Sheldon: Welcome advocates to another episode of Leading Equity podcast. A podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. And I got a good friend, buddy of mine that's here with us today. Little sister, if you will. That is Ms. Chanel Johnson is here and I'm really excited to have her on. She's been on the show before and we connected a few years back through Our Voice Academy Chicago. And so without further ado, Chanel, thank you so much for joining us.
Chanel Johnson: Thanks for having me, bro. I'm so excited to be back.
Sheldon: Always a pleasure, always a pleasure to chop it up with you. So I'm really looking forward to this. Now I know who you are, but there's some folks who may not know who you are. So if you don't mind just share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.
Chanel Johnson: Sure. Well, my name is Chanel Johnson. I'm based out of Atlanta, Georgia, and I like to call myself the STEMinist. I am a female in the STEM field who is a STEM advocate and believes that STEM is for all. So that's kind of the name I go by. I support science instruction, STEM instruction, and instructional technology, which of course is a component of STEM. And I just love working with educators.
Sheldon: Well, that's good. I would hope so. If you're in education and you do STEM stuff, I hope that you like working with educators. We got to talk offline by the way because I got some ideas for some STEM stuff I want to do. So we'll talk about that later. I got off subject, but it's all good. So here's a question I have for you because we were talking on Instagram and we were talking about cultural relevancy when it comes to our STEM and you shared a video with me regarding a rollercoaster.
And your question that you pitched out to me was is this an example of culturally relevant to pedagogy? Now, for those who have not had that opportunity to see that video, could you share a little bit of what was that video about and why did you ask that question?
Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. So I found this video on Instagram Reel, maybe even Tik Tok, which is a good place to find science phenomenon, put that out there. And basically it was two girls African-American. They were on a rollercoaster and I need to get that name of it, but it's a very, very ... It's called the Slingshot. It's called the Slingshot. If you don't know what it is, look it up and then you will understand our pain.
So two girls on the Slingshot, very dangerous ride, right? Think of being thrown through a slingshot and the girl is going and one of them passes out a little bit. And then in the moment of her coming back, to her wig, her sew in is glued down and it flies off. So right when she comes to, she's kind of like reaching for her head, like, "Oh my goodness."
So I reached out to you because to me, I saw the culture. I saw so much in it. And I also saw the science, like this girl just let probably $500 worth of hair go into the water. But on top of that, I saw the science behind it. And I asked you because there's so much conversation about cultural relevance, but oftentimes we overlook common videos like that. And I wanted to know to you, would that count as cultural relevance?
Sheldon: And my response was, yes, I believe so because I mean, I think when we ... and we can dig into as far as what does culture mean as far as if it's just limited to just race or not. But when we think about for watching or understanding what is a lace front and the wig, knowing all that and how it can come off. And just like you said, knowing how much that costs and we could relate that to a lot of our students in the classroom who may have had some similar experiences with how their hair has been ... The stuff that they've done with their hair, they would be able to relate to that.
And I think you kind of even asked a little bit further as like, "Well, what would be the difference if I have that background knowledge, but a teacher that's in front of the students who does not have that same knowledge, how are they able to provide a cultural relevant experience with them, with their students, if they don't have that same background knowledge?"
Chanel Johnson: That was a good question that we talked about and it really got me thinking of the consequences of what would happen if a teacher played that video and you didn't know the cultural relevance. And I'm thinking if you didn't know the culture relevance behind what was going on in that video, it could have come off as offensive because I could see the students who may not look like us or who may not be familiar with that culture laughing and clowning that girl. Oh, her hair just flew off.
Yeah. But you just missed the point of what was going on. And I could see a teacher who isn't familiar with that culture or what was going on losing control and things happening or things being said. Oh, she bald headed. She ain't got no hair. Well now she has a cap on it. She does. So let's not. So I think that it's very important and I'll even flip it. There are some things that I've seen that like, "Ooh, that's not my culture. I don't understand. So I probably shouldn't play it," or if I don't understand, I need to ask a question.
