Using Linguistic Science to Foster College-Going Latino/a Identities in STEM

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 312 (Hynes Convention Center)
Mary Bucholtz, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
This presentation describes a school-university partnership that teaches college-level linguistics in California schools. Linguistics is an especially powerful vehicle for introducing scientific concepts and methods because it focuses on a topic in which all human beings have expertise—language—and invites students to view this topic through a new analytic lens. The discipline of linguistics combines elements of science (including physics and biology), social science (including sociology and anthropology), and the arts and humanities (including literature and performance art); it therefore has wide appeal to young people of all backgrounds, yet most students do not encounter linguistics until college, if then. The program that is the focus of the presentation, School Kids Investigating Language in Life and Society (SKILLS), fosters academic skills, scientific thinking, and language awareness among mostly first-generation college-bound Latina/o high school seniors (Bucholtz, Casillas, & Lee 2015). Many of the participants plan to pursue mainly STEM majors, while others do not enjoy traditional STEM classes. In this context, the five-month-long SKILLS program introduces students to linguistics as the scientific study of language and, through hands-on, inquiry-based activities and projects, guides the students to use linguistic concepts and methods to examine language in their own lives through a scientific lens. Through a partnership with a local community college, students receive transferable college credit at no cost for their participation. The presentation offers two different examples of how students explore linguistic science within SKILLS: (1) an experimental activity in which students formulate hypotheses about the acoustics and physiology of English and Spanish speech sounds, and (2) an activity in which students develop generalizations about the prehistorical development of related languages based on current linguistic forms, following principles similar to those of biological evolution. Program evaluation indicates that students emerge from SKILLS with a greater sense of confidence in their abilities to conduct and communicate scientific research. Such findings are especially important given the ongoing disparity in participation in STEM by Latinas/os (Flores 2011).