Resources for STEM Educators
Our page provides resources about language variation that are particularly relevant to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) educators.
This material is based upon work supported by our collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to study the ways in which language plays a role in the educational challenges that often affect culturally and linguistically diverse students in STEM classrooms. Our goal is to work with teachers to figure out what challenges are being faced in terms of language for their math and science students and what resources teachers and students need to be able to face those challenges.
During our three-year grant, “Assessing the Results of Sociolinguistic Engagement with K-12 STEM Education in Maryland and Virginia Public and Independent Schools,” we worked with K-12 STEM educators in the Baltimore and Richmond areas to understand how these educators learn from professional development workshops on language variation and integrate pedagogy and assessment techniques into their classroom.
Below are some resources we have compiled that have immediate and practical relevance to STEM educators’ pedagogy and practice. And scroll down to check out a vignette written by one of our research participants, a middle school science teacher in Virginia, who was inspired by what she learned during our workshop about the value of language and culture to change how she taught culturally and linguistically diverse students!
- “Those Who Can…Teach!” In this June 22, 2013 interview on With Good Reason radio, Anne talks about our collaborative NSF-funded research on language and culture in STEM classrooms. Listen to the audio here. “Surprisingly, sometimes the problem in math class is not with numbers, but with words. Anne Charity Hudley (College of William and Mary) believes teachers need to be more aware of how cultural language differences can put some students at a disadvantage in the classroom.” Plus: Heralded by Time as one of the ten best college presidents, Freeman Hrabowski (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) has helped build UMBC’s reputation as a top school for students of color in STEM fields.
- “Stereotype Threat and Solo Status”:
Online resources for educators based on a workshop on stereotype threat and solo status, particularly for gender, ethnic/racial, cultural, and linguistic minority groups of students, presented by Cheryl Dickter, Christine Mallinson, and Anne Charity Hudley at the 2013 Supporting Student Success in Geoscience at Two-Year Colleges Conference
- Dr. Freeman Hrabowski of UMBC discusses student achievement in math and science on CBS 60 Minutes
- The National Science Foundation’s List of Classroom Resources: a diverse collection of lessons and web resources for classroom teachers, students, and families. Arranged by subject area, including Biology, Computing, Mathematics, and Physics.
- Dr. Ron Eglash’s websites on African fractals and Native American cybernetics
- Mindrap: A multimedia education program that encourages students to achieve in math and science by combining interactive teaching applications with hip-hop music and culture.
- Teach Me How to Factor video incorporates hip-hop into math learning
- Mr. Lee’s Science Method video incorporates hip-hop into science learning
- “The Science Behind ‘Beatboxing'”: “To learn more about beatboxing, scientists analyzed a 27-year-old male performing in real-time using MRI. This gave researchers “an opportunity to study the sounds people produce in much greater detail than has previously been possible,” said Shrikanth Narayanan, a speech and audio engineer at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “The overarching goals of our work drive at larger questions related to the nature of sound production and mental processing in human communication…”
- “Studies find Language is Key to Learning Math”: The way we conceive of numbers evolves from language. Toddlers whose parents spoke with them frequently about numbers were more likely to understand the cardinal number principle by preschool age than students who had heard fewer number words”
- “What Are We Doing When We ‘Talk Science'”? When college-level advanced learners of English engage in talk about science, they are extending their abilities to convey meaning and to employ varieties of language for specific purposes.
- “Big, Little, Tall and Tiny: Words that Promote Important Spatial Skills”: Preschool children who hear parents use words describing the size and shape of objects and who then use those words in their day to day interactions do much better on tests of their spatial skills.
- “Helping Children Understand Numbers: It’s All in How We Speak to Them”: Children struggle to map numbers to words, but crucially, this process can be improved.
- “How Math Can Help Save a Dying Language”: Mathematical modeling of language change that takes into account cultural factors can be applied to understanding endangered languages
- “What Is the Icelandic Word for ‘Four’?” Cultural differences in counting and doing math
- What do linguistic and cultural diversity have to do with health care delivery? A lot! Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this video series by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, which has also published the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS Standards)
- “Grandma Got Stem!” This blog records the stories and accomplishments of senior women who have had STEM success.
- “Math and English: A Marketable Combination”: Read one middle school math and English teacher’s account of the synergy she has found between STEM and the humanities.
- “Honeybee Dance Breaks Down Cultural Barrier”: Read about how the nine species of honeybees found worldwide separated about 30 to 50 million years ago, and subsequently developed different dance ‘languages’
- “Cows Also ‘Have Regional Accents'”: “When we are learning to speak, we adopt a local variety of language spoken by our parents, so the same could be said about the variation in the West Country cow moo.”
