Outside-the-Box Professional Development


Funded by the U.S. Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in partnership with The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and The City University of New York's Lehman College School of Education, created Outside-the-Box Professional Development: A Living Institution-University Model for Preparing Elementary Teachers in Science. This project studies the efficacy of collaborations between Informal Science Institutions (ISIs) and universities in the preparation of pre-service elementary teachers. As literature by the National Research Council,Association of Science-Technology Centers, and other entities suggests, there is a pressing need to enhance science knowledge at the elementary level and in teacher education programs. This three-year program introduces pre-service participants to science, science education practices and the use of outdoor settings for inquiry science investigation across the disciplines.

Anticipated Program Outcomes

Outside-the-Box seeks to answer five questions:

  1. What science attitudes and disciplinary understandings do the participants hold before they begin the program?
  2. What changes in science attitudes and disciplinary understandings do the participants demonstrate by the end of their experiences?
  3. What teaching and learning practices do the teachers engage in to support their students' science learning after the conclusion of the program?
  4. How do the participants' new practices influence their students' engagement and understanding of science learning?
  5. How can the project most effectively disseminate the lessons learned so that others can replicate all or parts of the model?

Students completing the Outside-the-Box program will be able to:

  • design developmentally appropriate, inquiry science lessons that utilize the principles of outdoor education;
  • align curriculum content standards with opportunities to teach and learn in outdoor settings;
  • demonstrate how to use outdoor settings to facilitate students learning;
  • increase confidence, comfort and preparation to apply the skills and knowledge learned during the program.

Program Design

Eight of fifteen graduate courses in Lehman College's Childhood Education Plan of Study are Outside-the-Box courses. Curriculum is collaboratively developed by WCS and NYBG faculty and Lehman professors. A total of 80 hours of graduate coursework is facilitated by WCS and NYBG in the following courses:

1 Semester-Long Course

  • Learning and Teaching Science in Childhood Settings

7 Five-Hour Hybrid Modules Embedded Within Parent Course

  • Learning and Teaching Music in Childhood Settings
  • Children's Concepts of Mathematics
  • Child Study and Developmental Assessment
  • Child Development and Program Design
  • Literacy in Childhood Settings
  • Learning and Teaching Social Studies in Childhood Settings
  • Teacher as Researcher

To help students complete their Outside-the-Box assignments, each student is given semester-long admission passes to WCS's Bronx Zoo and NYBG, along with access to the collaboratively development online resource center.

Findings to Date

Science Course at the Bronx Zoo and The New York Botanical Garden

A pre/post knowledge assessment was administered to students (n=21) in Learning and Teaching Science in Childhood Settings to measure gains in knowledge of key concepts of life science. Scores increased on 27 of the 31 test items, and there were 9 questions on which 90% of students answered correctly. The increase in student's science content knowledge was statistically significant (Pre: 57%, Post: 69%; p<.001).

A comparison of pre/post attitudes in four domains ( personal attitudes/beliefs about science; content knowledge; attitudes toward inquiry; use of inquiry in/out of classroom) shows that students reported a total positive increase in attitudes after the Outside-the-Box coursework (Pre: 131, Post: 151; p<.001). Additionally, 96% of students rated as "Very High" both (a) their increased awareness of outdoor sites to support teaching and learning, and (b) their overall likelihood that they would use and apply information in their classroom.

Hybrid Learning Modules with Lehman College Professors

Pre/post attitude surveys (n=115) demonstrate that students were committed to using their newly acquired knowledge and skills when they had their own classrooms, a testament to the positive impact of this program on introducing science in the context of other subject areas. On average, 74% of students rated the module high in terms of pedagogical practices and instructional strategies. Student's confidence in their ability to implement science inquiry in and out of the classroom improved on all parameters. Across all modules, students reported an increase in their awareness of outdoor sites like the Bronx Zoo and The New York Botanical Garden to support teaching and learning (67-100%).

Student Testimonials

"Inquiry takes the fear out of science. It makes us comfortable if we think of science as a question, and how you answer the question is what science is. The question becomes the lesson. Asking and answering a question was built into everything that the WCS and NYBG educators did with us including the modules. The framework is important. Do we want students to walk away from the classroom with a deep knowledge of science or a memorized set of facts? It's such a different way of learning. Without the FIPSE program, we wouldn't have this opportunity to see science in this way."

"[Outdoor education] is all about the student touching, feeling, seeing, using their senses to experience ideas, to see the relationships between man and nature. They'll see things that spark their interest and motivate them to ask questions. It's more authentic, students can relate it to real life, or to experience nature for the first time."


The project evaluator is finding that students:

  • Are better able to use informal science institutions as valuable educational resources;
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm about science and science teaching;
  • Increase their appreciation for the role of wildlife and animals in the environment;
  • Develop skills in pedagogy and science instructional strategies;
  • Demonstrate confidence in teaching science;
  • Are able to incorporate science into other disciplines; and,
  • Are able to recognize inquiry in science lessons.

Outside-the-Box is a demonstration of one way in which a partnership between ISIs and higher education institution(s) may collaborate for the preparation of future elementary teachers, with an emphasis on science and nature education. With interest from a local college and two Missouri based informal science institutions, we are working on dissemination and identifying ways to expand the program. In September 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society presented Year 1 evaluation findings at aPoster Session during the annual AZA Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Outside-the-Box Year 1 Evaluation Report: Executive Summary

Outside-the Box Year 2 Evaluation Report: Executive Summary

Outside-the Box Year 3 Evaluation Report: Executive Summary

Key research staff

  • Amanda Lindell
  • Jamie Boyer (New York Botanical Garden)
  • Judith Hutton (New York Botanical Garden)
  • Gaylen Moore (Gaylen Moore Program Evaluation Services)

Questions? Email teacherinfo@wcs.org

The contents of this website were developed under grant P116B100028 from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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