An Overview: English Language Learners main content.

ELL Program Overview

Dr. Maritza MacDonald explains the English Language Learners collaboration with New York City Schools.
Dr. Maritza Macdonald Co-PI and Sr. Director of Education and Policy, AMNH
F. Frankel (2002) in "Envisioning Science: the design and craft of the science image"

"Using compelling and accessible pictures is a powerful way to draw the public's interest to the world of research. Find a place in your research for a new way of seeing and presenting your work."

The NOAA award to develop Cloud Digital Visualizations and an educational program for ELL students developed into a three-year action research project for museum and school participants. We started with a single question and continued adapting and adopting all aspects of the initiative to answer it: How does a research and collection-based Museum of Natural History uses its visual and human resources to support science learning in students who are new to the English language?


Over three years, fifteen schools with 6th grade ELL students, their teachers, and school administrators participated in the study and implementations of "visualization" strategies to scaffold science content and English language skills. The undertaking assumed that visualizations in general were important to convey content that was difficult to explain in English and through traditional book imagery and verbal instruction. But what kinds of visual resources may best serve students and their teachers?


Visual assets available to participants included scientific collections, exhibitions, and digital resources. Bilingual scientists and educators modeled the advantage of speaking more than one language, and supported the adolescents’ interest in jobs and careers in science. They also introduce field trips, which were followed by educator-guided tours through special exhibits such as Water H2O=Life (2008) and Climate Change (2009). Memberships to the museum and to the National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) provided additional access to the profession at the national level; teachers whose proposals were accepted by NSTA attended the national conference. The program also offered professional development in: Earth Science content and how to teach it in museums and classrooms; using NOAA visualizations of climate change; adapting resources for bilingual learners; and strategies for scaffolding science, books, and equipment. These web-based slide shows present evidence and reflection about the multidisciplinary nature of teaching science in ELL classrooms. Visuals, drawing, painting, and photography were fundamental. From an applied research perspective, we learned that these strategies were used, adapted and adopted by teachers in dual-language, bilingual, English-immersion, multilingual, and special-education programs. We hope their stories help you use museums and visualization to develop multidisciplinary approaches to educating English Language Learners.