UofM Receives $1.5 Million Grant To Improve Teaching Science to English Learners

December 15, 2016 - The University of Memphis has received a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education National Professional Development grant from the Office of English Language Acquisition. The five-year grant was awarded to the Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP) for "LASER Focused: A Model for Teaching Inquiry-Based Science to English Learners."

Research indicates that inquiry-based science instruction is particularly effective for English Learners because the hands-on nature of the method can make science more accessible while providing a pathway to developing language skills. The goal of LASER Focused is to create a research-based, systemic initiative using a series of interventions over a five-year period to improve inquiry-based science instruction for English learners in 18 public schools in Denver and Aurora, Colo.

"We are pleased that CREP has this opportunity to extend our research in K-12 schools by focusing specifically on English Learners," said Dr. Marty Alberg, CREP director and principal investigator for the project. "The findings from this study will impact educational policy and practice at the national level."

Dr. Christine Bertz, research assistant professor, and Dr. Todd Zoblotsky, research associate professor, are co-principal investigators.

The proportion of English learners (ELs) enrolled in schools in the two districts is high: 133 different languages are represented by ELs in Aurora Public Schools, and more than 170 languages are represented by students in Denver Public Schools.

The intervention is based on the Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) model developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC). The SSEC is a sub-awardee on the grant and will develop the new EL materials, then train facilitators to provide professional development to 225 teachers in Denver and Aurora.

CREP has been closely involved with implementation of the LASER model. In 2015, CREP served as external evaluator for a five-year Investing in Innovation (i3) LASER validation study through the U.S. Department of Education. Currently, CREP is evaluating the sustainability of the LASER model in rural North Carolina as part of an i3 extension awarded to the SSEC.

Through LASER Focused, CREP hopes to contribute to a growing body of knowledge regarding best practices for working with ELs, with the ultimate goal of reducing the science achievement gap between ELs and non-ELs.

Contact: Gabrielle Maxey