January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/the-95-percent-solution

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 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2005863,00.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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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.