Doris Ash, lead researcher

IMG_2435_2Doris Ash, Ph.D.

I am one of the first generation of academic scholars to use museum, zoo, garden, and aquarium sites for conducting in-depth research on the words, ideas and other resources that non-dominant families bring to such settings. I use the word non-dominant to connote culturally and linguistically diverse, and/or economically disadvantaged groups that are socially and politically marginalized in our society. All of my research has focused on collaborating with the under-served in science to improve both access and power, including working with girls and women in science summer camps; Head Start and Mexican immigrant families in Central California; classrooms in Oakland; urban populations in Tampa, Florida; and Native Hawaiians across the islands, among others. In much of this work, my lab and I have worked bilingually, most often with Spanish and English.

My research and evaluation, conducted in both formal and informal learning settings, focuses on  working with non-dominant populations, second-language learners and their families, as well as culturally and linguistically diverse students across the country.

I have taught for decades in a variety of settings, including elementary high, junior college and university.I received the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. I collaborated with Ann Brown and Joe Campione on the Fostering a Community of Learners’ project in West Oakland. Following that I worked for five years at the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry.

I have been  a Professor at the University of California Santa Cruz for 15 years. I have collaborated  with a variety of institutions  in many geographical locations. I have maintained my  interest in both formal and informal environments,  particularly working with English learners.

My research with culturally and linguistically diverse students and families in informal learning settings (museums, aquariums, gardens and similar settings) has included Monterey, Tampa, Florida, Honolulu, Hawaii and central California. I have a great deal of experience working in classroom settings, again working with culturally and linguistically diverse students, especially in Oakland California.

I have also taught secondary science pre-service teachers for over a decade. I am very aware of the issues currently under discussion in the United Stated concerning common core standards and the Next Generate Science Standards. My students are the ones who will implement that next round of standards. I have now experienced the third major swing in standards as a teacher and as a professional development specialist.

In 2011, I completed a six-year, 2+million dollar NSF-funded research grant in collaboration with the Museum of Science and Industry in Florida. The equity-based research for this project has now resulted in two books in print, several chapters and journal articles and one book in progress. Each of these is among the first of their kind in the field. I also have 2 chapters in well-placed volumes, one in a national yearbook (NSSE), another in a theory-based volume for research in informal settings.

In December 2012, I was awarded the Sven Pedersen lecture award at Stockholm University in mathematics and science education research; the talk was titled: Lessons learned from Informal Science learning research: From theory to practice and back again. The award was given to me for my science learning and teaching research.

I am currently co-PI on three NSF grants: 1. SCWIBLES  in a Watsonville, CA—works with Latino youth and their teachers on inquiry-based science; SSTELLA  a multi-state project aimed at working to integrate language and science,working with pre-service teachers in CA, Arizona and Texas, and ASCEND—working with at-risk youth in Santa Cruz using sustainability projects and digital media in both classrooms and museums.

All of my research has focused on closely examining science learning and teaching, especially as it impacts equity of access, in both formal and informal settings. My research rests on science content (including the processes of science), questions of equity and access, as well as theoretically (socio-culturally) informed approaches to learning and teaching. By looking at learning and teaching in different settings, with different audiences, while using the same theoretical framework and methodologies, we can, I believe, learn more about learning and teaching overall, and particularly about non-mainstream learners, who have less opportunity to participate in quality science in classrooms and in informal settings. Such a synthesis of theory and practice across classrooms and museums has been a major goal of mine for the past decade.

Overall, I am  interested in how scientific understandings grow and prosper, especially as part of collaborative dialogue within social groups of mixed ability. I am very interested in tracking how merged or hybrid forms of discourse emerge, from the every day and the scientific, and how these are used in informal settings as well as in classrooms. She relies on activity theory, the sociocultural views of vygotsky and others to create a foundation for her work. I focus on the intertwined roles of dialogue in scientific meaning making and on the science content in the dialogue. She is particularly interested in the issues of equity and access to science for those typically under represented.

Representative writing

The sampling of papers is below us directly related to informal learning settings research, equity and evaluation

Please also see the Resources  page on this site as well as and ResearchGate

Ash, D. (in review). Reculturing Museum: Using contradictions to explore equity in museums. Left Coast Press.

Ash, D, (2014a). Creating Hybrid Spaces for Talk: Humor as a Resource Learners Bring to Informal Learning Context. National Society for the Study of Education, 113, (2),535–55.

Ash, D. (2014b). Positioning Informal Learning Research in Museums within Activity Theory: From Theory to Practice and Back Again. Curator 57(1).

Ash, D., (2008). Thematic continuities: Talking and thinking about adaptation in a socially complex urban classroom. Submitted to Journal for Research in Science Teaching 45(1), 1-30.

Ash, D., (2006). Dialogic inquiry in life science conversations of family groups in museums, Journal of Research in Science Teaching 40(2), 138-162.

Ash, D. (2006) Using video data to capture discontinuous science meaning making in non-school settings. In Video Research in the Learning. Peter Lang.

Ash, D. (2004). Reflective scientific sense-making dialogue in two languages:The science in the dialogue and the dialogue in the science. Science Education 88: 855-884.ash 2004 reflective sm

Ash, D. (2003 ) Dialogic inquiry in life science conversations of family groups in museums. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 40(2), 138-162.

Ash, D., Crain, R., Brandt, C., Loomis, M., Wheaton, M., and Bennett, C. (2008). Talk, Tools, and Tensions: Observing biological talk over time, International Journal of Science Education 29(12), 1581-1602.

Ash, D., & Klein, C. (1999). Inquiry in the informal learning environment. In J. Minstrell, & E. Van Zee (Eds.), Teaching and Learning in an Inquiry-based Classroom. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ash, D. & Levitt, K. (2002). Working within the zone of proximal development: Formative assessment as professional development. Journal of Science Teacher Education.

Ash, D. & Lombana, J. (2014c) Reculturing museums: Working with diversity in informalvsettings. Journal of Museum Education 38(1). 69-80.

Ash, D., Rahm, J., & Melber, L. (Eds.) (2013). Putting theory into practice: Tools for research in informal settings. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Mai, T. & Ash, D. (2013). Tracing our methodological steps: Making meaning of diversefamilies’ hybrid “figuring out” practices at science museum exhibits, To appear in Ash, D., Rahm, J., & Melber, L. (Eds.), From theory to practice. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Rahm, J., & Ash, D. (2007). Learning environments at the margin: Case studies of disenfranchised youth doing science in an aquarium and an after-school program. Learning Environments Research 11(1) 1387-1579

Relevant Job History:

Associate Professor, UC Santa Cruz

2000-  Present (16 years)

I have taught many classes on science teaching and learning, such as: Ed 185C for undergraduates; for the MA/credential program (Research on science teaching and learning)   Ed 230; and,  for the PhD program (Research on STEM) Ed 286; as well as the very popular large lecture undergraduate course ED 60, Introduction to Schooling for 9 years with Prof Lora Bartlett.

Science Educator, Exploratorium, Institute for Inquiry


Responsibilities centered on translation of inquiry as practiced at the Exploratorium to the professional development arena; documentation and research of program efforts; overseeing graduate level research; co-leading teacher research groups and working towards national forums whose mission is to explicate the meaning of inquiry and assessment of inquiry to a national research audience.

Ash Education

University of California, Berkeley

PhD, Science Education


Working with Ann Brown and Jose Campione as  aPh.D. Graduate Student, with the Brown/Campione Fostering a Community of Learners (FCL) research group; involving curriculum design, elementary school teaching, teacher collaboration, assessment, publications, and other related research. Regular presence in East Oakland schools, primarily 2nd – 6th grades.