Boundary Spanners as Bridges of Student and School Discourses in an Urban Science and Mathematics High School

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
David Carlone, Associate Professor (Creator)
Heidi B. Carlone, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:

Abstract: A key to improving urban science and mathematics education is to facilitate the mutual understanding of the participants involved and then look for strategies to bridge differences. Educators need new theoretical tools to do so. In this paper the argument is made that the concept of “boundary spanner” is such a tool. Boundary spanners are individuals, objects, media, and other experiences that link an organization to its environment. They serve critical communicative roles, such as bridges for bringing distinct discourses together, cultural guides to make discourses of the “other” more explicit, and change agents for potentially reshaping participants' discourses. This ethnographic study provides three examples of boundary spanners found in the context of an urban public high school of science, mathematics, and technology: boundary media, boundary objects, and boundary experiences. The analysis brings to the foreground students' and teachers' distinct discourses about “good student identity,”“good student work,” and “good summer experience” and demonstrates how boundary spanners shaped, were shaped by, and sometimes brought together participants' distinct discourses. An argument is made for boundary spanners' practical and theoretical utility: practically, as a tool for enhancing meaning-making between diverse groups, and theoretically, as a heuristic tool for understanding the reproductive and transformative aspects of urban science education.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2005
high school education, mathematics education, science education, boundary spanners, urban schools

Email this document to