Creating School Scientific Communities Among Urban Refugee ELL Populations

Joseph A. Johnson, Mihwa Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies on English language learners (ELLs) and school science have been conducted from a range of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, the findings of which have indicated growth in science achievement among ELLs when exposed to science inquiry. Yet studies are still needed to address the needs of specific groups within this large, and growing population. Children who are underserved in schools offering limited ELL support continue to be marginalized, and the gap for their future professional and higher education opportunities continues to grow when compared to their majority peers. Teachers often lack the experience, knowledge, and institutional support needed to address the complex educational needs of ELLs. The goal of this study was to examine aspects of multimodal science inquiry teaching strategies using technology with a specific group of students learning English as a new language. This paper describes a qualitative, autoethnographic, case study with three students from the Karen and Karenni cultures, coming to the United States from three different refugee camps in Thailand. Multiple data sources were collected throughout an year-long study, including videos of lessons, recorded focus groups, student artifacts, researcher field notes and reflections, and interviews with the classroom teachers. We coded data as emerging themes iteratively using HyperResearch qualitative research software. The study demonstrated how refugees ELL students developed their discourse skills and classroom engagements through the yearlong intervention designed to build trust between teacher and students by sharing responsibility for practice and learning, to involve inquiry-based science activities, and to value students’ communities and culture. The study was founded on the premise that students of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds can participate effectively in scientific inquiry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-103
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • ELL
  • Inquiry
  • Multimodality
  • Refugee


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