Barriers to Accommodating Culture in Science Classrooms

Glen Aikenhead Bente Huntley

Curriculum Studies SUNTEP Prince Albert

28 Campus Drive 48 - 12th Street East

Saskatoon, SK, S7N OX1 Prince Albert, SK, S6V 1B2

Canada Canada

A paper presented to the 9th Symposium of the International Organization for Science and Technology Education, Durban, South Africa, June 1999.

Abstract Because students' cultural identity is often very different from the culture of Western science, most students experience a type of cultural clash whenever they attempt to learn science meaningfully. To alleviate such clashes, science educators have suggested integrating students' indigenous knowledge of nature with science content. A culturally responsive curriculum would provide "science for all" aimed at sustainable development, environmental responsibility, and cultural survival. As with all reforms in science education, the teacher is the key to success. Therefore, before embarking on the development of a culturally responsive science curriculum, we need to understand teachers' thinking about such matters so we can better collaborate with them as partners in developing new curricula, instruction, and assessment strategies.

The indigenous cultures of Canadian Aboriginal students are often at odds with the culture of Western science. These students generally choose not to pursue science courses in the upper grades of high school, and consequently, Aboriginal people are extremely under-represented in careers related to science and technology. Their science teachers can play a crucial role in the success of any new curriculum and instruction dedicated to improving students' experiences with school science. What do their teachers currently think about the connection between science and culture? Our preliminary interpretive research study inquired into: (1) how science teachers view Western science, (2) how they currently introduce Aboriginal knowledge into their science classrooms, (3) what they believe about students' Aboriginal knowledge (or cultural identity) influencing success at learning science, and (4) how teachers explain the meager proportion of Aboriginals in careers related to science and technology. In this paper, we focus on barriers to integrating students' Aboriginal culture into science classrooms.

We designed a semi-structured interview protocol after analyzing research results from a questionnaire "Science & Culture Nexus: SK Version" responded to by 37 science teachers who taught Aboriginal students in grades 7-12. Three Aboriginal and seven non-Aboriginal teachers from different communities across northern Saskatchewan volunteered to be interviewed.

The following findings can be reported:

1. Teachers generally viewed Western science as course content or as a way of seeing nature, not as a foreign culture to many students.

2. Aboriginal knowledge was respected by science teachers, but only a token amount was added onto, but not integrated with, school science. There is a critical lack of appropriate instructional materials to guide teachers and support students.

3. Teachers thought that learning science was unrelated to students' possessing an Aboriginal worldview. Teachers generally did not believe there are any serious cultural clashes between their students and Western science, a view at odds with Aboriginal education scholars.

4. Students' disinterest in pursuing science careers was either unexplainable by the interviewees or they blamed student deficits. Few teachers blamed their curriculum and teaching.

Generally, there was an absence of cross-cultural instruction, and hence, students were forced to navigate on their own between their home culture and the culture of school science. Exceptions to this finding provide us with encouraging directions to pursue in future R&D projects.

Barriers to accommodating culture in science classrooms were: conceptual (not recognizing science as a subculture), ideological (blaming students), pedagogical (not providing culture brokering), cultural (schools promote memorization rather than deep understanding), and practical (insufficient resources and support for teachers and students). A number of recommendations are proposed for developing culturally responsive curricula, instruction, and assessment.


The goal of conventional science teaching of many national reform projects worldwide has been to transmit to students the knowledge, skills, and values of the scientific community. This content conveys a particular Western worldview due to the fact that science is a subculture of Western culture (Pickering, 1992). Thus, students with a much different worldview -- many Canadian Aboriginal students, for instance -- face a cross-cultural experience whenever they study Western science (Aikenhead, 1997). To transmit a Western scientific worldview to these students amounts to cultural assimilation and tends to marginalize and even oppress many students (MacIvor, 1995). In response, Aboriginal students have generally avoided assimilation by not pursuing science courses in the upper grades of high school. Consequently, Aboriginal people are extremely under-represented in careers related to science and technology. How can Aboriginal students gain access to a Western scientific way of knowing without losing something valuable from their own cultural ways of knowing?

