Full STE(A)M ahead in LA : Maria Mancia mixes English and Spanish Language Arts into GLOBE
In the spring of 2017, the GLOBE Program—an international science education initiative funded by NASA and supported by The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the US Department of State—held six regional Student Research Symposia where teachers and students from schools across the country shared the results of their field investigations using GLOBE Program data collection protocols.
In this series of feature stories, we profile some of the teacher/student teams who presented at these symposia.
When it comes right down to it, science is a language. It’s a way to communicate about the universe we inhabit.
Maria Mancia teaches sixth grade science at the Irving STEAM Magnet School in Los Angeles, but it would be entirely appropriate to list her among the language arts teachers. From her classroom base teaching earth science, biology, and chemistry, among other sciences, Maria has used GLOBE to reach out to math, English, and Spanish teachers in the school to make each discipline stronger and more relevant to learners.
“You don’t see a lot of middle school dual-language programs in California,” Maria said. “Science is relatable and interesting. It’s a great way to teach language through something hands-on. For some kids who have a difficult time reading, having them actually observe and record something supersedes anything they could just read.”
The verbal aspect of GLOBE research contributes to language success as well. “We ask questions, they ask each other questions, what do you notice? They can say, ‘oh, I want to test these particular things about clouds.’ Sometimes middle school teachers joke about hands-on teaching, saying students don’t have time to think about messing around or getting in trouble. But the kids think not being in a lab is worse than being part of detention because they don’t get to go outside! We actually have had classrooms compete with each other: ‘how many experiments did you do, we got to use this equipment, we got to ask our own questions, did she do this with you guys?’”
Maria’s GLOBE students have been using soil moisture, bacteria, and temperature protocols, often visiting the Los Angeles River (familiar to movie-goers from the movie Grease where the drag race through the concrete river took place) to collect data. Maria has taken the approach of integrating the concepts and protocols of GLOBE into her curriculum, rather than thinking of GLOBE as a stand-alone program, but also offers it as a “sort of STEM electives club” for students who want more.
Three of her students—Michael, Asenat, and Henry—have taken a strong interest in GLOBE and recently went to a local elementary school to introduce fifth graders to the idea of using their hands as well as their minds when learning about their world. But that’s just one of the fascinating ways that GLOBE has tendrilled out from Maria’s classroom to have a larger, unexpected impact.
“One of the things I love about it is actually looking at numbers,” Maria said. “What’s the graph that represents this, how do we arrange the data to answer questions and make sense of everything. That’s a valuable thing for life for them.”
By “them,” Maria doesn’t mean only students. “Looking at data can be overwhelming. We had our math department analyze our students’ test scores and they weren’t doing very well. We said to them, our kids are looking at margin of error, coming to conclusions, and using higher-level thinking…how would you like us to come in and teach you how to use your data?”
The experience of showing teachers how to use math more productively to dive deeper into test results was “incredibly empowering for the students, to see how science brings everything together.”
Maria has invited other teachers to share their wealth as well. “English teachers come in and proofread the lab reports the students write, asking them the more difficult thinking questions, showing them how to describe and justify their results better.” Maria believes GLOBE can be a force for true interdisciplinary teaching. “It can be a model for communicating with others, analyzing, giving context to math concepts.”
“I look at English and math scores to see how to better present the science content,” she continued. “Which skills do I need to help them with? It helps the English and math teachers as well.”
Maria has been teaching for seven years and still feels like she is perfecting the interdisciplinary model. “It’s a good network of people, a good way to find support. If you’re not moving out of your comfort zone, you’re not growing and learning.” But the rewards are clear. Sixth graders mature normally and blossom at their own pace, Maria said, but hearing from parents that their children are on a good track because of GLOBE makes a difference.
“Like Michael…his parents say he is naturally shy and reserved but they’ve seen him become a young man who carries himself so well,” she said. “Today a girl came to me asking how they could get funding for their robotics team.” GLOBE, she said, is a maturing life experience that “helps the kids become the people we want them to be.” The “push” to become better is for every student: “Some kids who are used to getting the right answer and being smart and getting good grades might not always take the risk. GLOBE is a good way to take a risk…sometimes the answer is wrong, and that’s great. You can then ask a different question.”
