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Abstract

Youth from low-income, minority backgrounds have often been marginalized from introductory courses, advanced study and careers in physics. Cultivating student agency may have the potential to improve access for diverse groups of learners. However, the implications of this lens for student learning have been minimally examined in the physics education literature. In this ethnographic study situated in a ninth-grade conceptual physics classroom, I discuss students' critical goals—the intentions, motivations, and desires for change that youth held. These critical goals were related to learning, voice, and participation in relationships and the world. I also describe how student goals demonstrate the idea of “critical subject-matter agency” in physics: students positioning themselves as powerful learners envisioning subject knowledge as a tool for change in their own lives and world. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed92:252–277, 2008