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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Early science learning among low-income Latino preschool children: The role of parent and teacher values, beliefs, and practices

  • Author(s): Choi, Bailey Miyeon
  • Advisor(s): Wishard Guerra, Alison
  • et al.

Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education has become a top priority, particularly for low-income Latino students, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, largely due to various inequities in the PK-20 pipeline (Villareal, Cabrera, & Friedrich, 2012). Implementing effective science instruction in preschool has been identified as a way to increase low-income Latino students’ participation in STEM (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). However, science in preschool classrooms is often nonexistent or not of high-quality (Nayfield et al, 2011; Tu, 2006). This lack of high-quality science in preschool is especially problematic for low-income Latino children, who already face challenges persisting in the STEM pipeline throughout their years of schooling. Research that centers around improving children’s early science learning focus mostly on children’s science experiences within the classroom, but there is little research that consider children’s culturally-based early science experiences within the home.

This study investigated low-income Latino children’s early science experiences at home and at school. Using mixed-methods and an ecocultural (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Weisner, 2002)/ cultural communities (Rogoff 2003) perspective, this study examined and compared the early science learning beliefs/values and practices of low-income Latino parents of preschool children and their children’s preschool teachers. Both parents and teachers ranked science as one of the least important school readiness domains that children should learn about in preschool. Teachers also rated science the domain they felt least comfortable teaching. Teachers reported science as being difficult to teach due to various barriers (i.e. fixed mindset of their science teaching capabilities, issues with preschool program structure, and a belief that science is inappropriate for preschool children). Science was both a reported and documented area of weakness, as there were very few science-related activities/interactions and several “missed opportunities” for science-related talk, play, and exploration that were observed.

This study provided a more detailed picture of two cultural communities (home and school) that impact children’s early science learning. An increased awareness of parents and teachers’ beliefs/values and practices, can aid in the improvement and development of effective, culturally adaptive, science curriculum and instruction that is informed by the beliefs/values and practices of children’s parents and teachers.

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