Culturally Responsive STEM Education

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the student population in the U.S. is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Providing quality, equitable STEM education for PreK-12 students, particularly students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields, requires curriculum, instruction, and assessment that value their cultural practices and reflect their lived experiences.

In this Spotlight, DRK-12 projects share how their work incorporates culturally responsive STEM instruction, curricula, and assessment, or intersects with culturally responsive STEM education in ways that contribute to the knowledge base around broadening participation in STEM. In addition to describing their work, project teams share culturally responsive instruments as well as recommended readings. Hear from four projects discussing culturally responsive science instruction in a related webinar.

In this Spotlight...

Webinar on Culturally Responsive Science Instruction

April 4, 2022 
Panelists: Julie Brown, Angelina Castagno, Pradeep Dass, Shannon Davidson, Lama Jaber, Darold Harmon Joseph, Kristina Anna Kramarczuk, Diane Jass Ketelhut, Allison Metcalf, and Mark Pacheco.

This session explored innovative models and tools at the frontier of culturally relevant and responsive instruction. Researchers described frameworks for equitable and responsive science teaching, models for developing responsive teaching practices, and tools for examining those practices.

View Recording and Resources 

Featured Projects

Advancing Equity and Strengthening Teaching with Elementary Mathematical Modeling (NSF #20089972010202, 2010269, 2010178)

PIs: Julie AguirreMary CarlsonJennifer SuhErin Turner
Grades: K-5
STEM Discipline: Mathematics with a focus on mathematical modeling

Description: Advancing Equity and Strengthening Teaching through Elementary Mathematics Modeling (EQSTEMM), is a multi-site research and professional development project that focuses on equity-centered mathematics modeling in elementary math classrooms ( Mathematical modeling is, “a process that uses mathematics to represent, analyze, make predictions, or otherwise provide insight into real-world phenomena” (Bliss & Libertini, p. 8, 2016), and gives students equitable access to complex problem solving, quantitative reasoning and communication skills required for participation in STEM-related disciplines and civic engagement (English & Sriraman, 2010; Lesh & Zawojewski, 2007). Project goals include to: a) develop and refine a model for an innovative practice-based, equity-oriented PD that includes on-line blended learning spaces for teachers in diverse settings; b) refine tools and structures for modeling lessons to advance equitable participation, develop specific math modeling competencies, and in turn, c) increase access, participation, and learning of mathematical modeling for culturally and linguistically diverse children.  

A signature feature of our project design is to emphasize modeling tasks and routines that connect to students' cultural and community contexts (Turner et al, 2020; Turner et al, 2022, Suh, 2018, Carlson, 2022). Community based mathematical modeling opens up the curriculum to be a mirror for students to see themselves in mathematics, and as a lens for students to analyze the world around them and see another’s point of view through mathematics. We believe community-based modeling activities can advance equity and cultivate civic empathy (Mirra, 2018) in culturally and linguistically diverse elementary classrooms.

 We use the Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching Framework (Zavala & Aguirre, 2021) (see ) to enhance teachers’ professional learning about equity centered modeling instruction. The CRMT framework is organized into 3 focus areas comprised of 3 related dimensions: 1) Knowledges and Identities (Cultural/Community funds of knowledge, Re humanizing, Student Thinking and Ideas); 2) Rigor and Support (Cognitive Demand, Scaffolding Up, Affirming multilingualism), and 3) Power and Participation (Distributing Intellectual Authority, Disrupting Power and Status, Analyzing and Taking Action). We collaborate with teachers in planning relevant modeling tasks and refining teacher moves grounded in CRMT that advance equity and foster growth in students as modelers. 

Culturally Responsive Instruments: 


  • Website 
  • Conference Proceedings:
    • Aguirre, J., Anhalt, C. & Suh, J.M.  (2019). Flint Water Crisis: Social Justice through Mathematical Modeling.  Annual meeting of the International Commission for the Study and Improvement of Mathematics Teaching. Braga, Portugal:Université du Minho. 
    • Suh, J.M., & Anhalt, C. (2019). Core Practices in Mathematical Modeling.  In Pedro Palhares (Ed.), Proceedings of the 71st annual meeting of the International Commission for the Study and Improvement of Mathematics Teaching (pp. 55-61). Braga, Portugal:Université du Minho.
    • Suh, J.M., & Matson, K., Carlson, M., Wickstrom, M., Levy, R., Jamieson, S., Roth-McDuffie, A., Turner, E., Seshaiyer, P., & Anhalt. C. (2018). Exploring the Nature of Mathematical Modeling in the Early Grades.  In T.E. Hodges, G. J. Roy, & A. M. Tyminski, (Eds.), Proceedings of the 40th annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (pp. 1478-1486). Greenville, SC: University of South Carolina & Clemson University.
    • Suh, J.M., & Matson, K., & Seshaiyer, P. (2018). Mathematical Modeling Competencies Essential for Elementary Teachers. In T.E. Hodges, G. J. Roy, & A. M. Tyminski, (Eds.), Proceedings of the 40th annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (pp. 1122-1125). Greenville, SC: University of South Carolina & Clemson University.
    • Suh, J.M., Britton, L., Burke, K. and Ferguson, L. (April, 2018). Enhancing Mathematics Teaching And Learning For Social Justice Using Mathematical Modeling. Paper published in the American Educational Research Association Online Repository, New York, New York.
    • Suh, J.M., Turner, E., Anhalt, C., Carlson, M. A., Wickstrom, M., McDuffie, A. R.,... & Lee, D. H. (2019). Exploring the Nature of mathematical modeling in the early grades. In S. Otten, A. G. Candela, Z. de Araujo, C. Haines, & C. Munter (Eds.), Proceedings of the forty-first annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (pp. 1967-1978). St Louis, MO: University of Missouri.
    • Suh, J.M., Anhalt, C., Carlson, M. & Cortez, R. (May 2021). Mathematical Modeling Across Cultures: Broadening Opportunities by Leveraging Social Justice, Local Knowledge, and Equitable Mathematics Instruction.. North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Virtual Conference.
  • Presentations:
    • Turner, E., Aguirre, J., Carlson, M. & Suh, J. (2022 February). Centering Equity in Blended Learning Professional Development with Elementary Mathematical Modeling. Association of Mathematics Teacher Education. Henderson, NV.

