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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Teaching Local Socio-Scientific Issues to Latinx English Learners

Rural United States school districts struggle to find teachers prepared to work with changing student demographics. In Wisconsin, for instance, the Latinx population is the fastest growing racial/ethnic group—accounting for 46% of the state’s population growth. Yet, almost 40% of Latinx English Learners (ELs) in rural areas encounter barriers to equitable education because they tend to have teachers who do not speak their languages and are not trained in culturally and linguistically relevant pedagogy. This inequality is compounded by the health problems that minoritized communities face because they disproportionately suffer the effects of environmental degradation.

To address these issues, this study of an interdisciplinary professional learning partnership will bring together science and social studies teachers working in rural Wisconsin to learn how to engage EL Latinx students in examining local, controversial and socio-scientific topics (e.g., water quality). Latinx communities play a meaningful and ongoing role in this partnership by advising researchers and teachers on the impact of local environmental issues.

The study goals are to understand how participating in this professional learning influences teachers’ understanding of local socio-scientific issues, perspectives on their EL Latinx students and abilities to facilitate classroom discussion about these controversial topics.

The study will employ a multiple case study approach to capture individual variations in teachers’ backgrounds and practices as well as identify patterns across cases. Data sources include teachers’ written logs, recordings of professional learning sessions, teacher interviews and classroom observations. The innovative features of this project are the involvement of local Latinx communities and the interdisciplinarity of our team (i.e., Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Center for Professional Learning and Community Education, Division of Extension). Findings will inform teacher preparation and professional development programs.


Diego Román, assistant professor of bilingual/bicultural education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction


Lisa M. Barker, education director at Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE)

Patrick Robinson, associate professor and associate dean of agriculture and natural resources in the Division of Extension