Teaching in Urban Schools – Katya Denisova – Science Coordinator, Baltimore Public Schools.
This was a talk about factors to consider when teaching science in schools with high poverty levels. Baltimore has a large poverty rate (30% of kids under 18 live in poverty if I understood her statistic right, though that seems high), and a large African American population. Many students move during their high school career, and only 63% of seniors will graduate. Wow.
How can we teach physics to this student population? How do we help teachers with good content knowledge develop the pedagogy to teach effectively in this environment? Of the 34 teachers with a certification in physics (compared to 214 in biology), only 12 are actually teaching physics, half of which are in magnet schools. And 21 of those teachers are from the Philippines, and only 7 from the U.S. This is a somewhat bleak picture — there are not many physics educators in the school, there are not many resources for teaching physics, parents are not involved in students’ science learning, students are not motivated and teachers are not qualified.
The “pedagogy of poverty” is a style of teaching that keeps kids under control with a lot of didactic teaching and directed activities. It’s not necessarily that effective at helping kids learn, but the kids are well organized. It’s typical of urban settings. Below is from Haberman’s article of that same title:
“The teaching acts that constitute the core functions of urban teaching are:
marking papers, and
Here’s a blog post from a teacher who seemed to have a bit of an epiphany when she read that article.
“Miss C, do you know everything?” “How come you’re so smart?” … And though I usually kept a straight face (with difficulty), I was delighted at this response. I thought it was cute that they thought I was some kind of omniscient being, instead of just a teacher. … But through the lens of this article, I can see that all the dispensing of knowledge on my end intimidated my students. How could they hope to know as much as I do? Teachers are for telling you things, interesting and boring, and students’ jobs are for listening and behaving.
Some studies have been done on how to teach effectively in an African American classroom.
- Students have low academic self esteem SO make a warm fun accepting learning environment with low competition
- Students like tasks with human issues SO use scientists’ biographies and stories
- Students like kinesthetic and visual learning SO use hands on appraoches
- Students are vocal SO encourage them to talk about science
- Students believe that people and things are connected SO teach the Big Picture of science (and include religion)
Though, of course, I balk when I hear someone say “People in X group are Y.” Still, these generalizations can help direct our teaching strategies. She’s found that students really have fun doing hands-on activities, using card games, motion analysis programs, balloon rockets, etc. They’re going to try adopting Physics First… which should be an interesting experiment.