Purdue University Graduate School
Tran_K_Dissertation_FINALV2.pdf (1.41 MB)


Download (1.41 MB)
posted on 2023-04-27, 22:51 authored by Khanh Q TranKhanh Q Tran

For more than five decades, education scholars and activists have argued for a culturally relevant and nurturing education that reflects students' diverse experiences in K-12 classrooms. Yet, with the most recent national reform on science standards, the call to engage all learners pushed for advancing STEM in the United States, and many science education scholars have problematized such rhetoric. Unfortunately, the inclusionary blanket term like “engaging all learners” and the efforts that lead behind it do not consider the sociocultural realities that young children bring into the classrooms and the negotiation in learning school science. In this three-paper dissertation, I explore how middle school science teachers recognize the sociocultural realities students come with and cultivate a culturally nurturing education in response to the increase of racial, economic, and linguistic diversity within their integrated STEM classrooms. In particular, the aim of this dissertation to understand how middle school science teachers align school science, specifically in teaching integrated science and engineering, to the sociocultural realities of students by centering on the sensemaking of teacher’s lived experience and experiential knowledge. The first study draws on a narrative inquiry case study approach to understand how a middle school science teacher cultivated a culturally sustaining STEM classroom. The research question that guided this study was: How does Mrs. Johnson make meaning of her experiences in making science and engineering learning more culturally relevant and sustaining for her diverse middle school students? Findings from this study illuminates a complex narrative such as the intentionality of making multiple epistemologies explicit in learning science and engineering and the required racial reflexive work for cultivating a culturally sustaining and student-focused STEM classrooms. The findings also highlight challenges Mrs. Johnson faced as she integrates students’ lived experiences and alternative ways of knowing and doing into science and STEM teaching. The second study uses a single-case study approach to understand specific teaching practices that truncated the cultivation of a culturally sustaining education by exploring the opportunities that allowed internalized and interpersonal oppression to perpetuate with the same teacher, Mrs. Johnson. The research questions that guided this study are as follow: In what ways does teaching the GMO and Loon Nesting Platform STEM units foreground individual and interpersonal oppression to manifest? What teaching practices allow these moments of oppression to be pervasive? Findings from this study suggest that oppression becomes pervasive when teaching integrated science and engineering without considering how STEM learning could be irrelevant to students’ lived experiences and the role of power in teaching science. Based on these findings, I developed a year-long virtual professional development program that emphasized teaching integrated science and engineering with a focus on culturally nurturing and asset-based pedagogies. The final study draws on teachers’ funds of knowledge and identity to explore the sensemaking of a rural science teacher as he participates in the professional development program and how the sensemaking of his lived experiences informed his use of asset-based pedagogies. The research question that guided this study was: How do Mr. Jordan’s funds of knowledge and identity inform their use of asset-based pedagogies in reform-based, rural science classrooms? Findings from this study highlights Mr. Jordan’ funds of knowledge and identity informing his use of culturally responsive and relevant pedagogies. Implications of the third study proposes generational cultural wealth as a theoretical framework as one way teachers can begin aligning school science to students’ sociocultural realities. The final chapter of this dissertation presents a synthesis across the three studies and a summary of the implications for teaching.  


National Science Foundation (DRL-1721141)


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Biological Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Selcen Guzey

Additional Committee Member 2

Lynn Bryan

Additional Committee Member 3

Stephanie Gardner

Additional Committee Member 4

Stephanie Masta