Maria Cieslak Ignites Student Passion for STEM and Language Integration

In Episode 21 of ML Chat Podcast, Maria’s infectious enthusiasm for science teaching sparks lifelong curiosity among students. Collaborating with peers and instructional coaches, Maria fosters a vibrant learning community. Her approach transforms the classroom into a shared space of discovery, integrating content teaching with language learning to enhance cognitive growth and literacy skills.

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Maria Cieslak: [00:00:00] I see the same excitement that I had when I was a child or that my sister or my brother had as a child. And that helps to propel our students to really learn about the other content areas. And they see that they can achieve and they can learn like everybody else. Because a lot of times we get a no and there’s a glass ceiling.

And so I made sure that I kept getting the grants from National Science Teaching Association. local communities, McDonald’s, you name it. And the families were so excited getting the materials that nobody else had. I wanted to have everything. I had a lot of materials in science and engineering. And our outdoor education program, all the research about having a garden, we had a two acre.

Garden in Las Vegas that was magnificent that the families and the community members helped build together. It wasn’t engineered, constructed by a construction crew. It was mom and pop’s thing that we did for more than [00:01:00] 10 years. And it brought food for the families, but they got to see the cycle working together.

We had an agricultural garden, a Japanese maize garden, a desert garden, and a mountain riparian. place. And so we were teaching everything about the local community, thinking about global connections. And it was a lot of fun that the families got to share also about their experiences. And so we were all learning together.

And that’s what stem does. It brings the global to the local and the local to the global because we are just one big family after all. That’s the beauty of stem. 

Justin Hewett: Hey everybody, welcome to the ML Chat Podcast. My name is Justin Hewitt with my co host Mandy Morris, and we just had the most amazing guest.

Maria Cieslak from the Center for Applied Linguistics joined us for a conversation About serving our multilingual students with STEM and making it a [00:02:00] priority, teaching language with STEM. And she had some of the most amazing stories, some great models and processes. One of my favorites was one of the things that she said about all students are academic language learners.

And she shared about some situations in science classes where students that are learning English and who are English only. Both saw the science experiment for the first time. Both were learning the language of science at the first time. And it was just this, uh, amazing, wonderful experience that is easily replicable in every classroom across America.

You are going to absolutely love Maria’s energy. We might as well get right to it. Let’s go meet Maria. Maria is the Professional Development Content Manager at the Center for Applied Linguistics. She is a former K 8 general education ESL bilingual teacher and a nationally board certified teacher in English as a new language for children ages 3 through 12.

She [00:03:00] develops and presents nationally and internationally, meaning she has gone global on serving multilingual learners, the SIUT model, newcomer’s life, and multilingual learners in STEM. She is also an instructional coach specializing in creating differentiated education materials. Maria has a bachelor’s degree in education and Spanish literature from Loyola University.

A master’s degree in multicultural education from Columbia college, Chicago, and all but her dissertation and her PhD in education, assessment, evaluation, and accountability from Walden university. Oh my gosh, Maria, we are so excited to have you on the ML chat podcast. Welcome. 

Maria Cieslak: Thank you for having me today.

I’m very excited as well. Oh, 

Justin Hewett: Mandy, we are in for a treat today. We cannot wait. I have to say, a lot of people, I think, have probably heard of the Center for Applied Linguistics, Maria. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? What is the Center for [00:04:00] Applied Linguistics? What’s the mission, the purpose?

What is your aim? And why have people heard about you? The Center 

Maria Cieslak: for Applied Linguistics is all about bringing assistance to teachers and policy makers, as well as community members all about how we use language and research as well. So it’s all research based, but my department focuses on professional development for educators, not only here in the United States, but as well all throughout the world.

Justin Hewett: Hence you’ve gone global, right? That’s exactly, that was not an overstatement. 

Maria Cieslak: Some of our departments work on English language, professional English language, proficiency assessment, some work in adult education, some work with the United States government agencies. So we’re very diverse in what we do, but I think our department is the best because we get to work with not only.

Educators, teachers in the [00:05:00] classrooms, administrators at the school levels and superintendents, as well as families and parent engagement workshops. 

