Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Promoting STEM en Español to 3rd Graders

Third graders learn about STEM with games in Spanish led by Fuentek’s Laura Schoppe.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking to Ms. Sorin’s third grade class about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). But this was not your typical group of 8 and 9 year olds. These students are part of the Dual Language Program at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Their parents applied to enroll them in this program. Half the kids speak Spanish at home, while the other half speak English. Half their time in the classroom they all—and their teachers—speak Spanish, and the other half they all speak English. Because I grew up speaking Spanish—my mother is from Argentina and my father is from Spain—I was invited to talk about what I do in Spanish.

Because promoting STEM among young people, especially girls, is important to me, I was happy to have this opportunity. But this meeting was particularly special for me.

I started by interacting with the kids—who were remarkably well behaved. I asked them to raise their hand if they speak Spanish at home. I gave those with raised hands a NASA playing card. I went on: raise your hand if your parents were born outside the United States, if you were born in the U.S., if you are a girl, if you like dogs, if you like playing with LEGOs, and so on. Each time they raised their hands, the child got a card.

Finally I had all of them count how many cards each had, and we found the two girls with the most cards. From the looks on their faces I could tell they were surprised when I told them…

Laura Schoppe still plays with LEGOs.

“You are just like me. I am all those things. And I love playing with LEGOs!”

Of course, I was not at all surprised that those two girls were the quietest and shyest in the class. I was just like them when I was their age. But these girls—indeed all of the kids in that classroom—have an important opportunity I didn’t have. The chance to be not only bilingual but also biliterate.

The benefits of bilingual instruction are obvious to English-speaking Americans—the chance to become fluent in a second language. But for the Spanish-speaking kids, this is a tremendous opportunity to learn to read and write in their native language while living and learning in an English-speaking community.

Sure, my parents read to me in Spanish at home. But I never really gained the skills of my older sister, who was in Argentina for her first few years of school. I still struggle to read and write in my native Spanish. How lucky these kids are that they will continue to grow in both languages!

Seeing myself in these children, I realized the other benefits this educational environment. It gives a chance to build their self-esteem because they are the experts during the Spanish speaking parts of the curriculum, not outsiders like I was.

I hope some of them see themselves in me and may be inspired to keep playing with LEGOs—one of the greatest toys a budding engineer can have—and go on to be the scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and designers of the future.

–By Laura A. Schoppe