by Susan Gomez-Zwiep
For the last five years, Bill Straits and I have been working on projects that blended science and English language development (ELD) in elementary schools. Our analysis of four years of student achievement data was indicating that science content could provide a powerful context for building English language proficiency. However, elementary teachers were the ones who did the difficult work of implementing the blended science/ELD lesson design in their classrooms. While I facilitated and supported these teachers, my time in elementary classrooms was limited and inconsistent.
From September - December (2012), I was a 3rd and 5th grade teacher at Glen View and Orange Glen Elementary Schools in Escondido, CA. The sites were selected based on a combination of elements: the large population of English language learners, a cooperative principal that would guarantee science could be taught for a minimum of one hour a week and teachers that were willing to collaborate with a science educator from Long Beach. We began the semester with a half-day of planning with each grade level to determine the flow of concepts and standards that would be addressed. The 3rd and 5th grade classes at Glen View wanted to focus on physical science standards so each Thursday I would teach a physical science lesson to two different 3rd grade classrooms and then walk across campus to teach another physical science lesson to one 5th grade class. Orange Glenn started their year with Earth Science so Friday's afternoons I would visit Orange Glen and teach Earth Science lessons. For fourteen weeks, I had the privilege of serving as the science teacher for these four classrooms. I had the benefit of teaching complete conceptual storylines that integrated English language development strategies and Common Core State Standards in ELA.
My original plan was to simply teach science lessons, test out some of the new pedagogical approaches our research was suggesting elementary teachers use, and develop my expertise teaching younger students. However, I became part of the 3rd and 5th grade teams and began working with grade level teams on other elements of instruction. We often meet afterschool, planning how the science content would be used to develop the students' oral and written language skills and utilizing student notebooks as a "sense making" tool for students. My lessons had to be typed up in a clear 5E format with teacher questioning and expected student responses identified for a range of student understanding because other teachers on the team used the lessons in their own classrooms. During our grade level team meetings we identified essential vocabulary, integrated sentence frames and graphic organizers into our lessons and how to use science notebooks to help students make sense of new content. It was the hardest I have worked since I started at CSULB and I enjoyed (almost) every minute.
Last year, the California State University Long Beach was awarded a $4.4 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to expand and enhance educational opportunities for, and improve the academic attainment of, Hispanic students. The CSULB HSI STEM initiative is a multidisciplinary collaboration between the College of Engineering (COE), the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM), and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)/CSULB Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training. The goal of the CSULB HSI STEM program is to increase the number Latino students attaining highly valued degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. One component of this project is the Faculty Development Professional Learning Community (FLC) led by Dr. Terre Allen, Director of the Faculty Center for Professional Development. Through online modules and workshops, STEM faculty have the opportunity to redesign their coursework, particularly in "gatekeeper" courses to improve student completion rates. Course modules focus on student data, student active and engaged learning techniques, and assessment in STEM. My primary role has been to assist faculty participating in the FLC as they integrate new teaching methodologies into their courses and try to assess the resulting student learning. The HSI STEM program includes summer and winter research experiences for students, student mentors (Promotores) and a summer bridge program.