Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2018

California Academy of Sciences

Expert research and diverse, rich lessons inspire future scientists

Subjects & skills
  • Science
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Students and teachers have access to extensive virtual specimens and labs, lesson plans, and rich materials to augment classroom learning.

Cons: The website's organization makes finding some of the best classroom resources a challenge.

Bottom Line: A perfect companion to (or substitute for) the Academy, this site delivers highly interactive resources and research with a lot of depth.

With the help of the California Academy of Sciences, teachers can design Life Science, Earth Science, Astronomy, or Physical Science lessons around current research and experiments, or use one of the site's free K-12 lesson plans or unit studies in an even wider variety of subjects. Take your time exploring the website. Many of their resources are difficult to locate through browsing but can be found through the excellent search options instead. Or, try bookmarking the more robust areas, such as lesson plans and topic videos.

Consider viewing one of the museum's webcams with your class at various times throughout the year. Use the Science Notebooking lessons at the beginning of the school year to get students excited about keeping a science journal. Try one of the included scavenger hunts to get students out of their seats and interacting with the world. Or, if you're local and can arrange a field trip, comb the site for ways to prepare for your visit.

Standout lessons and videos:

  • Exploring Energy: Designing a Better Future: This is a Flipside Science unit including videos and activities that cover the current state and future of energy.
  • Farallones Webcam: Study the Farallon Islands through a live camera feed and you might just see whales, seals, and exotic birds.
  • Gene Therapy for Color Blindness: View a video clip showing how gene therapy has cured color blindness in squirrel monkeys.
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The California Academy of Sciences site brings the resources and experience of San Francisco's museum into the classroom. Its Explore Science section delves thoroughly into science topics such as animals, plants, the Earth, ecosystems, and more. It highlights scientists as well as important current issues and science news. Visitors can access multimedia collections, lectures, and Academy research, as well as fascinating curriculum with a lot of depth. The Science Heroes section highlights men and women who work for the Academy, and Citizen Science allows kids in California to participate in actual research by collecting specimens and data.

The Educator section of the site includes hundreds of lesson plans and unit lessons for science and science-adjacent topics, virtual specimens to examine, activities, readings, webcams, games and simulations, videos, and project ideas. Lesson plans are broken down by grade level, and the museum provides most of the (printable) resources that will be needed. Local teachers can borrow classroom kits from the museum for a modest lending fee as long as they attend a training session at the California Academy of Sciences; prices for training sessions vary but are affordable. 

Students and teachers who use the California Academy of Sciences site will find no end to the informative learning experiences. There are plenty of resources to which teachers can point students while they work independently, but the biggest strength is in the unit studies and many, many lesson plans from which teachers can plan large chunks of their curriculum. Kids get hands-on experiences through these lessons, benefiting from the museum's deep collections while engaging in the material in their own classrooms.

Students can choose from a few highly engaging learning tools, including live webcams from which to observe sharks, penguins, whales, seals, and exotic birds in their natural habitats. Also, the video gallery has a broad variety of resources, from quick clips to full-length Academy lectures. In addition, the site's up-to-date news on science and scientists helps students learn what's going on right now in the world. This is particularly powerful, and a key strength is that the featured scientists include men and women of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, encouraging kids to participate in areas of science themselves.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

This interactive website is filled with fascinating lessons, videos, pictures, articles, webcams, and games that draw students into the world of science. The site also describes the events and exhibits currently happening at the Academy.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Lesson plans and online courses get students working and thinking about science by actually doing science. Also, students can view specimens, hear about research, and see scientists and animals in action through videos and webcams.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The search options help narrow down the site's resources in fine detail, and almost all pages have suggestions on how to integrate or extend learning. Some lessons and videos are also available in Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Teresa B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Norris Middle School
Omaha, United States
Great resource for connecting concepts to real-world application.
The site is divided into three sub-sites. The science heroes link offers information from field scientists working with the academy. There is print information as well as short video blogs. The Academy Blogs link offers a multitude of blogs feature scientists and staff describing their field/work experiences as well as current events. Science today offers articles and videos featuring current events in science.
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