Thursday, April 22, 2021

Blogger has tips for teaching ELLs about science


Teaching science with the Next Generation Science Standards is a challenge, but it’s worth every ounce of effort.

Science class displacement experiment
Grade 7 students conduct experiments on displacement. (Peter Morgan / Flickr CC)

Students who don’t yet have a mastery of English still need to do science in school, and in many states, including Illinois and Maryland, the schools are teaching science using the Next Generation Science Standards.

In a blog post for Education Week Teacher, Larry Ferlazzo provided some advice from several teachers across the country for those who are involved in the teaching of the new NGSS to English language learners.

Alicia Johal, an eighth-grade science teacher and curriculum specialist in San Diego, California, describes a few steps teachers can take when it comes to teaching the NGSS to English language learners:

Argue their findings using evidence. … Arguing from evidence is a necessity with the NGSS. [When somebody accused us of doing something we did not do], if you’re like me, you argued back until your point was proven, using evidence to prove your honesty. Students … need to practice the art of argumentation. Start easy with warm up questions that students are interested in. For example: “What time should the school day start?” “What type of Mexican dish is the most delicious?”

Use models as often as possible. True inquiry has to be mentally and physically engaging. Stimulating the minds of English language learners in your classroom can and should be done with models as often as possible. Nobody says you have to go out and buy fancy toys and rockets. Instead, use what you already have. Have something for them to feel and move every day, even if it is as simple as flashcards and scissors. Teaching the solar system? Give your students cups, rubber bands, a crayon, string and some random household objects to see what they come up with to build their own model of the solar system. There is no right answer or right way to explain one’s thinking, so do not force your ELLs into a preconceived image of what mastery is.

On the first point, Ms Johal, by her examples, suggests that good questions are those that are open to debate. Bear in mind, students will also need to construct an argument based on evidence to support scientific claims that aren’t particularly open to debate. For example: “Is the Earth shaped like a sphere?” and “How did the modern-day horse evolve?”

On her second point, I couldn’t agree more! Keep in mind, though, the NGSS allows models to be diagrams and drawings, not just physical models like rubber bands and other random household objects. But those are also good models. I think Ms Johal does a good job of showing how there’s no one right or wrong way to build a model. The key is having students explain how they incorporate that model into their understanding of the scientific concept being modeled.

But even better, as an article in the Chicago Tribune points out, tying science to real-life issues can be the best way to help students learn and to help the material sink in.

A sixth grader, it was reported, applied what she had learned in science to the development of a science project that would solve her real-world problem, which was that she couldn’t charge her phone on field trips.

Two teachers North Prairie Junior High in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, helped students apply what they were learning about energy to real-world concerns through hands-on activities like drawing up a prototype for a solar-powered smartphone charger and answering questions about how energy works, according to science teacher Irina Stan.

“You try to have the kids understand that science is everywhere,” the Tribune quoted her as saying. “It’s not just in the books. We try to make them connect what’s in the book with their everyday life.”

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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