Monday, May 9, 2016

Did I Really Wait This Long to Get on My Soapbox?

Those who travel in the relatively insulated circles of World Language teachers in New York State might know that in the past couple of years a focus of my presentations has been bringing World Language into the STEM world.  It is something I am very passionate about. The underpinning of my argument is that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are all well and good, but none of the ideas that spring from these disciplines can be expressed without language.  Meanwhile, with technology bringing the world into our personal and professional spaces, learning a second, third, and/or fourth language is not only beneficial, but critical to global citizenship in the 21st century.

To that end, I have been on my soapbox taking advantage of opportunities to present and share my views in as many venues as possible.  I was lucky enough to be selected as a 2016 NECTFL Mead Fellow, and my project is based on connecting level 1 and 2 curricula in French and Spanish with Earth Science and Algebra 1 curricula.  This is extremely exciting for me, because it is giving me the chance to put into action something that has primarily been philosophical up to this point.

When we had our group meeting with the three Mead fellows, our mentors, and prior Mead fellows, it was strongly recommended to me that I do a school visit to an immersion school to get a better sense of how content can be taught in the Target Language, because that is the approach I wanted to take with the integration of language and content.  Due to the efforts of Mead Chair Amanda Seewald, I was able to visit the William C. Lewis Dual Language Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware.

I first visited a third grade math class.  I was blown away!  The teacher was a native speaker who spoke at conversational speed.  The student materials were all in Spanish, and the students were all speaking Spanish.  Culture was integrated in the word problems, and the students "policed" each other if they lapsed into English at any point.

The science class I found particularly fascinating.  The unit was based on the life cycle of a plant.  Class started with a children's book about the life cycle of a squash.  Then students who had not finished a writing assignment (all in Spanish) on the life cycle of an apple tree were allowed to finish that, while other students worked on a new project that extended their learning about the life cycle of a squash.

It was truly fascinating and inspiring to see students learning language and content in this way.  I left with my head exploding with ideas, and more direction for my project work.  More than ever I believe that this type of program is necessary to teach our children to be global citizens and to adequately prepare them for the world they will graduate into.

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