Date of Award

Fall 1-5-2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Early Childhood Education

First Advisor

Laura May

Second Advisor

Natalie King

Third Advisor

Natalie Davis

Fourth Advisor

Lisa Domke


Most elementary students are not given opportunities to make sense of their own observations or engage meaningfully with science ideas to develop conceptual understanding. Instead, they are subjected to passive approaches to learning or hands-on activities with little relevance to authentic contexts (Roth, 2014). The 2018 survey of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) reports only 31% of elementary teachers surveyed felt very well prepared to teach science in general, and students most likely to be taught by teachers who feel unprepared are those in high-poverty schools with historically underrepresented race and ethnicity groups. One way to address these issues is seen in calls to recruit, prepare and retain teachers who view their role through a lens of social justice (Kavanagh & Danielson, 2020; Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 2014; Sleeter, 2001). Culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) (Ladson-Billings, 1995a) is a framework used by successful teachers of African American students and has since been applied to a range of subject areas and with additional marginalized communities. Yet, though the body of literature is growing, elementary science education has received less attention in CRP research. This critical qualitative study used narrative analysis (Reissman, 2006) to understand (a) what it means to three elementary teachers to teach science in culturally relevant ways and (b) how policies and practices restrict their pedagogies. An analytical framework consisting of CRP and Clandinin & Connelly’s (2000) Three-Dimensional Narrative Space yielded insights related to teaching in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, team teaching practices, administrative support, and the chilling effects of classroom censorship legislation.


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