Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Margarita — Grades 5-8

Teacher Profile

Name Margarita
Experience First year as middle grades science teacher
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 5 - 8 bilingual teacher in all subjects
Classroom Bilingual, mixed grade levels, 13 students
Demographics Urban middle school
Science Teaching 2 days per week
Curriculum Specified by district
Other Taught primary grades for the past four years


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

As she looks back on her own education, Margaritaacknowledges that she was moved from a Spanish-speaking environment to an English-speaking classroom without adequate transition. Today, as a teacher of all subjects in a bilingual program, she works with middle grades students who are part of a transitional program intended to move them from native language-speaking classrooms 75% of the time to full immersion after three or four years.

Because this is Margarita's first year teaching at these grade levels, she works closely with Ilia, the district science staff developer. Cooperatively, they explore materials and plan lessons. In addition, Ilia serves as a model by regularly acting as lead teacher during a unit of study. Margarita also co-teaches once per week with Rita, a seventh-grade science teacher. This peer support strategy helps Margarita gain more confidence in teaching science through the kits provided by the district.

Variables Unit

Using commercially made materials, students build a model plane and then use it as a means of exploring the function of variables in a system. By manipulating different variables in the same structure, students discover by experimentation what the variables are, explore some of the ways in which they can manipulated, observe the results of the manipulation, and plan new manipulations to achieve a desired effect.

Discussion Questions

What do you consider to be the most critical issues with regard to science teaching and learning among students with limited English proficiency? Why?

What types of support do you feel you would need to teach science in a setting where there are limited English proficiency students?

How do you think teachers of limited English proficiency students can address the concern that they keep pace with their peers in terms of their understandings of science?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Margarita explains that she wants to continue with the Variables Unit after completion of the commercial materials. She hopes that with an open-ended investigation in which students decide upon the system (planes, boats, catapults, or pendulums) that they will study, students will develop expertise in that system.

As an assessment of the depth of students' understanding of variables, groups experimentandf then express and share their ideas using appropriate science vocabulary. This culminates in the delivery of an oral presentation by each group to the class.

Variables Presentation

Using what students know from the previous unit on variables in planes, boats, catapults, and pendulums, students decide upon one system to investigate in more depth. Relying on one another, group members then choose a variable within that system to explore in greater depth. Groups design experiments to test their hypotheses, prepare tables and charts to display their data, and give oral presentations to the class.

Discussion Questions

What do you consider to be the strengths and the weaknesses of the Variables Unit with regard to science teaching and learning among limited English proficiency students? Among any group of students?

In your opinion, what factors may prevent students from being able to think and communicate in science? What facilitates this ability?

How would you assess whether or not science teaching and learning was effective among limited English proficiency students?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Margarita's class is now studying the human heart as part of their study of the human body system. Four stations have been assembled at which students can either view a demonstration of a preserved calf's heart, simulate the heart's pumping action with a tennis ball, measure their pulse, or investigate the amount of blood that the heart pumps in a given time.

Because four grade levels are represented in her science class, Margarita is very aware of offering her students varied opportunities to explore and experience scientific ideas at different levels. For example, an eighth-grade student decided to conduct independent research on the heart. She became the class “heart expert” and chose to write a report and make accompanying charts and illustrations, using English. Margarita also recognizes the importance of encouraging group work wherein peers serve one another as resources for learning and of selecting units that are not biased toward a particular culture or language.

Human Body Systems

Students explore the human heart as part of a more global study of systems. Four stations are set up in the classroom. They include a heart demonstration that is facilitated by a seventh-grade science teacher; a heart muscle investigation wherein a student's squeezing a tennis ball for a given time simulates the heart as a muscle; a pulse-taking station where students measure their heart rate; and a volume station where participants model with tubs of water the volume of blood the heart pumps in a given time.

Discussion Questions

How did Margarita's relationship with her peer support teachers evolve throughout the year?

What criteria would you use to select or adapt curriculum materials for use with limited English proficiency students?

How would you take into account students' diverse linguistic, cultural, and academic backgrounds as well as future goals when planning for science teaching and learning?


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