Mutegi, J. W. (2011). Scientists in the Making: Promoting African American Students’ Interest in Science through Inquiry-based, Culturally Relevant Instruction. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 5(1), 51-61.

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  Mutegi, J. W. (2011). Scientists in the Making: Promoting African American Students’ Interest in Science through Inquiry-based, Culturally Relevant Instruction. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 5(1), 51-61.
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  Scientists in the Making:Promoting African American Students’ Interest in Science through Inquiry-based, Culturally Relevant Instruction Jomo W. Mutegi Indiana University, IUPUI The low number of African Americans pursuing careers in the natural sciences has been (and continues to be) a concern for science educators. While science educators have sought to explain the science-career decisions of African Americans through research (Hager & Elton, 1971; Lewis, 2003; Lewis & Collins, 2001; Lewis & Connell, 2005; Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002; Maple & Stage, 1991), we have also worked to increase African American representation in science through various intervention programs (Barisa & Holland, 1993; Carmichael &Sevenair, 1991; Hrabowski, 1999; Maton, Hrabowski, & Schmitt, 2000; Tobias, 1992). Unfortunately, the problem has been a resilient one and African Americans (comprising fewer than 2% of practicing, Ph.D.-holdingscientistssince 1977) continue to be underrepresented in science and science-related careers (NationalScience Board, 2000). Many scholars see promise in the current reform movement as articulated in the NationalScience Education Standards (1996). Some researchers have found that standards-based teaching  practices (particularly inquiry-based instruction) lead to improved attitudes, interest, and generalachievement among African American students (Brownstein & Destino, 1994, 1995; Kahle & Damnjanovic, 1994; Kahle, Meece, &Scantlebury, 2000;Wandersee & Griffard, 1999). Khale, Meece, and Scantlebury (2000), for example, examined the science achievement and attitudes of a sample of African American, middle school students throughout Ohio. Their findings indicated that students whose teachers frequently usedstandards-based instruction exhibited more positive attitudes andachievementin science than their counterparts.Atthe same time there is a substantial cadre of educators calling forreform in the  pedagogy of African-American students (Cochran-Smith, 2001; Giddings, 2001; Howard, 2001; Hubbard & Mehan, 1999; Middleton, 2001; Mutegi, 2011;Shujaa, 1995). Foremost among these reformers are those advocating culturally relevant pedagogy (e.g. Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995). In this article I describe the Carson Institute for Science Research and Learning (CISRAL), Contemporary Issues in Education Research 51  which is an after-school science workshop that enjoins principles of inquiry-based scienceinstruction with culturally relevant teaching practicesin order to increase African Americanstudents’ interest in science and science-related careers. Description of CISRAL The Carson Institute for Science Research and Learning operates in a public, inner-citymiddle school as part of an after-school arts program. Itis named for Dr. Benjamin Carson – the well-known Professor of Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Itis the result of collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh, Arsenal Middle School, and the St. Mary’s Lawrenceville Arts Program (a community-based arts program for innercitychildren). CISRAL wasone of several programs that comprised the after-school offerings. In addition to science, students were also able to study srcami, ballet, sewing, entrepreneurship, and photography. Participants CISRAL was available to all students who attended Arsenal Middle School. Over 30 students expressed interest and attended throughout year-one. Approximately 69% were male and 31% were female. In addition, 20% of the students weresixth-graders, 70% were seventh- graders, and 10% were eight-graders.All students but one (97%) were African American; therewas one Caucasian student. Students who attended CISRAL (as with all of the programs) did so voluntarily. And while staff encouraged consistent participation, there were a number of students whose attendance was sporadic. Of the 30 students participating, seven attended the programconsistently throughout the entireschool year. CISRAL Activities Asstated, the objective ofCISRAL was to drawon principles of inquiry-based scienceinstruction and culturally relevant teaching practices to increase African American students’ interest in science and science-related careers. Tothis end CISRAL wasdesigned to represent a microcosm of the scientific community. Students who attended the Carson Institute were referred to as junior scientists, and their job was to engagein science research. Teachers atthe Carson Institute were referred to as senior scientists. Their job was also to conduct science research acting as facilitators for junior scientists. Junior and senior scientists conducted research by 52 Fall 2011  raising research questions, designing investigations to answer those questions, and presenting the results to their peers.Each semester began with a one- to two-week orientation in which senior scientists described expectations to students, instructed students in laboratory safety and use of laboratoryequipment, and reinforced the model of learning promoted in CISRAL. Theorientation concluded with senior scientistsleading the entire group of students in conducting a research  project, beginning with the identification of a research question and ending with the presentation of findings. Following the orientation junior scientists were permitted to begin the research  processby conducting their own investigations. During the fallsemester,five students completed research projects from beginning to end. In one research project on magnetism a student identified and described various patterns of magnetic forces using magnets and iron filings.In asecond project a student with an interest in  black holes wrote an essay on what was known and unknown about black holes. The initialreaction of senior