“With bright kids and struggling kids, there’s an evening out. Some are great at observation, noticing detail, or expressing themselves,” Maria said. “They are finding each others’ strengths rather than weaknesses. To a kid who’s not usually picked, the others say, ‘you’re really good at this…will you join our team? There’s a lot less bullying when we’re focusing on strengths.”
Maria uses a democratic approach when decisions are made about which students will represent the school at science events. “Using rubrics, we decide as a class who should represent them. I filmed it: they asked all the questions, like ‘do you think anything might have affected your data?’”
Current eighth graders Michael and Asenat trekked with Maria to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena for last year’s research symposium and will be joined by eighth grader Henry at the 2018 symposium at NASA Ames, in Mountain View, California. Asenat and Michael, both 14, explained that the team will present their project on two years of research (one El Nino year, one not) on basic gravimetric soil moisture, including data gathered from an inside-school stand of trees and an on-site weather station.
“We made our own data sheets with graphs showing rain changes from year to year and pictures of NASA’s satellite views to compare their maps to our data,” said Michael.
“Right now we’re taking data samples with partners from Aurora Elementary to expand our inquiry,” added Henry. “We’re going to see how accurate SMAP [satellite data] is around Los Angeles.”
Last year’s regional symposium at JPL was exciting but also instructive for the Irving STEAM Magnet School team. The students said when they struggled with their presentation, their scientist audience asked them questions about their confidence in the data. “Sometimes we doubted ourselves, but we knew what we did was correct,” said Asenat, who also recorded an interview at JPL that she uses when she makes presentations about GLOBE (for example, to the local school board. See part of this interview here).
The students speak very warmly of their teacher. “She’s basically like our mother,” said Michael. “Because of her we understand a lot of what she’s teaching when other kids don’t.” Asenat added, “she shows us how to discover things on our own. She’s really open and likes to talk a lot.” Michael agreed but explained that at the beginning, he didn’t like to present and talk to others. “But I like to do that now.” He’s become student council president and plays softball, volleyball, and flag football, and runs track.
For the future, Asenat, who is involved in robotics competitions and is on the national junior honor society, has her eye on either MIT or CalTech and a career in biomedical engineering. Michael has two possible careers in mind: “I’d like to go to Stanford to be a lawyer, then a politician and use that platform as a governor and an activist. Another path would be astrobiologist, to learn how the Earth was made.” He greatly admires Stephen Hawking. Henry, also into robotics, said, “when I was little I was interested in engineering, but didn’t know what type. Right now I’m doing different stuff to see what I like best.”
A universal language
As Maria’s GLOBE partner, Henry Ortiz introduced her to the project as part of a statewide push to enhance the sciences in magnet schools. Working out of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Henry has conducted hundreds of GLOBE trainings in California and abroad since joining the project in 1997. “Maria has a great relationship with her students,” he noted. “They really respect her. She works hard to give them more than what they get in the classroom.”
“We have a special ed resource teacher who worked a lot with Henry and told me I’d be perfect for GLOBE,” said Maria. “Henry trained me and walked the kids through what’s available through GLOBE. He’s there to support me and the kids email him all the time.”
Henry observes that Maria’s students were “really curious about stuff” when they started GLOBE data collection. “They started taking things on their own and took off with it. They came up with questions…what if we do this or that? I gave them some advice so their investigations would be more science-based.” Henry has shared more than advice—he’s a conduit to resources for equipment (such as an oven Maria’s students use to dry soil samples) and money. In fact, Henry shepherded the U.S. Department of Education Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant that converted the Irving school into a magnet program and “beefed up” its science curriculum.
Praising Maria’s interdisciplinary approach, Henry said that integration of GLOBE into a system is fruitful and depends on teachers’ ability to focus and prioritize their energy and connect the work to Next Generation Science Standards. “That’s what it’s all about: patterns, asking and answering questions.” He also hopes the future of GLOBE will include expansion into more science disciplines, such as biotech.
Above all, Henry hopes Maria’s students will contribute to GLOBE becoming even more world-spanning by speaking “science” as a truly universal language.
—C. Ralph Adler
The GLOBE Program sponsored six 2018 Student Research Symposia funded by NASA Grant No. 80NSC18K0135. For information on these, visit the 2018 Symposia pages. Bookmark the SRS webpage to stay updated on dates, locations, and application procedures for 2019.
The 2017 Regional Science Symposia were funded by National Science Foundation Grant No. 1546713. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
News origin: United States of America