And I've had that happen before where I've have Hispanic students and we oftentimes say culture means black and brown people. But that doesn't mean that we're all in the same culture. And if it's something that I have questions about, I will ask. I will literally ask the question, but not in a way of where I'm being offensive. I'm coming from a place of learning so that I can reach you.
Sheldon: Okay. Let's ask that question because if I'm saying, I want to ask questions and I know a lot of teachers will be afraid to ask questions because they don't want to offend someone. How do you do that? If you have some Hispanic students in your classroom and you want to ask them about their culture or even have another black kid or another whoever, right? Another child in your class, you want to ask them about their culture, what would be some ways to approach that question so that you feel comfortable with asking and that student doesn't feel uncomfortable or they don't feel, again, to try to limit any opportunities to offend someone.
Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. So it always starts, and we say this all the time, it starts with the relationship piece. Positive relationships. And of course you can't go from first day of school. Oh, we're friends now. Now let me just ask you about your culture. No. It takes time. Get to know your students, let them get to know you, let them know that it's okay to ask you questions.
And when the opportunity presents itself and I'll give an example of actually when it happened. It was probably, I don't know, maybe December of that school year. So we're pretty much about to close off the first semester. And I heard a student, a Hispanic student, like anytime a black student says something, some of them was like, "Ooh, that's racist." And we would have to say, "No, it's not." [inaudible]
Because they're saying that something was racist towards African-Americans and we will have to say, "No, it's not. This is what it means." And then one day I just asked the question because I didn't know because I wanted to know, "What do I say? Do I say Mexican? Do I say Hispanic? Do I say Latin X?" Because the same for us. Do you say black? Do you say African-American? Because it's a preference.
And so I just straight up asked and one of the students said, "I prefer to be called Mexican." And in my mind I'm thinking, "Ooh, I'm not supposed to say that. But if that's what you're telling me and you're telling me why," I'm like, "Okay." And I prefer to be called an African-American.
Honestly I want to be called by my name. But if we have to go there, I am African-American and it was a whole conversation. It had nothing to do with science, but what did it do? It built community. It built understanding. And it happened authentically. There was no lesson plan. There was no PLC for that. so oftentimes we want to shut it down because we think we're losing control. But sometimes it was just an authentic flow and we let it happen. While we didn't cover the standard that day, but what did we do? We built community.
Sheldon: And that was going to lead to my next thought because some teachers will say, "Well, that's class time and we're not discussing the content that we're supposed to discuss and prepare for standardized tests." And like you said, standards, mastery, all these things. However, I think developing relationships is so important. Just like what you said and what is that? 10 minutes maybe of the class day and think about how the lasting impact that would have versus having a lesson on science that maybe the kids would not have connected the same way that it connects with you with that relationship piece that you talked about.
So let me ask you this question. So when I do a lot of training, I get a lot of teachers sometimes, especially science or math teachers, they'll come up to me and they'll say, "Well, Sheldon, cultural responsiveness, cultural relevant pedagogy, that's good for English teachers. And that's good for your history teachers. That's easy. How do I do that in my classroom? Because I'm a science teacher, I'm a math teacher. And all we do is formulas and equations and elements or whatever. That's what we do. So how do I make sure that my lessons are culturally relevant. That doesn't apply to me." How do you respond to those kinds of questions?
Chanel Johnson: I say that you're looking at things separate. You have the culture and the content separate and they should one be together. The science, what is science? It's meant to explain how the world works. Who's in the world? People. So why are we separating those two? An example of that that I was thinking of. And I'm going to give an incident that happened was actually a very sad incident.
A couple of years ago, we had some kids skip school. About five kids in a SUV. Drove off, ran a light in a big open area and they crashed and everyone died except the kid in the third row. So as far as the culture is concerned, that was a tough situation for that community. But what did that allow me to do? It allowed me to take Newton's Laws and car safety to explain to you why it's important to wear a seatbelt.
