Views of Science Teaching and Learning by Immigrant Somali Elders: Perceptions of Conflict and Acceptance

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Views of Science Teaching and Learning by Immigrant Somali Elders: Perceptions of Conflict and Acceptance

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The gap between a student’s home culture and that of classroom science may create challenges for students and families, especially those from recent immigrant cultures, including refugees. As a result, science learning in schools may require a form of cultural border crossing between home cultures and the culture of classroom science. Given this, as educators, how do we make these borders more porous for better science learning experiences? Using the frameworks of funds of knowledge, culturally relevant pedagogy, and socio-constructivism, this study focuses on the perspectives of Somali-American elders and parents about school science. Designed as an in-depth interview study, five purposefully selected participants were interviewed over a period of two years. The guiding questions for the study included: 1) What are the perceptions of Somali elders about school science? and 2) How do Somali elders believe science teaching and learning can facilitate Somali students’ engagement in science? Analysis of the interview data revealed that Somali-American adults have complicated perceptions of school science that include both conflicts and acceptance with current pedagogy and content. For example, science education was highly valued by both individuals and the Somali community, both as a way for individuals to attain economic prosperity and respect, but also as a way to lift up the Somali diaspora, both here and in their native homeland. On the other hand, science was also viewed as an abstract discipline with little connection to students’ and families’ everyday home lives. Moreover, due to the intrinsic role that Islam plays in traditional and contemporary Somali culture, several areas of science education, including geology, evolution and sex education, were viewed as problematic and unresolvable. Various potential areas of funds of knowledge and culturally relevant pedagogy were discussed including nutrition, food preparation and storage, health education, and vaccinations. The study discusses several implications for science teachers of Somali-American students including the need to be aware of the intrinsic relationship between Islam, as practiced by Somali-Americans, and everyday practices, including the possibility of cultural violence resulting from the conflicts between science teaching as practiced in the United States, and Somali-American students’ beliefs. The study also discusses changes in pedagogy that are experienced by Somali-American families and students, and suggests ways to mitigate these differences. Finally, the study provides suggestions for the roles of science teachers, both in everyday teaching and learning and in their professional development practices, to make science more meaningful, accessible and engaging to Somali-American students and their families.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2015. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Bhaskar Upadhyay, Fred Finley. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 205 pages.

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Albrecht, Nancy. (2015). Views of Science Teaching and Learning by Immigrant Somali Elders: Perceptions of Conflict and Acceptance. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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