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Carroll, S., McCauley, V. and Grennon, M. 2017.
ExtraterresTrIAL: Engaging Students in STEM through Informal Astrobiology Learning.
In Press
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Creating a scientifically informed and engaged public has become both a national and European prerogative in recent years, yet it has been shown that children disengage with science by the time they leave primary schools. The Informal Science Education (ISE) sector can play a pivotal role in impacting children's decisions in studying Science Technology Engineering Maths (STEM) subjects and pursuing it as a career. This project aims at designing an informal science classroom intervention that contains elements of ISE which have the highest impact on children’s science attitudes. The theme of astrobiology was chosen as it is relevant to current research, links to all STEM disciplines and appeals equally to both sexes. Session content was designed using a design-based research (DBR) approach. It includes inquiry-based learning, hands-on activities and the presence of “real” scientists as session demonstrators which have been shown to improve learning and engagement. The 2hr session revolved around 4 hands-on activities illustrating different aspects of astrobiology. The 1st pilot cycle was run with a group of 10-12 year olds, in a university outreach programme aimed at high ability primary school children on campus. Evaluative feedback was collected to assess whether (i) students had effectively engaged with the session content and materials, and (ii) it featured inquiry-based learning. Feedback was collected orally from science communication experts and via questionnaire surveys from demonstrators and children participants. Reflections from the session designer also contributed to the evaluation. Children questionnaire analysis showed that 100% of respondents (N=14 total responses) reported the session to be fun, interesting and well-organised. Demonstrator feedback mirrored this and suggested improvements included the incorporation of an increased number of inquiry-based elements in the session. Cycle analysis highlighted 4 further possible modifications to be implemented in the design of the 2nd cycle of this project.
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