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STEM and the English Language Learner

miguel-trussAt the end of every school year I begin to prepare for the next school year by trying different teaching strategies with my outgoing group of students. Well, this year I decided to introduce my students to the engineering design process because all year long I have felt like something was missing from lessons.

I teach at a school where about 90% of the our school’s population is Hispanic and 50% of our 5th graders are labeled as English Language Learners or ELLs which means that they are still not proficient with the  English language. In December I realized that the way I taught my African American and English proficient Hispanic students  at previous schools students wasn’t going make the impact on my current students’ learning due to the language barrier and lack of experiences with simple things such as eating at places like The Waffle House.

Before I settled on the idea of implementing STEM projects I tried to find research that supported the use of these kinds of projects with English Language Learners. Much to my surprise the Internet didn’t have much information to offer me on this topic for elementary students. So, while searching the Internet I found a free Popsicle Stick bridge project on the Elmer’s glue website. I was so excited because it was a great lesson plan but in the back of my mind I knew that my students would not be able to follow the lesson plan because they lacked the background knowledge and understanding of the engineering design process.  Just like with everything else I had to modify my plan.

I decided to begin with building my students’ background knowledge by introducing them to the different kinds of bridges. Then I showed them the Youtube video, The Collapse of Galloping Gertie

and they were hooked! They were like sponges and soaked up any information that I gave them about bridges. Aha! I had an idea we could build a Truss Bridge using straws which would give the students practice with isosceles, equilateral, right triangles and measurement. To make a long story short, my students learned so much from this project. They were able to identify the triangles that they were using, learned how research and share information and worked independently until the bridge project was finished. For the first time this school year I was able to take on the role  as the facilitator and let the students take the lead.

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Even though there’s not much research available on ELLs and STEM projects I believe that these kinds of projects provide ELL students with the opportunity to experience new ideas, practice tier 2 words, and use content specific vocabulary when necessary. These opportunities ultimately help them to meet the overarching goal which is to become proficient with the English language.

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