It gets into math and explaining why that child in the back seat possibly survived while the others didn't. So it's taking the science and it's bringing it home to me. I'll give you one more example. And this one was really bad.
This was on the news. This guy, he was flying his drone and it flew into a wire, to the power wires, right? So he tried to get it down and he got a metal pole. So you can guess what happened next. And what's happening? That's the culture. And that's an example of why it's so important to teach with your culture because think about it.
He wasn't thinking about the fact that, "Oh my goodness, I have a metal pole and I'm about to touch some electrical current to get this drone." And now he's not here anymore. But what would happen if he had used a wood stick? What would have happened if he used something else or he just waited it out? So that's why it's important to make it relate. And I actually used that lesson. It was in the newspaper and I waited a couple of years before I used it because it was really close in that area where I live, but I waited and I used it as an example to introduce conductors and insulators.
Sheldon: So what I'm hearing is when we think about culturally relevant, we want to make sure that whatever content we're presenting to our students is relevant to them. They can understand it. This is not something that came out hundreds of years ago or whatever, but they can talk about it in today's time. Sometimes when we think about the cultural relevant piece, we just assume, "Oh, that means that I need to bring in a black inventor or a woman inventor or I need to spend a special lesson or special unit on color." And then that is me being culturally relevant.
So what I'm hearing though, you could take everyday experiences that the kids can identify with and that would still be a part of being a culturally responsive teacher.
Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. That's just part one. Oh, I found Dr. Johnson from ... What is the movie? And I should know it. [inaudible] movies, but all of our different movies and all of our-
Sheldon: Hidden Figures?
Chanel Johnson: Yes.
Chanel Johnson: That's how, and I don't want to say that I'm over it, but that's how I am about it. Just because you picked those dynamic women, you have them on your wall, that doesn't mean that you're being culturally relevant. Yes, you're showing our black and brown students that hey, you too can do this, but yeah, tell me how.
How do you make this science talk to me so I can do it? Don't just put it in my face telling me, "Hey, yeah, you can do it." Okay. Now this is where you tell me how. This is what you make it come alive to me.
Sheldon: First of all, I'm loving that you said it's nice. And we're not taking anything away from the work that was done with NASA and just ... I'm very happy. I didn't know anything about Hidden Figures and all that. So I'm glad that this happened. However, it's one thing to just show them a movie, put the poster on a wall, read the books, whatever it is. But I liked that you added teach them how to get there.
Because if I say, "Oh, you can do this if you put your heart to it, your mind to it and dreams," and you know how we do. If that's what we're doing, and then there's no how, the kids are still on their own to try to ... It's up to them to try to get this thing done. Tell me a little more about that because, all right so I am a teacher. I am a science teacher and I do have Hidden Figures.
It's part of we're [inaudible] in a special lesson and that's coming up in October. We plan it every year in October. This is part of what we do. This is it. So correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm hearing if you could still play it, but we need to add to it. That can't just be it. What else would I need to do to really support my students? And just to go beyond just awareness of various instances of folks that are doing things that are beating odds or things like that? How do I go further than that?
Chanel Johnson: I think one way to go through that is either making it come to life for the student, identifying the challenges. What challenges did you see them go through? Okay, how did they overcome those challenges? Now, what challenges are you facing? You may not be facing the same exact challenges they're facing, or maybe you are because we have females in here who's still being overlooked. And then men or young guys in the classroom, how are you treating the girls in the class?
Are you treating them this way? Are you giving them a platform? Are you appreciating them for their academic, for them, their knowledge? So view that video as a change agent. Look for the actual science in there because it wasn't just science. It was actually math. Dr. Johnson was a mathematician. Right? So getting into the technology that we have now. Like is the type of math that she had to do, was it necessary? Is it necessary today? What could we do? How have we improved and how can we continue to improve?
