Reflective Practice, Teach@CUNY

The TLC’s STEM Pedagogy Institute: A Guide for Exploring Inclusive and Employment-Focused Teaching Practices

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Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash

By Şule Aksoy

In June, we at the Teaching and Learning Center were pleased to host CUNY STEM Pedagogy Institute (SPI) Fellows to begin our exploration together of inclusive and employment-focused teaching practices. Thirty early-career and experienced instructors across CUNY campuses came together to explore and design instructional strategies for the fall semester. They participated in a series of activities, including panels and workshops featuring representatives from non-governmental organizations and businesses in New York City, CUNY students, and science education scholars. These activities are followed by incubator meetings where fellows gather, reflect, and work together. 

These collective learning spaces raised critical questions about the current climate of STEM departments. Fellows mainly reflected on how to support students from historically marginalized groups in their pathway to STEM-related careers. Another concern was the lack of resources to help instructors implement inclusive practices that foster a sense of belonging in college classrooms. To that end, the SPI team has been pondering feedback from the June meetings and developing a guide that offers practical guidance to support student learning. As we prepare for the upcoming semester, our goal is to assist instructors in achieving their goals of empowering CUNY students in their careers. 

The guide that follows offers ten ideas drawn from multiple disciplines designed to support equity-oriented, employment-focused instruction. We encourage instructors to explore what’s below and adopt relevant modes in their classroom environment. Each section includes resources and examples of strategies that can be used as models.

Ten STEM Teaching Resources

    1. Teaching Science with Case Studies
    2. Life Sciences Education Evidence-based Teaching Guides
    3. Visible Pedagogy
    4. Analytical Challenge Before Lecture
    5. Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Approaches
    6. The “Underrepresentation” Curriculum
    7. Teaching Coding While Teaching Content
    8. Early-course Surveys
    9. Leveraging Networks
    10. Instructor Self-Reflection

1. Teaching Science with Case Studies

Preparing students to participate in problem-solving and decision-making is essential for helping them see the value of their learning. Contemporary news and historical cases can facilitate a functional and practical understanding of core concepts related to our fields. Case studies in which active learning strategies can be implemented help students apply theoretical concepts to real-world problems and also strengthen their communication skills. Classroom activities built around challenging problems and case studies can deepen student engagement and improve learning. Below we share three case study examples that can be incorporated into your classrooms. 

  1. A Case in Point: From Active Learning to the Job Market
  2. How did lead get into Flint’s tap water?
  3. Evolutionary and Behavioral Study of the Side-Blotched Lizard

A Case in Point: From Active Learning to the Job Market

This case was developed for use in the first weeks of a course and shows students the benefits of active learning. It uses the fictionalized story of a manager of a scientific consulting firm who has the approval to hire an entry-level scientist. Students read evaluations of the five job candidates, then rank them and list the reasons for that ranking and/or analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in regard to the position. This prepares them to discuss (and defend) in class their ranking. The case serves to motivate students for active learning pedagogies throughout the course and also demonstrates how they can use their course work to gain skills that may make them employable. The case is designed to be equally useful in any type of science course at an introductory (majors or non-majors) or advanced level, in any field from chemistry to environmental science to biology. With upper-level students, it can be used to explore the transition from college to a career and help them translate their education experiences into marketable skills.

*This case study is prepared by Mark Walczak and Juliette Lantz and can be found here. For more case studies, you can visit the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website.

How did lead get into Flint’s Water?

This case study is designed as an active learning unit that allows students to work individually and collaboratively to solve problems about the Flint Water Crisis. It also allows students to reflect on environmental justice issues. It covers the concepts associated with chemical reactions and water treatment and the links between politics, economics, and science. The case is designed to be useful in introductory physical science classrooms, but it can also be used to explore in advanced classes if you want to incorporate socioscientific issues. Our hope is that this module represents a starting point for how to embed relevant scientific issues in STEM classrooms. 

*Adopted from ChemMatters

Evolutionary and Behavioral Study of the Side-Blotched Lizard

In the “Natural History of Life” course at New Mexico State University, Ralph Preszler (2009) implemented peer-facilitated workshops that engaged students to work on case studies collaboratively. He found that students’ performance and participation increased as a result of peer-led workshop-style teaching. In addition, underrepresented groups benefited from the active learning pedagogies more compared to their counterparts. We recommend you read the article to learn more about the instructional strategies Preszler incorporated in their biology course. Below is the summary of the case study activity and links to the resources.

In this case study, students explore research on the use of evolutionary and behavioral studies of the side-blotched lizard, Uta stansburiana (Sinervo and Lively, 1996; Bleay et al., 2007). It allows students to discover concepts about population genetics such as Hardy-Wienberg equilibrium and to make behavioral observations of lizard morphs while working collaboratively. 

