Annual Report Overviews
LASERS Annual Overview
The LASERS (Language Acquisition through Science Education in Rural Schools) project involves a collaboration between the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), Life Lab Science Program, the Migrant Education Program for Region XVI, and seven school districts in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties--Alisal, Hollister, King City, North Monterey County, Pajaro Valley, San Juan Aromas and Salinas. A major focus of the project is improving the teaching of science to limited English proficient students who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. The student population in the LASERS region is 66% Latino, 48% ELL Spanish speaking students, and 33% children of migrant worker families. The project is based on the principle that inquiry science is an excellent context for promoting language development: through science inquiry students develop both their first and second languages and through the use of discourse in inquiry students develop conceptual understanding of the science content.
The project has both a staff development and a research component. The primary goals of the project's staff development component are to a) improve teachers' personal understanding of science content, b) develop their understanding of how to integrate science inquiry and language development in their classrooms, c) provide a framework for adapting science curricula and instructional methods to the needs of second language learners, and d) provide coaching and support for teachers as they implement new methods in their classrooms. The primary goals of the research component are a) to provide evidence that ELL students who participate in inquiry science significantly improve in both their understanding of science concepts and their use of academic language, b) document the process by which teachers learn to effectively integrate science and language in their instruction, and c) to identify and describe teacher practices that promote science learning and language development.
The overarching goal of the LASERS project was to bring about systemic change in the teaching of science in seven school districts in the Monterey Bay region, who serve a predominantly Latino student population with limited English proficiency. The initial challenge was to convince the participating school districts that science was an important subject to be taught to elementary school ELL students. The administrators and teachers in the participating school districts viewed their primary responsibility as teaching English language and literacy to second language learners. Many elementary schools did not include science in their curriculum. In 1995, the first year of the project, only two of the school districts had adopted a science curriculum. The project's strategy was to demonstrate that science was an excellent context for language development. By the end of the second year of the project all seven school districts had adopted a science framework and curriculum. The amount of time participating teachers devoted to the teaching of science increased by approximately 400%. As the districts adopted a science curriculum, the challenge was to provide staff development to teachers to support them in a) implementing a standards-based inquiry science curriculum, and b) integrating language activities into their science teaching. Over the first three years of the project there were significant increases in teachers' use of standards-based science curriculum and in their understanding and use of science-language integration activities.
The research program played a key role in gaining the buy-in of teachers and administrators by presenting data that demonstrated that students in LASERS classrooms significantly improved in their understanding of science concepts and their academic language development. The LASERS research team worked with lead teachers in case studies to document and analyze teachers' practice and student learning outcomes. Data on teachers and students was also collected in three consecutive summer schools. These research findings were discussed with district administrators and teachers t the quarterly regional meetings, teacher workshops and annual LASERS regional conference. The findings were also disseminated in a newsletter and video. As teachers and administrators observe the impact of the LASERS project on student learning they became increasingly committed to the program.
LASERS has also developed an approach to staff development that engages teachers in analyzing the impact of instruction on student learning. The focus of the staff development is analysis and reflection on teachers' own instructional practice at the school site and in the LASERS summer school academy. Teachers receive intensive coaching and feedback from staff developers. They also work in collaborative action research teams (summer school) and core teams (school year) to plan instruction and analyze student work.
The final challenge for the project is to institutionalize the LASERS program in the region. This requires the districts to take fiscal and administrative responsibility for the sustainability of the program. In 1998-1999, the fourth year of the LASERS project, 45 of the 51 elementary schools in the region participated in the LASERS professional development program; three districts implemented the LASERS summer school academy program; and 'X' of the districts funded a full time LASERS coordinator. The project also received additional long-term funding to sustain collaboration among the seven school districts, Life Lab and UCSC. LASERS was incorporated as the Monterey Bay Science Project and will receive long-term funding from the University of California Subject Matter Project program. The Johnson Foundation contributed to the work of LASERS over the past three years and has expressed interest in supporting post-NSF funding. As a result of these successes science is no longer on the 'back-burner' of the participating districts. Instead it is viewed as an important content area and as a vehicle for developing language skills in ELL students.
The LASERS approach is beginning to be disseminated in California and nationally. Fresno Unified School District, which has both NSF funded USI and LSC projects, sent a team of eleven teachers and two administrators to a one week institute where LASERS staff developers helped them design a summer school academy model that integrates science and English language development. The California Science Project is using the LASERS model in 16 sites across California. The research team presented a major symposium at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Montreal Canada. Finally, the largest school district in the consortium, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, applied for and received the Golden Bell Award from the California School Board Association for their work in LASERS.