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Exploring Science and English Language Development: Implications for Teacher Professional Learning

A conference hosted by the Institute for Inquiry at the Exploratorium

eld conference

"The exciting part of making this connection between science and language explicit is that we are really acknowledging a reality that has existed forever. Language is the language of thought, language is the language of science…we haven’t spent enough time over the years really thinking about how we use language to develop thinking and how we use language to express what we're learning."

In January 2015, the Exploratorium convened a group of fifty national experts to share their varied and complementary perspectives on the relationship between English language development and science learning. Participants represented the fields of educational and applied linguistics, classroom practice, policy, teacher education, professional learning, and educational research.

The conference included presentations, case studies, explorations, and working groups intended to further catalyze the growing interest in the overlap between science, English language development and teacher professional learning. The key questions that the conference sought to address were framed by (1) the notion that science can serve as a powerful context for language development, and (2) a shift away from traditional views of language acquisition, which focus on language as a set of forms and structures, towards current models of research and practice, which emphasize the acquisition of language through use in social interaction and meaningful engagement in disciplinary practices. Those questions included:

  • What do teachers need to understand about learning science, learning language in the context of science, and pedagogy that would support both?
  • What design principles can guide the creation of professional learning experiences that enable teachers to make science a good context for language development?
  • What research questions can support future efforts to create professional learning experiences for science & language development?

The conference generated a series of related products, posted here to serve as resources for educators, researchers, professional learning providers, and others with an interest in how science can serve as a context for English language development.

  • Plenary Sessions: Videos of the opening presentations designed to establish the key issues of the conference.
  • Interviews with Participants: Videos of conversations with selected conference participants that explore various topics related to the fields of science education, professional learning, and English language development.
  • Documentation and Resources: A synthesis of the main ideas of the conference, a written transcription of all conference sessions, and a collection of supporting materials.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Number: DRL-1316537). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.