Supporting Students' Language, Knowledge, and Culture through Science

This project will test and refine a teaching model that brings together current research about the role of language in science learning, the role of cultural connections in students' science engagement, and how students' science knowledge builds over time. The outcome of this project will be to provide an integrated framework that can guide current and future science teachers in preparing all students with the conceptual and linguistic practices they will need to succeed in school and in the workplace.

Full Description: 

The Language, Culture, and Knowledge-building through Science project seeks to explore and positively influence the work of science teachers at the intersection of three significant and ongoing challenges affecting U.S. STEM education. First, U.S. student demographics are rapidly changing, with an increasing number of students learning STEM subjects in their second language. This change means that all teachers need new skills for meeting students where they currently are, linguistically, culturally, and in terms of prior science knowledge. Second, the needs and opportunities of the national STEM workforce are changing rapidly within a shifting employment landscape. This shift means that teachers need to better understand future job opportunities and the knowledge and skills that will be necessary in those careers. Third, academic expectations in schools have changed, driven by changes in education standards. These new expectations mean that teachers need new skills to support all students to master a range of practices that are both conceptual and linguistic. To address these challenges, teachers require new models that bring together current research about the role of language in science learning, the role of cultural connections in students' science engagement, and how students' science knowledge builds over time. This project begins with such an initial model, developed collaboratively with science teachers in a prior project. The model will be rigorously tested and refined in a new geographic and demographic context. The outcome will be to provide an integrated framework that can guide current and future science teachers in preparing all students with the conceptual and linguistic practices they will need to succeed in school and in the workplace.

This project model starts with three theoretical constructs that have been integrated into an innovative framework of nine practices. These practices guide teachers in how to simultaneously support students' language development, cultural sustenance, and knowledge building through science with a focus on supporting and challenging multilingual learners. The project uses a functional view of language development, which highlights the need to support students in understanding both how and why to make shifts in language use. For example, students' attention will be drawn to differences in language use when they shift from language that is suited to peer negotiation in a lab group to written explanations suitable for a lab report. Moving beyond a funds of knowledge approach to culture, the team view of integrating students' cultural knowledge includes strengthening the role of home knowledge in school, but also guiding students to apply school knowledge to their out-of-school interests and passions. Finally, the project team's view of cumulative knowledge building, informed by work in the sociology of knowledge, highlights the need for teachers and students to understand the norms for meaning making within a given discipline. In the case of science, the three-dimensional learning model in the Next Generation Science Standards makes these disciplinary norms visible and serves as a launching point for the project's work. Teachers will be supported to structure learning opportunities that highlight what is unique about meaning making through science. Using a range of data collection and analysis methods, the project team will study changes in teachers' practices and beliefs related to language, culture and knowledge building, as teachers work with all students, and particularly with multilingual learners. The project work will take place in both classrooms and out of class science learning settings. By working closely over several years with a group of fifty science teachers spread across the state of Oregon, the project team will develop a typology of teachers (design personas) to increase the field's understanding of how to support different teachers, given their own backgrounds, in preparing all students for the broad range of academic and occupational pathways they will encounter.

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