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TE Research Talk: Terrance Burgess

January 27, 2020 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm EST

“Understanding the Identity Work of Elementary Students of Color in the Science Classroom”

This study examined how elementary students of color constructed their science identities at a time in which the Next Generation Science Standards were taking root within their school’s science program. While the standards were developed under the paradigm of science being representative of a body of knowledge informed by student experiences, this study chronicled how elementary students reconciled their multiple identities (as a student, as a person of color and as a scientist—their identity work) within the bounds of their classroom and community.

Employing critical ethnographic methodology, Burgess worked with 15 fifth-graders to understands their utilization of science as a means of narrating and practicing these multiple identities. Data collection consisted of individual student interviews, analysis of student work and classroom observations. The findings suggest these students of color espoused colorblind racial identities early in their academic carers and associated their science identities with how well they could abide by school rules, which ultimately determined their access to science learning opportunities. Although the students were aware of their racial identities and the apparent lack of representation of these identities in STEM-related fields, they have not yet linked their racial identities to their academic or disciplinary identities (e.g., viewing oneself as a black scientist), indicating a failure of the equity-driven standards to properly center students’ identities.

The implications of this work bear significance for science teacher education programs, standards-aligned elementary science curriculum development and the need for increased learning opportunities for pre- and in-service science teachers, as we strive to meet the instructional needs of today’s diverse student body.


Terrance Burgess is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and doctoral candidate in Teaching and Curriculum at Syracuse University. Prior to beginning his studies at Syracuse University, Burgess was a secondary science teacher in Durham, North Carolina. With an emphasis on increasing access to equitable student-centered science instruction, his research interests involve understanding how students of color conceptualize their science identities in the age of equity-driven science standards. He has presented his research at the annual international conferences of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and has frequently partnered with local schools to provide professional development opportunities to support classroom teachers in their implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In addition to his scholarly endeavors, Burgess has taught graduate courses at Ithaca College and Syracuse University, and enjoys hiking the state parks throughout Central New York in his spare time.


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