    • Turner, E., Aguirre, J., Carlson, M. & Suh, J. (2021 February). Advancing Equity and Strengthening Teaching Through Elementary Mathematical Modeling. Association of Mathematics Teacher Education. Virtual Conference
    • Suh, J.M., Turner, E., Roth McDuffie, A., Aguirre, J.  & Birkhead, S.(2020 February). Defining Core Practices for Mathematical Modeling for Elementary Mathematics Teachers. Association of Mathematics Teacher Education. Phoenix, AZ. 

Recommended Readings:

  • Aguirre, J. M. (2009). Privileging mathematics and equity in teacher education: Framework, counter-resistance strategies and reflections from a Latina mathematics educatorIn B. Greer, S. Mukhopadhyay, S. Nelson-Barber, & A. Powell (Eds.), Culturally responsive mathematics education (pp. 295-319). Routledge.
  • Aguirre, J. M., Anhalt, C. O., Cortez, R., Turner, E. E., & Simic-Muller, K. (2019). Engaging teachers in the powerful combination of mathematical modeling and social justice. Mathematics Teacher Educator, 7(2) 7–26.
  • Aguirre, J. M., Mayfield-Ingram, & Martin, D. B. (2013). The impact of identity in K–8 mathematics: Rethinking equity-based practices. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Aguirre, J. M. & Zavala, M. (2013). Making culturally responsive mathematics teaching explicit: A lesson analysis tool. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 8(2), 163–190. 
  • Anhalt, C., Cortez, R., & Been Bennett, A. (2018). The emergence of mathematical modeling competencies: An investigation of prospective secondary mathematics teachers. Mathematical Thinking and Learning International Journal, 20(3) 1–20.
  • Carlson, M. A., Wickstrom, M. H., Burroughs, B., & Fulton, E. (2016). A case for mathematical modeling in the elementary school classroom. In Christian R. Hirsch (Ed.), Annual perspectives in mathematics education (APME) 2016: Mathematical modeling and modeling mathematics (pp. 121–29). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Cirillo, M., Bartell, T. G., & Wager, A. (2016). Teaching mathematics for social justice through mathematical modeling. In C. Hirsch & A. Roth Mcduffie (Eds.), Annual perspectives in mathematics education: Mathematical modeling and modeling with mathematics (pp. 87–96). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Suh, J. M., Burke, L., Britton, K., Matson, K., Ferguson, L., Jamieson, S., & Seshaiyer, P. (2018). Every penny counts: Promoting community engagement to engage students in mathematical modeling. In R. Gutierrez & I. Goffney (Eds.), Annual perspectives in mathematics education: Rehumanizing mathematics for students who are Black, Indigenous, and/or Latin@ (pp. 63–78). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Suh, J., Matson, K., Seshaiyer, P., Jamieson, S., & Tate, H. (2021). Mathematical modeling as a catalyst for equitable mathematics instruction: Preparing teachers and young learners with 21st century skills. Mathematics, 9(2), 162.
  • Suh, J. M. & Seshaiyer, P. (2019). Promoting ambitious teaching and learning through implementing mathematical modeling in a PBL environment. In M. Moallem, W. Hung, & N. Dabbagh (Eds.), Handbook of problem-based learning (pp. 529–550). Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
  • Suh, J. M., Wickstrom, M.H.  & English, L.D. (2021).  Exploring Mathematical Modeling with Young Learners. Springer.  
  • Suh, J. M., Matson, K., Birkhead, S., Green, S., Rossbach, M., Seshaiyer, P., & Jamieson, T. S. (2021). Elementary teachers’ enactment of the core practices in problem formulation through situational contexts in mathematical modeling. In J. M Suh, M. Wickstrom, & L. English (Eds.),  Exploring Mathematical Modeling with Young Learners. (pp. 113-145). Springer. 
  • Turner, E. E., Varley Gutierrez, M., & Díez-Palomar, J. (2011). Latino/a bilingual elementary students pose and investigate problems grounded in community settings. In J. N. Moschkovich, T. Téllez, & M. Civil. (Eds.), Latina/os and mathematics education: Research on learning and teaching in classrooms and communities (pp. 149–174). Information Age Publishing.
  • Turner, E. E., Been Bennett, A., Granillo, M., Ponnuru, N., Mcduffie, A. R., Foote, M. Q., Aguirre, J. M. & McVicar, E. (2022). Authenticity of elementary teacher designed and implemented mathematical modeling tasks. Mathematical Thinking and Learning.