One way for teachers to avoid assimilative practices is to sensitively integrate students' indigenous knowledge of nature with the content of Western science (Jegede, 1995). A culturally sensitive science curriculum would provide "science for all" aimed at developing in students the facility to cross cultural borders between their everyday world of family and friends into the "foreign" culture of school science, without running the risk of assimilation (Aikenhead, 1997). Many students do not cross such borders smoothly because of cultural conflicts (Sutherland, 1998). They need a teacher who is a "culture broker." A culture-broker science teacher will help students move back and forth between their indigenous culture and the culture of Western science, and will help students deal with cultural conflicts that might arise.

As with all reforms in science education, the teacher is the key to success. We need to understand teachers' thinking about culture brokering, so we can better collaborate with them as partners in developing new and more appropriate curricula, instruction, and assessment.

To this end our research project investigated science teachers' views on the cultural aspects of Western science, and the connection between a student's home culture and the culture of science taught in the classroom. The connection (nexus) was captured by the phrase "science and culture nexus" (SCN). This paper focuses on barriers to integrating students' Aboriginal culture into science classrooms.

Theoretical Framework

For the purpose of our research, we adopted a cultural view towards science education -- teaching is cultural transmission while learning is culture acquisition (reported at the 8th IOSTE Symposium, Aikenhead, 1997). Because science tends to be a Western cultural icon of prestige, power, progress, and privilege, its culture tends to permeate the culture of those who engage it, with cultural assimilation being one possible consequence. However, many students avoid cultural assimilation by playing "games" that allow students to pass their science course without really understanding the content. The rules of the game are known as "Fatima's rules;" as one teacher in our study said, "Students go with the information and memorize as much as they can without actually doing any new learning." Playing Fatima's rules is not learning in any meaningful way. Alternatives to assimilation and Fatima's rules must be found if science is to be learned in a culturally sensitive, meaningful way.

When students move from their everyday culture into the culture of school science, the move is called "cultural border crossing." For the vast majority of students whose home worldview differs from the worldview of school science, cultural border crossing is not smooth. The ease with which Aboriginal students cross cultural borders into school science could likely determine a student's access to Western science. Hazardous and impossible border crossings can cause students to avoid science classes altogether.

The cognitive experience of border crossing is captured by a theory called "collateral learning" -- learning something in one cultural setting that conflicts with our indigenous knowledge embedded in a different cultural setting (for example, Aboriginal students learning Western science). Collateral learning was proposed by Jegede (1995) who used a rainbow as an illustration. In the culture of Western science, students learn that the refraction of light rays by droplets of water causes rainbows; while in some African cultures, a rainbow signifies a python crossing a river or the death of an important chief. Thus for African students, learning about rainbows in science means constructing a potentially conflicting idea in their long-term memory. How do people resolve this conflict? Four mechanisms (parallel, simultaneous, dependent, and secured collateral learning) were proposed by Jegede (1995) and are illustrated in a recent synthesis of cultural border crossing with collateral learning (Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999).


We developed three instruments that systematically gathered quantitative data (25 respondents), qualitative data (7 respondents), and interview data (10 participants) from science teachers across northern Saskatchewan who instructed Aboriginal students in grades 7 to 12. They taught in rural and urban schools covering a large geographic area across northern Saskatchewan. Because we wanted to give voice to Aboriginal participants, a disproportionately high number of Aboriginal teachers participated in the SCN project (six of the 42 teachers). A more detailed account of the project's methodology can be found in Aikenhead and Huntley (1997).

Based on a preliminary analysis of the quantitative and qualitative questionnaire responses, we designed a semi-structured interview instrument. This interview protocol probed salient issues identified by teachers as important to understanding the fundamental positions that teachers held about: Aboriginal knowledge, cultural aspects of Western science, their students' success or lack of success with school science, and so on. Ten teachers were interviewed. Interviews were audio taped and then transcribed. The transcriptions were returned to the participants for them to read and change any part of the transcript to strengthen their anonymity, and for them to clarify or correct any point they made. The interviewees and the researchers jointly signed an ethics contact that assured their anonymity and guaranteed that they had control over the information gathered.

