Teacher Stories from a PLC focused on Funds of Knowledge

Jun 11, 2024

Below are stories from a PLC with elementary and middle school teachers from Paso Robles Joint Unified School and Santa Maria-Bonita School Districts. They met monthly with facilitator Justin Ward to work on their practice and specifically worked on modeling, and eliciting students’ ideas with attention to students’ funds of knowledge. Each teacher shares important PLC learnings they took back to their classroom, and how they deepened their understanding of students’ funds of knowledge.

Lead Contamination Unit

Developed by Ashley Calloway

I teach in a mostly rural area in Santa Maria, CA. Most of my students are considered “unduplicated” meaning that they are either socioeconomically disadvantaged, homeless, or foster youth. 

In structuring my unit around chemical reactions, my primary aim was to challenge the misconception that chemistry is inherently difficult and inaccessible. By leveraging my students’ funds of knowledge, I sought to empower them with the belief that they could engage and excel in this subject matter. Using a real-world scenario akin to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, I encouraged them to apply what they had learned to solve a fictional town’s water contamination issue, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. At the culmination of the unit, discussions on equity and justice were integrated, allowing students to reflect on broader societal issues and relate them to their communities. These conversations instilled a sense of ownership and responsibility and emboldened students to question and challenge systemic injustices, fostering a commitment to social change. Additionally, we discussed the importance of selecting policymakers who prioritize the well-being of their constituents. Even though my students are currently in seventh grade, I emphasized the significance of being informed voters who choose individuals with their best interests at heart when they eventually can vote.

Tapping into students’ funds of knowledge in teaching chemistry was an enriching experience for me and my learners. We created an engaging learning environment where students felt empowered by connecting the subject to their existing knowledge. Throughout the unit, I observed increased confidence and enthusiasm among the students, culminating in thoughtful discussions about equity and justice. Witnessing their growth academically and socially was incredibly rewarding, highlighting the effectiveness of this approach in fostering deeper learning and empowerment.


For educators considering this strategy, I would recommend starting by actively listening to your students and valuing their diverse experiences and perspectives. By incorporating their funds of knowledge into your teaching, you can create a more inclusive and engaging learning environment. Additionally, it’s important to regularly reflect on how your teaching practices contribute to equity and justice in the classroom. Ask yourself questions such as: Are all students given equitable opportunities to participate and succeed? How can I ensure that my teaching addresses systemic inequities and fosters social justice? By continually examining and adapting your approach, you can better support the holistic development of your students.

Revising Water Cycle Models

Developed by Amber Weber

This is my 9th year teaching. I currently teach 2nd grade in a district that has yet to adopt a science curriculum. I currently have access to Mystery Science. I try to tie science concepts to our reading and social studies curriculum. I have taught my students “talk moves” and they like to make connections and build on each other’s schema. This year I am linking science to our big ancestor project to give them more of a global perspective.

I struggle with how much I should be guiding discussions with inquiry based prompting and questioning. I like to honor students’ thinking while also providing them appropriate feedback for how science phenomena happen. This year I wanted students to participate fully so I changed how I prompt students. I wanted to make science more approachable to all of my students and really worked hard to explain that all great scientists revise their models and understanding. This year students revised a water cycle model multiple times after seeing ice melt, watching videos, reading texts and using a phET simulation. They loved seeing how much they could revise their initial model. This was a concrete way to show how they grew.

Students felt more comfortable to share their ideas especially knowing that they could go back multiple times and revise their thinking with models. They loved seeing how their understanding changed over time. I believe they are starting to see themselves as scientists.


I would suggest to others that they should be cognizant of how they elicit students’ funds of knowledge. Prompting should be done in a way that allows all students to participate. When students recognize that all of their voices’ matter, richer discussion occurs. Using models is a way to increase participation and lowers the affective filter. Students begin to recognize that they can revise their understanding throughout a unit and throughout the year.

Solar Eclipse Ideas

Developed by Katherine Cox

During this PLC our focus was accessing student’s funds of knowledge. I started by using questions brainstormed by our group with my students. “What does this remind you of?” became a favorite connector in class. Students were pleased to share connections they could make from home or prior year’s learning. It also broadened our discussions and sparked new questions.

My favorite tool I used to access students knowledge was a Keeley Probe for the solar eclipse. Their pre-assessment helped guide my instruction and the post assessment was proof of learning. The students were thrilled to see our class average go up (the probe was made into a Google form).

