Students urged to look to the cosmos for inspiration in STEM
Distant galaxies, strange new worlds and the mysteries of the cosmos could hold the key to unlocking Australian students' interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
A Deakin University study will investigate the use of astronomy and the wonder of the universe to pique middle and high school-age students' interest in maths and science – subjects too often perceived by them as stale or irrelevant.
Project lead Dr Saeed Salimpour of Deakin's Research for Educational Impact (REDI) centre said for millennia humans had looked to the night sky for inspiration and an understanding of life's greatest questions.
His project will explore the use of contemporary astronomical data in classrooms to develop students' critical thinking, scientific, mathematical and technical skills, which he said could prove crucial to their future careers.
"Using a global network of research-grade, ground-based robotic telescopes and astronomical databases, the aim is to enable and support students to capture images of astronomical objects and process them to reveal the science, beauty and mystery of the cosmos," Dr Salimpour said.
"Students will be supported to develop interdisciplinary skills to explore the nature of light, the engineering and operation of telescopes, problem solving and troubleshooting, and using computers to process the images. The lessons will also provide context for engaging class discussions on the awe and wonder of the cosmos."
STEM industries are among the fastest growing job sectors in Australia, including in the fields of health, the environment and cybersecurity. The recent establishment of the Australian Space Agency also continues to generate opportunities in the space sector.
Dr Salimpour said the aim was to provide teachers with the support, resources and confidence to introduce astronomy into their classrooms, and to highlight the deep connection between STEM and non-STEM disciplines and how astronomy can be used to teach these and other subjects.
Sequences of teaching and learning activities and related resources will be developed as part of the study. These will be made available to teachers of all year levels once the project is complete, including primary and secondary.
"Our study will examine how exposure to astronomy and astronomical colour imaging will impact students' subject choices later in their schooling," Dr Salimpour said.
"We want to show Australian students they are all capable of learning STEM skills. We also want to demonstrate the interdisciplinary learning opportunities of introducing astronomy in the classroom. This includes developing students' creativity in the visual arts through the creation of images of the night sky that are both informed by the science and stunning to look at.
"Astronomy connects us all under one sky, so there is also capacity to incorporate the cultural and historical aspects of astronomy through discussions about Indigenous People's cultural connection to the sky. The learning opportunities are endless."
The project, Cosmic pathfinder: Exploring the potential of astronomy as a gateway to STEM, is funded by Deakin University as part of an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.
The first stage of the study will examine students' perspectives of astronomy, science, and aesthetics. More information can be found on the project’s website.
The second stage will involve working with teachers to implement astronomy and astronomical colour imaging in their class. This is anticipated to take place in 2024.