Using Inquiry and Tenets of Multicultural Education to Engage Latino English-Language Learning Students in Learning about Geology and the Nature of Science

Article excerpt


Traditional school science instruction has been largely unsuccessful in reaching diverse student groups and students from, in particular, underrepresented backgrounds. This paper presents a case study of an urban, dual-language middle school classroom in which the teacher used an alternative instructional approach, involving her students in an authentic geological investigation with fossils. In this instructional setting, the teacher successfully engaged her English-language learning students from Latino backgrounds in science learning through inquiry, instructionally congruent science teaching strategies, and explicit instruction in nature of science. Students participating in the geological investigation interacted with practicing scientists. This instructional approach modeled the activities of science and better connected diverse students to the scientific community of practice. The practices used in this classroom provide a compelling example of how science instruction can be carried out in a way that makes science accessible despite linguistic differences and engages students in the activities of science, who otherwise might not be.

© 2022 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/10-213.1]

Key words: inquiry, underrepresented, multicultural, instructional congruency, nature of science


Few countries boast the diversity and educational opportunities of the United States. However, educational researchers, practitioners, and policy makers in the United States are still in the nascent stages of learning how to engage all students, including students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, in science learning (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2010). Traditional instructional approaches in science have largely been unsuccessful in reaching English-language learning (ELL), Latino, Native American, and AfricanAmerican student groups, who remain underrepresented in the field of science (National Academy of Sciences, 2010). These groups constitute a large and growing proportion of students in urban school environments, which oftentimes do not provide authentic learning experiences (Settlage and Meadows, 2002) or have the resources (Rivera Malucci, 2010) to engage students in science learning in meaningful ways.

This paper presents a case study of an urban, ELL middle school classroom that is engaged in an authentic scientific investigation as a context for both science and ELL. In this classroom, the teacher, Monica, makes a significant point of departure from traditional science instruction by involving her students in inquiry-based instruction. As such, these students participate in asking scientifically oriented questions, making observations and inferences, and conducting data collection and analysis. She does so with instructionally congruent practice (ICP), in which she draws on students' everyday understandings and increases the accessibility of the science content matter through linguistic scaffolding. Further, Monica explains how the activities students are involved in relate to actual scientific practice, combined with the pedagogy of explicit instruction in nature of science (NOS). We hypothesize that these combined instructional approaches, inquiry, ICP, and NOS could help increase the accessibility and demystify science for diverse groups of students. In particular, we have evidence that the instructional approach used by this teacher will have significant bearing on students from underrepresented groups when applied more broadly by other teachers.

This paper describes the theoretical underpinnings of the Fossil Finders project, a curriculum developed to engage students in authentic scientific investigations in collaboration with scientists and to provide explicit instruction in NOS. It further describes how Monica strived to integrate aspects of ICP into inquiry-based science teaching in her dual-language classroom. …


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