Throughout the last several weeks, I was also pleased to see the amount of opportunity for students to create iterative models – (solar eclipse, water cycle, why is the ocean salty). All children can draw a model to show their thinking (and funds of knowledge!). Everytime we drew a model, ALL students participated. Students could then add new academic language, “talk” to the model, tell their partner about their model, and ultimately write about their model. I was reminded that modeling is an opportunity to encourage all to engage in the learning.

Keeley probes are such a wonderful way to ask students what they know. Prompts are student friendly, choices are given, and then students are offered an opportunity to explain their thinking. When I made it into a google form, students could also see immediately how our entire class responded. They love that they have to wait and to find out the “correct” answer. When the post assessment test was given and revealed, my class cheered for our learning.


Accessing children’s funds of knowledge validates their experiences. When validated, they are ready to learn.

Home schooling

Developed by Kerry Estes

I am a teacher in a home school setting where the parents are the teachers and I am a resource for the student and the parent. I provide the curriculum and pacing and the parent does the majority of the teaching. I meet with the student on a weekly basis to help instruct or answer any questions. I have students in grades 3rd – 5th, with a variety of homeschool experiences. I have used what I have learned to access student’s funds of knowledge in order to invite them into my lessons and science curriculum more often.

As a homeschool teacher where the parent is the student’s primary teacher I often at times am stumped as to how to get more involvement from the student. The goal I was trying to overcome was to get more students who do not normally participate in my daily check-ins, as well as the students who are turning in very limited work, to become more involved. By accessing their funds of knowledge I believe this goal was accomplished. Funds of knowledge was a concept I had not thought much of prior to this; by understanding how powerful accessing the student’s funds of knowledge could be I tried a few ways to implement it that would help me meet my goals. In order to get more student’s activity participating in my daily check-ins on Zoom, I asked them to be the expert for the day. The student then “taught” myself and the rest of the students about something they were passionate about and had knowledge of. One of my students went outside and we learned all about her hobby of dirt bike riding. Another student shared her new found knowledge of the White’s Tree Frog. I then reached out to a family who is turning in very limited school work yet I knew their passion was animals. I suggested they come to our science fair and bring their animals and tell us all about them. They jumped at this opportunity because it was something they were excited about and it did not require much work on their part. The sharing of the animals was a success so I took this a step further by asking them to write up the facts on the animals they had brought and turn it into a work sample. For me this was a win win situation. By accessing their funds of knowledge about their animals they not only participated in the science fair but also were motivated to write up a short summary of what they shared and I in turn got a work sample that incorporated science and writing.

I found a lot of success in accessing my student’s funds of knowledge. This led to a higher rate of participation and more work being turned in. I believe it also created excitement in my student’s to be able to share with me and the rest of the class what they were passionate about and possibly created a better relationship between myself and the them


Accessing student’s funds of knowledge can be a powerful tool to getting them to become more involved in the classroom and their own schoolwork. I did a lot of this through prompts or modeling and sharing out from each of the students.


Helpful Prompts

Developed by Carissa Cain

My name is Carissa Cain and I am a first year teacher and mother of four. I teach a class of 31 students; a 3rd and 4th grade combination class at a public elementary school. I have greatly enjoyed this Science PLC where we learned about the AST framework. I feel more connected to my students and I also feel that they have learned more because they have been more involved in the conversations.

We learned a lot about accessing your students’ funds of knowledge. These kids come with many different experiences, lifestyles, and interests. When I learned that making these connections shows longer engagement later in life, I knew I needed to know more. As a mother myself, I understand how each child is impacted by their family life and how it is important to lean into that. I really learned a lot from these meetings about asking simple questions so that the students would each have a chance to answer and share something they know. Using the prompts that we talked about has really helped my low readers and writers to still engage in the science we are learning about, because it helped give them access by not having to read and write an extensive piece. We can understand what our students have learned in many different ways like the modeling and prompting that we talked about. Overall, I feel a lot more confident about making that connection with my students and taking the time to hear how they think about things, because it leads to much more engagement which leads to deeper levels of thinking and understanding our world.

Giving students models and prompts was an incredible tool because it helped to easily tap in to what they already know. When I tapped in to what they already know, they were so much more bought in to our activity and very engaged in learning. It also allowed me to have more access to students who are low in reading and writing because most of it was outlined for them, and I was only getting info from them about what they really knew.


