FOSStering Biliteracy: "Are FOSS materials available in Spanish? How about Chinese? French?"

Diana Vélez and Natalie Yakushiji, FOSS Professional and Leadership Developers, Lawrence Hall of Science
February 23, 2016 | Literacy

Top image: Yu Ming Charter second graders debrief earth materials particle size in the FOSS Pebbles, Sand, and Silt Module.

More and more we hear requests for FOSS materials in other languages. These inquiries follow a trend that shows a substantial rise in the number of dual language immersion schools across the country (currently estimated at over 1,000 and growing each year). Also called "two-way" language immersion (TWI), the goal of this type of bilingual instruction is for native English speakers to learn a second language (referred to as the "target" language), while their classmates who speak the target language learn English. In most TWI schools, Spanish is the target language, however, Mandarin is increasing in popularity. Last fall, as part of an effort to improve relations with China, President Obama announced the launch of "1 Million Strong," an initiative aimed at having one million Mandarin language learners in U.S. schools by the year 2020.

MAP: State laws regarding the seal of biliteracy

The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school, district, or county office of education in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. Image © 2016

Is it possible? We asked the Director of Mandarin Curriculum and Instruction for Yu Ming, a TWI Charter School in Oakland, California. The answer is yes. Enrollment has increased at Yu Ming every year since they opened in 2011. This heightened interest can be seen in the majority of states in the United States, where parents anxiously have their children on waiting lists to enter TWI programs. In addition to Spanish and Mandarin, schools are offering other languages such as Arabic, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Korean, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Hindi, as well as indigenous languages. Many states are currently expanding their programs with much success. For example, Utah has surpassed its goal and now has 9% of its public elementary school students enrolled in TWI programs. In Portland, Oregon, nearly one in five kindergartners is learning in two languages.

Teacher reading to students

A teacher reads to the class using the Pebbles, Sand, and Silt Module Science Resources book, with added translations to Chinese.

Why are states rushing to open and expand TWI schools? The research shows that TWI is the most effective model for learning another language and contributes to long-term academic success for both English language learners and the target language learners. In addition, many states and districts feel TWI supports their goal of preparing their students to succeed in a global economy. The founders of Yu Ming charter school in Oakland believe that TWI supports the development of critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, and communication. To that end, their students needed a challenging and engaging curriculum to provide the context for this type of active learning. Last year, Yu Ming worked with FOSS and Delta Education to translate some of the Next Generation Edition student materials into Chinese. A Yu Ming administrator explains, "FOSS fits in well with Yu Ming's vision of nurturing our students' intellectual curiosity, compassion, and a sense of responsibility for the community and the environment. Although sometimes the translation is hard for students to understand, the active investigations of FOSS help students to make connections across the language divide."

Teachers at Yu Ming expressed that FOSS makes it easier to teach science in Mandarin. The same features that help English-speaking students learn science (engaging hands-on investigations, science notebooks, and collaborative group work) also allow them to successfully teach science in Mandarin. Their students readily engage in the investigations and are able to conduct rich science talk in Mandarin. Now they want more. One of the teachers, Xinyi Xu, is hopeful to have additional online resources in the future, such as multimedia, streaming videos, and FOSSmap, to help deepen students' understanding and help them explain the patterns they discover in Chinese.

Students working with the FOSS Water Module

Yu Ming Charter third graders explore water drops in the FOSS Water Module.

At Adelante, a Spanish TWI charter school in Santa Barbara, teachers have been using FOSS since its inception in 2010. Paula Sevilla, a fifth-grade teacher explains why,

One of the beautiful things about dual immersion is that it makes us all language learners. One of the beautiful things about FOSS, is that it provides a series of intentionally designed experiential investigations that grow students' knowledge of scientific content while, simultaneously, providing a context for the language required to speak, read, and write about said content. Every investigation requires that students get their hands dirty! They investigate scientific tools and concepts that are new to them and are asked to speak to their colleagues about that very information. Since we do our science in Spanish, I get to see my Spanish language learners get excited about the science and become less self-conscious. They get distracted from their fear of speaking their second language and begin wrestling with and seeking to utilize the vocabulary and content they are investigating. Language is never a solitary venture; it is always practiced when there is something of worth about which we would like to communicate. FOSS provides interesting and challenging scientific inquiries that my students want to talk about, read and write about.

Sevilla adds that the biggest challenge for her and some of her colleagues has always been their lack of science content knowledge. She has had to do a lot of learning on her own and explains,

I sought out a friend who teaches chemistry and continually asked for drawings to represent what we were learning, such that I could present things in a similar fashion to my students. I think the best advice I can give is to do the same, i.e., admit you need some help, find it and use a ton of images to support all of your students, because, in science, all of our students are language learners!

Spanish covers

Currently, FOSS offers materials in Spanish to support TWI. All FOSS elementary modules include digital access to Spanish student notebook sheets, teacher masters, assessments, and eSRBs. With FOSS Next Generation, the print Science Resources book is also available in Spanish. The FOSS Texas Edition includes all student material plus all the teacher materials, including the Investigations Guide in Spanish.

If you are interested in joining a network of dual language educators using FOSS, please contact Diana Vélez at