Claire Bove, Carnegie Scholar - CASTL K-12 Program, Carnegie Foundation

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Science is about understanding the physical world. Understanding has a lot to do with how a person feels about herself or himself, and about the nature of the interactions she or he has with other people.

Science concepts, observations, analysis, tools, equations and representations are important parts of science education. Equally important are the emotional, social and intellectual aspects of the classroom environment. Learning and understanding take place in the context of the classroom community.

I believe that before a student will allow himself or herself to participate in a classroom community, the student needs to feel safe and cared for: a human being first and a student second. It is a risk for a student to open up enough to participate. This is true for all students, but school is more foreign for some students than for others. The assumptions of education, and particularly of science education, are unfamiliar to many of our students. I think that for African American and Latino students, participating is a bigger risk than for many other students.

In a traditional secondary school setting there are some special problems in trying to establish a supportive community environment. Typically, a science teacher in a secondary school teaches five classes or 30 or more students. The school may have 1000 or more students. And the social interactions outside the classroom, in the schoolyard, in the patio, in the hallway can sometimes be painful.

How can a student feel like a valued individual? How can she or he feel safe enough to learn? What can a teacher do to help a student feel valued and safe?

To answer these questions, I have been developing a practice of building community in the classroom. One of the strategies I have been using to support this practice is to write individual letters to students. Another strategy is to have small groups of students to lunch so that we can get to know each other better. Click below to read more.

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