Impacts of a kinesthetic astronomy afterschool program on students' interest in STEM topics
Johns, Carla J.
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Astronomy is a multidisciplinary field, rich in history, broad in content, and universally appealing to students of all ages and backgrounds. Through the study of astronomy, students can gain a deeper appreciation for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and how these fields intersect, ultimately enabling us to explore space and learn about our universe. Few formal educators take college-level astronomy courses, and those who do often find the complexity of the subject matter too difficult to convey to elementary school students. The goal of this educational research project was to supplement classroom curriculum during an afterschool program. Informal education environments reward curiosity and engagement, and encourage exploration and inquiry. Through this project, the researcher hoped to increase students' interest in the STEM subjects and to build students' self-efficacy towards learning about and doing science. The researcher partnered with five Before and After School Enrichment Camps in Larimer County, Colorado. The week-long program focused on structured exploratory and kinesthetic activities encouraging students to make observations, build models, predict outcomes, and develop explanations. Based upon the data from the surveys and assessments, it was difficult to determine if a change had occurred as a result of the treatment. High fluctuations of attendance levels over the course of the study may have had an impact on the overall results. Qualitative data indicated that a change had occurred in the level of students' interest in and knowledge of STEM and space-related topics after the program. Many students, unprompted, began taking charge of their own learning and developed methods for their journey towards lifelong learning.