scientists was that this project did not fulfill the spirit of CISRAL since it did not involve “inquiry.” However, after careful consideration it was concluded that since the student was interested in the topic, and since not all scientific inquiry involved laboratorymanipulation of materials the project was acceptable. As it turns out the student prepared an extremely insightful report. Other students conducted investigations of the effect of light on plant growth, the electromagnetic properties of everyday materials, and weather patterns related to tornadoes.During the fallsemester students expressed discomfort with the high level of autonomyrequired forcompleting the research projects. In response, spring semester projects wereconducted in smallresearch groups comprised of three to four junior and senior scientists. Thisformat allowed greater collaboration and input from both junior and senior scientists. As a result of this change, spring semester projects tended to be more sophisticated than those of the first semester. One second semester research project dealtwith electricity. The research group conducting this projectused a battery as an energy source to test the conductivity of severalsolutions. They also used a light bulb as an indicator of whether a circuit wasmade complete bythe various solutions. This research group suggested that, should this project be repeated, it would be better to use an ammeter ratherthan a light bulb in order to obtain more precise data. Contemporary Issues in Education Research 53  Other projects included a study of the effect of temperature on the speed of sound, and a study of the degree to which soap could inhibit bacterial growth. There weretwoforums through which students were required to share findings with their  peers. First, biweekly colloquia were held in which all junior and senior scientists gave updates on their research projects. The format was informal, patterned after a round table discussion. These forums provided participants an opportunity to ask questions of one another, deepen their understanding of their own research, and gain insight into the work beingconducted by others. Second, atthe end of each semester, research seminars were held in which students from throughout the after-school program were invited to see formal presentations of the students’ work. Theseforums provided the same benefits asthe colloquia and served the added function of  piquing the interest of students participating in other programs. Central Features Inquiry-based science instruction shares many features with culturally relevant teaching practices and as such they are an ideal fit. Two features that I will discuss in relation to CISRALare ownership of knowledge and establishing a community of learners. In reference to inquiryand the ownership of knowledge, reformliterature provides the following guidelines:1. Learners are engaged by scientifically oriented questions. 2. Learners give priority to evidence,which allows themto develop and evaluate explanations that address scientifically oriented questions. 3. Learners formulate explanations from evidence to address scientifically oriented questions. 4. Learners evaluatetheir explanations in light of alternative explanations,  particularly those reflecting scientific understanding. 5. Learners communicate and justify theirproposed explanations. (National Research Council, 2000, p. 24-27) Itis clearfrom these guidelines that the perspective presented is one wherein the onus for constructing knowledge resides with the student. Accordingly, learners are engaged; learnersgive priority, develop, and evaluate;learnersformulate;learners evaluate; and learners communicate and justify. Similarly, culturally relevant teaching emphasizes the students’ role inknowledge construction, “...culturally relevant teaching attempts to help students understand and  54 Fall 2011   participate in knowledge-building.” Further, knowledgeis “continuously recreated, recycled and shared by teachers and students ”  (Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 81). These commitments require adifferent approach from whatis found in traditional instruction, wherethe teacher is the owner of knowledge and the onus is on him or her to “g ive” the “correct” answers to students. CISRAL drew from this idea by encouraging junior scientists to explore and learn to find answers themselves. Senior scientists would often solicit the thoughts and opinions of junior scientists by constantly asking, “What do you think?” and “Why?” Moreover, they emphasized that there is not always a “right” answerwhen conducting investigations. One senior researcher was fond of saying that“There may not be a right answer, but the best  answer is the one that you can justify and defend.” Thewillingnessto modify the program structure (specifically the formation of research teams) based on input from junior scientists is another way that CISRALdrewfrom this idea. While CISRAL activities promote mutually shared knowledge, recognition is also important to knowledge creators. Senior scientists were watchful for opportunities to defer to  junior scientists who had exhibited expertise in a given area and also to underscore the accomplishments of scientists throughout history where appropriate. The following vignette provides an example: During one group discussion a senior researcherbegan explaining that experiments do not always proceed as planned. Remembering an incident from the previous semestershe asked Tameka to share her own experience. Tameka then described how she had become frustrated thather science experiment was not yielding any discernable results. She wasgrowing plants in different environments and decided to take them home over the holidayto continue her project.During that period her younger sibling knocked over some of the  plants. Initially, Tameka thought that she would have to quit attending CISRAL because she had “messed up her experiment.” One of the senior researchers encouraged her to  bring in her toppled plants. As it turns out they weretogether able to identify some differences in the plants. This experience gave Tameka a degree ofexpertise in acceptable experimental procedures thatshe was able to share. Contemporary Issues in Education Research 55
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