based research and community-based participatory research. Pre-service and in-service teachers from underrepresented groups will participate in an immersive two-year professional development experience during which they co-design and teach culturally sustaining summer programs with Gullah/Geechee scholars and leaders. In these programs, fifth- and sixth-grade Gullah/Geechee youth will engage in project-based learning by applying historical and contemporary scientific practices grounded in Gullah/Geechee cultures. Guided by cultural mentors, youth will engage in STEM practices similar to those of STEM professionals in the community. Researchers will study how the educators understand and apply culturally sustaining pedagogies by using constant comparative analytic methods to analyze transcripts from observations and interviews, as well as the educators’ work materials (e.g., lesson plans). They will also study how the youth convey their understandings of culturally-embedded scientific content and practices by using constant comparative and multimodal analysis to analyze transcripts from interviews and observations, as well as youth-generated artifacts such as the iMovie. Additionally, pre- and post-tests will enable the research team to determine changes to the youths’ understandings of scientific content and perceptions regarding participation in STEM enterprises and careers. Deliverables, such as youth-generated products, will be shared with local media and with relevant cultural centers, while empirical results will be widely disseminated through local and national conferences. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts, and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This project is also co-funded by the Advanced Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.