A Comprehensive Professional Development Approach for Supporting Science, Technology, and Engineering Curriculum in Preschool: Connecting Contexts for Dual Language Learners

A Comprehensive Professional Development Approach for Supporting Science, Technology, and Engineering Curriculum in Preschool: Connecting Contexts for Dual Language Learners

Christine M. McWayne, Daryl Greenfield, Betty Zan, Jayanthi Mistry, Wendy Ochoa
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4435-8.ch011
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The purpose of this chapter is to present initial findings of teacher practice outcomes to illustrate promising aspects of the readiness through integrative science and engineering (RISE) professional development (PD) approach for informing early childhood science, technology, and engineering (STE) curriculum and PD interventions. In this chapter, the framework grounding RISE STE curriculum, the home-to-school approach for developing meaningful RISE home-school connections (HSCs), and the structural components of RISE PD (which consisted of practice-based, individualized, and ongoing supports) are described. Sixty-two teachers (n = 37 RISE, n = 25 Control) and 347 primary caregivers participated in this randomized controlled trial study. Preliminary evidence of the positive impacts of the RISE intervention on teachers' STE attitudes, practice, and knowledge was obtained from teacher report. Evidence for positive HSCs was obtained from teacher and parent surveys, as well as on-going coach documentation of teachers' home-to-school practices.
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By the year 2030, almost half of all school-aged children in the United States will be classified as English language learners (ELLs; Gil, 2015). In recent years, policymakers have begun to pay more attention to dual language learners (DLLs)1 not only because of their increasing numbers, but also because they are more likely than their non-DLL peers to live in poverty (Child Trends, 2019), a known risk factor for low academic achievement (Hoff, 2014; Huttenlocher, Waterfall, Vasilyeva, Vevea, & Hedges, 2010). Indeed, research has shown gaps in science, reading, and mathematics achievement across grade levels between low-income DLLs and their monolingual English-speaking peers in the US (Morgan, Farkas, Hillemeier, & Maczuga, 2016; Oller & Eilers, 2002; Reardon & Galindo, 2009; Rumberger & Arellano, 2004). These gaps are evident early in children’s schooling experience and tend to persist (Espinosa, 2011; Espinosa, Laffey, & Whittaker, 2006; Morgan et al., 2016).

Preschool programs attempt to address these concerns. One such program in the US is Head Start, which has a long history of serving culturally and linguistically diverse, low-income preschool children and their families. Currently, 33% of children enrolled are classified as DLLs, with this proportion increasing annually (National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, 2019). Commitment to educational equity has spurred focused inquiry about what constitutes a high-quality preschool experience for DLLs to foster their development and set them on positive educational trajectories as they transition into the K-12 system.

Complicating the goal of identifying features of quality is the diversity of preschool education in the US, which consists of a combination of publicly funded and tuition-based programs. Publicly funded preschool education for three- and four-year-olds includes both universal preschool, voluntary programs that may only be available to four-year-olds, and programs that are targeted to children deemed most at risk for academic difficulties. No single agency has regulatory authority over these programs, with some programs funded at the federal level and others funded at the state level (Romo, Thomas, & Garcia, 2018).

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has been tracking state-funded preschool education since 2002. NIEER has developed a set of ten quality standards benchmarks, and NIERR reports yearly on how states measure up to these benchmarks. In 2018, only three states met all ten benchmarks, and 12 states met fewer than half of the benchmarks (Friedman-Krauss et al., 2018). One of NIEER’s quality benchmarks concerns staff professional development (PD), including in-class coaching. Meta-analyses of the effects of professional development and coaching have revealed that both are effective in increasing program quality, with in-service professional development workshops showing an effect size of 0.68 (Egert, Eckhardt, & Fukkink, 2018) and coaching showing an effect size of 0.49 (Kraft, Hogan, & Blazar, 2018). However, it is still unknown to what extent this professional support is effective for enhancing teaching practice with dual language learners.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Professional Development: Activities designed to prepare and offer continuing support to teachers to enable them to enhance their teaching.

Technology: Any modification of the natural world done to fulfill human needs or desires.

Science: Knowledge of the physical or material world.

Dual-Language Learners: Young children who are learning a language other than their home language(s) at the same time that they are developing skills in their home language(s).

Early Childhood: In the United States, we refer to the early childhood period as encompassing ages 0 (birth)-8 years old. It is during this time that children transition from home into formal care/school settings. Most typically, between the ages of 3 to 5 years children transition into formal school-like settings (e.g., preschool/prekindergarten). The RISE approach described in this chapter was implemented with children in Head Start, ages 3-5 years old.

Engineering: Designing objects, processes, and systems to meet human needs and desires.

Head Start: A federally funded program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and families (see https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohs ).

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