UNION COUNTY, NJ — The National Science Foundation has awarded $3 million to researchers at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and Stanford University Graduate School of Education to create a language-focused science curriculum for fifth-graders to be used in Elizabeth Public Schools and schools in California.
The four-year project, which began in September, will pay particular attention to developing STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — education that supports English language learners.
The curriculum will align with the Next Generation Science Standards, an effort to rethink and improve how science is taught and learned in U.S. classrooms. The new standards, which grew out of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, were released in 2013 and have been adopted by 14 states and the District of Columbia.
“The new standards are less about facts and memorizing information, and more about figuring things out and coming up with evidence to support your argument,” said Okhee Lee, professor of childhood education at NYU Steinhardt and a principal investigator on the NSF grant. Lee was also a member of the Next Generation Science Standards writing team and the leader of the standards’ diversity and equity team.
The standards expect students to explain phenomena and design solutions to problems by blending science and engineering practices, core ideas in science disciplines, and crosscutting concepts that apply across science disciplines.
The NSF-funded project will develop instructional materials for a yearlong curriculum for fifth-grade students. The curriculum will be designed for all students, especially English language learners, responding to the nation’s diverse and rapidly changing student demographics.
As of 2013, census data show that 22 percent of students speak a language other than English at home. In Elizabeth, there are over 4,600 English language learners in the district and that number continues to increase an average of 300 per year.
Diversity and equity are embedded in the Next Generation Science Standards, but elementary schools have traditionally lacked educational materials to teach science, let alone science aligning with the new standards and needs of English language learners.
“The new standards are shifting how science is taught, but they’re also shifting how language can be taught and learned,” said Lorena Llosa associate professor of education at NYU Steinhardt and another principal investigator on the NSF-funded project. The language approach will emphasize analytical tasks aimed at making sense of and constructing scientific knowledge, using listening, reading, speaking and writing.
After the curriculum is developed and field-tested during the first three years of the project, a pilot study will be conducted in schools in California and New Jersey during the final year. Using a randomized controlled trial design, the researchers will study the impact of the curriculum on science learning and language development for all students, including English language learners, and how the curriculum affects teachers’ instructional practices.
The researchers hope that the curriculum and research results from the project will help reduce the science-achievement gaps between English language learners and non-English language learners to enable all students to be college- and career-ready in STEM areas.
Elizabeth Board of Education President Ana Maria Amin is confident that the new STEM curriculum will have an impact on the aspirations of Elizabeth Public Schools students.
“We are excited to be partnering with NYU, one of the more prestigious post-secondary academic institutions in the United States, to bring unique educational experiences to our students,” said Amin. “This new curriculum could potentially serve as an inspiration to our fifth-grade students to ultimately pursue careers in the STEM fields and attend universities with the academic prowess of NYU, and their research partners, Stanford.”
For more information, visit www.epsnj.org.