Cross-cultural science learning with Karen refugee parents and Karen elementary students in resettlement
Harper, Susan Grine
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For refugee students in resettlement in the United States, recognizing culturally-produced knowledge within the context of science learning could legitimate their ways of knowing and position them as stakeholders in the production of scientific knowledge. However, research in science education has been slow to articulate how refugee students’ cultural and experiential knowledge impacts their engagement with scientific practices and language specified by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (Achieve, 2013). This two-phase research with Karen (first-generation refugees from Burma) parents and students explored first the knowledge Karen parents wished their children to retain as they transitioned into education in the U.S., and second built this knowledge into a science afterschool program for 4th and 5th grade Karen and non-Karen students. Framed by the critical pedagogy of place perspective, this action research explored: 1) what cultural knowledge if any 4th and 5th grade Karen and non-Karen students constructed in a cross-cultural science learning community; and 2) the relationship of that cultural knowledge to how student participants positioned themselves as science learners. Findings from phase one of the research revealed a cultural counter-narrative constructed by Karen parents in resistance to the military dictatorship in Burma. Findings from phase two indicated that Karen students and non-Karen students constructed a hybrid learning space in which they were able to define their own culturally- responsive approaches to inquiry-based science learning, the NGSS cross-cutting concept of energy, and practices such as constructing scientific explanations. An articulation of students’ indigenous knowledge collected through Photovoice was essential to the production of cultural and scientific knowledge within the cross-cultural learning community. Data collected through video recordings indicated that some Karen students leveraged their knowledge of the Karen language to position themselves as agents in science. Signs of emerging agency in science learning indicate that Karen students could develop and use the platform of their own indigenous knowledge to build cultural resilience in education in resettlement.