English Language Learner Engineering Collaborative: The Elementary Students Were Engaged in an Unusual Setting for Learning and Will Remember the Positive Experience in Future Years as They Select Classes in Both Core and Elective Studies

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Introduction

Faculty members in the Engineering Academy at Springdale High School in Springdale, Arkansas have been using engineering design activities to introduce students to the open-ended and multidisciplinary nature of engineering for several years. Working with challenging engineering design problems provides academy students with opportunities to apply the science, math, and technology concepts that they have been studying in associated classes (Charles Rossetti, personal communication, January 15, 2007). Recent engineering design problems have been created to include high levels of math, science, and technology--as well as a healthy dose of reality. Practicing engineers are routinely faced with challenges that go far beyond the core fundamentals taught in the average classroom (Sepulveda, 2001), and in many cases these challenges are societal in nature.

In the past seven years, Springdale, Arkansas has transitioned from a community of 45,790, of whom 19.7% were of Hispanic origin, to a community of 62,459 citizens, of whom 32.8% are of Hispanic origin. This rapid population shift has resulted in substantial growth of English Language Learners (ELL) at Springdale High School. ELL students are language minority students who have been assessed in four areas--reading, writing, speaking, and listening--using an English language proficiency assessment and are not proficient in any of the four areas. In 2006, faculty at Springdale initiated an ELL-only class within the Engineering Academy. This new course presented a need to develop new engineering design challenges as well as the opportunity to reach Hispanic students often missing from engineering classrooms at the university level. To illustrate the growing number of students in this population, in the year 2000 minority students represented 39 percent of all public school students nationally in kindergarten through 12th grade--and 44 percent of those minority students were Hispanic (17 percent of total enrollment) (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2003). Additionally, between 1972 and 2000, the percentage of Hispanic students in public schools increased 11 percentage points, and the overall percentage of minority students increased 17 percentage points. By comparison, the percentage of black students in public schools increased only about 2 percentage points between 1972 and 2000 (National Center for Educational Statistics). This vast increase in Hispanic population trends has created a need to invest in tools that meet their individual needs.

It is imperative that more Hispanics be recruited into engineering and technology fields if the United States is to stay competitive in the global market. The composition of the American workforce is changing. According to Noeth, Cruce, and Harmston (2003), between 2003 and 2010 the number of people in the United States aged 18-24 will increase by 10 million, and minorities will account for 60% of this population increase. Chubin (2003) states that by 2050 non-Hispanic white males will make up 26% of the workforce, and Hispanics will make up 24% of the workforce. In 2002, Hispanics represented only 6.9% of all engineering majors in colleges, while non-Hispanic Whites represented 77.8% (Noeth et al.). Without increasing the numbers of minorities in engineering and technological fields, as the percentage of white males in the workforce decreases, the number of engineers will decrease.

Background and Project Goals

In an effort to develop an engineering design project that would deliver the necessary content and reach out to the ELL community, faculty in the Engineering Academy instituted the ELL Engineering Collaborative. The ELL Engineering Collaborative has four primary goals; they include: (1) delivering engineering content in a practical, hands-on, contextual manner, (2) reaching out to ELL and Hispanic communities through parental involvement, (3) encouraging Hispanic students to consider a future in engineering or teaching; (4) Drawing connections between primary, secondary, and tertiary students in STEM fields. …