Her team designed the activity as part of Bilingualtek, a research program that incorporates language and science to support young dual-language learners.
This is year two of her $1.6 million National Science Foundation-funded project. To develop Bilingualtek, Méndez brought together a multi-institution team that includes science education researchers from East Carolina University and NC State University, as well as UNCG early childhood teacher training expert Dr. Karen La Paro.
Over the next two years, the team will continue to refine Bilingualtek and gather evidence for an integrated language-science approach to instructing Latino preschoolers.
Dual language preschoolers who receive English-only instruction may be missing early science learning opportunities, she says.
“In our country, we have an increased number of Latino dual language learners entering preschools, a shortage of bilingual childhood educators, and limited science training for teachers at this level.” As a result, low-income Latino preschoolers are at a higher risk of being left behind in STEM.
As part of a unit exploring recycling, for example, the team created an ebook about a Latino family celebrating their abuela’s birthday. Children in the story catch fish for a special birthday dish of ceviche and reuse found objects to make a gift. As students and teachers read together, they take advantage of specially designed sections with Spanish narration and animations to illustrate science concepts.
The culturally-responsive elements also give children a sense of pride. “It helps teachers appreciate their students’ home language and culture,” Méndez explains.
That matters, as these students bring important knowledge and skills to the table. “Their cultural and linguistic experiences enrich their learning and the classroom environment,” Méndez says. “Different languages have different ways of expressing the same concepts, and having access to that opens our minds and gives us a better understanding of the world.”