Image displaying a lab table with several microscopes

Growing and Sustaining Science Classroom Communities

By David Stroupe, Anna Kramer, and Lindsay Berk

Teaching has always been crucial and underappreciated profession across the world. Almost everyone spends some time in a school, and in those spaces, teachers play an important role in designing and facilitating opportunities for participation and learning. Many people fondly remember a favorite teacher and classroom, or conversely, might hope to forget a school that made them feel rejected. While society might collectively forget, those of us who spend time in schools know that teachers and administrators – the adults in a school building – have a great responsibility as we shape the lives of children. By representing and upholding equitable communities and participatory structures that ensure powerful learning opportunities for children, especially those from marginalized communities, teachers and administrators can help change the world. While easy to think and say, such short-term and long-term work is difficult to enact. Therefore, we want to help you spark conversations about how we can individually and collectively work together to reimagine your classroom and school as sites of equitable learning opportunities.

We think about three important features of our classroom communities to highlight as a foundational for equitable classroom communities. First, how teachers and administrators open up or constrain opportunities for students to talk and shape science practices in the classroom set the tone for the remainder of the school year. Students pay attention to teachers and administrators’ words and actions, and they notice how adults with power respond to their ideas. Second, teachers and administrators send visible and invisible messages to students about “what counts” as a good science statement and “correct” science actions. By denying or valuing students’ statements and actions, teachers and administrators demonstrate to students what words and ideas matter, and what words and ideas should remain silent. Third, teachers and administrators send messages about the purpose of participation in classrooms. Some teachers and administrators want students to say correct answers and complete predetermined practice problems, while other teachers and administrators help students to shape the direction of knowledge production in the classroom by asking for multiple hypotheses, generating and using language to describe a phenomenon, and by encouraging and supporting students to share ideas. Each of these features send visible and invisible messages to students about what knowledge matters, how knowledge should be invoked and used in a classroom, and who is allowed to share ideas and claims to knowledge in a classroom.

Disrupting Epistemic Injustice

We propose that the three features of equitable classrooms reflect the responsibility of teachers and administrators to create spaces and opportunities for students to thrive. As people with power in schools, teachers and administrators make decisions when planning, teaching in-the-moment, and during reflection that shape the classroom community in which students should shape science knowledge and practices. Given this power and authority, we, as teachers and administrators, must make decisions about the messages we send to students about their participation and about science. Our words and actions, especially related to the treatment of students and their ideas, are foundational for creating equitable science communities in our classrooms and schools.

Given how important our words and actions are with regards to the treatment of students and their ideas, this book aims to help us see the creation and growth of science communities through a particular lens of inequity to disrupt: epistemic injustice. Briefly, epistemic injustice is a philosophical perspective, named by Dr. Miranda Fricker, that deals with inequities associated with knowledge and knowledge production practices. 1

Kidd and colleagues provide example questions that arise when viewing institutions through a lens of epistemic injustice, which include:

Who has voice and who doesn’t? Are voices interacting with equal agency and power? In whose terms are they communicating? Who is being understood and who isn’t (and at what cost)? Who is being believed? And who is even being acknowledged and engaged with? (p. 1 ). 2

A primary concern with epistemic injustice in classrooms and schools is that students can be purposefully excluded from knowledge production and practices simply because of how people with power choose to see them and choose to position them in the classroom. We argue that seeing science communities through the lens of disrupting epistemic injustice is crucial for 4 reasons:

  1. Every person wants to be seen as a knower and contributor to knowledge production in some way. Students want to feel that they and their ideas matter to their peers and supportive adults. As illustrated in the example with Teacher A and B, how students and their ideas are positioned has immediate and long-term implications for individuals and the science community.
  2. Too often, delivery pedagogy steers our work as educators towards deficit perspectives of students. As adults with authority and power, we must choose to see each student as amazing human beings with vast and wonderful life experiences that shape what they think and know, and as valuable contributors to the knowledge-making efforts of classrooms and schools.
  3. In addition to seeing students as amazing and important people, as teachers and administrators, we must establish explicit and implicit infrastructures to support students feel safe and valued as important contributors to a science community. There are purposeful and public ways in which adults can demonstrate to students that they are the core of science teaching and learning in classrooms and schools.
  4. Naming a specific problem around equity provides us with opportunities to see areas of success, to identify challenges, and to build a community of colleagues that can develop shared language and tools to grow together.

The Work Ahead

Our aim is to empower us, as teachers and administrators, to reimagine the purpose of science teaching and learning, and to serve as a resource for people at middle and high school levels to initiate immediate and long-term changes to classrooms and schools. More importantly, we hope that teachers and administrators see classrooms and school through the perspective of disrupting epistemic injustice, which can change how science, teaching, and students are framed in science classrooms.


1 Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).

2 Ian James Kidd et al., “Introduction to the Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice,”, in Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice, ed. Ian James Kidd, José Medina, and Gaile Pohlhaus Jr. (New York: Routledge, 2017), 1-9.

About the Authors

David Stroupe is the author of the recently released book, Growing and Sustaining Student-Centered Science Classrooms and the associate director of STEM Teacher Education at the CREATE for STEM Institute and the director of Science and Society at State at Michigan State University.

Anna Kramer, a National Board-certified teacher, has taught middle school for twelve years and currently lives in Santiago, Chile, where she teaches at the International School Nido de Aguilas.

Lindsay Berk has fourteen years of experience in STEM curriculum design and project-based learning and is a cofounder and science facilitator at the Millennium School in San Francisco.