Chemistry and Literacy Glow Brightly Across the District in High School CTI Curriculum

Sarah Wallace, EL/ESL, English I and II Teacher, and 2020 CTI Fellow, wrote a Curriculum Unit called, “Equitable Chemistry Education for Language Learners: An Exploration of Light and Matter,” exploring the interaction of science and language for high school students. Below is Sarah’s reflection on the process of writing her CU, and expanding it for more teachers to use throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“Chemistry is the only class I ever failed in high school. So, you can imagine my skepticism at being assigned to the CTI seminar, The Science of Glow (a subject matter based in chemistry). It WAS one of my choices, the title was interesting, but I had assumed as an ESL teacher I would be assigned to one of the literature choices I had selected! Nervous as I was, I love to learn and hoped I would at least be able to fulfill the minimum requirements of the CU. However, I did not count on being thoroughly fascinated by the subject matter and being able to understand most of what was being taught. A lot of this is attributed to Dr. Michael Walter, our seminar leader. He is very passionate about his research area and teaching and was happy to answer my MANY questions.

As I continued learning and researching the subject matter, I began to realize there were many ways in which this topic could be used to both teach language and science simultaneously. Molecules are constructed in patterns just like sentences, descriptions of glowing objects require a strong grasp of adjectives, and students are often lacking in the polysemy of words used in science classes. Furthermore, many students who are classified as EL (English Learners) are not given access to higher level science classes, even though they may be well versed in the content from their education in their home country.

I began to realize that this chemistry subject matter could be adapted into a preexisting course that CMS offers to students who are classified as EL. PACE (Personalized Academic Command of English) is a course offered to students who are new to speaking English. The course is meant to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in core content classes. I decided to structure my CU and lesson plans using the same format as the CMS PACE class. While I was only required to include a few lessons for the completed CU for CTI, I realized that this is a curriculum that could benefit my current students. So, with encouragement from Stacey Pandit in the district EL Department, I began to expand what I created for CTI by creating an entire unit that will be distributed as curriculum for the EL Department in CMS. The complete unit mixes grammar practice, vocabulary, and direct science instruction with hands on experiments and demonstrations to engage students and provide them with the confidence to pursue higher level science education in the future. 

Completing this seminar and CTI program was very empowering for me. Yes, it was very difficult at times, and I am still (a year later) working to fully complete the unit that will be taught throughout the district. But I learned an incredible amount, grew myself as a researcher and an educator, and created curriculum that I am excited to share with both other educators and students.”