Taking the time to find out about your students’ and their families pays off in the long run. You get so much more buy in and engagement. I also found that giving models and prompts worked really well with students.
Prompts that worked well:
What do you wonder about…?
What do you already know about this?
Have you heard of this before?
What does this relate to?

Supporting Diverse Learners

I teach in a regular education 5th grade classroom. My class includes GATE students, English learners, and students with IEPs.

The problem we were trying to overcome is how to engage more students in scientific discourse. By focusing on students’ funds of knowledge, our goal was to validate all student’s experiences, along with their culture as a way to encourage students to participate more fully in science. If students feel comfortable talking about what they may or may not know on any given subject, then they are more likely to learn something new to add to their knowledge. Their affective filter is down and they become more scholarly in the way they think about science. They are more open to problem solving and less focused on finding the “right answer”. By validating all of their experiences and giving them an opportunity to voice them in the classroom, I have created a more equitable classroom, in which all students have an opportunity to learn and grow.

I had received training in inquiry-based teaching a few years ago. Talking with other teachers helped to rejuvenate some of those ideas, as we worked together, forming open ended questions and sentence frames to illicit more student responses, especially from the more marginalized students.


Be patient. Wait time is crucial to give your English learners a chance to formulate their answers and share their experiences. And all experiences are valuable.

School Home Connections

Developed by Donnia Callahan

I am an educator in a public school system but work in alternative education where the parents are the educators for their children. The parent is given a lesson plan assigned from me using curriculum that is approved from our trustees. The students see us one hour each week and perform their school work at home.
At our weekly meetings we go over their work and collect a work sample for each week completed.

During my Daily Check-In with K-3rd graders we played a game that quizzed them on if they were empathetic or not. They would be read a scenario and then asked if the person was empathetic towards someone else or not. The students began to see the difference between sympathy and empathy and quickly scored higher on the quiz as they played.
They realized that family members were not showing empathy and stated that they would try and model this empathetic style at home.

The game geared towards teaching empathy was successful in creating an understanding of what empathy is and all students quickly realized how they can become more empathetic towards one another.


Pulling from students funds of knowledge increases their participation in your lesson and gives everyone an insight in their world/family.



Initial and Revised Ideas

Developed by Samantha Stauch

In my classroom, my students and I have worked hard this year to foster a supportive and inclusive environment. I regularly observe students who are willing to take risks in their learning and want their peers to succeed. I am in my second year in the classroom at Tommie Kunst Junior High in Santa Maria, California teaching 8th grade science.

As a new classroom teacher deeply committed to enhancing both my teaching practice and my students’ engagement, my central focus revolves around fostering a student-centered and equitable learning environment. Throughout this learning journey, our primary aim was to tackle the challenge of accessing students’ funds of knowledge within the classroom.

Understanding and tapping into students’ funds of knowledge not only shape instructional decisions by identifying content gaps and addressing misconceptions but also empower students to take ownership of their learning journey. It provides them with opportunities to explore, question, and expand upon their existing knowledge base.

In my classroom, I’ve implemented a weekly “Monday Mood Check” routine, which serves as a vital tool for gathering insights into the social and emotional well-being of each of my 150 students. This ongoing data collection not only enables me to provide additional support as needed but also informs my lesson planning process, ensuring that it is responsive to the diverse needs and experiences of my students.

Building upon the insights gained from our collaborative learning community, I have incorporated prompts aimed at accessing students’ funds of knowledge into our weekly routines, specifically tailored to the themes and objectives of the week’s lessons. The richness of their responses and observations has consistently exceeded my expectations, serving as invaluable guidance for refining and adapting my instructional strategies.

Witnessing the profound impact of these prompts on both student engagement and learning outcomes has reinforced my belief in the transformative power of student-centered, equitable pedagogy. Moving forward, I am dedicated to further leveraging students’ funds of knowledge to create meaningful learning experiences that honor their voices, experiences, and identities.

I recently designed a lesson for students to reflect on their responses to open ended questions at the start of the unit titled “initial ideas”. These responses served as a pre-test of sorts before we conducted any learning for the unit. About halfway through the unit, students reflected I asked them to complete “revised ideas” where they used their ISN and new understanding to revise their initial ideas.


I would strongly encourage educators to implement this strategy! My students have inspired me beyond belief throughout this journey!


A critical question to ask is “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.


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