Theses Doctoral

Assessing Bilngual Latino Students Understanding in Acquiring Knowledge and Their Motivation in Learning Science with a Computer-based Simulation

Garcia-Felix, Luz V.

Latinos are not engaging sufficiently in STEM careers, especially in science. Research studies on bilingual Latino students’ (BLS) learning in science suggest that educators’ expectations for Latinos to meet or exceed language proficiency and academic achievement standards are low. Data reported from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that new instructional methods, extra time, and strategies to pass high stake tests were not adequate to close the Latino achievement gap. Regardless of the persistent body of literature identifying the characteristics of effective schools, the BLS achievement gap continues. Latino school failure has been documented since the 1960s. Reasons for this situation include language and cultural differences; however, research two decades later demonstrated these were not the only unidimensional explanations facing Latino students’ educational failure. Instead, the situation is more complex and includes such circumstances as multiple social, political, and educational forces at work in schools.

Nonetheless, research indicates bilingual children have a particular higher process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through their linguistic processing system, which allows for more than just linguistics proficiencies. But, the majority of bilingual Latino achievement gap studies have never been done in Puerto Rico, where bilingual schools are well established. More studies in Puerto Rico could provide a more suitable way to identify if the academic gap is due to language issues that persist among BLS in U.S. schools. Latinos are not engaging in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, especially in science.

The purpose of this exploratory study was to implement a constructivism approach to teach an abstract science concept (i.e., velocity) using an innovative mini-lesson in two languages (Spanish and English) and a computer-based simulation (CBS), which serves as a manipulation in assessing the understanding of science concepts and also an intervention to promote the understanding of the science concept velocity. This exploratory study determines if BLS primary language is a factor in favor of or against learning science and if CBS promotes the motivation to STEM careers. This exploratory process used a constructivism approach to teaching the concept of velocity and questioning knowledge acquisition. Two variations of the CBS learning experience were used: (1) assessment of the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding science with CBS in an interactive mode, and (2) comparison to learning the same velocity concept but with an interactive version of the CBS visual material. A group of twenty bilingual Latino students from seventh and eighth grades at a bilingual school in Puerto Rico was randomly distributed in four groups of five students each. All groups received a brief oral explanation of the concept of velocity before beginning each of the CBS or image of CBS learning experiences. The 20 participants completed a Science Motivation Questionnaire (SMQ) with five motivational factors, which was analyzed using SPSS software to identify how each element related to demographic aspects of the study group. Evidence collected from a ten-question interview and observation notes were analyzed using NVivo12 software.

Findings indicate that Bilingual Latino students (BLS) in Puerto Rico who learned about velocity using the interactive CBS provided a more accurate definition of velocity than those using the image of the CBS, regardless of the language used. BLS preferred English over Spanish for learning science. BLS prefer interactive simulation technology over non-interactive imaging of the visual CBS material to learn science. BLS females in this study are more motivated to go into STEM careers than males. The interview notes collected and SMQ confirmed student understanding of the science concept, their preference to learn science in English, and that a majority chose careers in STEM. The results demonstrate that using computer-based simulations as a learning tool can improve students’ positive perceptions about learning science. It has also shown that regardless of the language used with the technology, the BLS in Puerto Rico understands the value of technology in modern life as a supportive tool in science and as a motivator for choosing a STEM career.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Mensah, Felicia
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 13, 2020