Justin Hewett: Well, connecting all of the dots and bringing it all together and making it work, going full circle. I love that. That is so cool. Now, Maria, I know that the center for applied linguistics has been around for.

Gosh, probably 50 or 60 years, something like that. But it feels like applied linguistics, that term, has really come in vogue over just the last few years. Is it just me that I’m now realizing that, or is that a thing? Is that something that we’re noticing across the nation? 

Maria Cieslak: For me, I’ve been noticing it’s ever since I was a teacher because I am very pragmatic and I wanted to know the why and how.

And so I was very lucky when I started being a teacher in the 20th century, 1993, the district Cicero district number 99 was very big on helping us to understand as we were being new teachers, [00:06:00] the whole process of the why and the how. All together as one piece, and they brought in the research to back it up.

So we knew the purpose of the activities that we were doing and how they would benefit multilingual learners. And so I wanted to make sure that I was using techniques that were research based. Practical and effective because I didn’t want to waste time because when I was a child growing up, the teachers didn’t know what to do with us and so they were always just sink or swim my generation and when I became a teacher, I want to make sure that I wasn’t going to have another generation sink or swim.

Justin Hewett: So Maria, you grew up as an English learner. 

Maria Cieslak: Yes, I did. Yes. And so like the majority of the English learners that are here in the United States, 75 percent or more of us are born here. Uh, I was born in Chicago, Illinois. My parents are actually immigrants from Poland. My mother immigrated when she was 19 and my [00:07:00] father when he was 21 and they met in Chicago.

That’s where we began. And so IWI was in a very beautiful, rich community Polish community where all my resources were in Polish, my church, my newspapers, my radio, my tv, I was even on a TV program in Polish and radio stations and parades. And even when I go back to Chicago now. Uh, two stations on the radio are automatically put to Polish radio stations.

Or when I go to the different hotels, there’s always Polish satellite TV. And so my Polish community was always very strong. And I went to Polish language school for 11 years on Saturday. So I have my high school diploma also, but my Polish high school diploma. And so for me, it was, yeah, teachers just.

didn’t know what to do with us. And so we were put in corners. We were put in summer school. I was the only one in summer school and third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade in my school. And same with my mother and my sister. [00:08:00] 

Mandi Morris: Maria, you’re talking about such an interesting switch between this incredibly rich environment, cultural environment, where you were surrounded by family and a community that shared your culture and shared your language and then going to school and having to sit in the corner.

How did you manage those two different identities as a child? How did you switch between the two? What was that experience like for you? And how has that impacted you as an educator? 

Maria Cieslak: Okay, that is a great question, because very young, I was very aware, because I was the firstborn of three, so I have two younger siblings, and so I was the first one to experience school, I called it English school, and, and then I had to help my brother and my sister because they were struggling more than me.

And I didn’t want them to get punished and I didn’t want them to cry or get hurt. Um, and it was a time of being bullied and a lot [00:09:00] of discrimination against being Polish and when we went outside of our community. When I talked in my Polish language school with my other friends who also had that same metalinguistic awareness, um, during recess time, that was our time to really think about it.

So my brother and sister didn’t really think about it that much. So they went to go play with their friends. And then I stayed with our, with my friends. And we talked about being in Polish school and English school. And so it was always on the back of my mind, but it was a safe place. Going to Polish language school for all, all Saturday was just magnificent because we can, we focused on our reading and writing and history and geography, culture, literature, and we also got to do plays and presentations and different contests.

Poetry contest and recitation, storytelling and music and choir. And we performed [00:10:00] our Polish cultural dances. And so that really. Helped me with my identity. Also, my family was really big on having all of our books in Polish and our newspapers. I still have the Polish now to deliver to me and my brother, he was in the military and he actually needed that for his sanity.

So we kept sending him Polish newspapers and music and materials and we listened to it all the time. And so. When I decided to become a teacher, that was really important for me to be a bilingual teacher. Like, my friends didn’t have support. We didn’t have support unless it was from ourselves. So we, we helped, talked about different strategies.

