Integrating social justice in pre-service STEM teaching

A new collaboration between the Berkeley Teacher Education Program (BTEP) and the Anti-Racism in Science Education (ARISE) research team is developing open curricula and professional learning materials to support the integration of social justice in pre-service STEM teaching. The project will support BTEP science and math pre-service teachers to enable their middle and high school students to use the practices and knowledge of their discipline to understand and address the local justice issues.

As BTEP pre-service teachers are beginning to plan their first social justice lesson sequence, they are exploring questions such as:

  • What are the unjust systems and mechanisms that contribute to the existence of this disparity/injustice/inequity?
  • How do my students experience this issue in their daily lives?
  • What actions are being taken by my students’ broader communities to address this justice issue?
  • What does it look like for middle schoolers to connect emotionally, morally to a science topic?

The pre-service teachers will be supported through their coursework to put their reflections into practice by customizing open-source curriculum materials and developing teaching practices that foster justice in the STEM classroom.

“Learning science and math is more meaningful when it’s integrated with the moral and ethical responsibilities of real world issues,” said Libby Gerard, a principal investigator with ARISE OPEN and adjunct professor.

For example, in a pilot study, a pre-service teacher using an ARISE OPEN curriculum unit, Global Climate Change, engaged students in investigating the Urban Heat Island phenomena in their community by analyzing how different surfaces heat up and the amount of greenspace in different neighborhoods. They then engaged students in examining maps of historical redlining in their area to investigate the impact of historically racist policies on neighborhoods today. They supported student groups to develop and apply their knowledge of climate change, energy transfer, and systemic racism to envision solutions that build on the existing approaches of community activists. The preservice teacher guided their students’ investigation, “This is a very real problem. ... Let’s look at how the locations of urban heat islands intersect with how our cities were designed in the first place.”

BTEP holds deep expertise in how to foster teacher learning of a justice and equity centered pedagogy. ARISE brings tested social justice STEM curriculum and professional learning activities that support teachers to customize curriculum to local contexts.

ARISE OPEN transcends the typical professional boundaries by bringing leaders in each of these disciplines together to shape science and math instruction.

“Ultimately, it’s the students who benefit the most because they will experience science and math teaching that values them and their community,” Gerard said. “Students can develop disciplinary tools to take care of the people and environments that they care about.”


PROJECT NAME: Anti Racism Inquiry Science Education: Opportunities for a Preservice Education Network (ARISE OPEN)

DEVELOPED BY: Associate Adjunct Research Professor Libby Gerard; Professor Marcia Linn; Professor Thomas Philip; BTEP Core Lecturer Kyle Beckham 


FUNDER: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation