On November 1, 2014, I attended Rhode Island College’s 17th Annual Promising Practices Conference, which specifically focused on “Culturally Responsive Curricula in STEM. Over the course of the day, I had the opportunity to attend two informative workshops and to hear from the keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Emdin.
The first workshop that I attended, entitled Finding the STEM in the Urban Core, was presented by Antoinette Pearson, principal, and Mariamba Kurbally, 2nd grade teacher, from Bethune Elementary/Middle School in Detroit, Michigan. This school is 100% African American and is located in a very depressed area of the city; however, Ms. Pearson and Ms. Kurbally wanted to make STEM fields available to these students who otherwise would not have that as an option. This is something Kozol discussed in his reading Amazing Grace, about students from poor areas in cities being denied the same opportunities as children from richer areas. During the workshop, they demonstrated and talked about the SMART Lab that opened in the school just this past summer. The lab offers students the chance to explore science and mathematics through hands-on activities. I have since followed the Bethune SMART Lab Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Bethunesmartlab). It is so great to see pictures of these sweet kids using technology and hands-on things in their learning.
The second workshop that I attended, entitled Expanded Learning Opportunities: Students’ Passion Takes the Lead, was presented by Elizabeth Ochs and other teachers and students from Central Falls High School. During the workshop, I had the opportunity to learn about how Central Falls High School students are able to create opportunities for themselves spend part of their schooling on something that they were interested in. Elizabeth Ochs, who is in charge of ELLs, clearly cared deeply about her position, and has created a website (http://cfhs.cfschools.net/expanded-learning-opportunities.html) that has more information about it. Basically, students worked with a mentor who would support them in their learning. At the end of the experience, no matter how long it took for them to complete the planned opportunity, they would present what they had done and learned to earn credits. We got to hear from one boy who used his ELL to design a robot that he competed with. I think its great that students are able to learn through atypical methods, as discussed in the Hill and Johnston's piece In the Future, Diverse Approaches to Schooling.
The final part of the day was lunch and listening to the keynote speaker, Christopher Emdin. He was a great speaker who did a great job engaging the audience. It was clear that he would be a great teacher because of his ability to keep students interested in what he is talking about. If you get a chance to watch Christopher Emdin speak, even on YouTube, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouudXr-csZg) he has a lot to offer. Emdin’s talk reminded me of Robert Lake’s piece, An Indian Father’s Plea. Emdin, like Lake, talked about how so many students are lost and dismissed as stupid and unwilling to learn, when simply they are just not interested in the material or are being taught in ways that they are not used to and cannot learn because of this. I thought that Emdin was a perfect speaker to hear to end the day because it summed up both workshops I had seen that day. The students in Bethune are being provided hands-on opportunities to learn, and students in Central Falls are being provided opportunities to learn through their interests. I have added Emdin’s book Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Education to my reading list because I want to be able to incorporate his ideas into my future career.