October 2020: Identity Development and STEM Learning

Connecting STEM learning to identity development is an equity issue with implications about how we engage with non-dominant groups and STEM, what shape STEM learning takes if we do, and how we engage in STEM learning that helps imagine more just and thriving futures. This Theme of the Month is a collaboration between the STEM for All Multiplex and CAISE, the Resource Center for the AISL Program. View Synthesis Brief

Theme's playlist

Expert Panel

Identity Development and STEM Learning

Recorded: October 27, 2020 at 3:00 - 4:30 pm EDT
Description: Connecting STEM learning to identity development is an equity issue with implications about how we engage with nondominant groups and STEM, what shape STEM learning takes if we do, and how we engage in STEM learning that helps imagine more just and thriving futures. This Theme of the Month is a collaboration between the STEM for All Multiplex and CAISE, the Resource Center for the AISL Program.


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The Discussion related to Identity Development and STEM Learning is now live! Introduce yourself and let us know your interest in exploring this theme. This discussion will continue through November.
Public Discussion
  • Icon for: Leonard Abella

    Leonard Abella

    October 20, 2020 | 11:11 a.m.

    ¿How to upgrade STEAM to STREAM easier?

    Thanks a lot!

    Leonard Abella


    WhatsApp: (+57)3196781753

  • Icon for: Jamie Bell

    Jamie Bell

    October 26, 2020 | 11:46 a.m.

    Hello Leonard. And thank you for your question. Forgive my unfamiliarity here, but what does the "R" in STREAM refer to, reading? If so, I assume that this a current challenge in your work? In any case, identity development is certainly important for learning the disciplines within STEM, and STEAM, whether, say, developing a science identity is a learning goal of a project or program, or that it simply needs to be accounted for in the design of an activity or setting, and how. These are the kinds of issues that we hope to begin catalyzing a discussion about tomorrow. Best, Jamie Bell

  • Icon for: Coralie Delhaye

    Coralie Delhaye

    October 27, 2020 | 07:03 p.m.

    Hi everyone, following up on our chat about how to support students in navigating discussions that are open to different cultures in making sense of the world in STEM.

    I am going back to the example of evolution because it's an iconic case where different cultures may be perceived as separate, articulating, or contradictory. So here's a scenario: The teacher's goal is for students to "Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence". The teacher engages students in a shared experience of small group collaborative inquiry into evidence of commonalities and differences between genetic information of humans and chimpanzees (fossil records, DNA sequences, amino acid sequences, anatomical and embryological, ...) to identify patterns by obtaining and evaluating information. The teacher then asks them to discuss as a whole group an open-ended question: Is there common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees? How do we know?

    In this scenario, how could the lesson design be improved to support students in navigating discussions that invite to draw from different cultures in making sense of their common experience?

    (with the assumption that scientific disciplines are cultures - with their own socially-constructed norms, values, language - and that they are dominant in school but not necessarily in other spheres of students' life)

    I hope this concrete example is helpful in initiating an open and meaningful conversation about STEM and identity. I look forward to knowing more about your diverse perspectives and experiences.

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    Betzabe Torres Olave
    Zahra Hazari
  • Icon for: Joni Falk

    Joni Falk

    October 28, 2020 | 07:06 p.m.

     Coralie, thanks for this very interesting question.  It is sensitive terrain for a teacher to navigate, and I am wondering if there is a "common experience" or many diverse experiences that draw on many different parental values, beliefs, religions etc.  As adults many of us have reconciled religious beliefs and scientific understandings (although they can seem discordant) but not sure how this works with young students who are making sense of scientific norms while holding on to family values. Would love to hear from others and especially from educators who have dealt with this in their classrooms. For those reading, please post your thoughts! 

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    Coralie Delhaye
  • Icon for: Coralie Delhaye

    Coralie Delhaye

    October 29, 2020 | 08:07 p.m.

    I like the idea of taking diverse experiences as a starting point. Knowledge drawing upon different experiences may be constructed through different epistemologies (e.g. the consensual answer to the question "how do we know?" differs in biology and in a given religion). In an open discussion in the classroom, I wonder if acknowledging these different "ways of knowing", as well as their interactions in forming identities would help. Valuing these ways of knowing and identities, as well as presenting them as an ongoing process rather than a product, may be good starting points to help students perceive how identities may mutually enrich each other. Would love to hear examples from educators as well! :-)

  • Icon for: Zahra Hazari

    Zahra Hazari

    October 28, 2020 | 08:22 p.m.

    In Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, both religion and the needs of society motivated major scientific advancements in astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, etc.  It wasn't until the Greeks that applied forms of science became less "pure" than philosophical abstract forms.  And later in post-Renaissance European history, clefts were driven between religious motivations and scientific pursuits (e.g. Inquisitions of Galileo).  Individualism driving competitive culture also took hold of the scientific enterprise.  These European cultural remnants linger in western scientific pursuits today but are less prominent in other cultures (even though western science has been largely globalized - I won't get into colonization since this post may get too long).  I think that understanding where cultural tensions emerge from might be one place to start the conversation.