A discussion between interviewer and each teacher provided us with the clearest, most qualified understanding of teachers' views on the connection between science and culture. Consequently, more credence can be placed in the interview data than in the qualitative and quantitative data, respectively.

Results Four of the interviewees were Aboriginal (Alice, Betty, Joe, and Ted), while the others were not (Brent, Doug, Gary, Jack, Larry, and Rose). All represented diverse teaching situations.

The teachers expressed diverse and sometimes incompatible views. These results are succinctly described here. The interview data support four general conclusions:

1. Teachers generally viewed Western science as course content or as a way of exploring nature, not as a foreign culture as experienced by many of their students.

2. Aboriginal knowledge was respected by science teachers, but only a token amount was added onto, but not integrated with, school science.

3. Teachers thought that the act of learning science was unrelated to their students' Aboriginal worldviews.

4. Students' disinterest in pursuing science careers was either unexplainable by the interviewees or was blamed on student deficits. Few teachers blamed their curriculum and teaching.

Each of these points is discussed in the sections that follow.

We should point out that teachers held similar ideas about the meaning of "culture." Our interviewees generally agreed that culture was a way of thinking, of viewing the world, and of interacting with the world; in short, a way of living. Some participants talked about different subcultures and about how culture changes depending on the circumstances.

Views on Western Science

Although no teacher attempted to define science during the interviews, the word came up on many occasions, of course. From these occasions it became evident that different people had very different ideas about what "science" means, and these meanings would shift when the context changed (a normal linguistic practice). Depending on the context, the following meanings of science could be found in the interview data. Science is:

1. any knowledge about nature irrespective of the knowledge system used (e.g. "science is everywhere," "children learn science on the trap lines," and "Aboriginal science").

2. the canonical knowledge, skills, and values of Western science as found in university science courses and in school curricula.

3. a school subject to be passed for credit.

4. processes and products usually identified as technology by the academic social science community.

5. an aspect of Euro-American culture, or a subculture.

The reader must be vigilant and sensitive to these five different meanings of science found in all teachers' statements about the connection between science and culture.

A majority of respondents equated science with technology by associating science with activities and goals normally considered to belong to technology (meaning number 4 above). The social science literature consistently points out how science and technology are quite different enterprises, though they interact considerably (Ziman, 1984). Thus, sometimes the phrase "interaction of science and culture" may mean the same thing as "interaction of technology and culture" for a majority of the teachers.

On the one hand, many of the 25 teachers (72%) responding to the quantitative SCN instrument acknowledged that science could be "a rational perceiving of reality," an expression which Ogawa (1995) used for definition number 1 above. On the other hand, fewer of these teachers subscribed to meaning 5 which recognizes science as a cultural phenomenon. The cultural view of science was acknowledged by only half the science teachers in our study.

The connection between Western science and Euro-American culture was acknowledged by only some of the teachers, but even then it seemed restricted to an intellectual realm. Their views never addressed classroom practice, where the day to day challenges are faced by Aboriginal students when learning science. The cultural status of science seems to have little currency for teachers.

The beliefs of the teachers we interviewed seemed, on the surface, to be completely at odds with the views of Aboriginal educators who view science as a part of Western "progress" that has oppressed Aboriginal peoples since the time of contact (summarized in Aikenhead, 1997). This discrepancy between the teachers' views and Aboriginal experiences would seem to create an invisible barrier to Western science content for Aboriginal students. A teacher cannot accommodate culture effectively in a science classroom without appreciating the cultural nature of that science content.

Although the teachers were unanimous in rejecting the idea that their science classrooms purposefully assimilated Aboriginal students into a Western worldview, the teachers may have unintentionally worked towards assimilating some students by not intentionally treating science as a cultural phenomenon. Teachers generally viewed Western science as course content to teach or as a way of exploring nature, not as foreign culture that many of their students experienced.

