Integrating Science and English Language Development
by Valerie Joyner
Teachers frequently see children light up with excitement about science activities, and nothing motivates language development like the hunger to express exciting new ideas. For the past two years the Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry (IFI) and the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) have teamed up to explore the powerful connections between language acquisition and science. Armed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the Vadasz Family Foundation, and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, El Verano Elementary School has brought science lessons into the mainstream of English Language Development.
The IFI and El Verano School have been working together to develop a model set of hands-on inquiry-based science lessons that actively promote English language development. The program uses open-ended science investigations along with science notebooks and oral presentations to promote academic and conversational language.
SVUSD presents a perfect challenge scenario for testing the integration of language and science learning, with a district wide population of 58 percent English Language Learners (ELL). El Verano, specifically, has 70 percent ELL students and is now in year five of Program Improvement status of the federal No Child Left Behind law. It’s a tribute to this extraordinary program that as of 2009, the school and all its subgroups have met state academic growth targets.
“Inquiry is a wonderful way to teach kids. It honors who they are, where they are, and what they are thinking,” says El Verano principal Maite Iturri. “It gives them a reason to want to know the language. Language happens in context, by having those experiences in the classroom.”
Craig Madison, a third grade teacher at El Verano, states, “Science is this case is the vehicle for (English language development). It is so mutually beneficial. It’s giving the students a reason why they should know a meaning and why they should speak—because they have something that has a deep, rich meaning to think about.”
Last year, the students in Madison’s class were handed flashlights and mirrors and … the classroom lights went out. The students were given time to explore the concept of light reflection on their own. “We know kids are curious, we know they like to play,” says Madison. “When they are allowed to discover things on their own, they really retain that.”
After the initial exploratory period, the students worked in small groups to determine a question they wanted to investigate. They took ownership of the direction their investigation would take. Students put together their own lesson with an educated hypothesis and steps they would follow. They made discoveries and put together a poster outline of their findings. Their final task was to give a presentation of their findings.
“It’s fun. You can experience stuff you don’t really know about,” said one of Madison’s students. “My science projects has helped me learn to speak English better at school because I have new words.”
The idea of integrating science and English Language Development is not new. Research has shown that language development in students can be stifled by their inability to access and comprehend science terms and concepts in reading, writing, and through discourse. There has also been a connection between strong language development and the use of rich hands-on science activities with an inquiry-based approach. These techniques give students opportunities to first experience the science they’re learning, before being asked to comprehend, apply, and discuss it.
These pioneering local teachers, fresh from a successful launch, plan to integrate the program into all the schools in Sonoma Valley. Over the course of the next three years, teachers in the pilot group will disseminate the program to 90 district colleagues in the form of workshops, videos, and classroom visits. The Institute for Inquiry will then teach educators how to use the program through the variety of workshops and forums they provide to school districts nationwide.
The thrill of discovery inherent in science exploration goes to the very core of the purpose of early education: learning to learn and learning to love learning. Now science educators can look forward to another powerful program for igniting the love of learning in our students.
Valerie Joyner teaches elementary school in Petaluma and is CSTA’s region 1 director.
by Michelle French
Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. Learn More…
“SOL Grotto, 2012. 1368 glass tubes, paint. Fabrication: Matarozzi Pelsinger, Rael San Fratello Architects. SOL Grotto is a contemporary take on a grotto or Throeau’s cabin – a spartan retreat that is a space of solitude and close to nature – where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light. The SOL Grotto also explores Solyndra’s role as a company S#@t Out of Luck. 1,368 of the 24 million high tech glass tubes destined to be destroyed as a casualty of their bankruptcy, are used in the installation. The tube’s original role as a light concentrating element is extended to transmit cool air into the space via the Venturi effect, to amplify sounds from the adjacent waterfall via the vibrations of the tubes cantilevering over the creek, and to create distorted views of the garden. The form of the electric blue array evokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows, light and sounds can call reality into question.”
Responses from Readers:
Peter A’Hearn: Rush hour in little blue circle land.
by Valerie Joyner
Congratulations to CSTA member and STEM Educator, Katherine Schenkelberg, of West High School, in Torrance, CA! Katherine was recently awarded one of the 2013 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards. An appointed panel of experts selected her for her innovative use of data-collection technology. “The use of data-collection technology in the classroom helps foster students’ interest in STEM education and provides them with engaging, hands-on opportunities for scientific investigation,” said David Vernier, co-founder of Vernier and a former physics teacher. “For ten years Vernier and NSTA have recognized innovative STEM educators through this award and this year’s winners are no exception – their projects and programs truly utilize the power of data-collection technology as part of the teaching and learning process.” Learn More…
by Tim Williamson
Members of the California Science Teachers Association are now in the process of voting for qualified CSTA members to fill the seven openings on the CSTA Board of Directors for the 2013-2015 term.
The election is being conducted electronically and opened for voting on April 16, 2013. Voting will close on May 16, 2013. All CSTA members were sent links to the online ballot. Members for whom we do not have current email addresses or who request a paper ballot have been mailed a ballot and candidate statements. Learn More…