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Keywords:

  • reform-based science;
  • elementary science;
  • ethnography;
  • equity;
  • identity

Abstract

When evaluating equity, researchers often look at the “achievement gap.” Privileging knowledge and skills as primary outcomes of science education misses other, more subtle, but critical, outcomes indexing inequitable science education. In this comparative ethnography, we examined what it meant to “be scientific” in two fourth-grade classes taught by teachers similarly committed to reform-based science (RBS) practices in the service of equity. In both classrooms, students developed similar levels of scientific understanding and expressed positive attitudes about learning science. However, in one classroom, a group of African American and Latina girls expressed outright disaffiliation with promoted meanings of “smart science person” (“They are the science people. We aren't like them”), despite the fact that most of them knew the science equally well or, in one case, better than, their classmates. To make sense of these findings, we examine the normative practice of “sharing scientific ideas” in each classroom, a comparison that provided a robust account of the differently accessible meanings of scientific knowledge, scientific investigation, and scientific person in each setting. The findings illustrate that research with equity aims demands attention to culture (everyday classroom practices that promote particular meanings of “science”) and normative identities (culturally produced meanings of “science person” and the accessibility of those meanings). The study: (1) encourages researchers to question taken-for-granted assumptions and complexities of RBS and (2) demonstrates to practitioners that enacting what might look like RBS and producing students who know and can do science are but pieces of what it takes to achieve equitable science education. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., Inc. J Res Sci Teach 48: 459–485, 2011