- “Language Rules ‘Stay in the Family'”: An ABC Science article describing the use of evolutionary biology to study the evolution of language structure
We also include the experiences of one participant in particular—“Marley,” a public middle school science teacher in Virginia—who was inspired by what she learned during our workshop about the value of language and culture to change how she taught culturally and linguistically diverse students. Marley connected so profoundly with the material we presented that, after our workshop ended, she drafted new goals for her teaching, with the goal of redesigning her curriculum to more fully engage her African American student population in the science content she teaches.
When Marley re-contacted us after the workshop to share how she had restructured her teaching, we invited her to write this vignette to share what she learned from our workshop and how she implemented a range of strategies—both ones we had shared and ones she developed—in her classroom. Marley’s experience reveals the depth to which culturally and linguistically supportive professional development training can directly, broadly, and deeply impact an educator’s STEM pedagogy and practice. And through follow-up with educators such as Marley, scholars can learn which parts of professional development educators find most applicable and most sustainable in their practice.
Language is a key tool to academic success but it can also act as a barrier disconnecting those who have not learned it fluidly. Initially, I anticipated that this workshop would help me gain a greater awareness of the difficulties English as a Second Language (ESL) students face. I was unaware that some English speaking students were facing similar struggles. I have gained insight and learned strategies on how to more effectively teach students who speak non-standardized varieties of English. This workshop has provided me with the proper footing to be more empathetic to all of my students’ linguistic needs. I have already witnessed an improvement in students’ participation over previous school years.
A teacher needs to build a bond of trust with each student. I have been using various exercises to foster that connection. At the beginning of the year, I do an exercise that allows students to relate to me as a person and not see me only as a teacher. This helps “break the ice” and makes them feel more comfortable in asking questions and being engaged in the classroom. This year I used my Promethean board for the exercise. I set the background to green and told my students that I was going to write one thing I did this summer but I was going to write it using the same color as the background. The students had to then guess the summer activity by watching me write. This activity gave the students a chance to interact with me without the pressure of work or grades.
I have found my students to be more receptive to my directions since I have refrained from correcting their speech. I think the desire to correct their speech comes from my former teachers who corrected non-Standardized English in the classroom. Because of that, I thought I was required to do the same. For example, “I ain’t got no homework” is frequently used in my classroom, and I found myself constantly correcting grammar. Now, I refrain from doing so. I didn’t realize what kind of effect it could have, like saying, basically, “I’m smarter than you, you know, I speak better than you do. You need to learn how to speak like I do.” For my students, asking questions can sometimes be embarrassing, and asking a question on one subject only to be corrected on another only compounds that embarrassment. Now, students can speak in my class without fear of getting a grammar lesson on top of a science one. By accepting their speech, I am eliminating one more learning obstacle.
I have also modified my assessments to reflect a multi-dialect environment by adding audio clips. I am allowing students to listen to questions in Standardized English on each question. This is tactic is an attempt to decrease the time spent translating each question and, as a result, increase the time thinking about the answer. I learned during our workshop that it can take some students longer just to decode a question in Standardized English. This information is very valuable to me. With only one test under my belt for this school year, the data has already indicated a 7% raise in scores from last year. However, I do not want my students to become dependent on tests being read to them. Therefore, I am using this method at the beginning of the year and then will wean them from it as we approach final assessments. I believe by implementing this strategy it will boost my students’ testing confidence and result in better performance on assessments.
I have not stopped there. My school requires every student to conduct an independent science investigation and go through the steps of the scientific method. This has always been a challenge for the school because the students have been uninterested and as a result the scores have been low. This year, I have spoken with the school and altered the topic so that the assignment embraces a multicultural background. The questions now are along the lines of the work of Dr. Ron Eglash, which we learned about in this workshop. For instance, which type of hair braid holds the longest? Which type of surface makes breakdancing easier? Is there a science to dating? Can people read graffiti or handwriting better? By using these topics, students are more interested in their projects, which helps them understand and take an interest in major scientific concepts.
This workshop has given me a better understanding of the correlation between language and education. I have increased my personal growth and effectiveness as a teacher, and there are still more strategies, lessons and tactics that I cannot wait to implement. Sadly, I admit that prior to taking this course I felt ill equipped to properly discuss a student’s dialect, language, and culture. I now think that since this course brought to my attention the importance of each person’s ethnic identity and culture, I am more comfortable in embracing language variation in the classroom and in real life! It was helpful to try to implement some of the strategies we discussed during the workshop. Before, I hardly thought about linguistic or cultural strategies while developing my lesson plans, but now I feel weird not considering them. I feel as if my students respect me more because they can see I value their language and culture. As a result, that respect helps me build a bond with those students and helps me to be a more effective teacher. There is still a lot more that I want to learn. This linguistic empathy will only improve and I am hoping that I can share more with the rest of my faculty.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1050938/1051056. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).