May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Is More Science Learned in or Outside the Classroom?

Posted: 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. Falk and Diering argue that reason for this is that American teenage students are not engaging in science outside of the classroom. America has an abundance of free-choice learning centers. We have more zoos, aquariums, and museums per capita than any other country in the world, yet we are not taking advantage of these resources with our middle and high school students. This is causing students to become uninterested in science, and causes them to see science as something they do for school instead of for life. When science is only experienced in the classroom it perpetuates the poorly, stuffy, academic stereotype of what a scientist is, and causes many students to become disengaged.

The article sites another interesting study investigating the gap in performance between disadvantaged and advantaged children. The study shows that while in school the two groups often make similar gains, and it is over the summer when the gap between them widens. Traditional thinking interprets these data to advocate for more schooling for the disadvantaged. Falk and Dierking challenge this reasoning and argue that these data demonstrate that to ensure equity among these groups, we must address what is happening outside of the classroom. Their belief is that the advantaged students are learning outside of the classroom and the disadvantaged are not. More time in the classroom will not address this disparity, but providing the disadvantaged students more opportunities for science experiences outside of school time will.

The conclusion of the article states that they do not mean to diminish the importance of the science learning within the classroom, but that that we should value the learning experiences outside the classroom as equally important in fostering a life-long love of science. While I’m not necessarily in agreement with this thesis, I bring it up to the CSTA community to ask for your opinion. I want to hear your thoughts on where or how you became engaged with science, and where and how do your students become most excited with science? How important do you think the classroom experience is compared to experiences outside of school time?

To read the abstract to the “95 Percent Solution” click on this link:

Grahme Smith is manager at the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences and CSTA’s informal science director.


Written by Grahme Smith

Grahme Smith is manager at the Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences and CSTA’s informal science director (2011-2013.

4 Responses

  1. I could not agree more! That is why I started Get Inspired and my Science Expeditions program. When I was in the 4th grade, I was turned on to science through a program deisgned to let me experience it outside of my classroom. My passion is to take students out into nature and let them experience science. They are more apt to love when they live it!

  2. This paper supports something I’ve believed for years and its that as a teacher you need to make the bridge between the theoretical-classroom-world and real life experiences for kids to actually get a foothold in developing their own science and math literacy. Finding ways to let students bring their real life experiences into the classroom where there can be anaylyzed using scientific and mathematic methods I’ve seen work time and again. For my algebra class I use to have kids bring in their bicycles and with a little creativity you’ll find most algebra concepts can be taught around the function and structure of bike. In biology I really like Bio-Rad’s GMO Kit where kids can detect the presence of GMOs in the things they eat, because it not only teaches them about PCR, but gets them to think about what they are eating and how these things are made.

  3. I can not remember much of anything about my K-12 science education, but it was my experiences outdoors, especially observing wildlife, exploring landforms, gardening, plant identification, snorkeling, etc. that motivated me to become a science learner in college, and then to become a science teacher. I am now exploring how to bring inspiring outdoor experiences to students through after school and summer programs. The disparity due to lack of summer enrichment, ( and community-based, grass roots solutions) were well documented in a Time magazine issue,9171,2005863,00.html. In my 6th grade classroom, we partner with a local non-profit environmental education organization, Next Generation, to bring all students to
    “Outdoor Science” in the school garden and adjacent creek once a month. But I feel it is just a taste. For real meaningful exposure and time to explore, monitor, test, etc. I would like to develop an after school program. If anyone out there knows of good models, please share!

  4. In California and many other states a trail blazed many years teaching science through the states outdoor science schools located in Sierras or the ocean front, captivates elementary school children. As a capstone achievement and right of passage of fifth or sixth grade, these well thought out programs can be easily adapted to middle school and incorporate the new NGSS standards. Thinking outside of the box, many of these facilities are under utilized and could be maximized with donor funding. Environmental science field research, and the affects of climate change to endemic species, can be monitored by high school students and graduate students as well from these facilities.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.