And yes, there were teachers that here and there that we can say, Really valued both our identities of being Polish American, but most did not, and they didn’t know what to do with 

Justin Hewett: us. What’s amazing to me here is that it [00:11:00] sounds like the seeds of being an educator were planted so early in your life. And not just being an educator, but being a bilingual educator, right?

To be, to be teaching multilingual students. My daughter loves to pretend to be the teacher. I have six kids. She’s the third. And so she has a bunch of kids in her class, right? All of her younger siblings. And she loves playing class. My younger daughters will ask her, Hey Cozy, can we play class now? And I can just imagine you having class.

And helping teach them English, right? And you were like really teaching them and teaching them what they needed and helping them out. And is that really where the seeds were planted for you to become an educator, do you think? 

Maria Cieslak: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Because I was also then not only teaching English to my brother and sister, but also Polish.

And, uh, and the Polish teachers that we had were educators from Poland themselves. And so they were very strong in pedagogy and they also had children [00:12:00] themselves. And so they understood what we were going through, going on Saturdays for Polish. And they kept the rigor there. They kept the expectations there.

They told us that we can do anything that we want. And so that was the support that I needed, that extension of my mom and dad, the extension of my grandparents. And my grandparents only had a fifth grade education in Poland. That’s as far as they could go. But they valued formal schooling. And when they immigrated here to the United States, they wanted to ensure that our generation, the grandchildren, were able to go.

My mother only had a seventh grade education in Poland. That’s as far as she could go after World War II. And so for her, that was also very important that my brother, my sister and I finished high school and then went into a career that we wanted to go into. And so I went to be a teacher and I do focus on STEM because I love science technology.

My sister went to college and she graduated with an art degree and she focuses [00:13:00] with preschool children. She’s a preschool teacher. She also is an artist. So she does murals in different schools and in different places. And then my brother went into the military and to the air force, and he became an airplane mechanic and he works at Nellis, our air force base now.

As a, as a civilian, but still in STEM because he does all of the special things that he does as a airplane and auto mechanic, 

Mandi Morris: Maria, how have you taken this passion? for science and technology and help ignite that in your students over the years and ignite that in other educators. And we know that these are fields where there is still an underrepresentation of diversity and that there’s a shift, it’s changing, but how do you see your work connected to that?

And like, where did that fire start for you? 

Maria Cieslak: The fire started, believe it or not, in second grade. Because that was the first time in American English [00:14:00] school that I really felt alive was science class and we had stations and it was all about our five senses and it was all hands on and it was just the phenomenon of everything that was going on was fascinating to me and then anytime that we had science, I came to life and I noticed that my brother and my sister also enjoyed those experiences.

And so when I became a teacher, yeah. I also wanted to share that with my students because everybody, when we see a phenomenon, everybody’s in the same place. Nobody has seen that science experiment until that it happens right there. The video or the chemical reaction or whatever it may be. And so we’re all on equal plane.

And then just learning how to use that academic language, what kind of supports do they need, what kind of scaffolds to help bring them up to the same level as everybody else, and noticing that the other students also were lacking the [00:15:00] academic language. They had the everyday social language, but not the academic language.

And so that was, it’s always fun to, to talk about design processes, engineering, because it’s all about creativity. So we observe, everybody’s observing something. So we all have something to say. And then design process, you can go in so many different directions. So there’s not just one perfect answer. And that’s why I love STEM so much.

Mandi Morris: Co teaching is a model for English language development that’s grown in years. And I feel like it’s often you see co teaching more in like an ELA or a history classroom. And when I think about myself, if I think about my own zone of comfort, Is in an ELA or a history classroom. If I had to be a co teacher with a 10th grade science teacher, I would feel nervous and vulnerable and apprehensive to put myself because I would feel incompetent in that academic.

vocabulary and the academic rigor of that type of class. But research shows [00:16:00] us that really science class is an incredible environment for English learners because it’s so hands on. And it’s a learning environment that as you were talking about in your second grade class, historically has stations. And really that’s something that other classes are still learning, right?

Like a history class doesn’t need to be a stand and deliver. We need to have stations. How have you How has your work connected with building scaffolds? You spoke about building scaffolds up for rigor. What does that mean for you in your work? And what kind of research are you doing in that training? Are you doing in that field right 

Maria Cieslak: now?

