Let’s Give Them Science to Talk About
Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
by Dana Goldberg
Think back to when you first learned about magnets, bubbles, and reflections in school. Describing what you saw and experienced could be exciting, but also challenging. Now imagine trying to do it in a new language.
Nearly 60 percent of all students in Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) are English-language learners, almost all of them native Spanish speakers. Integrating English Language Development and Science, a program created in partnership with the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry, is building a bridge between learning science and acquiring English language skills. This professional development program operates with teachers from all five elementary schools in SVUSD.
This innovative program honors the intellectual capacity of all students, regardless of their language level, and focuses on inquiry as a learning approach. Participating teachers attend a summer institute and school-year study groups at the Exploratorium receive materials that support lessons about water, magnetism, erosion, electricity, and more. One grounding idea is “let’s give them science to talk about,” that is, science that students can see, touch, and describe is science that gets kids excited. Teachers pose or elicit questions that their students are eager to investigate: What do you see? What do you wonder? How could we try to answer these questions?
“Using language in meaningful ways is what helps kids acquire language—not just learning tenses and grammar,” says Fred Stein, Senior Science Educator at the Exploratorium. “When they’re asking questions and describing their findings, even if they don’t know the appropriate verb tense, they’re communicating.” Students get to practice English, and their teachers get to support their students’ language development
Hands-on science provides a rich opportunity for language development as students speak, write, and read to build their understanding and represent their ideas. Working together, students use different parts of English to describe their discoveries.
This content-centric model keeps students curious and engaged, as their teachers encourage them to explain their observations, hypotheses, and evidence. “These require fairly sophisticated ways of thinking about and using language,” says Fred, “but it’s very natural in this context.” The teachers also use strategies that take into account students’ varying language levels and abilities.
The ultimate goal of the program is not to privilege language acquisition over mastering grade-appropriate science content, but to genuinely integrate both. “Expressing your questions and ideas and dialoguing with others advances your own thinking. Having all this great stuff to communicate about allows students to practice language with increasing levels of complexity,” says Fred.
The motivation for the program came, in a roundabout way, from No Child Left Behind. NCLB requires schools with children with lower English-language proficiency to provide dedicated time for language development—often at the expense of science, art, and social studies content. Maite Iturri, the principal at El Verano elementary school, (eventually the project’s pilot school), didn’t want to deprive students of interesting, engaging content until they had mastered English-language fundamentals. Instead of seeing the content as taking time away from English-language development, she hypothesized that it could instead foster it—with students learning the content as well.
This idea is gaining currency as research supports a shift from focusing on isolated vocabulary and grammar skills development to engaging language learners in meaningful activities that encourage a more conversational approach. Language expert and Stanford education professor Kenji Hakuta says, “The more you use [language] to articulate complex subject matter, the deeper your understanding is going to get of that subject matter.”
The Integrating English Language Development and Science program is halfway through its five-year grant. As the program expands to include all of the district’s 90 teachers, the Exploratorium and the SVUSD are striving to make an exponential impact. “We’re not just looking to create better English speakers through this program,” says Fred. “We’re also hoping to create more engaged and inquisitive learners.”
Integrating English Language Development and Science is funded by the US Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, and the Mary A. Crocker Trust. For more information on the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry, visit www.exploratorium.edu/ifi.
Dana Goldberg is the Managing Editor, Institutional Media at the Exploratorium and was invited to contribute to CCS by CSTA member Valerie Joyner
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…