Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Inclusive Practices and STEM Education – Carrie La Voy (2021)

Overview

During my 2016-2017 term as a CTE Diversity Scholar, I focused on transforming a course for undergraduate students in the School of Education. My goal was to implement changes that would raise awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion and examine the role these elements play in teaching. In this portfolio you will find a summary of my efforts to be more purposeful and intentional in integrating aspects of DEI in preparing pre-service teachers to work in K-12 classroom settings.

Background

Initially, my work focused on transforming C&T 366: Classroom Interactions in Mathematics and Science, a course in the Department of Curriculum & Teaching. C&T 366 is an important step in the development of high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers. Later, I applied the changes to a similar course, C&T 351: Mathematics in the Elementary Classroom.

Implementation

A significant overall course redesign goal was to raise awareness of the many aspects of DEI in STEM education and classroom teaching. Pedagogically, I focused on the inclusion of broader dimensions of equity and diversity in assignments and assessments. I wanted students to examine culturally relevant instruction, have them become more familiar with diverse communities, and increase their confidence in teaching. Changes were made to course content, including readings and class discussions. Focused attention was placed on one two-part course assignment, a research project, and presentation.

Student Work

Over the course of a semester, my class focused on ensuring all students have access to high-quality instruction. We examined methods that supported educators in providing meaningful opportunities for all students to learn. In this section, I have selected work samples from a key assignment in which students reflect on this question of access and research a topic that they notice might interfere with learning. Students presented their topic to the class beginning with a simulation activity and then shared tips for classroom teachers.

Reflections

I have always highlighted the importance of inclusion in classroom settings, but I knew I could do more to better prepare my students for teaching. My work as a CTE Diversity Scholar inspired me to focus my attention on the many aspects of DEI in the classroom. In the end, I felt I offered my students a more meaningful experience with the course content. I appreciated being part of the scholars because this allowed me the opportunity to work with people from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom care deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion.


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Background

C&T 366: Classroom Interactions in Mathematics and Science is an undergraduate, field-based course in the School of Education. It is a required course for the teacher certification program. Graduates are licensed to teach at the secondary (middle/high school) level. During field work (i.e., practicum), KU students observe and teach STEM lessons in an urban high school setting.

Similarly, C&T 351: Mathematics in the Elementary Classroom is an undergraduate, field-based course that is required for KU’s teacher certification program. During practicum, KU students observe and teach mathematics lessons in an urban elementary school setting.

Students in C&T 366 and C&T 351 are usually juniors, and the majority come to campus having grown up in suburban cities or small towns. In both programs, students have taken courses that explore how people learn, as well as other aspects of education. Previous courses have allowed my students to do some field work in K-12 schools. In my courses, students are required to take on more responsibility, mainly more teaching. After completing my class, students move on to student teaching.

Learning Goals and Course Objectives

General course objectives for C&T 351 include:

  • Develop confidence in teaching mathematics.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of mathematics.
  • Understand and apply theories of learning mathematics.
  • Identify aspects of mathematics that should be emphasized in the elementary grades.
  • Plan and teach mathematics lessons using instructional strategies that are developmentally appropriate for helping all students learn to understand and apply important mathematics concepts and procedures.
  • Investigate resources available for teachers of mathematics, including instructional materials, manipulative materials, multimedia, and human resources.
  • Explore and apply approaches to instruction and related assessment practices in mathematics that support the learning of important mathematics.
  • Conduct reflective reviews and participate in discussions regarding current research in mathematics.

General course objectives for C&T 366 include:

  • Analyze and discuss how students’ knowledge and skills can be built using a variety of instructional strategies.
  • Create and evaluate tasks to build students’ content knowledge, assessing students’ content knowledge based on evidence including video and written artifacts.
  • Plan and teach multi-day secondary mathematics or science lessons.
  • Solve problems in mathematics and science, justify their solutions, and reflect on their own learning and the learning of others.
  • Analyze classroom instruction and data on student participation and performance with regard to equitable and diverse instructional approaches.
  • Employ relevant technologies in teaching; analyze how technology can affect classroom interactions.
  • Read and analyze research results and theoretical literature in mathematics and science education.
  • Create preliminary portfolios and demonstrate beginning competency as measured by applicable standards.