Okay. So in terms of scaffolding, we like using the SIOP models VIP method, which is the verbal instructional and procedural. Really easy because I like my three buckets. There are a lot of other researchers, they have nine, ten, twelve different buckets and it’s like, oof, overwhelming. So the site model with the VIP, I have the verbal, so anything that I can use with sentence stems, or clarify, or [00:17:00] guiding questions, word banks, all goes in there, right?

But we also have instructional schedules. So if I put an anchor chart up, or if I use a graphic organizer, any of my tools. That goes in that bucket. And then the procedural scaffolding is all about how am I going to be grouping students? Am I going to do pair them up? Am I going to have small group? Am I going to do a think, pair, share?

Am I going to do novel ideas only? And that again is a different kind of rotation where everyone is going to be. Stating one item that’s on their brainstorm list. And then as the list gets dwindled down, if you don’t have anything on your list, nothing new, then you sit down. And so there’s different methods that we want to use at different points of the lesson.

So VIP is great. And then differentiation comes into play there too, because we want to make sure. that we’re differentiating the support. So for our English learners that are at the beginner levels, we want to have simple sentence frames. And then when we get to intermediate level, we want to expand that.

So now we [00:18:00] have to make sure that we’re not using, I think, I predict. Those are beginners. And if we keep staying like that, and that’s, what’s been happening is that students are plateauing because we say, ah, we’re giving a sentence stem. But it’s not at the appropriate grade level or appropriate English proficiency level, and then the advanced have to even be more complex and more technical language that has to be used.

So we’re accepting. Answers using the sentence frames with everyday language and not tech of the tier two, tier three vocabulary that is necessary for the assessments, and that’s a hard. That’s something difficult to really understand or even notice. And so having that co teacher there. That is the perfect set of double eyes, double ears that we have that we can have one person teach and the other one is really assessing and listening in on the production of language and then how can we help support students [00:19:00] to move forward.

Justin Hewett: I love how simple that framework is that you just provided us, but I can see so there is so much value packed into that. And it allows. It allows teachers to have kind of a simple framework, but then they can take it and modify it for all of their students, depending on where they are on their proficiency journey.

And so that’s really interesting to me to think about all the different procedural ways you could do it. Instructionalists provide these, you know, scaffolding pieces verbally. We want to make sure they have these pieces to be able to use. It’s really interesting to be able to do that because when you talk about having that shared initial experience, oftentimes.

You might be exposing the vocabulary for all the students in the room, not just for our multilingual students. And I love that because then we’re teaching language in a way that is appropriate for across the board. Everybody’s having this shared experience of learning the language, seeing that ex explosion or whatever it [00:20:00] might be.

That’s going on with us and what I was thinking about as you were describing it earlier. And it just shows what, how powerful a simple framework like this can be. 

Maria Cieslak: Exactly. And it’s about accountability. As a multilingual learner, when I was growing up, we were given information and we had to suck it all in, but nobody really thought that we can learn it.

And so, now we’re at this paradigm where teachers and students are learning it together. We’re learning how to work with each other. We’re learning about content that literally is exploding as well. We had what happened yesterday might not be the new facts of today, and we have so many digital tools and new information that keeps popping up in research as well.

And so we have to be actively participating and our peers are going to give us that feedback. Back in the 20th century, the teacher was the only one who was giving feedback to the multilingual learner, right? You’re doing this wrong. You’re doing this correctly. Our [00:21:00] peers now have to be that other voice as well.

Because we’re having academic discourse and we have to have argumentation in terms of our claim, evidence, and reasoning. And we have to be following each other’s thoughts. And that is a great research that’s coming out of the university of Wisconsin center of Wisconsin that talks about doing and talking math and science.

And so a lot of great resources on that website. 

Justin Hewett: Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s great. That is so good. And it’s interesting. You mentioned earlier. How important it was to have a co teacher in, in some of those situations, because then while one is teaching or instructing, the other can be assessing and observing.

