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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.