For more details, please read the details here

Preszler, R. W. (2009). Replacing lecture with peer-led workshops improves student learning. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 8(3), 182-192. 

2. Life Sciences Education Evidence-based Teaching Guides

The journal CBE-Life Sciences Education has published a series of  “Evidence-Based Teaching Guides.” This resource identifies literature associated with specific teaching strategies and includes practical recommendations. Below is the list of inclusive pedagogical practices covered.

For details on how to use the guide, please see the article linked below.

Wilson, K. J., & Brame, C. J. (2018). Helping practitioners and researchers identify and use education research literature. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 17(1), fe3.

3. Visible Pedagogy

The GC Teaching and Learning Center publishes Visible Pedagogy, a blog dedicated to advancing and expanding conversations about teaching and learning at CUNY. The posts below are especially relevant to conversations we had during our June Institute.

4. Analytical Challenge Before Lecture

Inviting students to think about scientific demonstrations, analytical challenges, or opening questions before a lecture is a beneficial strategy to engage them and evaluate their prior understanding. These introductory exercises motivate students and give a sense of intent to their learning. Starting with an “anchoring question” provides context for the lecture to be more meaningful, relevant, and engaging. Doing so helps instructors gain student attention and ignite an engaged learning environment where students are more likely to develop a deeper understanding. 

Below we provided three models for what this strategy might look like. 

Heating of a Metal Plate with Holes

Say you are preparing a lecture on thermal expansion. You might start with the following question: 

What would happen to the diameter of the holes in the metal bar if the bar was put on a hot plate and heated up to a very hot temperature?

    • Increases
    • Decreases
    • Stays the same

You can use PollEverywhere to pose the question or Zoom’s built-in poll function. You can choose to use a Think-Pair-Share approach to have students engage with the question. After students think individually and share ideas with their neighbors, inviting them to participate in the whole class discussion could be effective. Then, you can either share the correct answer or leave the question unanswered. If you choose the latter, you can revisit it at the end of the class to maintain curiosity throughout the lecture. It would also allow students to explore the concept and find the answer independently. In the end, you can also invite students to make a circle in front of the classroom – if you’re teaching in-person and your students feel comfortable with physical distancing- and demonstrate how thermal expansion works. 

Black Panther, Vibranium, and the Periodic Table

The fictional element, vibranium, from the movie Black Panther could spark a conversation about the periodic table, the chemical and physical properties of elements, how scientists organize objects/elements in nature and patterns in the periodic table. The following question is an example for you to consider. 

In the movie Black Panther, Wakanda’s economy focused on the production and use of a fictional metal known as vibranium, which has amazing chemical and physical properties. If this metal actually existed, where do you think it would be placed in the periodic table, and why?

For more details, please see below. 

Collins, S. N., & Appleby, L. (2018). Black panther, vibranium, and the periodic table. Journal of Chemical Education, 95(7), 1243-1244. 

What’s Going on in This Graph?

The Learning Network Tutorial features graphs, charts, and maps from the New York Times that can be used in classrooms. Here you can find weekly graphs to incorporate into lesson plans as objects for analysis. You can invite students to share what they notice and wonder about the graph. These activities allow students to practice data literacy skills and explore real-life implications of disciplinary concepts. For example, you can teach about climate change with graphs using this resource.

5. Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Approaches

During the panel titled Postsecondary STEM Education for Social Transformation in our June institute, Drs. Adams, Stetsenko, and Das discussed a decolonizing stance toward science education. Their reflection on the issues of equity, access, inclusion, power, and positionality raised questions about how best to support students from marginalized groups. Culturally responsive teaching practices can support learners that have been historically marginalized in STEM by acknowledging their identities, histories, and sociopolitical contexts. These pedagogical approaches help instructors to construct learning spaces where students can find connections and relevance between science and their own cultures.

Thompson et al. (2020) provide four critical equity principles to promote culturally and linguistically sustaining approaches:

  1. Recognizing our own and others’ worlds and developing critical consciousness
    Having instructors share and students write their own science autobiography could be a useful strategy to recognize various backgrounds in the classroom. 
  2. Learning about and prioritizing students’ communities and cultures
    Creating a community asset map surrounding the campus/borough can help identify resources and build connections with students’ communities. 
  3. Designing for each student’s full participation in the culture of science
    Attending to linguistic funds of students and their experiences could allow for their full participation. For example, asking students to translate the term velocity to Spanish (velocidad) to acknowledge the similarity between everyday use of the concept with the scientific meaning.
  4. Challenging the culture of science through social and restorative justice
    Problematizing science and scientific culture can empower students. For instance, the discussion on Onesimus, an enslaved African man who introduced inoculation to prevent the smallpox outbreak in the Boston area, could be a useful example in the context of vaccines.

