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Learning Math and Science in English and in Spanish

$1.5 Million Project to Enhance Bilingual Junior High School Students’ STEM Learning

Oct. 1, 2013

To examine the effect dual language programs have on increasing mathematics and science achievement among Latino junior high students, Cal State Fullerton faculty members are spearheading an ambitious research project in Anaheim schools.

"We recognize the need to support dual immersion learning beyond the elementary grades," said Mark Ellis, associate professor of secondary education, who is leading the effort. "The project aims to build on students' linguistic, community and cultural resources to support their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning."

Ellis secured a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant for "Transforming Academic and Cultural Identidad Through Biliteracy." Co-directors of the three-year project are Sam Behseta and Armando M. Martinez-Cruz, both professors of mathematics; and Natalie Tran, associate professor of educational leadership.

Grant partners are Anaheim Union High School and Anaheim City School districts, which both serve predominantly Latino student populations; the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana; and California Association for Bilingual Education, Orange County chapter.

The prototype project targets bilingual students, transitioning from elementary school to junior high school, who will be taught mathematics and science in both English and Spanish during the seventh and eighth grade. The project will draw upon students' linguistic, familial and cultural resources to foster a strong sense of "identidad," which is Spanish for identity, toward learning and excelling in these disciplines, Ellis explained.

The study aims to improve learning outcomes for Latino students in math and science and increase their interest in pursing STEM careers, said Ellis, a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics board member.

To reach those goals, the project calls for increasing the number of secondary school teachers qualified to teach math and science content in Spanish. As part of this effort, next fall, four bilingual CSUF students preparing to teach junior high school math or science will be selected as interns, receiving $5,000 fellowships each year during the two-year internship.

Instructional materials that address new educational standards, as well as integrate cultural and community relevance for the seventh- and eighth-grade students and their families, also will be developed, said Martinez-Cruz.

"Research shows that when students are taught with methods that acknowledge and build on their strengths, all students can learn meaningful content," Martinez-Cruz noted.

Parents also will be involved as their participation is a critical factor in Latino student achievement, particularly in STEM education, added Martinez-Cruz.

Grant funding will support professional development activities for 12 teachers, or teaching fellows, from the elementary and junior high school levels. Through the Discovery Science Center, events and programs will be offered to fifth- to eight-grade students and their families to further promote math and science learning.

"As a result of the work of this project, the STEM education community will benefit from the knowledge built related to what it takes to create dynamic learning that respects and engages the linguistic and cultural dimensions of students, families and communities to promote achievement in, and positive dispositions toward, mathematics and science," Ellis said.

Tags:  Academics & Research