And it makes me think about our teachers that don’t have that co teacher in the classroom with them. And so it’s a lot easier to be able to provide that feedback. If you’re assessing, you’re able to observe, Oh, our English learners are actually not really participating. Our multilingual students aren’t a part of this conversation.

We need to engage them. [00:22:00] And so it’s interesting because. Um, that’s one of the reasons we built flashlight 360 was to be able to provide each student with an opportunity to use their voice, talk about, we have tons of science images for that matter, a lot, lots in regards to technology and, and math and whatnot, but we give students that, that space where they can then speak and record themselves and then get.

Feedback from their teacher, right? And talk through it, listen to it with the teacher and kind of work through that. And I just, and I love that idea though, of, I think the co teaching model in that situation sounds so powerful. And if only we had that in every classroom all throughout the nation. 

Maria Cieslak: I had, I was in a co teaching experience and I loved it.

Mr. Coop, shout out to you. He was a special education teacher and I was the general ed. teacher. And we did all of the different models where we were both teaching up front, taking back and like leading at the same time. Sometimes we had separated the groups. What’s important to think about is that they were all of our students, [00:23:00] even though he had his caseload, I had everyone on my caseload.

When it came to differentiating, he had specific things that he can Take the special education students, but also other students that needed support and vice versa. So we made sure that we had those flexible groupings. Don’t forget that Co-teaching also involves instructional coaches. So the, the coaches, even though they might come in maybe every co couple of times a week or a month or, or a couple of times during the semester, they’re there also to give that support.

So, uh, that job embedded professional development also includes coaching, not just workshops. 

Mandi Morris: Maria, when you think about applied linguistics and what you would want an ELD specialist to be able to know and communicate or a content teacher to be able to understand what comes to mind for you, what are the high level takeaways for those teachers that you wish you could communicate out?[00:24:00] 

Maria Cieslak: Okay, when it comes to plaid linguistics, it really is about telling, but also showing. That’s, we have to model what it’s going to be looking like, and then having that debrief. And so, in our professional development, whether we’re doing it virtually or in person, we do a task, and then we debrief about it.

Not only why it’s good for multilingual learners, but for all of the students that are there, because everyone, all students are academic language learners. And then we also talk about how can we modify it for your context. And so we then really apply, how can we use, let’s say, talking chips? Are you going to be using buttons?

Are you going to be using Unifix cubes? Are you going to use a mat? What, when are you going to bring out those materials? How often do you bring out those materials? Are you going to be using it with just a small group or in whole group? And so we really talk through it. And so it’s conceptualized. in their heads and they could [00:25:00] literally take away from that one workshop tomorrow and apply it the next day.

And that is the key is I want to be able to understand it. And then use it immediately because if I just put it in where it goes into that circular file cabinets that goes under your desk and just filed away there. And that’s what we don’t want. We want everybody to use these wonderful techniques that have been research based.

And, but we have to show them how to use it and they have to do it. It’s not just reading it on a piece of paper. 

Justin Hewett: I want to go back. I know that you’ve talked about this shared experience that you and your siblings had, or that you’ve been able to experience when in different science classrooms, but like, why are you so passionate about STEM for?

Our multilingual students, like, what is it at the heart of it? What have you noticed or seen that you feel like really drives you that, that puts you on this mission, right? Like you’re on a mission. I can see it. I can hear it. [00:26:00] Like you are on a mission. What is it that has propelled you to be on this mission?


Maria Cieslak: I see the same excitement that I had when I was a child or that my sister or my brother had as a child. And that helps to propel them. Our students to really learn about the other content areas and they see that they can achieve and they can learn like everybody else, because a lot of times we get a no and there’s a glass ceiling.

And so it’s important. And so I’ve made sure that I kept getting the grants from national science teaching association, from local communities, from McDonald’s, you name it. And the families were so excited as well that getting the materials that nobody else had. I wanted to have everything. Let me tell you, I had a lot of materials in science and engineering and the, and our outdoor education program, all the research about having a garden.

We had a two acre garden [00:27:00] in Las Vegas. That was magnificent that the families and the community members helped build together. It wasn’t engineered, constructed by construction work crew. It was. Mom and pops kind of thing that we did for more than 10 years and it brought food for the families, but then you got to see the cycle working together.

