ERIC Identifier: ED289948
Publication Date: 1987-09-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Teaching Science and Mathematics to At Risk Students. ERIC
Increasingly, applicants for the best employment opportunities will
need a good grasp of science, mathematics, and computer technology. However,
minorities, women, and other disadvantaged groups have not excelled to the same
degree as others in these areas. Why this is so, and what can be done to
increase their achievement, are important educational concerns now. Successful
attempts to teach science and mathematics effectively have been made recently,
and a range of educational policies, programs, and methods have been identified
and are now in use.
There are a variety of reasons why some students have achievement
difficulties, including the following:
Cognitive Differences: Individual students process information and approach
problem solving in different ways, although research has shown that, in general,
individuals who are members of certain groups of students (i.e., minorities and
women) process information similarly, but in a way that is different from that
defined by educators as the norm. Because it is only this "normal" way of
learning that has informed curriculum development, large numbers of students
have failed to master science and mathematics coursework.
Family Stress: Students whose family life is in turmoil often suffer from
lack of parental involvement. Further, the ability of these children to learn is
hampered by lowered self-esteem, the result of their internalization of this
stress. Prime sources of family stress for children at academic risk are poverty
and unemployment, and other problems they engender.
Racial and Cultural Bias: Because some teachers believe that certain students
cannot excel at science and mathematics, they encourage them to take less
challenging, nonacademic courses. Teachers may also believe that, given a
history of low minority and female student achievement in technological studies,
and possible employment discrimination, it is better to prepare these students
for the jobs that will probably be available to them than for jobs usually held
only by white males. Parents also can discourage achievement as a result of
beliefs they've come to accept after a lifetime spent in a society which is
Students whose first language is not English, or is a nonstandard dialect,
may have difficulty in understanding not only standard English, but also the
cultural context of the learning material. Bilingual curriculum is frequently
limited to the most basic subjects, so students are not exposed to higher level
mathematics and science learning. Other cultural norms, such as the way children
are supposed to interact with adults at home, may be at variance with accepted
student-teacher interaction; these differences may also hamper students'
Disability: Though technological literacy is particularly important for
improving the lives of the handicapped, frequently disabled people are "tracked"
out of technical courses because of a misconception that they cannot function
safely in a laboratory or could never work in a science setting.
Tracking: Students who exhibit any kind of learning difficulty, no matter
what the reason, may be counseled to take less challenging classes instead of
encouraged to work harder to master the more difficult ones. If tracking begins
in the early grades, students never receive the educational building blocks they
need for more advanced learning later.
Many principles of programs that successfully teach mathematics and science
are also aspects of the more general effective schooling principles, while
others respond specifically to the needs of minorities and women. A few of the
principles are these:
High Quality and Long-Term Programs: Programs should emphasize: enrichment,
rather than remediation; the personal importance of learning science and
mathematics; and hands-on experience. They should begin early and continue
throughout the schooling of the targeted groups, drawing on the cooperative
efforts of universities, businesses, and the community. They should be evaluated
frequently, and altered accordingly; and should have a diversified funding base
to ensure uninterrupted operation.
High Quality and Diverse Staff: It is essential to have a strong principal
and director, and competent teachers who all believe in students' ability to
learn and are committed to removing educational inequities related to sex, race,
ethnic background, and disability. Staff members should be recruited from target
populations so they can serve as role models, and they should introduce students
to other role models of both sexes with backgrounds similar to theirs.
Recontextualization: Learning tasks should be created that allow students to
master them through use of their innate ways of understanding information.
Information to be taught, and problems to be solved, should be embedded in
familiar contexts, and should reflect students' cultural and ethnic diversity,
so they can make immediate and practical use of what they learn. Relating
mathematics and science learning to future careers also enhances student
attention, and thus, comprehension and retention.
Cultural and Language Sensitivity: Teachers should respect the style of
students with a nonstandard way of communicating, and with a culturally
different way of interacting in group situations; and they should be sure that
students comprehend their teacher's speech. Bilingual advanced science and
mathematics classes should be available.
Anxiety-Reducing Strategies: A competitive classroom atmosphere can provoke
student anxiety. An alternative learning environment--where cooperation, rather
than being first with the correct answer, is rewarded--eliminates the stress of
competition and the value conflict of some females and minorities who value
cooperative social interaction. Instilling in students the belief that they can
succeed also helps reduce anxiety.
Improved Programming: Smaller classes, where students can interact more
closely with teachers, enhance learning. Increased time on task is also
beneficial; developing learning activities that take less time to master, and
recontextualization, which often results in more rapid learning, allow more time
for mastery of additional material.
Cooperative Student Groupings: A hands-on, inquiry-oriented science
curriculum, with students divided into small mixed ability cooperative
groupings, has been shown to be more effective than traditional teaching
methods. Students learn to solve problems independently, and help each other
develop skills. It has also been shown that cross-sex and mixed ability pairings
result in more effective learning than do random pairings.
Extracurricular Learning: Science and mathematics achievement can be enhanced
through after-school programs run by institutions that provide educational
enrichment. Parents can encourage students to take advantage of these, and of
the public library, by accompanying them. Finally, the use of increasing numbers
of phone-in services which answer students' academic questions can be supported.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cole, M.; and P. Griffin (Eds.). CONTEXTUAL FACTORS IN EDUCATION: IMPROVING
SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS FOR MINORITIES AND WOMEN. Madison: Wisconsin Center for
Education Research, 1987.
Malcolm, S.M. EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE: COMPATIBLE GOALS: AN ASSESSMENT OF
PROGRAMS THAT FACILITATE INCREASED ACCESS AND ACHIEVEMENT OF FEMALES AND
MINORITIES IN K-12 MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE EDUCATION. Washington, DC: Office of
Opportunities in Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science,
Marinez, D.; and B. Ortiz de Montellano. TEACHING CULTURALLY LEVANT SCIENCE.
Paper presented at the Michigan Hispanic Education Conference, Dearborn,
Michigan, May 1983. ED 259 035.
Mestre, J. "The Latino Science and Engineering Student: Recent Research
Findings." In LATINO COLLEGE STUDENTS, edited by M. Olivas. New York: Teachers
College Press, 1986.
Wallace, J.M. "Nurturing an 'I Can' Attitude in Mathematics." EQUITY AND
CHOICE 11 (1986): 35-40.