Bridging Science Teaching and Learning in Title 1 Schools (NSF #2010361)

PI: Brian Williams 
Grades: K-5
STEM Discipline: Science (+ Engineering Practices)

Description: Historically, the public education community has struggled with providing all children with equitable access to quality science education, particularly in urban communities. SCI-Bridge is a teacher development project that aims to address inequities in access to quality science education in urban elementary schools by preparing teachers to effectively implement culturally responsive/relevant pedagogy in the classrooms. The project is supported by a National Science Foundation Discovery Research K-12 grant. A new science instructional model that intersects effective practices in science education with the theoretical principles of culturally relevant pedagogy was designed and is being implemented. Grounded in evidence-based practice, the new model, SCI-Bridge, features how culturally responsive classroom management, facilitated discourse, and contextual anchoring can be implemented as part of science instruction in elementary classrooms.

Culturally Responsive Instruments: 

  • Culturally Responsive Instructional Observation Protocol (CRIOP): Framework & Measurement tool. Employed as a measurement tool. 
  • Culturally Responsive Classroom Management Self-Efficacy Scale (CRCMSE): Tool used to measure the self-efficacy of teachers as it relates to their perceived ability to execute specified Culturally Responsive Classroom Management. (Contact Dr. Siwatu for the access to the instrument.)
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching Self-Efficacy Scale (CRTSE): Tool used to measure the degree of confidence that educators have regarding their ability to carry out specific teaching practices associated with educators who have adopted a culturally responsive pedagogy. (Contact Dr. Siwatu for the access to the instrument.)


Recommended Readings: 

CAREER: Cultivating Teachers' Epistemic Empathy to Promote Responsive Teaching (NSF #1844453)

PI: Lama Jaber
Grades: K-12
Target Audience: Pre-service and in-service science and mathematics teachers
STEM Disciplines: Science, Mathematics

Description: When students perceive that their experiences and funds of knowledge are not relevant to their science and mathematics learning, they may view these fields as inaccessible. This in turn creates a barrier for their engagement, one that is particularly consequential for students from historically underrepresented populations. There is a pressing need, then, to prepare STEM teachers to open up their classrooms to students’ diverse ideas, experiences, and knowledge, and to design instruction in ways that respond to and leverage those as resources in the classroom. Our project addresses this need by exploring how cultivating teachers’ epistemic empathy—their attunement to and appreciation of students’ intellectual and emotional experiences within epistemic work—might foster responsiveness in the classroom. Questions guiding our work include: How can epistemic empathy be cultivated in teacher education? How does it shape how teachers understand their roles, goals, and priorities as science or mathematics teachers? And how does it shape teachers’ responsiveness to student thinking and emotions during instruction?

The project draws on literature on responsive teaching which asserts that learners’ diverse experiences and funds of knowledge are resources for engaging in disciplinary ways of thinking. This stance challenges deficit narratives that position students—particularly those from historically marginalized groups—as lacking. In our work, we examine how cultivating teachers’ epistemic empathy can promote such an asset-based stance that supports teachers’ responsiveness to students’ resources—their linguistic, emotional, cultural, and experiential knowledge—in moments of instruction. Using a design-based approach, the research team designs and implements educative experiences aimed at cultivating teachers’ epistemic empathy including: discussions of readings that feature learners’ ways of thinking beyond what is traditionally viewed as “scientific” or “mathematical”; engaging in science and mathematics investigations to interrogate one’s own learning and emotions in those disciplines; analyzing videos and artifacts of student thinking to support teachers’ facility with interpreting student ideas and a stance of humility and curiosity towards all students as sensemakers; and interacting with students and analyzing those interactions to expand teachers’ attention to learners’ diverse sense-making repertoires and to surface and problematize biases that manifest in moments on instruction


Recommended Readings: 

Relevant Websites (not from this project):

Development and Empirical Recovery for a Learning Progression-Based Assessment of the Function Concept (NSF #1621117) and Investigating the Role of Collaboration on the Development of Student Ideas using a Learning Progression for the Function Concept (NSF #2101393)

PI: Edith Graf | Co-PIs: Robert Moses, Gregory Budzban, Peter van Rijn, Sarah Ohls and Jessica Andrews-Todd, Yvonne LaiCheryl EamesWilliam Crombie, Charlenne DeLeon-Cuevas
Grades: 9-12
STEM Discipline: Mathematics

Description: In our earlier project, Development and Empirical Recovery for a Learning Progression-Based Assessment of the Function Concept, both focus groups and cognitive interviews guided the revision of mathematical tasks assessing the concept of function. The focus groups consisted of near-peer mentors from the Young People’s Project (YPP), who offered feedback on the tasks from the students’ point of view. Similarly, many of the cognitive interviews were conducted by staff of YPP. This approach was helpful in identifying potentially construct-irrelevant task features, particularly around the language used in the tasks. Following administration of a pilot, we again revised the tasks, taking statistical results into account. Several of the cognitive interviewers participated in these conversations and offered their perspectives on the interpretation of the results. In our view, task design informed by students’ perspectives is central to culturally responsive assessment development.