So I think it's a matter of coming with questions and not answers. Don't give them the answer. Give them the questions. Give them a opportunity to think and reflect on how do I see myself here? How can I get there? It's a lot that you can do with that. And to be honest with you, I love movies. I was the nerd when Black Panther came out, I actually sat there thinking of science lessons as I'm watching the movie.
I'm like, "Ooh, potential kinetic energy. That's why his suit does this." I'm that person. But you have to be able to know your science and know your culture or know the culture you serve, to be able to make that connection. You know what I'm saying?
Sheldon: Well, give me some examples of those Black Panther lesson plans. I know I'm putting you on the spot, and we are definitely ... I don't know if there's a Disney disclaimer or something we need to throw out there as well. But give me an example. Like if I wanted to talk about some Vibranium or something, [inaudible] okay. Share what you got.
Chanel Johnson: From a physical science standpoint, let's talk the fact that you just said vibranium. Vibranium is an element. So Vibranium. Where would it fall on the periodic table? Based on what you saw about vibranium, based on the property. So that's another thing. While we're watching Black Panther start observing the properties of Vibranium.
Now, based on what you know about this element and what we know about other elements, where do you predict it will fall? And justify your answer. So I just took the culture and I turned it into a PDL. Is it true? Is vibranium real? No, maybe not. But what did I do? I still allowed you to apply your practices with science fiction and science fiction is nothing but fiction and actual science. So that was one. And then with his suit, right?
Sheldon: Can I ask you a question?
Chanel Johnson: Sure.
Sheldon: Because it's not a real element, is there a right or wrong answer to the students' responses to that question?
Chanel Johnson: It could be. I wouldn't say it, but I would feel concerned if a student said that I'm going to put vibranium, which was a metal over here with the noble gases, because it's a gas, but if you can justify it, because again, everything is up for discussion in science other than gravity.
So if you can justify that claim with your evidence, I will sit back and say, "Okay." But what does that do? That creates scientific thinkers. That creates this opportunity that science is ongoing. There is no right answer. The end. It's, "Hey, we can go on for days."
Sheldon: I got you. I was curious. What's your second example?
Chanel Johnson: My second one was a little more intentional, a little more easy was when he was trying on his suit and the sister said, "Hit it." So he hits it. And then what happened? You remember what happened?
Sheldon: He flew all the way over to the other side.
Chanel Johnson: Right. And then so I would ask students, Why?" So now we're getting into energy. Now we're getting into potential and kinetic energy. At what point was it potential? When he hit the suit and it absorbed all his impact. And so then what happened when he hit it again? Boom.
So that is potential and kinetic energy. We're getting into transformation of energy. Energy can't be created nor destroyed. That energy you put in that suit, it didn't go anywhere. It was there until it was ready. Right? So that can help a student understand energy, which of course gets into roller coasters.
So it's so much science. I didn't have to find a black or brown scientist to bring it relevant to your culture. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't. We definitely want to be able to identify ourselves because right now textbooks aren't doing it. So we don't rely on them, but bring the culture to them. Bring their world to the science. And in order to do that, you got to know their world.
Sheldon: And I want to add to that because I think any teacher can do that if they take the time to do it. so even if it's not something that you, again, I was going to call it Wakanda. Black Panther it's a Marvel movie. A lot of folks have seen it. So it doesn't necessarily mean, "Oh, I can only relate to the culture if I'm part of, identify personally."
But I think anybody could have watched that movie and be able to kind of put those things together and I would probably even add, and you could probably use other movies and find other examples of science. I don't want to limit cultural responsiveness, cultural relevancy to just race. I believe that there is a lot of things when it comes to culture that we can embrace as educators and also help our students to understand. And so I think that's very important that we don't just limit it to just race. But we do keep in mind that it's much broader than that.
