Practice Brief 55 -- Topics: Background Equity Implementation Culture

Why it is crucial to make cultural diversity visible in STEM education

  • Email Feedback

Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should carefully weave subject matter with activities and images within relevant contexts that validate contributions of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should model making human diversity visible throughout science instruction and connect teachers with relevant resources and communities.
  • School Leaders should support science educators in acquiring, adapting, and developing culturally diverse instructional materials and support culturally-based instruction.

What Is The Issue?

To increase student engagement in STEM, we know that students need to see in themselves the potential to pursue STEM interests and careers. One typical approach is to expose students to relevant images of STEM professionals who represent the cultural diversity of our global community throughout instruction. However, to enhance student engagement and make cultural diversity truly visible in STEM, educators must go deeper. For STEM education to support all students in becoming STEM literate, instruction needs to broadly recognize who has done science, for what range of purposes, and how diversity enriches science.



Reflection Questions

  • Whose interests are being served by the images of STEM endeavors found in instruction?
  • How can instruction be crafted to make it more inclusive to diversities of learners and to help students from the dominant culture understand the historical and contemporary diversity of STEM efforts?

Things to Consider

Scientific ways of knowing have been pervasive across diverse cultures throughout human history. Individuals, teams, and communities from all nations and cultures have contributed to science and to advances in engineering. All cultural communities have—and do—engage in science and technology endeavors that relate to their interests, goals, and values. Instruction should represent this diversity of STEM efforts and purposes.

The WEIRD problem of science education. Science education in the U.S. has often centered on Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies—and predominantly on the work of white men recognized as scientists in society. This narrow view of science has made broad claims about science, and it often dominates the pages of leading journals. It incorrectly and adversely narrows the image of who does science, why they do it, and how it is done.

Scientists’ backgrounds, values, theoretical commitments, and fields of endeavor influence the nature of their findings. This can be seen as making the scientific enterprise more objective (see strong objectivity). Thus, it is imperative to guide students in recognizing that science is a human enterprise by default—inexorably linked to individuals who have the power to define what counts as science and what knowledge is worth pursuing. This critical understanding of the enterprise of science can help students recognize the importance of being scientifically literate and active citizens.

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take


  • Email Feedback

STEM Teaching Tools content copyright 2014-22 UW Institute for Science + Math Education. All rights reserved.
This site is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Award #1920249 (previously through Awards #1238253 and #1854059). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.

Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.