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What Is and Who Can Do Science?: Supporting Youth of Colors’ Identities as Learners, Doers, and Change Agents in Science


This research explores trajectories of developing the practices of and identification with science for high school students of color as they participate in summer science research programs. This study examines students’ incoming ideas of what science is (i.e. science practices) and who does/can do science and how these ideas shift following program participation. In addition, this study explores the aspects of students’ identities that are most salient in the science programs and how these aspects are supported or reimagined based on the program resources made available. This research utilizes four main data sources: 1) pre and post program student surveys, 2) pre and post program focal student interviews, 3) scientist instructor interviews, and 4) program observations.

Findings show that students’ ideas about what science is (i.e. science practices) and who can do science shifted together through participation in the practices of science. Findings illustrate the emergence of an identity generative process: that engaging in science practices (e.g. collecting data) and the accompanying program resources generated new possibilities for students (e.g. capable science learner). Findings show that the program resources made available for science practices determined how the practices “functioned” for students. Furthermore, findings document links between an instructor’s vision, the design of program resources that engage students in science practices, and students’ learning and identity construction. For example, a mentor that employed a politically relevant and racially conscious lens made unique resources available that allowed students to identify as capable science learners and agents of change in their community. This research shows that youth of color can imagine and take up new possibilities for who they can be in science when their science and racial identities are supported in science programs. Findings highlight the need to re-center race in research involving science identity construction for youth of color.

Findings from this research inform the design of learning environments that create multiple pathways for learning and identity construction in science. Findings can be applied to the creation of opportunities in science programs, classrooms and teacher education that foster successful and meaningful engagement with science practices and empower youth of color as capable learners, doers, and changes agents in science.

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