Introduction of Aboriginal Knowledge into Science Classrooms

Teachers' efforts were directed towards adding a measure of Aboriginal content to conventional science instruction, towards participating in school-wide programs that taught Aboriginal knowledge, or towards engaging students in science activities that made connections to students' everyday worlds. However encouraging these approaches are, they tend to force students to negotiate on their own the transitions between home culture and the culture of school science. Aboriginal knowledge was respected by the science teachers in our study, but only a token amount was added onto, but not integrated with, school science. This situation varied from community to community and depended on the culture of the school.

Rose and Alice, a non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal teacher respectively, put a very high premium on incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into the school program, more than most other interviewees. "It builds student self-esteem," Rose claimed (48). Their incorporation of Aboriginal knowledge drew principally upon community elders as the educational resource. Because the number of available elders is limited, it is difficult to access this valuable resource (Alice, 28). This problem is coupled with the fact that most print and audio-visual materials known to the teachers are relevant to Native American students, not to Cree, Dené, Métis, or other Saskatchewan Aboriginal students. This lack of resources was cited by most of the other participants as the main reason that only a token amount of Aboriginal knowledge was introduced into their science programs.

Betty grew up in a central Saskatchewan, Aboriginal community. She, too, put a high priority on incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into her science classroom so students could make connections to their lives and culture while engaging in hands-on "sciencing." However, the community in which Betty was teaching was not the community where she grew up. That made a world of difference to how much Aboriginal knowledge she could incorporate. In her words:

I work with an Aboriginal teacher who is always bringing in people. She's older than me and she's lived here forever and knows all these people personally. I don't actually live here; close to this area. I don't know of the elders personally. I don't feel all that comfortable approaching them when I don't know them really well. I think there is a lot of non-Aboriginal teachers who feel that way. (Betty, 350-356)

Her advice to herself is to have students learn the community's Aboriginal knowledge on their own and then teach the class what they had learned.

On the other hand, Alice (who has taught five years in her community) took more personal responsibility to learn from resource people, "If I couldn't find someone to come in, I would go and ask someone and then bring that back; tell the kids what I've learned" (Alice, 34-36). Whereas Alice's school made a conscious effort to teach both Western science and Aboriginal knowledge in science classes, Betty's school did not have that commitment, and hence Betty felt the responsibility falling almost all on her shoulders.

Jack (12-23) and Brent (230) were the only teachers interviewed who distanced themselves and their teaching from Aboriginal knowledge. Several of the other teachers mentioned that their classroom was the only science classroom in the school where Aboriginal knowledge was welcome.

Other problems that mitigate against the incorporation of Aboriginal knowledge into science instruction for some communities were identified by Brent and Joe. The Aboriginal students in their communities are so disconnected from their culture that incorporating Aboriginal knowledge into the science classroom would not really seem relevant to them. Joe pointed to the 50:50 split in his community among the Aboriginal parents, where half of them wanted Aboriginal knowledge taught in school while the other half was against it (48). Nevertheless, he felt that Aboriginal knowledge is very evident in his school's science classrooms. Joe valued his Aboriginal knowledge as being scientific. However, several teachers mentioned that their students did not value their own Aboriginal knowledge as worthy of equal status to school science.

Gary and Ted both suggested that the Anglican church had succeeded in almost eliminating Aboriginal spirituality in the community where they presently taught. Traditional ceremonies were conducted in secret, if at all. Consequently, when bringing Aboriginal knowledge into his classroom, Gary felt pressured to exclude references to spirituality (216), but he saw value in considering both Western and Aboriginal views because it developed critical thinking skills (570).

The picture emerging from the interviews is an expressed openness to include Aboriginal knowledge in the science program (the Saskatchewan science curriculum was cited by several teachers as encouraging it), but in practice little or moderate headway is being made except for a few unique instances (Rose and Alice).

Aboriginal Knowledge and Success at Learning Science

Our non-Aboriginal teachers were articulate and persuasive in denying any cultural conflict between Aboriginal and scientific ways of knowing. All teachers interviewed, including the four Aboriginal teachers, thought that the ease of learning science had nothing to do with students' possessing an Aboriginal worldview. Teachers firmly believed that learning science did not pose any risk to losing something valuable from students' own culture. These ideas arose in response to such questions as: Does the possession of Aboriginal knowledge inhibit students from learning science? If Aboriginal students do master science, do they loose something valuable from their own culture? To what extent is science a foreign culture to Aboriginal students?