The following Kansas State Department of Education Professional Education Standards are also addressed and developed throughout the courses. Although these standards have since been updated, these were the standards at the time of the course transformation documented in this portfolio:

  • Standard #1: The educator demonstrates the ability to use the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of each discipline he or she teaches and can create opportunities that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for all students.
  • Standard #4: The educator understands and uses a variety of appropriate instructional strategies to develop various kinds of students’ learning including critical thinking, problem solving, and reading.
  • Standard #7: The educator plans effective instruction based upon the knowledge of all students, community, subject matter, curriculum outcomes, and current methods of teaching reading.
  • Standard #8: The educator understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continual intellectual, social, and other aspects of personal development of all learners.
  • Standard #9: The educator is a reflective practitioner who continually evaluates the effects of his or her choices and actions on others (students, parents, and other professionals in the learning community), actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally, and participates in the school improvement process (Kansas Quality Performance Accreditation [QPA]).

Assignments and in-class activities

In preparation for becoming a teacher, students in C&T 366 and C&T 351 participate in a variety of activities. Assignments and in-class activities provide guidance and feedback to help meet the goals of the course. Students analyze and discuss a variety of instructional strategies. They solve problems and reflect on their own learning and the learning of others. Written assignments include lesson plans, reflection papers, and journal entries. Other key assignments include a project that explores challenges students face in today’s classrooms.

In both courses, students read literature and watch videos related to teaching in STEM fields. Discussing what they notice about teaching provides for rich classroom discussions and an excellent starting point for questioning methods of teaching.

Practicum

During practicum, students in C&T 366 plan and teach lessons in high school classrooms, and students in C&T 351 plan and teach lessons in elementary classrooms. The demographics of each classroom differ, but the partner district for practicum experiences reports nearly 90% of the student population as nonwhite. KU students work with practicing classroom teachers to create and evaluate standards-based lesson plans that build K-12 students’ content knowledge in STEM fields. In the KU classroom, supplemental materials and peer collaboration help pre-service teachers develop engaging and meaningful lessons that meet the needs of all students. They work collaboratively to explore instructional strategies, practice teaching lessons in the college classroom, and develop skills in designing and using effective assessment techniques. Using video evidence and examples of their students’ work, the pre-service teachers analyze their own classroom instruction and assess student participation and performance with regard to equitable and diverse instructional approaches.

Need for transformation

My desire to transform my courses is predicated on the broader importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion to education and teacher preparation programs in general. According to the Pew Research Center, the racial and ethnic diversity of America’s public school teachers lags far behind that of K-12 students. In the United States educational system, less than 20% of teachers in elementary and secondary schools are nonwhite, compared to 51% of public school students (Geiger 2018). Accordingly, student demographics in teacher preparation programs, including the School of Education at the University of Kansas, are overwhelmingly white and female. This presents a two-fold challenge:

  1. How do we, as education faculty, recruit and retain students of diverse abilities and identities, and
  2. How do we prepare our undergraduate students to teach in an increasingly diverse world?

DEI strategies provide education faculty opportunities to retain their diverse preservice teachers. In making DEI part of all preservice teachers’ pedagogical training, though, these strategies also create opportunities for underrepresented K-12 students to gain the skills and educational foundation for success. With studies showing the positive effects of students from minoritized groups having teachers that resemble them (Dee 2004), diversity and inclusion in the classroom, or lack thereof, has a significant impact on student learning outcomes and the amelioration of structural inequities.

Programs that promote pedagogical training and course transformations, like the CTE Diversity Scholars program, are critical to supporting instructors’ ability to create rigorous and meaningful change in their classrooms and communities. Both in my research and teaching practices, I have a strong desire for personal reflection and continuous improvement. I value the opportunity to regularly examine aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in my university classes and in the field of K-12 education. I strive to make positive changes, but due to time restraints, this is not always easy. When the Diversity Scholars program was announced, I saw this as a chance to collaborate with others to develop a better plan to transform my teaching and my classes. At the time, I had taught my courses for several semesters, and because these are practicum courses, my students seemed open to sharing concerns related to DEI in classroom settings. Every semester, they seemed to have more questions about how to create inclusive teaching environments. Knowing how much they value inclusion made me want to do a better job myself. Based on comments from previous semesters, I knew my students valued some of my course assignments, but I wanted to do better. Diversity Scholars provided me that opportunity; I felt the program, with its focus on course transformation, would be an excellent fit for me.

