Imagine learning two new languages at the same time, where the mastery of one is reliant on your understanding of the other. That’s what it feels like for college students at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) taking STEM courses. It’s clear that in order to achieve better outcomes in STEM, college instructors need Spanish-language science resources for their HSI students.
Associate Professors Selinda Martinez and Juliana Kelley teach in the biology department at Laredo College and they recently spoke at Labster's Science Online (SO): Connected conference where they expressed the need for more Spanish-language science resources to support English Language Learners (ELL) and encourage diversity and inclusion in STEM.
Laredo College is a public HSI located in Laredo, Texas, just steps away from the Rio Grande River, which forms the border between the United States and Mexico. It’s also Laredo’s oldest higher education institution—dating back to 1947. Of its nearly 10,000 students, 97% are Hispanic. While some students seek general education and English skills, others attend Laredo to pursue job skills in fields like nursing.
Martinez, who also serves as chair of the biology department, explains the student experience when it comes to STEM learning.
"I often say science is a unique language in and of itself and it is very challenging for students to learn that particular language on top of trying to learn or understand English as a second language,” she says.
Spanish science resources could bridge that gap, but Kelley says it’s difficult to find online resources, text books, and translated journals. Having taught high school science, she’s noticed that more resources exist for those students. “But, once you get to the college level, they seem to disappear,” she says.
While students are held accountable for their own comprehension, their mastery of concepts in their early classes will encourage them to pursue higher-level courses, and allow them to perform better in those courses, thus strengthening their confidence to pursue a career in STEM.
So, what happens when an ELL student doesn’t get their language needs met in the science classroom? Frustration.
“Students hit that barrier of not having the comprehension, it’s very discouraging. They struggle through it,” Martinez says. “They say, ‘I’m done. I can’t do this; it’s too difficult for me.’ And that is the last thing we want students to feel.”
Her goal is to create an environment in which students feel comfortable enough and confident enough to understand the material. Without bilingual science resources, students miss the opportunity to meaningfully connect with what they’re learning.
“This can lead to academic failure,” Kelley says. “Graduation rates go down. They might have to take courses again. Whereas if they have the resources available to them, then maybe they’ll hold on to the class.”
Martinez echoes Kelley’s concern. She says that student engagement is directly tied to their motivation to learn. And because both professors want to see more Hispanic students enter STEM fields, they are passionate about meeting student needs.
For instructors at HSIs that are facing the challenge to provide bilingual resources, Kelley has three recommendations.
Make the push to source materials by speaking with publishers and your administrators.
Know your student population.
Make sure the resources you choose are evidence-based and will improve outcomes.
Martinez adds that patience plays an important role. “It’s going to take time for students to go through the materials and make the connections. Be flexible and work with your students.”
Labster offers a growing library of more than 70 Spanish-language virtual lab simulations and science resources. Some of the virtual lab simulations and resources available for Spanish-speaking biology students, for example, include:
Pipetting: Master the Technique
Polymerase Chain Reaction
The Gram Stain: Identify and Differentiate Bacteria
Comparing Bacterial Structure
Introduction to Protein Synthesis
Iodine Test for Complex Carbohydrates
Biuret’s Test for Proteins
Sudan IV Test for Lipids
Evolution: Generations of an Allele
Marine Biology: Investigate a Massive Fish Death
Population Growth: Let’s Catch Some Goslings
Many more available in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and physics
Both Martinez and Kelley have used English-language versions of Labster simulations in their courses up until now, stating that students gain scientific inquiry skills as a result of the storytelling elements in Labster simulations, and they enjoy them.
“Labster is a great supplemental tool to fortify or increase students' understanding of the materials. Because of that, we've seen engagement skyrocket,” says Martinez.
Kelley agrees. “99% of my students enjoy the simulations. They love the fact that it's like a video game and they're learning at the same time."
Both professors plan to offer Labster Spanish-language resources as an option for students. We look forward to following that journey with them, and sharing more insights about how Spanish-language science resources can empower student learning and support diversity and inclusion in STEM.
If you’d like to explore our Spanish-language virtual lab simulations and science resources for your HSI, sign up for a demo now.
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