Teacher Workshop

Western Mass Science for the People with Arise for Social Justice Presents:

Science and Social Justice:
A Workshop for K-8 Educators

In April 2019, the Western Mass chapter of Science for the People held a two-part workshop on integrating science and social justice in elementary and middle school classrooms. The series featured presentations and facilitation by community organizers, K-12 teachers, scientists, and historians of science (presenter bios available here). Themes included:

  • Environmental Justice
  • Working with Community Experts
  • Integrating Social Studies and Language Arts into Science Curricula
  • Trauma-Informed Youth Leadership Development

Facilitators presented concrete examples and resources, along with guidance on fulfilling Next Gen Science Standards.

The workshop was held on two Saturdays (April 13 and 20), from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, Mass. Participating teachers received their choice of 15 Professional Development Points or 1 graduate credit through the College of Education at UMass Amherst. They paid a registration fee on a sliding scale ($0 – $100), with an additional $147 for the graduate credit.

This workshop was presented by the Western Massachusetts chapter of Science for the People in collaboration with Arise for Social Justice of Springfield. Costs were kept low through generous co-sponsorships from: UMass Amherst Department of Teacher Education & Curriculum; UMass History Department Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series; UMass Social Thought & Political Economy Program; UMass Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Topic 1: Weaving Environmental Justice into the Science Curriculum (Judy Dow)
Judy Dow is a nationally known activist, basket weaver and teacher of traditional Abenaki culture and native practices. She teaches ethnobotany and science grounded in place-based environmental justice from kindergarten to college level. She has been widely recognized as an expert on Indian education and an influential guardian of Abenaki history and culture. Judy is the recipient of the 2004 Governor’s Award for Outstanding Vermont Educator. She has lived all her life on Abenaki land in Vermont. In this workshop session, Judy shared units and activities in which elementary and middle-school students have engaged in environmental science research to support social justice initiatives. Her article, “Going Through the Narrows,” is a powerful and inspiring discussion on the significance of traditional ecological knowledge in teaching children about sustainability and survival.

Topic 2: Community Knowledge-Making (Tatiana Cheeks and Sigrid Schmalzer)
Tatiana Cheeks is a community organizer in Springfield (originally from Brooklyn). She is the mother of a child with a mold allergy, founder of the Mold Action Committee, and board member of Arise for Social Justice. Her long experience battling her landlord, educating her son’s doctors, and advocating in the court system gives her powerful insight into the work of environmental justice. Sigrid Schmalzer is a professor at UMass who specializes in the history of science in socialist China and the history of science activism globally. She is proud to serve as vice president in her faculty union, is active in the anti-war movement, and has taken a leading role in the recent revitalization of the organization Science for the People. Tatiana and Sigrid used the environmental justice issue of mold and health to discuss the relationship between a person’s social experience and the knowledge they possess, and they explored the diverse ways in which scientists and members of our own communities contribute expertise that leads to robust knowledge on issues of local concern. Sigrid presented this slide show, and Tatiana delivered this spoken word.

Topic 3: Teaching Science in Context: Bringing in Diverse Voices (Emma Harnisch and Tavar Jones)
Emma Harnisch is a spatial analysis specialist at Smith College and holds a degree in geosciences. She is dedicated to shifting earth science education to include social justice concepts and movements in the classroom. To do this, she is creating alternative curriculums for geology classes and teaching occasional lessons at Smith. Tavar Jones is a Springfield native and community organizer focused on arts, homelessness, environmental justice, cultural heritage, and social studies. He is committed to using art and history to incorporate diverse voices into learning and teaching. He has also conducted research on the environmental consequences of impervious surfaces and built structures in Springfield. Emma and Tavar presented innovative strategies for incorporating diverse voices from art and literature into science curricula, with a special emphasis on connecting to social justice struggles. They shared art and literature resources that bring diverse voices to a wide range of science topics. Emma created this slide show for the session. Tavar shared this poster he created on the environmental impacts of built structures in Springfield.