In our current project, Investigating the Role of Collaboration on the Development of Student Ideas using a Learning Progression for the Function Concept, we extend our earlier work into the realm of collaborative problem solving (CPS). Mathematics has its own language and cultural norms, and mathematizing intuitive understandings is challenging. The Algebra Project’s Five-Step Curricular Process (Moses, Kamii, Swap, & Howard, 1989; Moses, West, & Davis, 2009) was designed to support a transition from a shared mathematical experience to a symbolic representation. A feature of the process is that many of the steps are facilitated by collaborative co-construction: Students discuss the mathematical experience in their own words, and with guidance from their teacher, identify features to be mathematized. Finally, students capture the structure of the mathematical experience as a symbolic representation. 

The planned study in the current project is modeled to be consistent with this process and involves both small-team CPS and whole-class discussion. Through these activities, we intend to support students in the transition to the language and culture of mathematics, by building on their existing language, culture, and intuitive understandings. As with the earlier project, we will include student voice: for example, YPP near-peer mentors will contribute to an upcoming usability study.


 Recommended Reading:

  • Andrews, J. J., & Rapp, D. N. (2015). Benefits, costs, and challenges of collaboration for learning and memory. Translational Issues in Psychological Science1, 182–191.
  • Moses, R., & Cobb, C. E. (2001). Radical equations: Civil rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. Boston. Beacon Press.
  • Moses, R., Kamii, M., Swap, S. M., & Howard, J. (1989). The algebra project: Organizing in the spirit of Ella. Harvard Educational Review59(4), 423–444.
  • Moses, R., West, M. M., & Davis, F. E. (2009). Culturally responsive mathematics education in the Algebra Project. In B. Greer, S. Mukhopadhyay, A. B. Powell, & S. Nelson-Barber (Eds.), Culturally responsive mathematics education (pp. 239–256). Routledge.

Ed+gineering: An Interdisciplinary Partnership Integrating Engineering into Elementary Teacher Preparation Programs (NSF #1908743)

PI: Jennifer Kidd 
Grades: K-6
STEM Discipline: Engineering, Technology

Description: Ed+gineering project partners preservice teachers (PSTs) and engineering students to collaboratively design and deliver culturally responsive engineering lessons to elementary students. From this project, we expect PSTs to cultivate the pedagogical knowledge, professional skills, and attitudes they need to integrate culturally responsive engineering into their instruction as most of them are not exposed to engineering as part of their professional training, and as a result, feel unprepared to teach engineering in their future classrooms. PSTs ’ preparation is scaffolded through three different collaboration models. Collaborations 1 and 3 use a “field trip” model, where local elementary students from Title I schools travel to the University campus for an “Engineering Day”. During this visit, students will take a tour of a residence hall and student recreation center, observe various Engineering labs (e.g. Motor Sports, Manufacturing), and participate in an hour-long engineering lesson taught by collaborating education and engineering students. Distinct from Collaboration 1, the teams of education and engineering students in Collaboration 3 travel to the local participating schools at the beginning of the semester to teach an Introduction to Engineering lesson, where PSTs informally talk with the students about issues within their local communities (e.g., local flooding mitigation), or globally (e.g., clean water/water distribution mechanisms), that may be solved through an engineering task. PSTs use students’ input to design a culturally responsive fluid mechanics-focused engineering challenge for their lesson so that students can make a personal connection to the upcoming lesson, and develop relationships between the PSTs and their elementary students. Our second collaboration model takes place in an after-school technology club for 5th graders. PST, engineering student, and 5th grade student work together over five weeks to design, build, and code bio-inspired robots that solve global challenges. The PSTs help the 5th graders draw upon their interests and knowledge of global issues to develop their solution. We believe such early exposure to engineering will enhance elementary students’ STEM knowledge and increase the likelihood of pursuing an engineering career. At the same time, the lessons give PSTs needed practice with engineering and culturally responsive pedagogical practices.

Culturally Responsive Instruments: Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) underscore the importance of including engineering instruction in K-12 education, creating an urgent need to help prepare future teachers and assess their readiness to integrate engineering into their courses. The Ed+gineering research team proposed a framework and an instrument to assess preservice teachers’ preparedness to integrate engineering at the elementary and middle school level. Key pedagogical features of successful engineering instruction and culturally responsive pedagogy underscore the dimensions of the instrument. The instrument, called EIPECK, was designed to assess perceived pedagogical content knowledge associated with engineering integration into K-12 education. A paper describing the development and validation of EIPECK is currently in review. The outcomes from this paper will provide an assessment framework and an instrument that can be used to inform and evaluate engineering education training initiatives in teacher preparation programs by providing the PST’s perspective on their level of preparation to integrate engineering into K-12 classrooms.