Chanel Johnson: I agree. To your point. It's not just about race. It's about shared experiences. I have a friend I'm just going to shout her out because you got to get her on the show one day. Her name is [Nyrie]. Clark. You know Nyrie? She's actually [inaudible].
Sheldon: Yeah, I know who she is. I got to get her on. You're right. You're right. I do.
Chanel Johnson: That's my girl. So I love Nyrie. And when she came down to Atlanta over the summer, when family come, we got to chop it up. We got to meet up. That's how it goes. So we come to Idaho [inaudible]
Sheldon: Come on down to Idaho.
Chanel Johnson: You got to come get us. But so when Nyrie came out, me and her was talking and I don't want to put her story on blast because it was a good story to share. But one of the things that I learned from her is, again, culture is shared experiences. And if when she gets into her family, she'll tell you, "You know what? Me and my person, we've known each other this amount of time. And we're from the same culture." And you'll understand when she tells you or if she tells you.
But when she said it to me, it just resonated with me that it's not about race. I have family members, people who are blood related to me. We not from the same culture, but we do have some shared experiences, but not as much as somebody down the street from me. So I always resonate that. And I think there's a misconception that culture means race. And I think that's people's safe space. Oh, all the black kids like this. No, because this black girl actually listens to Queen and Pink Floyd. Would you have known that?
Sheldon: No, but I like Queen, too.
Chanel Johnson: Who doesn't, right?
Sheldon: Who doesn't like Queen? Oh my goodness. How do you not like Queen?
Chanel Johnson: I don't know. And I've seen Bohemian Rhapsody on the plane. Well, first of all, I've seen it multiple times. Okay?
Sheldon: Okay. Frankie Mercury. That's my guy.
Chanel Johnson: I didn't get a chance to be in the same space with him because I want to say he passed before I was born. Right?
Sheldon: Yeah. It's been awhile. Has it? I don't know.
Chanel Johnson: It's been a minute.
Sheldon: It's been a minute. Okay. Okay. There you go. I see you over there Googling. So while you're doing that, so we can fact check ourselves, I want to touch on one more piece. And I think I want to do that because what's important again is I want to make sure that our science teachers, our STEM ... Let's be more inclusive. Our STEM teachers are able to be culturally relevant without the pressure of feeling like, oh, I just need to bring in a special person or a special lesson of color to relate to my students.
But I really liked that you've been honing on the importance of bringing in experiences that the kids can relate to. Are there any other examples that you want to add in that again, that can kind of further enhance this conversation?
Chanel Johnson: Yes, actually. So when we talk in science and actually now just in STEM period, we get into explore before we explain. And we like to start off with a phenomenon. So basically a wonder. Something to get the kids to wonder about. And what I'm seeing is oftentimes the teachers, they come with the phenomenon. They come with the wander because it's aligned to my standard and it's going to get my storyline where I want it to go.
Because we don't want to lose control. We got a deadline, I get it. But what if your students brought in a phenomenon? Because I'm telling you on Instagram, Tik Tok, there are so many phenomenon that's happening to people in everyday times that you can use that and what are you doing? You're allowing them to bring in their culture, their experiences, their interests.
It may not necessarily align to the standard at that moment, but hey, you can put it on the box and put it as a wonder. Like, "Hey, well, during your genius hour, let's start researching all the science we're going to gain this year. Let's see if we can learn why this happened."
So that's one advice that I have. Allow the students to bring in something cool that they saw because we all share something funny that we saw on Tik Tok or on Instagram. We all share something that's like, "Whoa, how did that happen?" What are you doing? That's a phenomenon. That's a wonder. And I think sometimes we keep those disconnected and then just bring them in.
Sheldon: Question and I agree with you. A lot of our schools, however, have banned Tik Toks and they have banned Instagrams for our class. I mean, half the kids aren't even allowed to have cell phones in a lot of schools. How do we get around that? Or is it something maybe that we as educators should be pushing back with district policies or school policies? What are your thoughts [inaudible]? And again, I know if I'm putting you on blast, I'm just curious all your thoughts on that.
