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Provide opportunities for learning science that students find personally meaningful, interesting, and/or culturally relevant

Relevance Activities


In the following section, we provide multiple examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with the Relevance MDP in order to be as comprehensive and specific as possible. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact the Relevance MDP, nor that these strategies are the only way to do so. We encourage teachers to use their professional discretion to select what will work best for them and their classrooms, and to modify and innovate on these strategies.

Because the five MDPs are synergistic, some activities found in this MDP overlap or align strongly with activities found in other MDP sections. This alignment is conveyed through color-coded dots in the activity-specific page (“Learn More”).

Make connections to students' experiences, interests, goals and real lives
Prior to beginning an activity, identify its purpose and how it helps students engage with science the way real-world scientists do (e.g., remind students that data generation is an authentic science practice and that scientists do this!). Then, throughout the activity and related instruction, look for ways to allude back to this framing
Allow students to tailor assignments to existing interests
Invite students to connect their science learning to what they are experiencing outside of school, including events in the news
Take the time to learn about each student (e.g., interests, personal and academic challenges, goals, values) so that these can be incorporated into relevance connections planning. For example, asking what students did over the weekend can potentially illuminate relevance connections with upcoming lessons, or knowing that a student likes a particular sport can inform the selection of examples to illustrate concepts or skills
When planning examples, prompts, or relevance connections to incorporate into lessons, pause and reflect on any assumptions you might be making about what students will find relevant and whether some reframing might make the relevance connections stronger and more culturally responsive to students
Coordinate opportunities for students to meet and/or observe professionals in science and engineering fields, allowing students to find commonalities between themselves and the professionals and to ask questions
  • Recognize the many different types of science careers, including careers that aren’t all Ph.D. oriented
Use a “Do Now,” warm up, or bellwork to solicit students’ basic reflections on the targeted phenomenon, what it relates to that they want to know more about, how knowledge around the phenomenon is useful to the community, their culture, or to their everyday lives. At the end of class, use an exit ticket, short writing prompt, or a think-pair-share for students to reflect on the real-world applications of what they learned. Sample prompts:
  • Write about how [X] relates to your life (outside the classroom). You don’t need to summarize the material, just describe how it could relate or be used in your everyday life
  • Choose a topic from class [might want to list them for students to choose from] that is personally useful and meaningful to you and describe how learning about this topic is useful to your life right now. Then, with the same topic or choosing a different one, describe how learning about this topic will be beneficial to you in the future (e.g., education, career, daily life)
Use a consistent reflection routine at the end of classes, such as: What [did we learn]? So What [why is it important to me and/or the community]? Now What [do I want to explore next]?
Ask students to think about and share lived experiences of their own (or of those they’ve wondered about) that relate to their current science learning
Design team-based, partner, or group activities that appeal to students’ social preferences so that modes of science learning feel more culturally relevant to students
Utilize narratives and stories to aid in students’ making sense of phenomena and/or designing solutions and convey how specific people in history contributed to great scientific advancements (e.g., Rosalind Franklin collaborating with Watson and Crick with DNA study)
Create an equitable science learning space:
  • Design assignments that encourage students to draw on aspects of their culture, neighborhood, or family values as connected to the current phenomenon, etc. Resources like a Self-Documentation worksheet can help students make connections between what they are learning in science class and their everyday lives
  • Incorporate student-based interests and styles into handouts, discussion boards, materials, examples, etc. Celebrating Cultural Diversity from NSTA Press includes some ideas and considerations for teachers looking to incorporate more inclusive science teaching materials
  • In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond provides some ideas about classroom design that integrates students’ cultural values and community history into the physical space of the classroom
Refer to the section “Motivation as a Tool for Equity in Science Instruction” for additional resources
Incorporate texts and sources beyond the official curricular materials (e.g., magazine or news articles--especially local news--websites, educational films)
  • Videos often capture students’ interest; be sure to make science connections clear so that the video is not just a “hook” or reward
Utilize materials that are familiar to students (e.g., chalk, Legos) and discuss the origins/composition of those materials (e.g., students are familiar with chalk but probably have not thought about where it comes from or what it is -- it’s something familiar yet intriguing)
Teach students how to use technology like Excel or Google Docs that students may perceive as more relevant to real-world skills than doing calculations or writing by hand
  • Relate the use of technological skills to the work that contemporary scientists and engineers do (e.g., the need to log data and share results through digital platforms)
  • The software and technology itself can also be used as an example of STEM-related work that students can pursue
Center instruction on phenomena and design problems from students’ community, daily life, or current events
Have students engage in argumentation over local scientific and engineering issues that affect their daily lives. For example, there may be flooding in their neighborhood due to recent rains and students can develop solutions for how to minimize its impact and present arguments for which solution is optimal
Many strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy) address ways to learn more about the local community and their needs, and to connect science learning to those needs