Upadhyay, B. R. (2006). Using students’ lived experiences in an urban science classroom: An elementary school teacher’s thinking. Science Education, 90(1), 94–110. doi:10.1002/sce.20095
The paper is organized so as to build context on key vocabulary and ideas that are being researched before fully presenting the research idea. The author first grounds the reader in an introduction to not only her work with the “Linking Food in the Environment” program but also the meaning behind key terms like “funds of knowledge” and “students lived experiences”. The author then goes on to explain the reason for her research and the research questions that are to be answered which are: What does Jane’s life story tell us about her views on teaching, her experiences, and science teaching that is relevant to students and their lived experiences, what student experiences does Jane identify as important funds of knowledge in teaching the LiFE curriculum, and how does Jane connect student experiences to her own and integrate them into her science teaching?
The author follows this by explaining how she will gather data and analyze it in order to make conclusions. The author has chosen a case study model and will gather qualitative data and analyze it by findings themes and trends in her observations. After naming some limitations of the study the author proceeds onto her findings.
The findings section is lengthy and detailed as it illuminates Jane’s own personal history in becoming a teacher as well as the various relationships to curriculum, students, and personal development throughout the study. After the author has communicated all of the findings in the different realms of experience in Jane’s classroom she moves onto discussion and conclusion.
Contributions to Field
The study in question provides welcome insight into the specific decision making and thought process that goes through a teacher’s mind while they try to incorporate the funds of knowledge approach to teaching inn their classrooms. While the findings here are not necessarily replicable they do illuminate a lot of the process that happens within a teachers mind which will inform future research.
The research was done through a case study approach. The author chose this method because it offers unique insight into what is happening within a teachers mind as they navigate their classroom. The researcher was able to operate as a thought partner and probe the teachers thought process and reflections so as to gain further understanding of how at least one individual approaches using students “funds of knowledge” in the classroom.
The author gathers entirely qualitative data for use in the current research. The data is a mix of interviews, observations, classroom videos, and field notes. The data is collected from only one teacher who the author developed a cordial and professional relationship with during the study. The author chose the case study format in order to better understand the specific decisions, events and processes that played out in the teachers day to day decision making. The interview data was gathered by asking open-ended and probing questions that serve to provide valuable insight into the teaches meta cognitive thought process.
The data is analyzed using grounded theory development which has the researcher create categories and themes based on analyses of transcripts, video tapes, field notes and observations. The author organized her themes into four “index trees” with the first two being what she has written about in the current article. The index trees were: Students lived experiences and science teaching, social scaffolding, how high stakes testing influences science instruction and science process skills. Within each index tree are sub categories of themes in the data that were analyzed for the study.
The researcher organized her findings into a number of different domains which I will try to briefly summarize below.
Jane’s Experience as a Student in Different Cultures
Jane grew up around the world switching schools often and regularly being an outsider in a foreign culture. Jane has very little recollection of Science in her Elementary Classroom when she went to school. Also Jane did not take many Science classes while in college and upon receiving her teacher certificate she did not feel prepared to do science instruction within her own classroom. Knowing where Jane is coming from is an important step in preparing a teacher to make connection between their life, their students lives and the choices they make in the classroom.
Jane’s Growth as a Teacher and Becoming an Inclusive Teacher
Jane began her teaching career as a substitute teacher. She did this for a number of years before actually serving as a full time teacher. She saw her own daughter struggle with the science curriculum at her school and it prompted her to wonder why this subject could be so hard. Upon arriving in her classroom Jane recognized the wealth of cultural background in her students and began to wonder how she could use what her students already knew in order to promote more learning in her classroom. She is self-learner always seeking new opportunities for development and growth.
Jane’s Experience with the LiFE Curriculum and her Thinking About Connected Science Curriculum
Jane feels invested in the LiFE curriculum much more than the FOSS kits she previously had to use in her class. With the LiFE curriculum she believes she is able to focus on the larger conceptual understandings of science as opposed to the more basic content. Jane likes that the LiFE curriculum allows her to introduce new ideas in her science classroom. In addition students partake in the scientific process and make mistakes along the way which is allowed and even encourage so that they know how to respond to failure.
What Student Experiences Does Jane Identify as Important Funds of Knowledge in Teaching the LiFE Curriculum?
Jane that it was most important that her students felt that their questions and ideas were valued in class discussion and would be addressed with fidelity. When a student would share an experience they had with science in home, Jane would feel free to steer the lesson to a new direction that better aligned with what students had experienced before. She used the students basic understanding of some terms to demonstrate new concepts. An example is made of how the students were asking about air and she was able to differentiate between air and oxygen with a candle in a glass jar. Jane knew that when students offered something to the space she could leverage it to introduce a new idea.
How Does Jane Connect Student Experiences to Her Own and Integrate Them into Her Science Teaching?
New knowledge is best created through the mutual sharing of ideas and experiences. Jane created a classroom environment that encouraged sharing and discussion between students and teacher. Jane knew it was important that in order for students to feel it was safe to bring their ideas and perspectives she would have to bring her own. She would share information about her children or home in order to encourage students to make their own connections with their lives. She recognized that as part of the culture of the classroom everyone needed to feel that it was safe and encourage to share.
The article does not present and findings that can be implemented or used in a school setting tomorrow, however it does lend more credence to the idea that using students funds of knowledge is an approach and idea that deserves more thought. Through observations and interviews it is clear that not only were students learning in class but they were enjoying it as well. The “radical” approach that is funds of knowledge deserves more research and investigation as it seems clear that it sets students up on a better trajectory that is more focused on critical thinking and real world application. The funds of knowledge approach also serves to meet students at their need so that every child has a chance to learn and engage with content in the classroom.