Expanding Repertoires of Practice: Improving Informal Science Learning Experiences for Dual Language Learners
As science centers and children's museums re-define their roles in a society that is increasingly linguistically diverse, many seek to engage more effectively with dual language learners. Dual language learners are young children who are still in the process of acquiring basic language skills in their first language while at the same time acquiring a second language. At present, museum professionals face the challenge of developing programs and practices in the absence of research on informal science education for this population. The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) and The Ohio State University (OSU) will collaborate to begin a systematic study of informal science education programs and practices for reaching and serving preschool dual language learners. The improvement of dual language learners' informal science learning experiences is an increasingly important part of efforts to achieve equity and diversity in participation in science. Such efforts are particularly important as this population grows in number and as the significance of early science learning experiences for later achievement becomes better understood. This project will begin to address the lack of research through three interconnected activities: (1) a national needs assessment of children's museums and science museums, (2) an in-person convening and quarterly virtual meet-ups with teams from eight partner museums, and (3) an exploratory study of COSI's programs and practices to support the access, participation, and learning of preschool dual language learners and their parents/caregivers. The project will yield important insights into current practices and priorities with respect to effective museum engagement with dual language learners, their families, and the early childhood professionals who serve them. The project will (1) produce a comprehensive report on the current state of the field related to providing informal science experiences for preschool dual language learners; (2) identify gaps in existing research and practice, as well as promising foci for future study and improvement and expansion of museum practice; and (3) create a full-scale Research in Service to Practice proposal and a national network of museums to implement the proposal. The overarching goal of the project is to advance the knowledge and awareness of needs and practices related to informal science programming for preschool children who are learning English as an additional language. The national needs assessment will be conducted by means of an online questionnaire sent to museums identified via public association lists, and questions will focus on institutional practices in relation to school readiness and the needs of preschool dual language learners and perceived gaps in services. In the convening and virtual meet-ups, the project team, local community partners, project advisers, museum association leaders, and museum partners selected for their innovative work with linguistically diverse populations will discuss partners' programs, practices and frameworks; emergent project findings; and directions for further study. The exploratory study of COSI programs and practices will entail participant observation, document analysis, and interviews and focus group conversations with stakeholders, including parents, early childhood educators, COSI team members, community organization leaders. The project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. Its funding includes broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. An AISL Pathways grant, such as this one, allows practitioners and researchers to undertake exploratory development work that has the potential to produce evidence, findings, and/or deliverables that will form the basis of anticipated further innovative, or potentially transformative, research and development work.