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Authentic science instruction raises test scores in Florida

At the intersection of earlier discussions of elementary school content knowledge, vocabulary development, and instruction of English Language Learners is P-SELL, Promoting Science among English Language Learners, a curriculum and professional development program in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The program provided three years of workshops for teachers, to build their content knowledge and help them feel more comfortable teaching science. They received all necessary supplies and a hands-on curriculum. Here’s what P-SELL looks like in the classroom:

The children run their tests. They are asked to provide written explanations to a number of questions about the results of the experiment, a task that reinforces their English skills and asks them to put their reasoning on paper.

The students’ background materials include an English-to-Creole vocabulary sheet, which helps them translate such words as magnetism from mayetis in Creole, and charge from chaj or chaje. Though the youngsters mostly converse in English, Ms. Perez recalls hearing words like batri and pozitif (battery and positive) as she moves among the groups, and other dialogue she can’t follow.

She steps in here and there, telling the students to stay on task and to record information from their experiments precisely. “Did the paper clip conduct electricity?” Ms. Perez leans in and asks one group. Yes, the children respond. Then write it down, she says. They won’t be able to summarize their results without that information.

Teacher and students are newly enthusiastic about science — and schools using the program saw improvements in both their science and math test results, compared to similar schools without P-SELL.

Okhee Lee, an education professor at the University of Miami and the principal investigator for this project, stresses that science lessons shouldn’t be seen as taking time away from reading and math instruction. “Our science curriculum reinforces what is taught in other subjects, including mathematics, reading, language arts, and English as a second language,” she told the University of Miami News.

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