We had an agricultural garden. We had a Japanese maize garden. We had a desert garden and then we had a mountain riparian. Uh, place. And so we were teaching everything about the local community, thinking about global community connections. And it was a lot of fun that the families got to share also about their experiences.

And so we were all learning together and that’s what STEM does. It brings the global to the local and the local to the global, because we are just one big family after all. That’s the beauty of 

Justin Hewett: STEM. If that’s not a mic drop moment, I don’t know what is. That was fantastic. 

Maria Cieslak: No, my students achieved my special [00:28:00] education students, my gifted students, my average students achieved in science.

We always had 90 to 95 percent on the state assessment. My colleagues also had because we valued science and that was a motivator. to do any science experiments or to do any engineering kind of things because it also brought esteem to our classes that were involved in STEM activities. So because we were the front runners, we were the innovators.

And so It in the news crews and the other schools then emulated that. And they also then got to create school gardens, for example. And there’s so many, there’s over 200 school gardens now in, in Las Vegas area, because they see the value. And we were one of the first ones that 

Justin Hewett: over there. That is really cool to hear.

Why do you think in some pockets around the country, maybe science isn’t quite as celebrated? [00:29:00] And it’s not quite as revered and like our educators aren’t quite as excited about it or we’re not engaging our students at that same level. What do you think that boils down to? 

Maria Cieslak: I think the teachers are excited.

I think the teachers do want to teach science and engineering. And I think it might be The outside, the policy or the different stakeholders that are actually saying we have to push this content area instead of the other, but what they don’t realize is that on the assessments, nonfiction is a big part of it and in science and social studies where we’re talking about social sciences or where we’re talking about nature or, or, um, engineering that is all embedded in those assessments.

We can’t just do fiction. We can’t just do literature. And math is taught very differently too. It’s not universal. 

Mandi Morris: Maria, I’ve heard from teachers over the years, friends of mine [00:30:00] that have said, elementary school teachers have said, I can’t teach science because it’s not a tested content area in that, in a particular state, and that there’s just a lower priority on teaching science because they have to make time for a longer reading block, a longer math block.

Of course, we know that we can teach. Um, important literacy skills through content. What are your thoughts around that and how those policies do impact what science looks like throughout the day for elementary school kids? 

Maria Cieslak: When we’re thinking about the research and multilingual learners, the research does say you must teach content and language simultaneously.

And so we cannot separate that out. Though that happened in the 20th century, and most of my generation got a high school diploma and can’t really truly Right. Or think that they’re not good readers. And so we have to change that mindset. It is integrated. It’s [00:31:00] really important to teach vocabulary in context, and not as a separate gigantic spelling glossaries, it has to be personalized.

And the only way to connect and link. Previous learning and our background knowledge and our funds of knowledge and our funds of identity is through integrating that content and language together at the same time. I always blocked my ELA and science together. So some of the days I blocked. ELA in science, and sometimes I blocked ELA in social studies, and guess what?

I got through all that scope and sequence that needed, or almost, maybe 90 95%. But I got through everything, and my students were ready for the next grade level, because I made sure that, not only do I do this, because we’re going to go back to scaffolding, you have to increase the scaffolds, but then you also have to think about decreasing the scaffolds.

Because when that assessment, let’s say if we have a month in assessments, I have to make sure that halfway through I’m already taking it away and [00:32:00] letting the students know. So they’re using their cognitive and metacognitive strategies as well as their language learning and their social effective strategies.

So all of that has to come into play. And come to the surface. And that is not what we discussed in the 20th century, but we are discussing in 21st century. 

Justin Hewett: So I’m a brand new teacher and Maria sees, like, she says that I need to teach language with my content. And so I’m trying to do that. And after three weeks of all this planning and putting in all this extra time, I’m exhausted.

I just don’t like, I don’t have it anymore. This is too much work. Maria doesn’t know what it’s like in my classroom. She doesn’t have these students. This district’s different. What would you tell that teacher? That’s like just getting started. They have their, they’re serving multilingual students. Maybe for the first time, maybe their, their first time having a classroom or their second year or something like that, they’re starting to get a little tired cause they’re still having to plan everything every day.