 Recommended Reading:

Professional Development for Teaching and Learning about Energy and Equity in High School Physics (NSF # 1907950 and 1936601)

PIs: Rachel Scherr, Kara Gray, Bruce Mason
Grades: 9-12
Targe Audience: Teachers
STEM Discipline: Physics

Description: Energy is a foundational concept of physics and plays an integral role in a web of sociocultural realities, economic issues, and public policies. The Energy & Equity project supports high school teachers to develop a robust model of energy, grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and also intentionally constructed to support engagement with current sociopolitical issues. Teachers and university researchers collaboratively explore energy learning as a means for promoting discussions of energy justice and energy equity globally and in our local communities. By developing a model of energy in physics that is fully aware of how science is sociocultural, teachers (and their students) gain the opportunity to create science concepts informed by their cultural worlds and educational priorities. We especially support teachers to create culturally responsive educational experiences through place-based education that honors Indigenous presence. 

The two major components of the Energy and Equity model are (1) the professional development (PD) experience, including both an intensive in-person summer workshop (SW) and an online professional learning community (PLC), and (2) the Energy and Equity Portal, an online resource for teachers to share instructional materials and report on action research.


Recommended Readings:

Responsive Instruction for Emergent Bilingual Learners in Biology Classrooms (NSF #2010153)

PI: Julie Brown | Co-PIs: Mark PachecoKarl JungEllen Davis
Grades: 9-11
STEM Discipline: Biology

Description: RIEL Biology collaborates with in-service biology teachers to develop and implement an instructional framework that supports emergent bilingual (EB) student participation and achievement in biology. This framework builds on foundational ideas in culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy to recognize, recruit, and reinforce the many strengths that EB students bring to classrooms.  RIEL Biology’s goal is to hone this framework—which consists of promoting collaboration, affirming science identities, using multiple modalities and languages, attending to students’ identities and experiences, and connecting classrooms to pressing issues in students’ lives.  

Culturally Responsive Instruments: The RIEL Biology Observation Protocol (coming soon! The project is still validating this instrument but will share a preview during the April 4 webinar on Culturally Relevant Science Instruction)


  • Website
  • Video (2021 STEM For All Video Showcase)
  • Publication:
    • Pacheco, M. B., & Brown, J. C. (2022). Newcomer emergent bilingual students’ meaning-making in urban biology classrooms: A communities of practice perspective. Urban Education.
  • Presentations:
    • Brown, J. C. & Joyce, M. C. Keynote. Supporting ESOL students in STEM classrooms. Collier County School District. Collier County, FL. Jul 30, 2021 – Jul 30, 2021.
    • Brown, J. C., Davis, E. C., Jung, K. J., & Pacheco, M. B. (2021, June). RIEL Biology: Responsive instruction for emergent bilingual learners in biology classrooms. Virtual poster presentation. 2021 DRK12 PI meeting
    • Brown, J. C., Jung, K. J., Pacheco, M. B., I, J-Y., Kayumova, S., & Villanueva Alarcon, I. (2021, June). Considerations for STEM participation of emergent bilinguals during COVID-19. Panelist session, 2021 DRK12 PI Meeting
    • Joyce, M. C., Pacheco, M. B., & Brown, J. C.  (2022, March). Development of an instructional protocol for culturally and linguistically responsive biology instruction for emergent bilingual students. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST). Conference proposal.
    • Jung, K. G., Brown, J. C., Davis, E. C., Pacheco, M. B. (2021, January). RIEL Biology: Promoting culturally and linguistically responsive education in biology. Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE). Virtual Conference.
    • Koukoulidis, N., Brown, J. C., & Jung, K. G. (2022, January). Biology teachers’ interaction patterns with online professional learning resources. Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE). Conference proposal.
    • Pacheco, M.B., Joyce, M.C., & Brown, J. C. (2022, April). Towards an instructional protocol for culturally and linguistically responsive biology instruction for emergent bilingual students. American Educational Research Association (AERA). Conference proposal.
    • Pacheco, M. B. & Joyce, M. C. (2020). Keynote. Supporting ESOL students in STEM classrooms. Collier County School District. Collier County, FL. Dec 5, 2020 - Dec 5, 2020.
    • Staggs, M. M., Jung, K. G., & Brown, J. C. (2022, January). Making science relevant to students: How teachers access and incorporate funds of knowledge in the high school biology classroom. Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE). Conference Proposal.
    • Staggs, M. M., Jung, K. G., & Brown, J. C. (2022, March). Making science relevant to students: How teachers access and incorporate funds of knowledge in the high school biology classroom. National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST). Conference Proposal.

Recommended Readings:

  • Brown, J. C. (2017). A metasynthesis of the complementarity of culturally responsive and inquiry‐based science education in K–12 settings: Implications for advancing equitable science teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(9), 1143–1173.
  • Buxton, C. A., & Lee, O. (2014). English learners in science education. Handbook of Research on Science Education, 2, 204–222.
  • David, S. S., Pacheco, M. B., & Jiménez, R. T. (2019). Designing translingual pedagogies: Exploring pedagogical translation through a classroom teaching experiment. Cognition and Instruction, 37(2), 252–275.
  • Lee, O., Llosa, L., Grapin, S., Haas, A., & Goggins, M. (2019). Science and language integration with English learners: A conceptual framework guiding instructional materials development. Science Education, 103(2), 317–337.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). English learners in STEM subjects: Transforming classrooms, schools, and lives. National Academies Press.   
  • Pacheco, M. B. (2018). Spanish, Arabic, and “English‐only”: Making meaning across languages in two classroom communities. TESOL Quarterly, 52(4), 995–1021. 

