Practice Brief 20 -- Topics: Practices InformalEd Instruction Culture

Getting their hands dirty: Engaging learners in authentic science practices outside the classroom

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers should provide opportunities for students to explore and understand the natural world outside of the classroom through scaffolded and emergent investigations. That science learning outdoors should be connected to learning in the classroom if possible.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should encourage and model the learning opportunities of outdoor experiences.
  • School Leaders should make resources and supports available for teachers to provide young children with outdoor science learning experiences.

What Is The Issue?

All learners benefit from outdoor science investigations. For young learners, research shows how outdoor play is crucial to their socio-emotional learning, cognitive development, physical health, and well-being. Despite strong evidence of the benefits of child-directed exploratory play and teacher-scaffolded learning outdoors, increasing emphasis on “kindergarten readiness” and achievement have dramatically reduced the amount of outdoor time available to youth. But, many outdoor teaching practices promote meaningful science learning.



Reflection Questions

  • When and where do you see science? If there is a how or why question in your class, consider exploring possible answers with your students. Modeling how to do research and showing excitement about learning is a great way to introduce science.
  • Do all children have equal opportunity to pose questions, engage in science practices, and offer possible theories and explanations? How might you incorporate the resources and insights that students bring from their own experiences?

Things to Consider

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

—John Lubbok

Native STEAM Summer Camp

(A multi-generational group investigated local ecosystem)

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take


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Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.