Work everything [00:33:00] through. What would you tell that teacher? 

Maria Cieslak: Don’t give up. Keep on going and ask for support. So ask for another person to come in and co teach with you. Even if it’s for the half hour, the hour. Ask Maria to come by. We do that all the time too. Because I did have all the students. I collected everybody that was unwanted.

And I said, you come to my classroom or students who were kicked out of their classrooms. They came to my room and I had the same expectations. If you’re here, this is what we’re doing. And so I always had extra packets of things, extra materials, and they were incorporated into the group norms and they learned to work it out.

So they loved coming to my room and they were a different person. And if you’re focused on learning, truly learning and loving to learn, that is infectious. And when we’re talking about teaching, we’re facilitating too. So the students have to take on the responsibility of learning the [00:34:00] task. So we, we’re, we’re showing them how to do this independently because yes, maybe in the first couple weeks or months, it might be a little bit tiring, but halfway through or the end, it’s not supposed to be.

The students are supposed to be more tired than the teacher, because now they have the rules. They know those protocols. They know that they know how to use the supports. And because you’re supporting the students with their social emotional learning, then we’re able to really have that work life balance.

And students can understand that as well, because that’s a new thing right now that I’m learning myself how to do that. 

Mandi Morris: Maria, it makes me think of We are a community of learners in a classroom. The teacher is learning and adapting and the students are learning and adapting. And as a community, we all have responsibility.

We have shared responsibility in that space. I just read an article the other day that was talking about how teachers can take work off their plate. And it made me laugh. I taught middle school for years and I was talking about, there’s something in your classroom that a kid can do, [00:35:00] the kid should be doing that thing.

So like cleaning your. Whiteboard or I was going to say chalkboard. Nobody has those clean your whiteboard, whatever the little tasks. And honestly, even in middle school, kids loved it. But I always saw my classroom as a community. Like we are here to share in all of it together. We share the tasks. We share the learning.

We share the, the growth. I wonder what your thoughts are about that. When you think about STEM and multilingual, like how could you. How could that philosophy be ingested into a multilingual classroom? 

Maria Cieslak: Oh, it definitely can be because when we talk about being a scientist or an engineer, you have to take care of your products and learn about the nature of being a scientist.

Who is a scientist? We talk a certain way. We act a certain way. We have certain procedures that we safety things that we have to talk about in the classroom. It’s the same thing. A classroom is a culture community where it’s a safe place to learn about different perspectives and be able to agree and [00:36:00] disagree in a formal way.

Right? And then we’re also vetting what people are saying and what we’re reading. in the literature as well. Uh, and, and that’s what the assessments are all about. Can we critically think about what’s presented in front of us and then do that? The claim evidence and reasoning, whether it’s in math or science or English, it might have some little tweaks because in English class, we bought warrants eventually.

And so we’re the purpose of certain things and slightly different changes in it. But for the most part. When we talk that we do have these overlaps in the E. L. A. Math, science and social studies. And when we’re thinking about art and music and P. E. They overlap in those content areas as well. Because if we’re in P.

E. We’re definitely using math. We’re definitely using science with physics. With movement, art, same thing, right? How we’re mixing the fractions and the math come into play and the science of photography and the visual arts and performing arts. And so there [00:37:00] are new sciences that are exciting our students.

That are brand new that haven’t been invented. So that’s what we’re doing right now is because our world is changing so quickly that our students are going to be inventing new, uh, digital tools. New sciences are going to be coming up very quickly. We’re close to the first quarter of the 21st century. I can’t imagine what’s going to be in the next quarter century.

That’s going to be happening. And our students that are right now with us, they’re going to be the leaders. They’re the ones that are, that are the innovators that are going to be coming up with these ideas and then I’m going to embrace them and you’re going to embrace it as well. But it’s this generation that’s just going to keep helping us grow.

Justin Hewett: Your energy is infectious, Maria. I am so excited. I feel like I need to go sign myself up for some, for some STEM classes myself. Like this is so fun. You are something else. I, I, we, we have really enjoyed our conversation [00:38:00] with you today. Seriously, this is fantastic. It has been so such a treat to learn from you as we’ve walked through a number of these different things.

