Building on Students’ Funds of Knowledge

Sep 17, 2023

Drawing on students’ funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992) is essential for involving students in learning. Yet we ask, “Toward what end”? Often FOK is used to hook students into lessons, but how can this practice be meaningful and and equitable for learning? This resource includes tools for accessing students’ funds of knowledge, critical equity questions to consider when doing so, and a professional learning module to support teachers in thinking critically about students’ funds of knowledge and how teachers build on students’ knowledge and experiences in science classrooms.

Teaching Considerations

A simple strategy to activate and center familial funds of knowledge is to launch each science unit with a special edition “Home Study” collaborative homework activity. Teachers can begin by crafting an open-ended invitation for students and their loved ones to share a connection to, experience with, or questions about the anchoring phenomenon. Framing the assignment as collaborative, linguistically inclusive (i.e in different languages or modes), and expansive in nature invites diverse ways of knowing, thinking and relating to the natural world. This activity is best placed at the beginning of the unit with an extended and ongoing timeline for completion and return. The children’s shared stories and their families’ expertise and experiences will provide a rich and fertile foundation for connecting the what, how, and why of science in relationship to lived experiences.

Seeds in my life home study homework project due Monday, Feb. 27. We are studying the ways in which plants and animals depend on each other within habitats. We are learning about how plants grow and the ways in which their seeds are dispersed. We are also learning about how important trees are to our entire planet's health. Ask the people that you live with if they have any connections to seeds, plants, or trees in their own lives or in your family's history. Perhaps they have planted a tree or grown food that you and your relatives have eaten together. Maybe you love to cook and eat frijoles together! Write down what you learn so that you can share YOUR family's story! Student response: When I was in Mexico, my group had different plants. He grew corn and my favorite part was peeling it and eating it. He also has a guava tree, but it was not guava season so the tree didn't have any.

Images from the seeds in my life homework. Shows photos of one student's connections to beans, corn, guava tree, and green tomato.


  • Toward what end? The practice of drawing on students’ funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992) is essential for involving students in learning. The question teachers and researchers need to ask is, “Toward what end”? Often FOK is used to hook students into lessons, but it is challenging to continue to build on students’ ideas and lived experiences and adapt the curriculum to the storylines students share. So if the goal is to draw on students’ FOK but ultimately teach the curriculum as it stands (which often presumes Western ways of thinking about and doing science), then students may feel like their knowledge and identities are not valued in the classroom. Yet, coupled with adapting instruction and orienting learning toward a more expansive and justice-centered content and approach to science teaching, fuels powerful learning. 
  • Positioning & Vulnerability. Asking students to share their stories may put students in a vulnerable position. Teachers will want to consider how they model sharing their experiences and identities and how to engage in students in critical conversations of the activity. Please see the ConnectEd video, minutes 14:53-25:33 for an example.
  • Identity affirming culture. Bringing students’ stories and lived experiences around a phenomena allows students to further develop their identity as science knowledge holders. Teachers can use these stories to shift the classroom culture to one where students develop. empathy for their classmates, community and the world. 


Using Flip to Share Family Stories about Science Concepts. In my fifth-grade classroom, we study why we see certain constellations at different times of the year. I wanted to encourage student story sharing by asking students to interview someone connected to their home life about a time when they looked at the night sky. Students used the application “Flip” to conduct the interviews. These interviews were shared on the Flip page, and I enabled the comment feature so other students could respond to interviews or ask questions. I found that this activity built community around our science discussions and increased sharing of student stories. For example, one student interviewed her mom, who grew up in Beijing. She told a story about going on an overnight field trip in the mountains outside of the city. In this story, she described how bright the stars were in the sky during the mountain field trip versus how few stars she saw when viewing the sky in Beijing. This introduced the concept of light pollution, and several students used their classmate’s mother’s story as evidence in their argumentation. (Ms. Landschultz, 5th grade, Seattle Public Schools)

Teacher Educators & Professional Learning

Design Considerations


Here are slides of a three part professional learning experience and teacher learning stories from this experience. 

  • Part 1: FOK and our own critical reflection (60-90 minutes)
  • Part 2: What do we mean by FOK and how does it show up in our teaching? (2.5-3 hours)
  • Part 3: Follow-up on what teachers tried in their teaching (60 minutes)



Story 1, FOK Jam board Discussion. In PL, teachers used the jam board activity to discuss the purpose of drawing on students’ funds of knowledge regarding students having access to science, “having a seat at the table,” and not being exclusive to students with “right” answers. They questioned how school science is often rooted in the culture of white supremacy, which emphasizes right and wrong answers and funneling students toward correct answers. Building on this conversation, one teacher suggested that perhaps the table needs to “be smashed,” thus questioning the view that students must assimilate into dominant Western ways of doing science versus creating a more expansive vision of science teaching with multiple answers and perspectives. 

Furthermore, the teachers asked questions about their own assumptions about students’ capabilities. In the jam board activity, they questioned the language often used to describe students as “behind.” Following the PL, one of the kindergarten teachers described the value of looking at student models and challenging their own assumptions: “You see deeper into what they’re really thinking, and sometimes a student that you think is really at a really low level can surprise you by the picture and by what they’re trying to say in the picture. I have this one kid, he hated writing; writing time for him was the worst time ever. But when it came to science. Wow. It was like I saw a different child just because of what he produced for those models. So again, with a different perspective, it made me realize that he had more potential than I was giving him credit for. Because sometimes we create our own biases.” (05/20/20)

the teachers asked questions about their own assumptions about students’ capabilities. In the jam board activity, they questioned the language often used to describe students as “behind.” In this example of the funds of knowledge group Jamboard, four questions are asked and responses are shown on sticky notes. The four questions asked are: 1. What does Funds of Knowledge mean, what does it not mean? 2. How does the conflation of term result in us not seeing (black, brown, some linguistically diverse students) students? 3. How do we avoid collapsing culture and race with FOK? 4. When does FOK serve racial justice and cultural assets in science?

Story 2, Being Vulnerable. In this video clip, you will see a first-year teacher eliciting students’ ideas about the phenomenon of inheritance. She models sharing her experiences, languages, and identities to open the conversation for students. In so doing, she normalizes talking about race and family structures as a part of science learning. (12:16-22:45, about 10 minutes) In science classrooms, students are often asked to be vulnerable with their ideas, but teachers have the option to share their ideas and identities. Building a culture of vulnerability takes time, and teachers need to be prepared to engage students in critical conversations if students feel like their ideas and identities are not welcome. 

A teacher giving a presentation in an elementary school classroom. The current slide she is presenting asks: Can you connect Wolf 44's differences to something in your family or friends?


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This site is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Award #1907471 and #1315995