References

A. W. Geiger, “America’s public school teachers are far less racially and ethnically diverse than their students.” Pew Research Center, August 27, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/27/americas-public-school-teachers-are-far-less-racially-and-ethnically-diverse-than-their-students/

Thomas Dee, “Teachers, race and student achievement in a randomized experiment.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 86, no. 1 (2004): 195-210.

 


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Implementation

My course redesign focused on three key areas: course content, course climate, and assignments.

Course content

In each course, I incorporated more readings related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Texts examined culture and culturally proficient instruction and highlighted contributions made to mathematics and science by individuals from diverse backgrounds. Other readings explored questions of access in distinguishing who does or does not have access to high-quality STEM education and what this means for teachers.

Examples of texts I incorporated into my courses include:

  • Chubb, M. (2018, January 15). Minimizing the “Matthew Effect” [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://buildingmathematicians.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/minimizing-the-matthew-effect/
  • Bondy, E. and Ross, D.D. (2008). “The teacher as warm demander.” Educational Leadership, 66, 54-58.
  • I also had them read some equity/access position statements from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Teaching Association, national organizations that support math and science teachers.

Course climate

In my courses, active learning approaches provide students with the opportunity to learn from each other. Informal group work occurs on a regular basis. Students regularly participate in turn-and-talk and think-pairshare activities. As the instructor, I am able to move from group to group and listen to conversations. Students pose questions based on course readings, field experiences, and class discussions, and submit written reflective responses. Misconceptions are valued and used as a learning tool.

Assignments

Ongoing formative assessment gives me the chance to assess prior knowledge and monitor student learning. One essential assignment in the C&T 366 course that I expanded upon for the Diversity Scholars Program is the Equity Project. The goal of the project is to create an awareness of equity and diversity issues in classroom teaching (see rubric). Students identify a challenge in STEM classrooms that could potentially interfere with our goal of providing high-quality opportunities for all students to learn. Students research their topic, create a poster summarizing what they learned, and share findings with the class.

During class presentations, students begin with a simulation activity. This gives all members of the class the opportunity to experience these challenges. For example, if students wanted to present about visual impairments, they might present academic information in a format that has the words blurred or are otherwise difficult to read. If students wanted to present about anxiety, they might share their own stories, or show a video simulation developed by someone with the condition. A personal reference is included in their presentation and research. Sometimes the students themselves are the personal reference; other times they interview someone who has faced the identified challenge.

Part of the work I did for the Diversity Scholars program included creating a similar assignment suited for elementary school teachers in C&T 351 (see rubric). I scaffolded the project over the course of the semester to allow students more time to plan, produce, and ask questions about their work. Earlier in the semester, students submit the first part of this project in which they begin thinking about challenges or difficulties they notice in today’s classrooms. They reflect on their experiences working with diverse learners and discuss their level of commitment to equity and inclusion in classroom experiences. They take an “Equity Walk” around their practicum classroom and school and have a conversation with their mentor teacher. The Equity Walk asks them to examine the classroom and school, reflecting on how accessible and inclusive the environment is for all students. The pre-service teachers are asked to look for evidence that all K-12 students have access to high-quality materials and instruction.

Later on, students select a topic of interest, do research, and present their findings to the class. After the in-class presentations, students submit a third part of this project: a reflection paper in response to their experiences during the presentations. They highlight things they learned, including relevant tips for teachers and how these might influence their teaching in the future.


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Student Work

C&T 366 and C&T 351 are required courses that focus on methods of teaching. Therefore, assignments are designed to meet the developmental needs of future teachers. Formative assessment is key as students work to write and implement high-quality lesson plans and develop skills in effective instructional practices. Rubrics are used to establish expectations and guide students toward high-quality work. Instructor feedback, peer feedback, and self-reflection are necessary as students work to meet course goals.