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    Coralie Delhaye
    Betzabe Torres Olave
  • Icon for: Coralie Delhaye

    Coralie Delhaye

    October 29, 2020 | 09:19 p.m.

    I love the idea of a socio-historical approach to contextualize cultural tensions, as well as forms of knowledge that are part of these cultures (what we know, why it happens, how do we know...) ! I also heard in your presentation that it would be important to acknowledge how power dynamics shape and institute cultures. Thanks, Zahra!


  • Icon for: Joi Spencer

    Joi Spencer

    October 29, 2020 | 11:02 a.m.

    How does your work promote resolution between the unfortunate divides between the home and community-based identities of BIPOC students and the mathematics and science (STEM) identities projected to us all? In what way has your research and instruction attended to youth identify, urban identity, hip hop identity and others on the outside of STEM identity? Thanks for your good work!

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    Coralie Delhaye

Related Resources

Author(s): Bell, Besley, Cannady, Crowley, Grack Nelson, Philips, Riedinger, & Storksdieck
Publication: CAISE (Jul 2018)

CAISE provides interviews of 12 STEM education researchers, science communication scholars, social psychologists, learning scientists, and informal science educators sharing their thinking and work on STEM identity. Two of these interviews are with our TOM panelists, Heidi Carlone and Zahra Hazari. An interview with Nichole Pinkhard can also be viewed: https://www.informalscience.org/biography/nichole-pinkard

Author(s): Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E.
Publication: Journal of the Learning Sciences (Mar 2019)

In this article, it is argued that the construct of rightful presence, and the coconstructed “making present” practices that give rise to moments of rightful presence, is 1 way to consider how to make sense of the historicized and relational nature of consequential learning.

Author(s): Nasir, N. I. S., & Cooks, J.
Publication: Anthropology & Education Quarterly (Mar 2009)

In this article, we present a model for thinking about how learning settings provide resources for the development of the practice-linked identities of participants.

Author(s): National Research Council
Publication: The National Academies Press

Learning Science in Informal Environments is an invaluable guide for program and exhibit designers, evaluators, staff of science-rich informal learning institutions and community-based organizations, scientists interested in educational outreach, federal science agency education staff, and K-12 science educators.

Author(s): Bell, P., Van Horne, K. & Cheng, B. H.
Publication: Journal of the Learning Sciences (Aug 2017)

This special issue is focused on investigating the role of learners’ self-identification with disciplinary endeavors (e.g., science-related investigations, interpretations of historical events) in relation to the design of and their participation in learning environments.

Author(s): Pattison, Gontan, Ramos-Montañez, Shagott, Francisco & Dierking
Publication: Journal of the Learning Sciences (Jun 2020)

The study advances the understanding of identity negotiation related to engineering and provides a new framework for investigating situated identity in informal STEM learning contexts.

Publication: Science in the City

The Science in The City research team is a collaborative group of science education researchers, teachers, and teacher educators looking to improve science teaching for all students. The resources and research sections of this site may be of particular interest.

Author(s): Varelas, Maria (Ed.)
Publication: Sense Publishers (Jan 2012)

In this edited volume, science education scholars engage with the constructs of identity and identity construction of learners, teachers, and practitioners of science.

Author(s): Nichole Pinkard, et. al.
Publication: Connected Learning Alliance (Feb 2020)

The authors of this report were part of the Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN), who collaborated to study and develop new modes of learning with digital media. Their guiding framework is the connected learning approach.

Author(s): Hazari, Z., Sonnert, G., Sadler, P. M., & Shanahan, M-C.
Publication: Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Feb 2010)

This study explores how students’ physics identities are shaped by their experiences in high school physics classes and by their career outcome expectations. The theoretical framework focuses on physics identity and includes the dimensions of student performance, competence, recognition by others, and interest.

Author(s): Carlone, H. B., Huffling, L., Tomesek, T., Hegedus, T. A., Matthews, C., Allen, M., & Ash, M.
Publication: h. International Journal of Science Education (Jun 2015)

This is an ethnographic study of 16 diverse high school youths’ participation, none of who initially fashioned themselves as ‘outdoorsy’ or ‘animal people’, in a four-week summer enrichment program focused on herpetology.

Author(s): Carlone, H. B. & Johnson A.
Publication: Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Sep 2007)

n this study, we develop a model of science identity to make sense of the science experiences of 15 successful women of color over the course of their undergraduate and graduate studies in science and into science‐related careers.

Author(s): Pattison, S., Gontan, I., & Ramos-Montanez, S.
Publication: Designing Our World (Jan 2018)

The materials provided in this guide are intended to introduce educators and program facilitators to concepts related to STEM identity and to help educators practice noticing and responding to the dynamics of STEM identity development in their own programs.

Author(s): APS Physics
Publication: YouTube (Nov 2019)

STEP UP is a national community of physics teachers, researchers, and professional societies. We design high school physics lessons to empower teachers, create cultural change, and inspire young women to pursue physics in college. Learn more and download free materials at: stepupphysics.org