Science in the City by Bryan A. Brown

science in the city coverScience in the City: Culturally Relevant STEM Education by Bryan A. Brown of Stanford University is a true gift to the science education community. I’ve been using a YouTube video of Dr. Brown discussing science, language and identity for several years in workshops and with my pre-service science teachers (see embedded video below). Dr. Brown has taken the ideas in the short video and built them into an engaging, readable and important book.

Science in the City is an easy read largely due to Dr. Brown’s writing style and his use of story to couch the ideas that he’s presenting to us- he’s also modeling for us what he wants us to do with students! The stories are everyday events that illustrate language, identity, and race. One of my favorites is from early in the book when Dr. Brown reminds us of a post-game interview that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston gave on TV in 2014 following a victory in the national championship game.  After the interview Mr. Winston’s interview was met on social media with a barrage of criticism including a tweet saying, “Am I listening to English?” This criticism was countered by tweets from Lebron James and Reggie Bush praising Mr. Winston’s leadership, interview skill, and talk. Dr. Brown puts this in front of us to make the point that schools tend to value “academic English” and that many folks working in educational systems have a bias for (and against) certain types of talk. We are often missing out on the brilliance of students of color based on these biases.

If you have done any work on student discourse in science this book will resonate with you and likely push you to think deeper about how to interrogate educational systems for more culturally relevant language practices in science classrooms.

Here is a quote from the book that illustrates what Science in the City is all about:

If there is a single message that serves as the foundation for this book it is the idea that there is no cultural distance between students of color and a successful science education.

The final chapter of the book does a clear and concise job of presenting a small but powerful set of instructional practices to implement in science classrooms:

  • Disaggregate Instruction
  • Generative Formative Assessment
  • Culturally Based Cognitive Apprenticeship Instruction
  • Technology as a Cultural Mediator

I highly recommend adding Science in the City to your set of science education resources. I’d also love to hear from anyone else who has been digging into this book.

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6 responses to “Science in the City by Bryan A. Brown

  1. After viewing the video I must say “science teachers beware”. Yes, science content language is difficult for all kids. But understanding that specialized content language is essential for understanding on concepts…building competence. Quite a conundrum and challenge for science teachers already heavily burdened with maintaining pacing needed to cover state mandated curriculum and testing expectations. Not to mention the high degree of scrutiny sci. teachers are under to show positive results (all responsibility is on them) no matter how unsupported any new pedagogy may be.
    Based on my experience teaching high school science, another layer of differentiation (dissagregate) is not going to help kids. Attempting to chase after street culture by somehow translating scientific principles into street language may have merit, but only on a very small scale. Go too far in this kind of so called equity and other kids are left out. Bryan Brown does not present “substantial” evidence to support this fad. Science teachers risk accelerated burnout in their teaching career if responsibility kids have for honestly trying to learn science content is compromised by any novelty sold under the label “research based”. Experienced teachers know best.

    • Read it. You are so wrong. The whole book is based on research. There is never once a mention of street culture. It is about all cultures.

  2. Haven’t read this book but your review insprired me to put it in my Amazon cart! Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Hello David. Thank you for your response to my comment. I hope you are doing well during these days of the COVID-19 challenge. I am spending more time in my garden. I find similarity in tending the garden and teaching high school science. Both require exercise of finesse that draws on experience, personal gifts that God gives us, and gut instinct. In a garden, weed plants can easily choke a garden crop….ultimately you can only do what you can to manage the weeds and then be content with that. But of-course students are not actually a garden crop, they are way more complicated. But the analogy holds. I would like to point a couple things out.

    Students are human beings with intellectual capacity – made in the image of God. Therefore, students must have truthful opportunity that is needed for them to step “forward” in developing their intellectual capacity. Practice in critical thinking is part of that. Students certainly do not need absurd ideas such as using urban street slang as a scaffold to learning/understanding the language of science content. Bryan Brown’s hypothesis is gimmickry/obsurdity that promises to create much confusion. Brown’s hypothesis is a wild spin on another idea “Funds of Knowledge”. Brown’s hypothesis is a noxious weed that will choke students’ potential progress… it is a weed that an experienced science teacher will promptly recognize and pull out. Kids have enough other weeds to deal with already, such as social and institutional dysfunctions (fatherless households, street culture including street language, falsehoods in education research). This brings me to my last point.

    In your comment you equate “science” with conclusions Brown is trying to sell. Or more generally, you believe education research is based on science. This unquestioning trust in ed. research is a common mistake new science teachers make (I assume you are a science teacher, and, new to the briar patch of the task). Experienced teachers know how terribly problematic education research claims can be (for teacher and students) when teachers blindly follow those pedagogical claims in the actual learning environment. The truth is, science has very little to do with most education research claims. For example, did you know that only 0.13% of education research is duplicated for peer review? A formal study (Shocking Statistic About the Quality of Education Research) revealed this not long ago. Check out –

    Did you also know the vast majority of education research is seriously biased to what the researcher wants to report, regardless of what the actual data indicates? Check out –
    I encourage you, David, to exercise critical thinking. Compare the claims made by education elites to your own experience in teaching, to the experience of other teachers. Classroom teaching experience is authentic data. Honestly assess the performance your students demonstrate if you do apply claims of new pedagogy in your classroom. Kids always benefit when truth guides your teaching.

  4. I came to study in the US to pursue an undergraduate chemistry degree several years ago as an international student. My English language skills were limited back then. I appreciated my professor used more everyday language in class so that I was able to understand his lecture. I also like to read the textbook to solidify my understanding, and I picked up the academic language easily.

    Now I am in a high school science credential program. I learned so much about student-centered learning, the culturally relevant approach, and science literacy in science classrooms. In my mentor teacher’s classroom, we have been using the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) activity. I see students use everyday language to explore scientific ideas and make sense of phenomena. After the whole-class discussion, my MT will go over the science vocabulary in academic language. It encourages more participation from the classroom with diverse student demographics and makes science learning fun.

    Thank you for recommending this book. I am excited to read it during winter break and learn about culturally relevant language practice.

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