A majority (72%) of the 25 teachers responding to the quantitative SCN instrument disagreed with the statement "Students' belief in everyday common knowledge inhibits their learning science" (a statement to which the research community would unanimously agree, based on supporting evidence amassed over the last 20 years; Driver et al., 1994). Teachers' views and empirical evidence seem to be at odds. Most of the 10 interviewees would have likely disagreed with the statement as well, but their reasons would vary considerably. For instance, Joe did not separate the two knowledge systems in his mind (scientific and Aboriginal) in the sense that he believed that an individual can take something from each type of knowledge system (140). Gary claimed that Aboriginal knowledge is "the best teaching tool you could use" (355). He added: If students "make no effort to get involved in the information, they'll be ignorant" (369); thus, there was no problem of Aboriginal knowledge inhibiting students' learning of science as long as student made an effort! Brent recognized that traditional values do conflict with chemistry theory but pointed out that one can understand an idea (for the purpose of passing tests and getting to university) but not believe it. The distinction between understanding and believing a scientific idea seemed to be fundamental to learning science. Gary and others also alluded to this distinction.

Along similar lines of thought, Alice recognized the potential conflict between scientific reductionism and the commonsense holistic way of Aboriginal students (70-77), but she claimed that this potential conflict did not inhibit students in her community from learning science (117). She advised teachers to relate science to kids' interests, to engage them in activities in which they learn science skills, and then have kids transfer those skills to a written assignment (228).

Rose gave a much different reason. Learning science is not inhibited by students' Aboriginal culture in her community because many students do not know the Aboriginal knowledge in the first place. Instead they believe in Western culture; a pervasive influence of the Catholic church she claimed (109-123). Rose also blamed the problem on the social institution of schooling: students are "confused about their own traditions and the whole Western world coming in with its institutionalized education" (219-221).

Jack cited students' lack of discipline and lack of language and math skills as the inhibitors to learning science (92-105). Larry tended to agree with Jack (472) but stressed a much more fundamental inhibitor -- a lack of family support for school learning (414-422).

And finally, Betty added a few more reasons or conditions that would inhibit learning: the attitude that science is "just another point of view" so why learn it? (199); instruction that relies on the textbook and note writing (125); and content that explicitly rejects Aboriginal beliefs (248). According to Betty, learning will be facilitated if a teacher "meshes" Aboriginal and science knowledge (219) making many connections between the two (255). She claimed that the two biggest inhibitors to learning science are disruptive students when they play at science (486), and students not having the skills or desire to write an intelligent response about what they were doing in a hands-on activity (488).

The science teachers participating in our study tended to reject any idea of there being any negative consequences to Aboriginal students' learning Western science. Ted maintained a basic belief about learning: "You don't have to lose something when you gain something" (412). Science will enhance what you already know. He attributed alienation not to science but to the Anglican church that nearly eliminated traditional spirituality from his community, though this spirituality is slowly returning (144).

Joe was not as optimistic as Ted. Joe warned of the danger of losing something valuable from Aboriginal culture and the danger of science dominating one's thinking, if it was not watched and guarded against (144-154). One way to guard against it is to constantly differentiate between each set of beliefs, Aboriginal and scientific (157), while at the same time, integrate knowledge from both domains (140).

Betty and Alice both emphasized individual differences among students; that is, the consequences to mastering science will be different for different students. Some students will lose something valuable of their own culture if they master science, but others will not. Betty and Alice identified various types students: those "keeners" who naturally and easily catch on to science (Betty, 227), those "keeners" who are curious but have to work at understanding science (a group Betty identified with, 230), and those who just memorize to get through by playing Fatima's rules (Alice, 180). Alice also expressed a fundamental tenet to her idea of learning: "What students believe in has to be affirmed some way. You can't separate it" (266). Alice's view reinforces Betty's idea that the two knowledge systems (scientific and Aboriginal ways of knowing) need to be meshed; a view that appears to contradict Joe's belief in differentiating between each way of knowing. The opposing positions can be identified as two ends of the spectrum of collateral learning.