Strengthening STEM Teaching in Native American Serving Schools through Long-Term, Culturally Responsive Professional Development (NSF #1908464)

PI: Angelina Castagno | Co-PI: Pradeep Dass
Grades: K-12
STEM Discipline: All STEM disciplines (specific topics are determined by the teachers in our professional development program)

Description: We strengthen K-12 teaching in Indigenous-serving schools through professional development that increases teachers’ content knowledge and capacity to develop and deliver culturally responsive curriculum. With funding from NSF, we are offering STEM-specific professional development, and we are researching the implementation, effectiveness, and opportunities for improvement in our work. Our program is currently a partnership with Navajo schools, and we plan to add a partnership with San Carlos Apache schools in 2022.

Our professional development model emphasizes (1) multi-grade and cross-content-area collaboration among teachers, (2) teacher-developed instructional units, and (3) culturally responsive approaches to STEM teaching. These innovations are particularly critical for teacher professional development efforts in Native-serving schools, who are generally constrained by either lack of curricular resources or mandates to use one-size-fits-all, scripted curriculum provided by their districts. In either case, it can be challenging for teachers to fully engage culturally responsive instructional practices. Our model addresses this challenge by supporting teachers in the development of self-authored instructional units that are aligned to state content standards and locally-articulated cultural standards. Finally, all of the instructional units developed by teachers in our program are available online for broader access and impact.

Culturally Responsive Instrument(s): Our team developed the Culturally Responsive Assessment of Indigenous Schooling (CRAIS) tool based on our work over the past three years. This rubric can be used to identify and strengthen the integration of culturally responsive principles for, with, and in Indigenous-serving schools. It is available online at:


Recommended Readings: We lean heavily on the work of Indigenous scholars and those working directly on Indigenous educational issues. This body of work is robust, but a few foundational readings for our work include the following:

Supporting Students' Language, Knowledge and Culture Through Science (NSF #2010633)

PI: Cory Buxton | Co-PI: Francisca BelartYanming Di, Susan Rowe
Grades: 4-12
STEM Discipline: General Science with a Forestry emphasis 

Description: The Supporting students' language, knowledge and culture through science, or LaCuKnoS Project, seeks to develop and refine a model of justice centered science education, bringing teachers, students, families and researchers together as co-learners. We do this through design and development work focused on three related strands: Language Development for Science Sense Making, Mapping Culture & Community Connections to Science, and Knowledge Building for Informed Decision Making. Culturally sustaining pedagogies are built into each of the strands, in recognition that equity practices are more effective when integral to a pedagogical model rather than addressed as discrete strategies. Our culturally sustaining approach highlights the value of place-based and community-based knowledge while recognizing that many students don’t see their cultures, their communities, or their histories represented in science, either in school or in society.

We view culturally sustaining science education as central to moving beyond “broadening participation” strategies in science that have often focused on making science more welcoming to individuals from underrepresented groups while failing to consider how science and technology have disproportionately harmed individuals from those groups. While current science standards highlight big ideas and practices that scientists use in their work, culturally sustaining science education must also focus on pressing societal challenges and designing justice-centered solutions, starting in the elementary grades.

We recognize that human learning and progress have largely occurred through the development and use of tools for solving problems, and that learning to use new tools can help us to see new possibilities. With this in mind, LaCuKnoS supports students in applying and expanding the linguistic, cultural, and knowledge-building tools they possess to make sense of their place in the world and the impacts they wish to make. We also work directly with families through community based science workshops to support families in understanding that they have many experiences and skills that can enhance their children’s science learning. Creating opportunities for families to learn, do, and talk about science together highlights roles science already plays in their lives and is central to creating culturally sustaining science teaching and learning experiences.

Culturally Responsive Instrument: 

  • Family conversations interview card game - LaCuKnoS Family Conversations are semi-structured interviews between parents and children focused on experiences and interests in science, academic and career goals, the language of science, and the role of science and technology in society. The audio-recorded interviews are in the format of a family conversation, with parents and children taking turns drawing cards and asking each other questions. By removing the researcher from the interview, we found that families had more authentic and meaningful conversations about science in their lives. Parents have told us they are looking for ways to authentically share about their hopes and goals with their growing children while students have told us they value opportunities to engage with their families and teachers in new ways.