I want to talk, make sure that we touch on maybe a few things just real quick. I know that you are. You know, pretty involved in the, or I’m thinking you’re involved in the Toshiba NSTA Explorer Vision STEM competition for K 12 students. Can you tell us a little bit about that and maybe share that out?

We’re going to hurry and try and get this out, but I know the deadline is coming up. You know, it’s never too late 

Maria Cieslak: to think about next year as well. When you think about it, it’s a great. program. And so as a as an educator, you can have as many teams as you want, and you’re basically helping to make sure that the students from kindergarten, kindergarten through 12th grade can create their storyboards according to the guidelines and putting it in the correct order and making sure that they’re not disqualified because they put their name on it.

And so we play of educators play a [00:39:00] very minimal role. It’s more of a housekeeping kind of role. And the students are the ones who are grouped together in groups of two or four, and they come up with these great ideas about what in 10 years technology or something that’s engineered for bettering our lives.

And so they have just the I’ve been, um, a national, um, Judge now for about 10 years, and it’s just amazing. The things that the students come up with. And so it’s in the United States and Canada right now, which Mexico soon will join this, but it is United States of Mexico. Um, and it’s blind tested. So educators are judging the first round and then our top five go to scientists.

And the scientists look at the value of it to see to get that winner in each of the age group categories. Lots of prizes, lots of great gifts that are given to the [00:40:00] teachers and to the students. So I hope you gather your teams, multiple teams together. It’s a fun process. 

Justin Hewett: And you can check that out at Exploravision.

org. And in addition to that, we’ll put a link to your Twitter and Instagram handles that you can, that you shared with us. I know that the Center for Applied Linguistics also has some different Instagram and Twitter and things like that, that we can put in there. I think that’ll be fantastic for people who want to learn a little bit more about some of these things.

Um, before we wrap up Maria, I want to just, I know Mandy has another question or two that she’d like to ask. I would love to just. Here, when you go back on your journey as a multilingual educator, as a STEM enthusiast and evangelist, who in your journey has had the biggest impact on you? Who inspired you or encouraged you?

Where was it in your journey as an educator? That maybe inspired you to go down the [00:41:00] path that you did. You’re going to 

Maria Cieslak: make me cry because it’s my father. My father came to the United States. He was learning to be an architect. But because of what the, what was happening there politically, he decided to come to the United States.

And so he did a lot of other kinds of jobs, but he, and. At being an immigrant family, we learn how to do design and engineering as a family and family members working together. So we got to see that all of the science kinds of things, tarring a roof, putting in doors, doing mechanics. My father went into becoming a laundromat owner and then dry cleaner.

So all the machinery and the plumbing and all of that was all done with family members. And so that really sparked the idea of that we can do it, but we need support of the community and you can’t do it alone. And bringing that science and STEM from home [00:42:00] to the classroom was a very easy leap for me.

And it was because of my father’s journey and my grandfather’s journey and then having them support girls in our family and boys in our family to also be independent. Critical thinkers, communicators, and it’s my father and he passed away last year and so he’s my hero. 

Justin Hewett: Thank you so much for sharing that.

Sounds like you, you two had a pretty special relationship. 

Maria Cieslak: Yes, we did. Stanley C. Slatt. Love you, Dad. 

Mandi Morris: Wow. What an incredible honor to be able to take the things that you were learning in class that excited you to be able to apply that at home and the work that your dad was doing. And it. fostered in you, as you said, critical thinking, a spirit of curiosity and the tenacity to follow through on those interests.

[00:43:00] And here you are these years later, honoring your father by igniting that same excitement and passion and others in the work that you’re doing. It’s really incredible. 

Maria Cieslak: Thank you. Thank you so much. 

Justin Hewett: Maria, it has been a pleasure to have you here with us on the ML chat podcast. Thank you so much for allocating your time so that you can be here and sharing this amazing passion for STEM education from our multilingual students.

And we look forward to pushing this out so we can continue that mission and take you global once more. Let’s go.

Thanks for being here. 

Maria Cieslak: Anytime.


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