Doug presented a similar view by emphasizing the idea that if science dominated one's way of thinking, that does not necessarily mean that one is alienated from one's culture (363).

Rose believed that the assimilation into Western culture (mostly through technology such as TV) has already generated a "Euro-centric way" (137) in the minds of Aboriginal students who therefore see science as logical commonsense. As a consequence, science dominates their thinking already (192).

Gary cited his own experience of learning Aboriginal knowledge over the years without it dominating his thinking. He expects that Aboriginal students can handle scientific knowledge just as he handled Aboriginal knowledge (428). (Gary's privileged status as a teacher did not enter the discussion.)

A very different picture was painted by Larry. He too disagreed that mastering science would cause students to lose something valuable of their own culture (40), but Larry also talked about students switching back and forth between the two ways of knowing. Each way of knowing was like having ideas "in different pockets" (206, 288, 305). Here Larry articulates a fundamental view of separating the two knowledge systems. He goes on to argue that science dominates one's thinking, not because of the potency of scientific knowledge, but because Western culture strongly dominates other cultures, period; thus, Western culture, not science, marginalizes Aboriginal peoples (65). According to Larry, individual differences and community circumstances are influential, an idea that found support from Betty and Alice.

When the issue of Aboriginal versus scientific knowledge arises, as it did in the discussions just above, different viewpoints begin to surface about how to handle two different, and potentially conflicting, knowledge systems. At one extreme is Joe's and Betty's approach of "meshing" the two knowledge systems together (secured collateral learning; Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999), while at the opposite extreme is Brent's and Larry's approach of segregating the two (parallel collateral learning).

To what extent is science a foreign culture to Aboriginal students? Based on all the data, we came to the conclusion that, in general, teachers thought that learning science was unrelated to students' possessing an Aboriginal worldview. Teachers identified other causes for student difficulties learning Western science.

Explaining the Lack of Participation

If science is no more foreign to Aboriginal students than it is to their non-Aboriginal counterparts in other schools, then why are there so few Aboriginal scientists and engineers? Why do so few Aboriginal students continue to take science in high school and university?

Students' disinterest in pursuing science and engineering related careers was at first unexplainable by half the interviewees. The other half blamed student deficits, for example, inadequacies in their self-confidence, language and math skills, academic orientation, and strength of family culture and support (all described in earlier sections). Not one teacher broke through this wall of excuses to see a more fundamental issue of cultural conflict for many Aboriginal students in school science. Blaming the "victim" was a strategy identified in South Africa by Naidoo and Savage (1998, p. 83): "Conveniently, equity becomes seen in terms of individual failure to take advantage of opportunities, not as a failure of society to prepare individuals to do so."

This theme was repeated in various ways by our interviewees, although some did recognize societal influences on student participation in upper level science courses. Alice (324), for instance, suggested it might depend on the community because science is not stressed in some schools, but also, some students seem intimidated by the required skills in science (195). Rose surmised a fear of math and a lack of confidence (178). She also discussed what "science" meant to students: a subject to be passed and not a rational perceiving of reality (a meaning making system connecting ideas together, 404). Who wants to make a career out of an artificial school subject? (211)

Betty felt that science had been used in the past to reject Aboriginal knowledge, and this would discourage Aboriginal students from taking science seriously (284). Similarly in an American study of third grade children, Schilk et al. (1995) concluded, "The perceptions Indian students had of scientists, largely dictated by popular media, were in direct conflict with their Iroquois values" (p. 3):

Interviewer: Do you think you could be a scientist?

Clint: That's not something Indians do. I couldn't hurt things or blow things up.

This view found support in Gary (480) who suggested that science careers are associated with the White power structure of Canada. Science careers are rejected by Aboriginal students who feel their people have been abused by science.

Ted explained that high school science is associated with going to university. University life is quite a change for students (leaving the safety of home to go to the big city), too much change to be comfortable (453). Thus, there was little incentive in general for his students to be interested in a science or engineering career.