Products:  The LaCuKnoS project is actively designing and refining a range of products for supporting culturally sustaining science pedagogies for teachers, students and families. These products include: 

Recommended Readings: 

  • Bang, M., & Marin, A. (2015). Nature–culture constructs in science learning: Human/non‐human agency and intentionality. Journal of Research in Science Teaching52(4), 530–544.
  • Bell, P., Bricker, L., Reeve, S., Zimmerman, H. T., & Tzou, C. (2013). Discovering and supporting successful learning pathways of youth in and out of school: Accounting for the development of everyday expertise across settings. In B. Bevan, P. Bell, R. Stevens, & A. Razfar (Eds.), LOST opportunities: Learning in out-of-school time (pp. 119–140). Springer.
  • Brown, J. C., & Crippen, K. J. (2016). Designing for culturally responsive science education through professional development. International Journal of Science Education38(3), 470–492.
  • Cardozo-Gaibisso, L., Kim, S., Buxton, C., & Cohen, A. (2019). Thinking beyond the score: Multidimensional analysis of student performance to inform the next generation of science assessments. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 57(6), 856–878
  • Jimenez, R. M. (2020). Community cultural wealth pedagogies: Cultivating autoethnographic counternarratives and migration capital. American Educational Research Journal57(2), 775-807.
  • Maton, K., & Howard, S. K. (2018). Taking autonomy tours. LCT Centre for Knowledge Building. Sydney: Australia, 1–35.
  • Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (Eds.). (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. Teachers College Press.

Transforming Scientific Practices to Promote Students Interest and Motivation in the Life Sciences: A Teacher Leadership Development Intervention (NSF #1721356)

PI: Pauline W. U. Chinn | Co-PIs: Steven Businger, Scott Rowland, Marvin Nogelmeier, Celia Smith, Kirsten Mawyer, Kahealaniakealo Faria
Grades: PreK-12, Informal
STEM Discipline: Life and Earth Systems Science
Target Populations: Teachers of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students

Description: Imagine growing up on a Pacific island where familiar plants, animals, and places  never enter your science learning because science texts and teacher preparation do not include your place, culture, or home language.  These islands include Hawaiʻi, American Samoa, Tonga, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and the Marshall Islands.  Pacifc Island students compose a third of K-12 students in Hawaiʻi and are the fastest growing groups of students.

Most Pacific Island families arriving in Hawaiʻi speak their heritage languages, so children learn English as a second language.  The Transforming Scientific Practices, A Teacher Leadership project addresses this cultural gap with professional development situated in students’ cultures and places. Teachers explore their students’ cultures and communities to identify issues and resources for place-based, experiential, meaningful STEA2M (ancestral, art) lessons that address NGSS and Nā Hopena Aʻo, socioemotional learner outcomes relevant to Hawaiʻi.

How the project addresses culturally responsive STEM education
In Hawaiian,
Aʻo means both to teach and to learn, referring to this reciprocal process.  Place-based educators interview community members, develop community partnerships, and conduct archival research in order to develop a community map of resources. This leads to identifying place-based STEM resources and issues relevant to both their community and teaching.  In the process of curriculum mapping, educators write NGSS curriculum addressing their place-based project.  Building upon family and community partnerships, their lessons employ culturally responsive pedagogies intended to engage Native Hawaiian (NH) and Pacific Islander (PI) students in learning grounded in their cultures and communities.  Teachers employ story telling, practice-and place-based learning, traditional ways to transmit deep ecological knowledge and complex cultural practices across generations.  Transdisciplinary, place based expertise and curricular leaders develop as teachers write lessons that intersect place, culture, and science content.


Recommended Readings:

Additional DRK-12 Projects


  • CRIS LogoCulturally Responsive Indigenous Science: Connecting Land, Language, and Culture (NSF #1720931)
    PIs: Paula Groves Price | Co-PIs: Kimberly Christen; Higheagle Strong, Z
    Grades: 4-9
    STEM Discipline: Science, Technology
    Target Populations: Native American students
    Description: In collaboration with three tribal communities in the Northwest, the Culturally Responsive Indigenous Science (CRIS) project catalyzes new approaches to Indigenous science teaching and learning through land-based science curriculum and hands-on enrichment programs that weave Indigenous knowledges and languages with western science and digital tools to increase Native American students’ learning, engagement and achievement across the sciences.
    Approach to Addressing Culturally Responsive STEM Education: Core to the project’s innovation, the CRIS project team includes tribal language/culture teachers, school science, mathematics, special education teachers, university faculty, and graduate students. Through a community-based approach to curriculum design, the project team collaborates to develop land-based science curriculum that weaves together traditional ecological knowledge, language, technology and western science in ways that address national science standards while honoring tribal culture, language, and sovereignty. To accomplish this, the CRIS team gathers quarterly in each tribal homeland and at Washington State University to develop curriculum modules, engage in teacher professional development, and provide enrichment programming for Native American youth. All project activities are designed for students and teachers to critically problem-solve local issues related to the environment and sustainability from the perspective of traditional knowledge, stories, and language. The modules include innovative lessons with H5P interactive content, digitized and archived cultural materials from the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, and media resources. Teachers and students utilize the CRIS project website and iPad application to access the modules, engage in interactive lessons, gather content, and create video and project-based assessments. This project builds bridges between schools, tribal departments, and communities and develops a regional network of support across tribal nations.
    Early Findings: Including elders/community knowledge keepers and centering Indigenous languages and culture in the curriculum development process is a critical component of developing culturally responsive Indigenous STEM education. Culturally responsive and sustaining Indigenous STEM education requires approaching curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment, and research methodologies from the knowledge systems of the community. Building strong relationships based on trust, respect, and reciprocity is key for researchers engaging in culturally responsive work. Following cultural protocols is equally important to following institutional research protocols. Many research instruments and survey tools are not culturally responsive, so researchers should be prepared to build culturally responsive evaluation instruments.
    Products: Video (2020 STEM for All Video Showcase) | Video (Annual Field Trip) | Video (CRIS Summer Camp) | Lesson Plan Template 
    Recommended Reading: Tuck, E., McKenzie, M., & McCoy, Kate. (2014). Land education: Indigenous, post-colonial, and decolonizing perspectives on place and environmental education research. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 1-23. doi:10.1080/13504622.2013.877708

