November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

When deciding on a field trip, zoos, aquariums and science centers typically come to mind. These facilities offer students hands-on opportunities to make science observations using inquiry. Teachers can schedule standards aligned workshops or self-guided visits. If your students have already visited these facilities, you can broaden your options by exploring the larger world of Informal Science Education. Nature centers, non-profits, and environmental groups often also offer NGSS aligned programs in the natural setting. Your students can discover the local environment while making memorable experiences. (more…)

Reaching Beyond the Museum’s Walls: Virtual Programs

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

by Clea Matson

“My students were actively engaged in the discussions. They enjoyed participating in the “scientist” portion with the hand movements….thinking, how we live in our world, etc. Being able to see themselves on the webcam was a bonus. They also enjoyed seeing a real live person.”

-3rd Grade, Redwood City, CA

What are Virtual Programs?

The California Academy of Sciences’ Virtual Programs are opportunities for an entire class to leave the school “virtually” for 30 minutes to an hour. With no travel time or permission slips, the class can visit a small part of the Academy, embarking with a live educator on a student-led exploration of the rainforest, our solar system, or an African penguin colony–to name a few possible destinations. (more…)

Technology Partners with Citizen Science

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

by Lori Walsh

On a beach walk in Carlsbad, I noticed a child playing a game on a phone while sitting in the sand. The child ignored the beauty of the waves, birds, and water to play in the virtual world. During my childhood, my days were filled exploring on bikes and swimming at the pool. My early experiences with my ‘bug box’, playing with a sand pendulum and kayaking, combined with trips to nature centers, parks, and other informal science centers inspired and created my love of everything in the natural world. These early “wow” moments eventually led to my career that is dedicated to educating families about wildlife and conservation in an aquarium. While technology has presented many advantages, it gives parents and educators a new set of challenges, and we are still deciphering how to navigate the waters. How can we harness the power and attention that technology has to immerse children in nature and inspire future conservation heroes? Our lives are irreversibly intertwined with technology and this provides us with new tools and opportunities to expose kids to the beauty they may be missing in the natural world. (more…)

Defining Scientific Literacy for Informal Science Education

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

by Martin Smith, Steven Worker, Andrea Ambrose, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, Kelley Brian, Emily Schoenfelder


Scientific literacy is an important educational and societal goal (e.g., AAAS, 1990). Scientific literacy targets socially responsible and competent citizenry in that individuals should be able to participate in and contribute to a society (Hurd, 1998). While there is agreement that advancing scientific literacy among K-12 youth is important, measuring the construct has been problematic since there is no consensus about the meaning or the component parts of what it means to be scientifically literate (DeBoer, 2000). Although “a veritable deluge of definitions” (Roberts, 2007, p. 729) have been developed, historically, most definitions of scientific literacy have focused on generalized knowledge related to major science disciplines, principally content and processes germane to scientists (Roberts, 2007). These “within science” definitions represent a Vision I perspective of scientific literacy (Roberts, 2007). In contrast, a Vision II perspective focuses on situations positioned from the viewpoint of the citizen and concentrates on science-related issues or circumstances individuals may encounter in their lives. (more…)

Patterns of Survival

Friday, May 20th, 2016

by Joey Noelle Lehnhard

To develop a scientific understanding of the natural world, students need lots of time to observe that world and notice patterns. In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards tell us, “noticing patterns is often a first step to organizing phenomena and asking scientific questions about why and how the patterns occur.” This may be different from the way we’ve guided student observations in the past. Before, we might ask for detailed sentences about color, size, and shape. We might have encouraged students to add an illustration and stopped there. However, focusing students on pattern identification can foster authentic engagement with a phenomenon and can lead to opportunities for deeper meaning making. (more…)

NGSS, Classroom Educators, and Informal Education Centers: A Mother’s Point of View

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Christie Sweeney

As a curriculum developer for an informal science institution, I have closely followed the development of Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is essential that we continue to provide teachers with programs that align with their goals for their classrooms. However, I also have another, more personal reason for my interest in the latest educational reforms: I am the parent of children who will experience these shifts in the middle of their formative education. (more…)

Getting’ WILD at the Zoo!

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Joanne Michael

I am a big animal lover and have been ever since I was a little girl growing up in Seattle. My father was an ornithologist by hobby and I grew up with neighbors knocking at our door, stunned bird in a box after flying into a window. As an adult, I worked as a ZooCamp Instructor at the Los Angeles Zoo for a summer and during school breaks, and then went through the Docent Program, graduating in spring, 2012. To say I enjoy being around animals is an understatement! (more…)

Looking for Nature in All Kinds of Places

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Annette Huddle

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is an unnatural place.