*Thompson, J., Mawyer, K., Johnson H., Scipio, D., & Luehman, A. (2020). Culturally and linguistically sustaining approaches to ambitious science teaching pedagogies. In Stroupe, D., Hammerness, K., & McDonald, S. (Eds), Preparing Science Teachers Through Practice-Based Teacher Education (pp. 45-63). Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA.

6. The “Underrepresentation” Curriculum

The “Underrepresentation Curriculum” is a project developed by a team of college and high school science teachers designed to help instructors teach about social justice and culture in STEM. Here you can find details and lesson plans to adapt to your teaching setting. The following pages offer guidance on supporting students from underrepresented groups, as well as specific teaching models. 

  • Lesson Plans
    • Laying the foundation – These lesson plans invite students to think about subjectivity in STEM and analyze data to determine the representation status of scientists.
    • Gaining relevant knowledge – These units help instructors to introduce stereotype threat, meritocracy, implicit bias, racism, and sexism in the sciences through using scientific practices such as modeling, interpreting data, and building arguments.
    • Turning knowledge into action – The final modules of this curriculum help students to develop action plans to address the social issues mentioned above.

7. Teaching Coding While Teaching Content

Teaching students to code as part of a STEM course is hard. Christa Kelleher and her colleagues at Lafayette College (2022) developed 10 core teaching practices:

  1. Motivate the importance and benefits of learning to code early in the semester. One of the best ways to motivate and excite students about the value of learning to code is to show that coding can save time and effort.
  2. Start slow, and remember not everyone begins with the same knowledge and technological ability. Practicing reverse-engineering activities, outlining the steps that take to achieve a given endpoint, and scaffolding these steps into a given activity for students are helpful.
  3. Center equity and inclusion from the beginning. Issues about access to high-speed internet or a fully functioning computer and student confidence issues stemming from feelings of imposter syndrome, stereotype threat, or lack of self-efficacy could be challenging. Free resources, flexible deadlines, low-stakes assignments, and active learning strategies could address these issues.   
  4. Do live coding. Live coding benefits in-the-moment problem solving and troubleshooting while engaging students actively in the learning process.
  5. Teach students how to help themselves and learn from their errors. Creating a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable asking questions is essential. Instructors could also share their own struggles learning to code. 
  6. Know what resources are available to you.
  7. Align content with coding principles.
  8. Assess student learning often and with low-stakes interactions.
  9. Learn evidence-based effective teaching best practices.
  10. Grow your knowledge every year.

For details, please see below.

Kelleher, C. A., Gannon, J. P., Jones, C. N., & Aksoy, Ş. (2022). Best Management Practices for Teaching Hydrologic Coding in Physical, Hybrid, and Virtual Classrooms. Frontiers in Water, 87.  

8. Early-course Surveys

Consider using a survey at the start of the semester to get to know your students – their reasons for taking the course and their career aspirations. Consider asking them what they plan to do to be successful in the course, as well as what you may be able to do to help them be successful. Use what you’ve learned on the first day to communicate your interest in your students and to facilitate community through a warm-up or introductory activities.*

Here you can find an example survey that you can clone and adapt for your purposes. You can add questions about prior knowledge, accommodation needs, demographics, technology, and accessibility requests. Below you can also find other examples. 

*Adopted from the UCLA CEILS Inclusive Teaching in the Sciences: Course Checklist

9. Leveraging Networks

Consider leveraging networks across CUNY campuses such as makerspaces, career services, and research offices. You can explicitly connect other aspects of campus life designed for student success to classroom content. Inviting staff members from offices like career services to spend a few minutes in your classroom explaining to students how the classroom curriculum connects with their services could be helpful. Below are some campus resources you can connect with.

* Adopted from Dewsbury, B., & Brame, C. J. (2019). Inclusive teaching. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(2), fe2.

10. Instructor Self-Reflection

Bryan Dewsbury and Cynthia Brame (2019) developed an instructor checklist for inclusive teaching that focuses on developing self-awareness and empathy, positionality, identities, inclusive pedagogical choices, and classroom climate.

Here you can also find a resource on socially conscious pedagogy prepared by Sakina Laksima, a doctoral candidate in Urban Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY.


Dr. Şule Aksoy is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Teaching and Learning Center, and Director of Curriculum and Research for the TLC’s STEM Pedagogy Institute.

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