In C&T 351, students are asked to reflect on their previous experiences working with diverse learners. Some students have more experiences than others. Students are also asked to examine their commitment to equity and inclusion in classroom experiences. This generally develops over time as students participate in field experiences. After students have examined DEI topics more deeply, they reflect on how what they have learned influences their ideas about teaching.

In both courses, a major goal is to examine teaching methods that ensure all students have access to high-quality instruction. In this section, I have selected work samples from a key assignment in which students reflect on this question of equity and access. One work sample comes from the Equity Project in C&T 366. This is the assignment in which KU students present about a challenge that students face in secondary STEM classrooms. The other sample comes from the three-part Diversity Project in C&T 351, in which KU students present about a challenge students face in elementary mathematics classrooms.

In C&T 351 and 366, students are actively engaged in the work as they prepare their presentations. Many students report gaining new perspectives while viewing their peers’ presentations. I find that these assignments are pivotal in creating a sense of support and collaboration among students in my classes. One thing I have considered adding to these assignments is the opportunity to try out some of the “tips for teachers” to see whether the suggestions, based on literature or personal interviews, are in fact helpful in meeting the needs of all learners.

Work samples

Below is an example of a high-quality Equity Project from a student enrolled in C&T 366, as well as a high-quality DEI Project from a student enrolled in C&T 351. The work is thoughtful, and the content is engaging. The presentations are presented in a professional manner.

Student Example 1

Breaking the DEI Project into three parts is one recent change that was made after considering my work with the Diversity Scholars. In the past, I have asked students follow-up questions after presentations. Part 3 of the C&T 351 project asks students to provide a written response to these questions. These written responses provide me with data about what the KU students learned, as well as their thoughts about how the assignment and presentations might influence their teaching.

Student Example 2, Part 1

Student Example 2, Part 2

Student Example 2, Part 3


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Reflections

Professor Carrie LaVoy

Carrie LaVoy

I feel fortunate to teach students who want to be teachers. They feel pride in helping others succeed. It is my job to prepare them for teaching in an increasingly diverse world. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a CTE Diversity Scholar. The experience inspired me to refocus on the many aspects of DEI in the classroom.

Student Learning

As I worked to intentionally redesign my courses, I noticed a change in student performance. They became more skilled at writing high-quality lesson plans and implementing engaging and meaningful lessons. I think this was due, in part, to my focus on examining inclusive teaching practices earlier in the semester, mirroring the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ position on equity and access, which mandates high-quality mathematics instruction for all.

During practicum, I am able to observe my students teaching in diverse settings. Being available to watch them teach and offer oral and written feedback is vital to their development as teachers. The subsequent conversations we have after these observations play a key role in their understanding of what it means to provide everyone an opportunity to learn.

I have also seen a change in their awareness of DEI issues in classroom settings. We begin DEI-related readings and assignments early in the semester, and it is necessary that my students participate in diverse practicum experiences. Many of them will comment on how this is very different from their own K-12 experiences, that it opened their eyes to many issues of equity and inclusion. The Equity/DEI Project assignment and presentation helps build community in the college classroom. Many times students select topics that are personal to them. Sharing about these challenges can be difficult, but raising awareness is always welcomed by their peers.

Challenges

Teachers today face many challenges. I continue to feel that I could devote more time to diversity, equity, and inclusion in my classes. I see new insights as the class discussions and reflections evolve over the course of the semester. I wish I had more time to take a deeper dive into the various aspects of teaching that we see in today’s classrooms.

I would like my students spend more time working in diverse settings. One major challenge with teaching teachers is how to make a high-quality connection between what the literature says are best practices and what we find when we are in the field. The short practicum experience they have nearly always increases their confidence in teaching. For many, it offers a new perspective on what it means to be a teacher.

Future Directions

Assuming the practicum work continues to take place in schools with predominantly non-white student populations, I would like to use the opportunity to build partnerships with these communities. We could spend more time meeting, observing, and planning with classroom teachers, as well as working with students. We could develop additional programs or experiences to support and interact with the surrounding community in ways that benefit the communities and better prepare pre-service teachers for the classroom. With regard to my own teaching, I want to focus on transparency. I plan to develop evaluation tools that allow students to provide feedback on my teaching and to offer suggestions for course content and materials.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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Year: 
2021

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