DOI: 10.1002/sce.21862 ISSN: 0036-8326

Contesting the boundaries of physics teaching: What it takes to transform physics education toward justice‐centered ends

Jasmine Jones
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Education


The underrepresentation of Black Americans in physics has been persistent for so long that it seems to have constrained physics educators' collective imagination when it comes to conceptualizing and pursuing equity in physics teaching and learning. Drawing on a teacher research study that foregrounds justice‐centered physics teaching, this article pushes past the “equity as access” narrative toward more expansive visions of equity and justice by reimagining physics education as a liberatory praxis. Accordingly, this study explores the complexities that emerged while expanding the boundaries of physics learning to embrace a justice‐centered curriculum through a Youth Participatory Science (YPS) project. Taught in the context of a freshman physics course at an urban public high school, this YPS project engaged students in designing solar energy systems for an African‐American community historically harmed by environmental racism. Critically evaluating curricular documents, I juxtaposed the traditional goals of physics learning with respect to definitions of community needs and assets. Simultaneously, I investigated the ways in which canonical physics knowledge dialectically interacts with interdisciplinary knowledge throughout the defining, investigating, and intervening phases of the YPS cycle. Throughout this process, I considered how physics learning provides opportunities to either reproduce or transform existing power relations within the sociopolitical and environmental schema of the community. The critical understandings constructed from this study frame what it takes to repurpose physics teaching and learning for environmental justice, specifically emphasizing the agentic pedagogical and curricular decisions teachers must negotiate to transform physics education for liberatory purposes.

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