Assessing Students' Attitudes & Achievements in a Multicultural & Multilingual Science Classroom

Article excerpt

AS THE NEW MILLENNIUM approaches, our country needs to reassess its dependency on nonrenewable energy resources, such as oil and coal, that fuel much of our daily existence but cannot be recycled or replaced. Because our world depends so much on fossil fuels, we need to find alternative sources of energy that will preserve scarce natural resources and provide necessary fuel. The automobile industry is just one of several enterprises that are currently researching and designing alternative methods oftransportation such as electrochemical cars that are energy-efficient and use energy systems that can be replaced and are usually less polluting.

Examples of renewable energy systems include solar, wind, and geothermal energy. We also get renewable energy from trees and plants, rivers, and even garbage. In turn, renewable energy can be used to perform the same functions as nonrenewable energy, such as warming and lighting homes, heating water, generating electricity, and much more. Yet, even though there are ample reasons to inculcate the next generation of scientists and engineers about renewable resources, we have not turned our full attention to the implementation of alternative energy curriculum in science classrooms on a national level.

In the midst of this renewable energy debate, a colleague, Carol Fenimore, and I were inspired and influenced by the need to educate our students at an inner-city middle school in Houston, Texas, about the possibilities of renewable energy. To fulfill this mission, we subsequently designed a special science class on solar energy.

Initially, the principle motive was to present to our students both instructive and interesting knowledge on solar energy; however, as we developed our ideas in the first planning stage, the curriculum design grew to the grandest concept by not only extolling the virtues of solar energy but also integrating other progressive practices such as two-way immersion bilingual education, team-teaching, cooperative grouping, and portfolio assessment. All ofthe progressive ideas were combined to create an interesting concoction of a science classroom that infused a multivariation of subject matter, teaching methods, instructors, student populations, and evaluation measures. In great detail and complexity, we expanded the notion of a science classroom by making every effort to go beyond the ordinary shape and form of a science classroom in order to nurture a proliferation of ideas.

The purpose of this article is to take a qualitative and quantitative look at the instructional curriculum and teaching of a specific two-way immersion eighth-grade solar energy science classroom and examine its implications for reform efforts in education policy and practice. Two-way immersion or dual language education occurs when students who speak a majority language such as English are taught in the same classroom as students who speak a minority language such as Spanish (Christian, 1994). The two-way immersion model develops language proficiency as well as academic proficiency in the two languages by presenting the subject matter in both languages.

In our two-way immersion solar energy science class, there was a total of 25 students: 48 percent were limited-English proficient immigrant students of Mexican, Central American, and South American origins; the remainding 52 percent were English-speaking students who were one-third each Caucasian, African-American, and Chicana/o. Even though the student composition was diverse in terms of racial and ethnic backgrounds, all the students in the class were considered academically at-risk by the school district because of low standardized test scores, English proficiency, socioeconomic status, and parents' education levels.

The syllabus for the two-way immersion science course was originally designed for a grant proposal that allotted monetary funds for secondary teachers to develop a special curriculum that integrates math, science, and technology. …