Funds of Knowledge Approach in 4th Grade Science

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.

Theoretical Framework/Lens

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.

Data Collection/Analyses

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.

Challenges of Shifting Cultural Capital

I found the reading of Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) article, Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth, to be quite challenging. Not because it was written in a manner that was unclear, or in any way difficult to understand, but rather, because it challenged the systemic beliefs instilled in me by my upbringing in a White, middle class family. Throughout this post I want to share my reflections on the things that were points of tension for me and other thoughts and connections with the various assertions that Yosso makes about culture, race, hierarchies, and the assortment of cultural capitals that people of color possess.

Near the close of the article, there was a quote that stuck with me, “we need to de-academize theory and connect the community to the academy” (Yosso, 2005, p. 82). I found this refreshing, especially in a research article; this grounding in practice was one of the first times that I’ve read something academic that also provided a strong connection to reality. Yosso (2005) accomplishes this by sharing examples of the six different types of capital that marginalized people possess. In articles that I’ve previously read, it almost seemed as though it were an unstated, but also unquestionable, fact as to the intrinsic value of racial diversity. These different capitals (aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, resistant, and navigational) serve to clearly articulate (some of) what people of minority groups possess that can be viewed as assets, standing in stark contrast to the deficits that have been ascribed to them in the past. These areas of strength provide a conceptual framework, upon which educators can build relationships with students of diverse backgrounds and increase the contributions of these students to their environments, their learning, and the learning of others. However, the value of the above capitals will be lost, if, as Yosso asserts, educators assume that our schools work, and it is the job of students, parents, and communities to change to conform to the standards of a White, middle class society (Yosso, 2005). It is here that my first point of tension arises.

While I strongly believe that all students have valuable insights to share from their families, cultures, and other facets of their lives (see the cultural capitals above), I truly struggle with the idea that we need to radically change what our societal values are. The idea that minority groups should not strive for the American Dream, which has worked, on the whole, so well for so many people throughout our country’s history, is, honestly, a scary proposition.  I didn’t explicitly come across in this article, but I think more emphasis ought to be placed on the promotion of minority groups, but not at the expense of those for whom the system is working. Yet, despite this, I recognize that societies of hierarchy tend to stay hierarchical (Yosso, 2005). These two notions are conflicting for me; a truly egalitarian society will still have winners, that is to say, those at the top, and loser, or those at the bottom; I fear that a radical shift that begins to value new cultural capitals, would simply replace one group at the bottom with a different group, thereby achieving no real or meaningful change.

Yet, despite this fear of mine, I believe we must radically reform the education system, lest we end up with marginalized groups competing against one another to succeed in a rigged game. Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions” (Moraga, 1983, p.52) if we force diverse groups to retrofit themselves to our system, competing for access to limited resources, we’ve done nothing but pit them against one another, bringing one group up, at the expense of another.


Works cited:

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Moraga, C. (1983) La güera, in: C. Moraga & G. Anzaldúa (Eds) This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color (2nd edn) (New York, Kitchen Table).


Challenging Traditional Theories of Cultural Capital

As I reviewed numerous scholarly readings this week, the article Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, stood out to me. This piece by Tara J. Yosso was very powerful as it focused on critical race theory (CRT). According to Yosso (2005), “This article conceptualizes community cultural wealth as a critical race theory (CRT) challenge to traditional interpretations of cultural capital” (p.69). The author came across strong in her challenges to previous research in her area of focus and with the presentation of her own theory with the power of Communities of Color.  It was a very telling article that discusses racism and its role in the Unites States educational system, and the how cultural capital is truly an asset for students of minority backgrounds in the U.S. that continues to be overlooked.

Being a Hispanic male who was raised in the United States, and an individual who has worked in the field of education, the analysis of CRT always seems to captivate my attention. As this article provided a variety of material to the reader, I found myself agreeing quite frequently with the authors points of contention and theory. One strong point that I can reflect on was Yosso’s statement that, the shifting of the research lens allows critical race scholars to ‘see’ various forms of capital within Communities of Color (Yosso, 2005). I agree that moving the lens in general can unmask a whole world of new ideas and results. In this case, Yosso presented her theory in five views that corroborate the experiences of people of color. I agree with her six themes and how they present challenges to previous research, by demonstrating Communities of Color as entities with various strengths by means of measuring atypical indicators and the role of racism in education. (Yosso, 2005) The article led me to look outside the box in terms of the approach that I my take moving forward in my own research agendas. Looking at research that is not afraid to push the envelope and propose new ideas is exciting to review, when it is supported and thorough.

I found Yosso’s article interested me not only because I agree with many of her positions of cultural wealth and the powerful role it can play for people in education, but also because her research opened my eyes to new ideas for my own research agenda. The approach to her research showed that it was ok to go against the grain and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. She was able to show the strides that were made in research before her time on the topic of cultural capital, but also highlighted the need for research and the position on cultural wealth to evolve. I loved the way the six tenets provide a helpful guiding lens that can inform research in Communities of Color. (Yosso, 2005)

Another reason the authors findings captured my attention was because I can see many of the members of my community of practice that I aspire to work with, as members of the Communities of Color mentioned. Because I anticipate working with similarly diverse communities being discussed in the article, the reading brought a personal connection to me. The article made me think more critically about the concept of CRT, community cultural wealth, and my own research moving forward. Reading this article allowed me to open my mind and see that although research may have been conducted in my area of inquiry, that there are always new theories and questions that can be asked.