Now there’s a provocative statement –  (more…)

More Than a Just Field Trip

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Mary Whaley and Lacey Moore

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, even that local field or stream are engaging sites with which to deepen your science curriculum. Informal science education (ISE) centers and settings offer educators a variety of professional development (PD) and curriculum resources. From field sites for authentic science investigations to resource-rich environments with tools, equipment, live animals, science experts, and technology, these sites offer teachers what the classroom often cannot. (more…)

Making the Most of Museums

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Jim Kisiel

Be honest. If you’re a science teacher, and you read the title of this column, chances are the first thing you thought of was a field trip. Sure, you may have reminisced about that cool third grade field trip to the natural history museum, where you saw a real fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton for the first time and finally understood just how big they were. Or perhaps a painful reminder of the last class trip to the zoo that you attempted came to mind—an experience involving forgotten lunches, disgruntled parents, and a skeptical administrator convinced that your test scores would drop due to lost instructional time. (more…)

(In)formal Partnerships: Building District Capacity for Supporting the Convergence of the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Vanessa Lujan

This is a critical and historic time for education – nationally and regionally. California districts, schools, and teachers are in the midst of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and with the recent state adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), these players find themselves at a critical juncture where they must have a clear understanding on how to connect the two initiatives and communicate this connection to their stakeholders that include district leaders, principals, teachers, students, parents, and community. With a framework for the relations and convergences CCSS to NGSS (see Stage, et al., 2013), educators and leaders have a clearer sense of these connections. One of the unique opportunities of the common standards movement is the ability for states to develop a guiding framework. At the same time, one of the unique challenges is the ability for districts to further tailor the implementation. (more…)

Heading to the Aquarium? A Chance to Chat About Climate Change

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Minda Berbeco

If you, like many other educators, are considering a trip to an aquarium or the coast this winter, don’t miss the opportunity to talk to your students about the ocean and climate change. There are so many intersections with climate change when talking about marine systems, it is hard to figure out where to start. You could address the impact that warming waters have on species ranges or phenology, or you could talk about how ocean acidification will impact shelled organisms. Sea level rise is another option for addressing climate change, and if you have a really bright set of students you can connect sea level rise to shoreline species management. There are a lot of really great lessons and activities for working with your students to connect the classroom activity to the field trip. I’ve listed a few below: (more…)

Science Education Opportunities at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Annette Huddle

For over 40 years, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has been committed to providing opportunities for city children to explore and learn in the SF Botanical Garden, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park. We’ve grown tremendously from our earliest days when a small core of committed volunteers created guided walks for school groups and now serve more than 10,000 children a year with a variety of programs throughout the seasons. However, our emphasis has remained consistent as we strive to connect children with the natural world and take advantage of their innate curiosity to increase their engagement and understanding. In addition to direct service to children, the Youth Education Program also provides professional development opportunities for teachers, building their interest, commitment and skills in working with children outdoors, whether in our garden, in a school yard or a near-by park. (more…)

High Hopes—Emerging Opportunities

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

by Grahme Smith

We’re entering an exciting and transitional time in science education. The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd’s (The Center) recent publication High Hopes- Few Opportunities outlined the bleak status of California’s elementary science education yet provided several recommendations that are well within reach. As the Next Generation Science Standards emerge, so does an opportunity to develop new and empowering teacher professional development programs. (more…)

Should We Teach Our Students to Argue?

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Grahme Smith

We all love to get the correct answer. It feels great to be “right.”  As soon as we learn how to point, we are cheered for being able to identify the correct color of our toys, and to accurately count the number of peas on our plate. For toddlers, there are correct answers. They learn that adults know the answers and praise children for saying the “right” thing. (more…)

Is More Science Learned in or Outside the Classroom?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

by Grahme Smith

A recent article published in American Scientist entitled “The 95 Percent Solution” argues that Americans learn as much if not more science outside the classroom as within. In the article, John Falk and Lynn Dierking use data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to show that in elementary school, Americans score high in science compared to other countries on these tests. We then score poorly during middle and high school, and then score well again as adults. It is argued that this “U” shaped trend is not based of the lack the quantity and quality science taught in middle and high school. In fact, students receive more science from teachers actually trained to teach science in these grades, yet during these years the scores of Americans go down. (more…)

Supporting Partnerships Between Informal and Formal Educators

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

by Grahme Smith

The current trend among informal education centers is to transition from passive “dispensers of information” into dynamic places that encourage active learning. The goal is to create an exchange of ideas between these Institutions and the public so that the learning is more engaging and relevant for everyone. In an age where information is only a click away, more emphasis needs to be put on self-discovery and experiential learning. This same trend, in which students gain knowledge from their own experiences and ideas, is happening in formal classrooms as well. While students still need to learn basic concepts and facts, it is more important that they are able to reason, problem solve, and come to their own informed conclusions. By supporting and empowering students to take control of their own learning, they become more invested in the material. When the content is relevant and personal to them, they gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the issues. The same is true in any profession. A chef is more proud of a recipe she creates than the one taken from a cookbook, just as we are more proud of the partnerships and lessons we develop than the ones we are told to implement. I would like to use this space to foster a dialog between formal and informal educators so that we can better understand each other and can be empowered to form authentic partnerships.


A Conversation with Helena Carmena Young of the California Academy of Sciences…

Monday, August 1st, 2011

by Eric Lewis

I was lucky to catch Helena in between her work meetings and travels to the Trinity Alps to find out what kinds of things are going on over in Golden Gate Park.  For those who don’t know, Helena is the Senior Manager of Teacher Education at California Academy of Sciences.  While you probably won’t find her on the floor of the museum, you will find her pushing teachers to build their science knowledge through innovative programs and activities.  Over some delicious Vietnamese food in a small restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District, I got to ask her about a variety of Academy goings-ons… (more…)

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