Can a Breakthrough Bilingual Learning Tech Bridge STEM Gaps for Hispanic Students?

Arroyo Research team pic

From left: Ivon Arroyo (Education and Computer Science), Marialuisa Di Stefano (Language, Literacy, and Culture), Beverly Woolf (Computer Science)

For children to learn, they need to feel like they belong. But when Latinx kids look at STEM fields, they rarely see Latinx role models, or receive instruction in their native language. This project seeks to address this by developing a novel math and language tutoring software featuring Latinx digital avatars and bilingual instruction. The team hopes this approach can increase not only the students’ proficiencies but also their sense of connection and confidence with the field.

Despite constituting nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population, Hispanics make up only 12% of those pursuing bachelor's degrees in STEM fields, and only 8% of STEM workers nationally. What is driving this considerable disparity?

Every teacher of young children knows that a one-size-fits-all approach is highly limiting. Every child has their own needs and a unique way of understanding the world around them. But when Latinx children look at STEM fields, they are rarely presented with Latinx role models. Moreover, children who are new to the country or for whom English is a second language face additional hurdles learning in English-only classrooms.

Without resources catering to their needs, Latinx children lack the incentive to pursue STEM education and careers, and many will continue falling through the cracks. This project aims to counter these trends by developing and testing a new math tutoring software featuring bilingual (English/Spanish) instruction and Latinx digital avatars.

student on computerThe team will offer this technology for free to Hispanic students in math classes and afterschool programs in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The goal is to tutor both math and language simultaneously, with the researchers assessing its impact on students' math skills, English and/or Spanish proficiency, and their connection to math.

By offering broad access to online tutoring software that addresses students’ representational and linguistic needs, while learning STEM, the team’s overarching goal is to make STEM more engaging and accessible to Hispanic children.

IDS funding will allow this faculty team to employ a Black, Latinx, or Indigenous graduate student who is proficient in Spanish to provide hands-on training to support all project activities. The student will be mentored in these skills by an interdisciplinary faculty team of Latinx women with expertise in bilingual education, education technologies, and mathematics education.