Topic 4: Doing and Teaching Science for the People (Michael Ben-Chaim)
Michael Ben-Chaim has a PhD degree in history and philosophy of science (University of Cambridge, UK). In addition to his research and teaching in that field, he has taught English language arts in a high school for students with moderate learning disabilities in Massachusetts. He currently conducts independent research in education and serves as a consultant to Pearson Education. Michael examined the social context of scientific inquiry by showing that scientific knowledge is deliberately intended to be instructive and to guide behavior. He suggested ways to enhance students’ understanding of the instructive value of scientific theory and integrate science education with educating students for civic engagement. Michael presented this slide show.

Topic 5: Planning Units on Science and Social Justice (Karen Saunders)
Karen Saunders is an ecologist and former teacher, whose primary research interest is the Holocene history of New England’s forest communities. During her teaching career, she taught and learned with 8 to 12 year olds and preservice teachers. Karen introduced resources, showed how curriculum units can connect to Next Generation Science Standards, and led a collective brainstorming discussion, including on what issues people face when they try to change the curriculum. Among the resources shared was (still very informative) special issue of Science for the People magazine on education, published back in 1972.

Topic 6: Trauma-Informed Somatic Practices to Link Self-Knowledge and World Knowledge (Andrea Bordenca)
Andrea Bordenca’s background is in generative leadership & Strozzi-based Somatics. Andrea has been coaching adults & leading workshops since 2010. She has worked with military veterans and adults who have suffered PTSD, addiction and anxiety. In 2016, Andrea founded Lead Yourself Youth, an organization that serves teenagers, parents, and educators in 1-1 and group settings. The vision of Lead Yourself Youth is to create the space of trust and safety within our educational system that facilitates dialogue about emotions and tough choices students face and to support the adults who care for our students. Andrea guided participants in exploring the connections among science, self-knowledge, and social action. Participants learned and practiced somatic techniques for building confidence and leadership skills in students, including those with histories of trauma.

Topic 7: Agriculture and Social Justice (Brian Schultz)
Brian Schultz is a professor of ecology and entomology at Hampshire College. He was a member of the original Science for the People during the 1980s, during which time he participated in agricultural solidarity work with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the US and with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Here in Western Mass, he helped found CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). Brian introduced his work with Science for the People in the 1980s, when he and others in the Ann Arbor chapter collaborated with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in the US and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He traced some of the numerous connections between social justice and agricultural science, and participants discussed ways to incorporate these topics in the classroom. He also referenced the (still very useful) 1980 curriculum created by Science for the People, Feed, Need, and Greed.

Topic 8: Personal Pathways into Geoscience (Emma Harnisch)
Emma (see bio above) presented writing by Laguno Pueblo author Leslie Silko and other materials that integrate art, literature, and science in an exploration of the meaning of rocks. She shared this syllabus for a college-level course, Teaching Geosciences in Context, and this discussion guide for Silko’s “Essay on Rocks” with links to Next Gen standards.

Topic 9: Technology and Labor Justice (Emma Harnisch and Sigrid Schmalzer)
Emma and Sigrid (see bios above) shared a Science for the People article from 1975 (David Chidakel’s “The New Robots” — pp. 6-9, 30 of this magazine issue) that predicted the problems for supermarket labor presented by the “new robots.” Participants discussed the implications for the then-ongoing Stop & Shop strike and  brainstormed activities for the classroom.

TEACHER-PARTICIPANT CONTRIBUTION: Astronomy Unit for 5th and 6th Grade (Chad Odwazny)
Chad Odwazny is a teacher at The Common School in Amherst, Mass. Following the workshop, he developed this curriculum unit, which explores many big questions, including: What is the universe and what is earth’s place in it? How and why has human understanding of celestial phenomena changed over time? How do First Nations people represent and interpret the cycles that happen within the solar system? Why aren’t there more white women and people of color in astronomy?

TEACHER-PARTICIPANT CONTRIBUTION: Global Systems of Food and Waste (Laura Condega)
Laura Condega is a teacher the Springfield (Mass) public schools. Following the workshop, she developed this preliminary curriculum unit, which emphasizes that the food we eat is part of a global food system, many people suffer from food insecurity, which is a result of social inequality, food waste is a social problem.


Download the poster here!