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Diversity in STEM

Supporting Diversity in the Classroom

In our globalized world, one in which our different experiences will allow us to tackle increasingly complex challenges, it is essential that today’s students benefit from an education that embraces diversity. At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we look to our hundreds of Inductees and their unique backgrounds as shining examples of how the greatest innovations require many different perspectives.

As you champion the importance of diversity in your own classroom, below are a few ideas you can implement today to ensure your own students’ unique identities, abilities, backgrounds and experiences are represented and respected, and that they begin to find similarities and common ground with those who are different from them.


Creating a Safe and Accepting Environment

Negative stereotypes and preconceived ideas about gender, race and ethnicity can begin developing in children as early as 4 years old. Because of this, it is imperative for teachers to create learning spaces that counteract these beliefs and serve as inviting places where differences are both accepted and celebrated.

In the context of a classroom, this means creating a space where students feel safe to express themselves freely. For younger children especially, questions like “Why is their skin different from mine?” often do not come from a place of prejudice but rather one of curiosity and a desire to better understand the world around them. With this in mind, it is important to carefully listen to what students are asking and to respond thoughtfully. Immediately shutting down these types of conversations sends the message that such discussions aren’t allowed. If you need more time to think about how to appropriately respond to a particularly challenging question, do not be afraid to tell a student that you will get back to them the next day.

At the same time, it is important not to allow students to express purposefully racist or prejudiced remarks, and if they do occur in a classroom setting, to explain why they are harmful and inappropriate.


Celebrating Diversity

Earlier this year, NIHF had the pleasure of hosting educators and district officials across the country in a webinar that discussed ways to bring joy back into the classroom. Mags Petkiewicz, principal at Gardner Academy in California’s San Jose Unified School District, spoke about the importance of giving students the opportunity to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Her school did this recently by holding an event where students in kindergarten through fifth grade were able to share different aspects of their culture. “We had them create presentations where they were actually teaching about their culture and heritage,” Petkiewicz said. “We had children teaching traditional recipes, how to play different games that were of their community. Additionally, the students shared the different traditions associated with their culture including traditional clothing and music.”

These presentations gave students and families the ability to come together and celebrate the importance of community. “All of this was very exciting to see come together, and the kids were just so proud of what they could do,” Petkiewicz said. “That really brought joy to all of us.”

Consider creating a cultural event for your school or district. This is a great way to authentically celebrate diversity and give your students a chance to share and learn from each other.


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