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The Cultural Roots of STEM: A Synthesis of Non-Western STEM Learning Paradigms

October 1, 2023 - September 30, 2026 | Public Programs

Despite efforts to foster inclusivity in Informal Science Learning (ISL), achieving equity remains challenging. Learners and professionals in the ISL field predominantly experience science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through a Eurocentric or Western paradigm, which reinforces and seeks to normalize the perspectives and practices of privileged groups who have historically dominated STEM fields. Learners/professionals with worldviews and ways of learning different from what is presented as normative in STEM may experience exclusion, face difficulties, or be pressured to assimilate, which may add barriers to their engagement and success in STEM. While there is a growing commitment in ISL to broadening participation in STEM, genuine diversity cannot be attained if current efforts continue to revolve around a dominant paradigm. This research synthesis project will review, summarize, and interpret existing research and knowledge on non-Western STEM knowledge, worldviews, and ways of knowing. It will also provide evidence-based resources for promoting diverse ways of learning and doing STEM in Informal Science Learning (ISL) environments. These resources will enhance awareness, expand conversations, and advance research on pluralistic STEM knowledge systems among ISL professionals. This project is led by the Exploratorium with contributions from a national advisory panel.

The project's overarching research question is: What are the extent, range, and nature of existing literature on the heterogeneity of STEM knowledge systems and ways of knowing? To answer this question, the research team will follow a three-phase approach guided by a Community Engagement in Research framework. Phase 1 will be a scoping review to systematically collate and catalog existing research on non-Western STEM knowledge, ways of knowing, and sense-making. In Phase 2, project advisors and selected community knowledge brokers--professionals from community-based and other organizations and/or individuals who have a foot in the ISL world and a foot in marginalized communities of color--will participate in a professionally-facilitated consultation exercise. The goal of this stakeholder consultation is to validate the findings from Phase 1 and identify topics and research questions for further exploration. Based on this consultation exercise, the research team will conduct a synthesis study tailored to address the identified research questions. Phase 3 will consist of two virtual facilitated convenings. The convenings will engage members from historically marginalized communities of color, science museum practitioners, and project advisors to collectively interpret and discuss Phase 1 and 2 synthesis results. The main objective of Phase 3 activities is to collectively identify knowledge gaps in the current literature to inform future research and propose evidence-based design principles and recommendations that reflect and support diverse worldviews and ways of knowing. In summary, the project will generate these deliverables: (1) Reports of the project's synthesis findings; (2) A research agenda identifying primary research necessary for the promotion of onto-epistemic heterogeneity [multiple ways of knowing and being] in ISL; and (3) Community-informed strategies, and design principles to encourage exploration of the affordances of multicultural STEM knowledge, ways of knowing, and sense-making in ISL. The project will contribute to the National Science Foundation's strategic goal of broadening participation in STEM learning and careers by providing a research foundation and pathway for both marginalized communities of color and privileged, dominant communities to explore and embrace multiple ways of knowing without compromising their cultural identities.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2313979
Funding Amount: $499,231.00


  • Isabel Hawkins
    Principal Investigator
  • REVISE logo
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • REVISE logo
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Verónica García-Luis
    Project Staff
  • Melissa Cuevas
    Project Manager
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions | Projects
    Discipline: General STEM
    Audience: General Public | Learning Researchers | Museum/ISE Professionals
    Environment Type: Public Programs
    Access and Inclusion: Ethnic/Racial

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