New Report on Eighth-Grade Science Teaching Shows U.S. Lessons Focused Mostly on Activities While Lessons in Other Countries Focused Mostly on Content
April 4, 2006

April 4, 2006
Contacts: Mike Bowler, (202) 219-1662
David Thomas, (202) 401-1579

Washington, D.C. — A video study of 8th-grade science classrooms in the United States and four other countries on the verge of the 21st century found U.S. teachers focused on a variety of activities to engage students, but not in a consistent way that developed coherent and challenging science content.

In comparison, classrooms in four other higher-achieving countries—Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands—exposed 8th graders to science lessons characterized by a core instructional approach that held students to high content standards and expectations for student learning.

The National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences today released these and other findings in a report titled Teaching Science in Five Countries: Results From the TIMSS 1999 Video Study that draws on analysis of 439 randomly selected videotaped classroom lessons in the participating countries.

The results of the newly released science study highlight variations across the countries in how science lessons are organized, how the science content is developed for the students, and how the students participate in actively doing science work. Although the study found that science lessons in the four higher-achieving countries and the United States had some common aspects, there were many differences.

In Japan, the lessons included fewer and less theoretical science content ideas, but presented the content in coherent ways that emphasized identifying patterns in data and making connections among ideas and evidence. Japanese lessons addressed few ideas, but each idea was treated in depth, with multiple sources of supporting evidence provided for each idea.


Australian lessons developed in depth a small number of basic science content ideas through inquiry. The lessons drew from examples of real-life issues while also providing multiple types of activities that had the potential to engage students’ interest.

Science lessons in the Netherlands emphasized science content in a different way, holding students accountable for independent learning of science ideas. Homework and independent seatwork were central features of Dutch science lessons. Students used the textbook and generated written responses to questions (beyond one-word answers or multiple choice). Homework was typically observed to be worked on independently during class or reviewed during whole-class discussions, and students often kept track of a long-term set of assignments, checking their work in a class answer book as they proceeded independently.

In the Czech Republic, students were held accountable for mastering challenging and often theoretical science content in front of their peers through class discussions, work at the blackboard, and oral quizzes.

In the United States, lessons covered a broad range of science content topics and kept students busy on a variety of activities such as hands-on work, small group discussions, written activities, and other “motivational” activities such as games, role playing, physical movement, and puzzles. The various activities, however, were not typically connected to the development of science content ideas. Instead, content was organized as discrete bits of factual information or problem-solving procedures rather than as a set of connected ideas. More than a quarter of the U.S. lessons did not develop science content ideas at all, but instead focused almost completely on carrying out activities.

The science report is the second released by TIMSS 1999 Video Study. The first report, focused on 8th grade mathematics teaching, was released in 2003.

To view the reports and for more information, visit