I believe cultural capital is an essential component to the world of education and Tara Yosso presented one theory on how it can be measured that strayed from other researchers looking at CRT. Reading this piece was excellence for me, as it reminded me to be cognizant of looking at research from many angles, and recognize taking a different path then the norm is ok.


Yosso, T. J. (2005, March). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.

“Barbershop” as an Entity of Cultural Wealth

Short video clip here:

(Source: Story, T. (Director). (2002). Barbershop [Motion Picture].

This weekend, the film Barbershop, starring rapper Ice Cube, was on television. One of my favorite movies, the film chronicles the everyday life of “Calvin”, played by Ice Cube, who has inherited his father’s barbershop. Not just your ordinary barbershop, a long-standing, well-known, “pillar of the community” barbershop opened by this father during the civil rights era. The cast is comprised of old and young men, loan sharks, criminals, congressmen, and other colorful characters that frequent the barbershop on a daily basis. Calvin, who has other aspirations of his own, is reluctant to keep the shop open, but is quickly schooled by “Eddie”, the senior barber on the staff, who reminds him of the history, purpose and value of the ‘shop, saying, “This is the barbershop! The place where a black man means something! Cornerstone of the neighborhood! Our own country club! I mean, can’t you see that? “Through this exchange, and other insights Calvin begins to understand that closing the shop would mean the demise of a major cultural institution in his predominately Black community (Story, 2002).

I saw a direct connection from this film to Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) article, Whose Culture has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth. While Barbershop is not about education inequity, the themes in the film have strong connection to cultural wealth in the Black community. Yosso (2005) uses Critical Race Theory in drawing attention to how minorities draw on the values, wisdom, and inspiration that are deeply rooted within their own cultural community. Yosso (2005) begins her sentiments by discussing the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1977), and his idea of cultural wealth to explain why minority students do not excel as frequently as White students. According to Bourdieu, students obtain capital through cultural means (i.e. language, education), economic means (i.e. finances, assets), or social means (i.e. “who you know”), and such capital is received from one’s formal education or through their family connection (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977). However, Yosso (2005) takes issue with Bourdieu’s position which openly presents the White, middle-class culture as the standard by which to judge others cultural wealth and value.

In my own life as a Black girl, I was responsible for getting my younger sister and myself to and from school every day. I was to cook breakfast, put our clothes on, pack our backpacks, lock the door, catch the city bus to the school, deliver my sister to her school, and walk to my own school. Our mother worked two jobs, so light grocery shopping, cooking dinner, answering the telephone, bathing my sister, homework, and bedtime were left up to me as well. Basically, I could manage our home! However, these skills were not as valuable as those obtained by my White classmates who had cars to take them to and from school, and whose parents could provide them with technology to help them excel in school, which was expected in the school system at that time. Today, my seven-year-old daughter is often assigned online homework. Again, this supports Yosso’s (2005) statement that White-middle class culture is considered the normative, excluding many marginalized who families do not own a home computer, nor do they have access to the internet, which is clearly the expectation in our school systems.

Yosso (2005) goes on to explain that Communities of Color foster cultural wealth on different principles than White communities do. Aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, navigational, and resistant capital are building blocks that create a foundation for rich, cultural capital in minority communities. Interestingly, Barbershop shows several of these types of capital within the movie. Many of the patrons talk about their dream jobs, goals, and plans for their futures while getting their hair cut (Aspirational). Calvin often leans on his wife for advice and moral support, while being reminded of the historical value of the barbershop by others (Familial).  Congressmen and lawyers who patron the barbershop, as well as citizens step up to help keep the ‘shop open, and the staff employed when the city attempts to tear down the business for upgrading by persuading officials to keep it open (Social). Finally, the patrons often come to barbershop not only to get their hair cut, but they also come for a weekly dose of strength and support  in dealing with racial and social injustice issues within their jobs, schools, and community (Navigational and Resistance).

So, while Barbershop’s script is not based on education, it does show the paradigm of cultural wealth in the Black community. Furthermore, educational entities should take note on how valuable such cultural institutions are and partner with them to help marginalized students succeed. Yosso (2005) draws upon Gloria Anzaldua’s (1990) sentiments of “de-academizing” educational theory putting it to practical use by connecting educational institutions to the community. Schools should partner with local churches, beauty shops, barbershops, athletic coaches, and recreational centers within marginalized communities to re-structure the mainstream standard of cultural wealth in an effort to see these institutions as valuable and practical for people of color; a concept I deeply agree with. After school tutoring programs could be held at neighborhood places of worship, or perhaps, “real world” learning credit can be earned for students who have part-time jobs, or who work in a family business. Recognition of cultural wealth is essential for change to happen.


Anzaldua, G. (1990). Haciendo Caras/making face, making soul: creative and critical perspectives by women of color. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society, and culture. London: Sage.

Story, T. (Director). (2002). Barbershop [Motion Picture].

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006