Joe commented on the conflict between the scientific value of questioning everything and the traditional home value of accepting things as they are (166). The conflict increases an Aboriginal student's discomfort with science as a life career.

Gary's main reason for so few Aboriginal students attending university was the poor prospects for a good job for university graduates (473). Employment is more secure through the trades, not through academics (482). High school science seems too hard and too abstract for all students (488). When science careers prove more useful to students, more students will follow those careers (440).

It is interesting to note that the potential cultural conflicts between science and Aboriginal knowledge (conflicts that seemed to be relegated to a low priority in earlier discussions) were given greater credence by several teachers when they talked about students' avoidance of science classes and careers.

Not many teachers in our study blamed their curriculum and teaching. After all, if teachers believe that Aboriginal worldviews are no barrier to gaining access to Western science, then it follows that access must be related to circumstances other than differing worldviews. At the present time, therefore, many of our participants would probably not embrace the need to become culture brokers to help Aboriginal students negotiate cultural borders between their family life culture and school science culture.

However, by listening to those teachers who did mention deficiencies in their curriculum and teaching, we gain insight into what might help Aboriginal students overcome the cultural boundaries identified by Aboriginal writers (e.g. MacIvor, 1995).


A pervasive absence of cross-cultural teaching in science classes across northern Saskatchewan constitutes a major barrier to integrating students' Aboriginal culture into science classrooms. This forces students to navigate on their own between their home culture and the culture of school science. Exceptions to this finding were evident with some of the teachers.

Students whose families support an Aboriginal culture will likely prosper from a science curriculum framed by an Aboriginal worldview, while students who are disconnected from their cultural roots may not find such a curriculum to be relevant. Several teachers (Betty, Brent, and Rose) lamented the fact that few Aboriginal students felt connected to nature (in spite of living in Northern communities) and too few felt connected to their own Aboriginal culture. Such feelings of disconnectedness have preoccupied many Aboriginal educators (Battiste and Barman, 1995; Deyhle and Swisher, 1997). The problem of disconnectedness to nature and Aboriginal culture is a barrier to accommodating Aboriginal culture in science classrooms. The barrier challenges science educators to engage their community in efforts to re-establish traditional values, knowledge, and language, so students will feel more connected to their Aboriginal cultures.

Another theme was identified and underscored by several teachers: the importance of making connections between science content and the students' everyday lives. Betty (116), Alice (146), Rose (209), and Larry (503) described specific instances of significant connections. According to many of our interviewees, science fairs and "Science Olympics" seem to have a major impact on students. Evidently, some Saskatchewan Aboriginal students experience science lessons and activities at school that are meaningful and beneficial to them. According to their teachers, school science comes alive for these students during these events.

Why do Aboriginal students avoid science in high school and university? About a half of our interviewees initially said they had no idea. They could not confidently make sense of the problem, let alone resolve it. This constitutes another barrier. Teachers need to develop ways to encourage students to continue in science. One promising idea is to change the science courses themselves into culturally sensitive curricula, instruction, and assessment that make students feel more comfortable border crossing between their own culture and the culture of school science.

The interviews indicated that when the teachers experienced conflict between science and Aboriginal knowledge, they had diverse ways of dealing with this conflict. Their diverse ways can be described by different types of collateral learning (parallel and secured). We should anticipate both a match and mismatch between students and their teachers in terms of the type of collateral learning they are comfortable with. A mismatch may create a barrier to culturally responsive teaching. However, if teachers are aware of their own preferred type of collateral learning, and are aware of the alternative types preferred by some of their students, then teachers' instruction can be more responsive to the needs of their students. This sensitivity will improve the culture-broker role of science teachers.

Teachers who want Aboriginal students to succeed in science must not be undermined by a lack of instructional resources that accommodate Aboriginal knowledge in science classrooms, or by a pervasive school culture that inadvertently promotes Fatima's rules. The interview data were replete with constraints to successful science instruction. These barriers will not be diminished simply by adopting a cultural perspective on student learning, but such a perspective gives us new ways to creatively circumvent some of those barriers.


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