Youth Participatory Science to Address Urban Heavy Metal Contamination

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise. The project will examine the malleable factors affecting the ability of teachers to engage underrepresented students in innovative urban citizen science projects with a focus on the synergistic learning that occurs as teachers, students, scientists, and community members work together on addressing complex socio-scientific issues.

Full Description: 

This project is focused on the work and learning of teachers as they engage youth from underrepresented groups in studying chemistry as a subject relevant to heavy metal contamination in their neighborhoods. The project is a collaboration of teachers in the Chicago Public Schools, science educators, chemists, and environmental scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University, and members of the Chicago Environmental Justice Network. The project is significant because it leverages existing partnerships and builds on pilot projects which will be informed by a corresponding cycle of research on teachers' learning and practice. The project will position Chicago teachers and students as Change Makers who are capable of addressing the crises of inequity in science education and environmental contamination that matter deeply to them, while simultaneously advancing their own understanding and expertise. The project will examine the malleable factors affecting the ability of teachers to engage underrepresented students in innovative urban citizen science projects with a focus on the synergistic learning that occurs as teachers, students, scientists, and community members work together on addressing complex socio-scientific issues.

The goal is to provide a network of intellectual and analytical support to high school chemistry teachers engaged in customizing curricula in response to urban environmental concerns. The project will use an annual summer institute where collaborators will develop curriculum and procedures for collecting soil and water samples. In the project, the teachers and students will work with university scientists to analyze these samples for heavy metals, and students will share their results in community settings. The study design will be multiple case and be used to study the content knowledge learned and mobilized by participating teachers as they develop these authentic projects. The project includes explicit focus on the professional development of high school science teachers while it also aims to create rich learning opportunities for underrepresented high school students in STEM fields. The contextualized science concepts within students' everyday experiences or socio-scientific issues will likely have a positive impact on student motivation and learning outcomes, but the experiences of urban students are less likely to be reflected by the curriculum, and the practices of effective secondary science teachers in these contexts are under-examined.

The following article is in press and will be available soon:

Morales-Doyle, D., Childress-Price, T., & Chappell, M. (in press). Chemicals are contaminants too: Teaching appreciation and critique of science in the era of NGSS. Science Education. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21546