Chanel Johnson: So that was two questions. One was with some of the Tik Tok videos, you can actually download them. So if a student let's just say, a student has a phone, or they have a computer, they can download some of those clips and you can email them to your teacher, or you can drop it somewhere safe. I don't know different districts protocol, but there's a way for that.
But as far as blocking, as a [inaudible] certified educator, we talk about developing digital age learners. Developing a digital age learner is not slapping my hand telling me, "No, you can't do that. No, you can't do that." It's teaching me how to be responsible.
So how can I be responsible if I'm never given a chance to try? And I get it. There are going to be some people out there who are going to push the envelope. I've had some students back in the day tried it. But it was a learning experience. And sometimes these situations can be so big that it's not worth the risk. So it's just easier to say, "No, don't do that. No, do that." But keep in mind, we're trying to develop digital age learners and me telling them no, does that get them better? Or does that make them want to do more things?
Sheldon: And again, being culture relevant. That's what our kids are looking at. I remember interviewing Dr. Emily Wells and during my hip hop summit. And she was talking about the value of Tik Tok and why a lot of our kids, especially when we're thinking about hip hop pedagogy, that you think about all the dance themed videos that are out there in our Reels and Instagram, all that, and our kids are watching it. They're learning the moves and how we can bring that into the classroom and be relevant to our kids.
Man, just imagine the differences that our kids would have as they look forward to come to your classroom because what kind of video are they going to show us today?
Chanel Johnson: Exactly. I love how you said dancing. I don't know if you've seen my oldest daughter, this is the tumbler, the dancer. For her birthday, the DJ played every cool song that was playing on Tik Tok which I did not know, but automatically her and her friends knew every dance and I'm thinking, "How you know all these dances?" Because I'm watching Tik Tok. And she's literally like, "Why do I have a TV in my room? I watched Tik Tok on my phone.:
And I think of the computer science teacher who wants to do line dancing. When you get into the steps and getting ... You can bring that culture into that. What is the algorithm or what is the steps to that particular dance? What happens when I turn left? It's so much you can do to bring it home that we're missing out on opportunities because we think we want to be culturally relevant, but sometimes we keep the culture relevant from the content.
Sheldon: Chanel, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. And it's always a pleasure to chop it up with you. What is one final word of advice that you can leave to our listeners?
Chanel Johnson: Always be in the spirit of learning every day. Never get to a spot where you think I know it all because once you get there, then are you truly living? I'm learning something new every day. And I encourage us to do the same.
Sheldon: If you have some folks that want to reach out to you online, what's the best way to connect with you?
Chanel Johnson: That's a great question. Twitter is always good. I am DC underscore STEMtastic. You can always email if you want to just have a conversation via email at [email protected] And I think that's really it. I'm pretty good with that. Twitter and email.
Sheldon: All right, here we go. And I'll leave the links in the show notes as well so folks can connect and reach out to you. Do you have any YouTube channels or anything else that you want to share that might be available?
Chanel Johnson: I have a website that's under construction. I'm working on it. I feel like I said that the last time.
Sheldon: I think so.
Chanel Johnson: When it gets here, it's going to be ready. But no. I've kind of had a little YouTube channel, but it's three videos on there. You can follow it if you want.
Sheldon: Okay. I'm just curious. Yeah. Just throwing it out there. So we've talked about you getting you on the mic as well, so hopefully we can get that to happen as well. We need more voices out there in our podcast world.
Chanel Johnson: You are holding it down very well.
Sheldon: No pressure, no pressure.
Chanel Johnson: Oh my goodness. You're holding it down.
Sheldon: That's right. But we need more in this space. We definitely need more in this space. So anyway, Chanel again, it's always a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.
Chanel Johnson: Awesome. Thank you for having me.
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