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Educators Seek To Improve Instruction for Immigrants

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San Francisco

Faced with the need to teach science to unprecedented numbers of immigrant children whose first language is not English, educators in California have begun to develop an array of methods for breaking down cultural and linguistic barriers.

Innovative strategies developed at the University of California at Irvine and in schools in neighboring Santa Ana for teaching science to immigrant children were the focus of a session here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"At a typical school near our campus where our students might teach, the children might speak as many as 17 languages,'' said Rita W. Peterson, a teacher-educator at the university.

The California state education department has made important advances in standardizing science teaching by adopting a framework for science education, Ms. Peterson noted.

Moreover, recently revised teacher-certification requirements emphasize the need for teachers to have a working vocabulary in a foreign language.

"I require the students in a science-methods course to present their units in English and in a second language,'' Ms. Peterson said. "Even though the students are not fluent speakers themselves, they must know the key words in a second language.''

But teacher preparation is only one of several strategies for improving access to science education for limited-English-proficient children, participants in the session last week said.

'Driven by Science'

The science department at U.C.-Irvine has launched a series of programs aimed at sparking the interest of Spanish-speaking children in science.

Local children's first exposure to math and science often comes through the Kids Investigating and Discovering Science program, a four-week summer institute where university students and faculty members act as mentors for hands-on science.

As part of the program, parents are asked to come at least once during the program to learn about the curriculum. And every child is issued a white lab coat to underscore the feeling of being a budding scientist.

At predominantly Hispanic George Washington Carver Elementary School in Santa Ana, meanwhile, the curriculum "is driven by science,'' said Principal Lupe O'Leary.

The school has developed a partnership with Fluor Daniel Inc., a local engineering firm, which has provided financial and human help to promote science.

The school's 22 teachers, chosen for their strong science and math backgrounds, are each paired with a Fluor Daniel engineer, who often teaches alongside them in the classroom.

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