This academic year, Shelley Stromholt (PhD '15), a University of Washington College of Education postdoctoral scholar and alumna, has received a prestigious Fulbright Research Award to study community-centered science learning alongside educational researchers in Norway. Stromholt earned her doctorate in learning sciences and human development from the College, where she studied science learning across settings both as a graduate researcher and a postdoctoral scholar in the UW's Institute for Science and Math Education.
Thanks to an award from the U.S.-Norway Fulbright Foundation for Educational Exchange, Stromholt will spend a year studying initiatives such as the Den Naturligskolesekken, or the “Sustainable Backpack” program, a nationwide collaboration from the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Climate and Environment, and the Norwegian Centre for Science Education. The Sustainable Backpack program has been implemented in approximately 175 Norwegian schools this year and connects teachers, community organizations and students as they work to better understand and collectively solve local sustainability problems. Ultimately, the program aims to support students to develop literacy in science and other disciplines.
“The connection to local, real-world science afforded by the Sustainable Backpack program is compelling for students,” said Stromholt. “That’s especially important if your philosophy of learning is that students should be engaged with problems and ideas that are going to help them make a difference in their communities and lives.”
In her work with the Institute for Science and Math Education, Stromholt researched the impact of studying authentic community science issues on young learners, as part of the center’s focus on lifelong learning across settings. However, in the United States, community-based science learning is not systematically connected to the curriculum, and is often distributed inequitably, with more-resourced students more likely to visit sites outside of the classroom.
“There isn’t a comprehensive program like the Sustainable Backpack program in the U.S.—a national program that helps teachers prioritize learning experiences that connect to community issues,” said Stromholt. “It gives students a chance to see science as interdisciplinary and relevant to so many parts of their everyday lives.”
The Fulbright program will give Stromholt an opportunity to better understand how programs like the Sustainable Backpack project, which focus on community collaboration to solve contemporary science-related problems, are helping Norway foster a more scientifically literate populace. She will also investigate how Norwegian educators and administrators are creating more equitable science learning environments at a time when the country faces unprecedented immigration.
“The groundbreaking steps Norway is making toward addressing issues of conservation would not be possible without the commitment of Norwegian officials and citizens as a scientifically literate population, and science education is the foundation for that,” she said.
Stromholt will work with Doris Jorde and Marianne Ødegaard at the University of Oslo, and Merethe Frøyland and Eldri Scheie at Naturfagsenteret, the Norwegian Centre for Science Education, as well as others.
To this work, Stromholt brings a background from her work at the UW in studying learning in five dimensions, looking at students’ faculty with science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, interest and identity. Stromholt also brings her experience collecting classroom data through practical measures (quick, useful data-collection methods) and using digital applications like Zydeco Inquiry to bridge learning experiences across different settings.
This Fulbright offers an opportunity for Stromholt to support students in both Norway and the United States to access more equitable science learning opportunities, ones that directly connect to their community needs, their personal interests and their identities.
“Shelley brings a deep grounding in how equity in science education relates to the lives of youth from nondominant communities—and how to promote inclusion and equity through design research,” said Philip Bell, UW professor of learning sciences and human development and Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences. “I think she will learn a tremendous amount from the efforts in Norway and has a lot to contribute to the endeavors there.”
Stromholt brings knowledge of equity in science education and design-based research to her work in Norway.
“I’m excited to share what we’ve been learning at University of Washington about how to support students to use science to take action in their communities, and to learn new strategies from our colleagues at the University of Oslo,” she said.
This story was originally published by the Institute for Science and Math Education.
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