  • Learning in Places (NSF #1720578)
    PI: Carrie Tzou | Co-PIs: Megan BangSharon Siehl
    Grades: K-3
    STEM Discipline: Ecology, Biology, Earth Science
    Description: Seattle Public Schools, Tilth Alliance, the University of Washington, and Northwestern University partner with K-3 children, families,  educators, and community-based organizations to co-design equitable, culturally based, field-based science education utilizing outdoor habitats, including gardens. We are working to reimagine how children can engage in phenology motivated field-based science driven by “should we” questions that cultivates ethical deliberation and decision-making around socio-ecological systems and issues that are consequential to them, their families, and their communities.
    Approach to Addressing Culturally Responsive STEM Education: We start from the assumption that all learning is cultural and that all learning shapes identity. By this we mean that we all have cultural ways of knowing and understanding the world around us, and how we learn shapes who we are and who we might become. Yet, science is often taught and designed in a way that treats the practices and places in which we do science as ahistorical, acultural, and unproblematic. Our project engages a diversity of voices⁠—students, families, teachers, and community-based organizations⁠—in co-designing what we call a “seasonal storyline” that engages learners and their families in field-based science that connects family knowledge and place-based, student-led investigations. The storyline begins with an exploration of what we call “socio-ecological histories of place”, where students and families explore the ways in which places have been and continue to be shaped by human decisions, from our earliest geologic time to Indigenous People’s time, to imagining the possible futures of places and our responsibilities to them. Students develop “should we” questions to learn about places across timescales and the layers of relations between human communities and the rest of the natural world to explore socio-ecological systems and decision-making. Through these investigations they come to understand the connection between field-based data and evidence, family and community practices and priorities, and place-based histories and futures. Finally, students share their "should we" questions with recommendations for decisions to peers and their families.
    Early Findings: We have found that when co-designing with community-based organizations, teachers, and families, it is critically important to explicitly address issues of power, equity, and inequity, especially as they pertain to deficit perspectives of families of color and teaching science. Initial analyses point to the power of orienting students to sensemaking along multiple time and spatial scales: that, when asked to notice and wonder about places, they engage in more expansive thinking about how and why places come to be, and what scientific and engineering practices they could use to find out more about places.
    Products: Teaching Tools








Related Resources

Christa Haverly

Blog | Critically Examining Whiteness in Culturally Responsive Education
By Christa Haverly, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Northwestern University
Culturally responsive teaching is responsive to students’ lived experiences, cultural repertoires of practice, linguistic resources, and other ways of knowing and being in this world. Here I take up race, recognizing that this is just one part of the culturally responsive story. To that end, though I am cautious to center another White voice in a conversation about culturally responsive teaching, I offer the following narrative as a critical reflection on my racialized positionality in hopes that it creates space for dialogue with and among White researchers while continuing to listen to and learn from scholars of Color (including from this spotlight).

CADRE Report | The Use of Theory in Research on Broadening Participation in PreK-12 STEM Education: Information and Guidance for Prospective DRK-12 Grantees
This CADRE resource for prospective DRK–12 grantees identifies some of the theories that current and recent DRK–12 grantees are using in their research on broadening participation, including culturally relevant pedagogy and other theories that can intersect with culturally responsive STEM education.

CAISE Report | Focusing on Cultural Competency in STEM Education
This report details the need for cultural competency and the spectrum of cultural competency and provides practical activities  to aid educators in creating a culturally active learning environment.

PI Meeting Session (2016) | Culturally Responsive STEM Education
At the 2016 DRK-12 PI Meeting, Amy Wilson-Lopez (currently an NSF program director) led a roundtable discussion on culturally responsive STEM education. This session handout introduces the theoretical foundations of culturally responsive education (including culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 1975, 2013) and culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2014)), constructs for grounding STEM education in students' lives, applications of culturally responsive education in the STEM disciplines, and key questions and issues in culturally responsive STEM education.

Reading List | Culturally Responsive STEM Education
This list of publications on the topic of culturally responsive STEM education were compiled thanks to National Science Foundation-funded projects featured in CADRE’s Spotlight.

STEM Teaching Tools Brief | How to Avoid Known Pitfalls Associated with Culturally Responsive Instruction
This brief explains the importance of connecting science teaching to the cultural knowledge, experiences, and ways of knowing of students and their communities by attending to the historical and dynamic nature of culture, inherent variation within cultural communities, and issues of power and sovereignty that come with responsibly connecting to culture.