Bilingualism and Cultural Identidad as Pathway to STEM

By Hoogeveen, Paul | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, February 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bilingualism and Cultural Identidad as Pathway to STEM


Hoogeveen, Paul, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


Anew bilingual-oriented education research project is underway in the Anaheim City District in California. If successful, it might chart a new course in improving participation rates of bilingual Hispanics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The project, called Transforming Academic and Cultural Identidad through Biliteracy (TACIB), is spearheaded by Dr. Mark Ellis, associate professor of secondary education at California State University-Fullerton (CSUFO), and co-directed by CSUF colleagues Natalie Tran, Sam Behseta, and Armando M. Martinez-Cruz. Developed in partnership with the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD), Orange Country's Discovery Science Center, and the California Association for Bilingual Education as supporting partners, it will run for a three-year period, fueled by a recently awarded 1.5 million dollar grant.

The project takes direct aim at the disparity between projected job growth in STEM and low participation rates by Hispanics in STEM programs at four-year colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Education projects a rise in STEM job growth of nearly 34 percent by the year 2020. Only 16 percent of high school seniors show aptitude and interest in STEM and just half of students in four-year institutions go on to work in a related career despite the United States investing about $3 billion a year in STEM-related projects. For Hispanics, the rate is much lower: According to the Department of Education, only about 2 percent of Hispanics earn a four-year degree in natural science or engineering by the age of 24.

According to Ellis, AUHSD - not only a district with a large Hispanic population, but also one of the largest sites in which CSUF places teacher candidates that re-working on their credentials - was a natural choice for a project partnership.

"TACIB grew out of a conversation among folks involved with another NSF-funded project, Fullerton Mathematics Teaching Fellows and Master Teaching Fellows, involving CSUF and AUHSD," said Ellis. "The conversation was about the district's interest in providing more dual language (English/Spanish) course pathways for students coming from Anaheim City School District's dual immersion programs. At that time NSF had just released guidelines for the Mathematics Science Partnership grant program, and we decided to go for it."

The primary goal of TACIB is to improve learning outcomes in STEM disciplines for fifththrough eighth-grade bilingual students in a predominantly Latino community, and to make these improved outcomes sustainable. By stimulating greater interest and personal investment in science, math and technology among these bilingual Hispanic students, their participation rates in STEM at the post-secondary level should increase.

Broadly speaking, the project seeks to rework STEM curricula and instructioiid approaches in a way that leverages the linguistic, cultural and familial resources of bilingual Hispanic learners; put in place teachers who have been specifically trained for this project to teach STEM courses using approaches developed for the project; and evaluate the effectiveness of the project over time, both in terms of student academic performance and their development of a STEM-relevant cultural identity. To achieve these aims, TACIB will focus on professional development of bilingual teachers, development of approaches to curriculum that capitalize on bilingual students' cultural and familial backgrounds, and utilization of experimental analytical methodologies to gauge the success of the program over its initial three-year stretch (from 2013 through 2016).

Primary aspects of teacher preparation will involve professional development in strategies to implement Common Core Mathematics and Next Generation Science standards. Teacher candidates who are bilingual would also have the opportunity to earn bilingual authorization via a pair of courses offered by CSUF, and would be able to collaborate with math and science faculty mentors. …

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