Measuring the Effectiveness of Specialist Science Enrichment Programmes, by investigating students' responses to practical astronomy research.

PhD Researcher: Mark Gargano

Some students spend their days in a classroom looking out into space, which is not a bad thing! In fact, I fully encourage it.

This research will investigate students' understanding and enthusiasm for science by conducting authentic astronomy research through topics that connect to extended excursions and expeditions, linked to projects where the students investigate areas of their own interest and experience whilst working alongside leading scientists.

Considerable evidence has accumulated to demonstrate that Australian schools and Universities are not producing enough scientists and engineers to sustain the scientific and economic development of Australia. Despite these areas being key factors contributing to the economic growth and social prosperity in both advanced and developing nations, there is a worldwide documented phenomenon of declining student attitudes to science in developed nations.

Within Australia there a decreasing proportion of students taking post-compulsory science; low levels of participation in tertiary courses in physics and chemistry and higher level mathematics; and a shortage of graduates and research students in key areas. This is a critical importance to maintaining a scientific and economic comparative advantage, and be able to fully participate in areas such as the proposed Square Kilometre Array and areas linked with the Australian Academy of Science Decadal Plan for Space Science and our National Space Policy.

The Project.
This project aims for students to conduct authentic research, practical investigations, participate in field work and interact with researchers, working alongside in discovering our cosmos. Students will do astronomy research using the newly commissioned Zadko telescope at the Gingin Observatory to investigate topics in cosmology and stellar evolution. The research will enable students to discover new astronomical objects and to provide additional data for known objects such as asteroids, near earth objects, planetary bodies, gamma ray bursts and supernovae.

The primary research focus will be to see how participation in authentic scientific research and fieldwork affects secondary students' understanding of and attitudes towards Earth, Planetary and Space Science concepts?

Along the way, areas of the project will address a range of research questions to determine how participation in authentic scientific research can improve secondary students' attitudes towards Science; does participation in authentic research have an increased knowledge of key Earth, Planetary and Space Science concepts; are students who participate in science excursions, camps, authentic research and expeditions, as a part of their science studies, more likely to continue in science courses in Years 11, 12 and beyond?

Not to leave their teachers out, it is also planned to conduct research at this level to determine if teachers who participate in practical astronomy research and expeditions are more likely to take these skills and experiences back into the classroom and generate new techniques and resource materials for use in classrooms?

This project is targeting Year 10 students. This group is crucial in secondary education, neither really middle school or senior school; it is at this point that they examine their own interests, motivation and knowledge to make careful selections for their Year 11 and 12 courses and therefore a career beyond. It is anticipated that by involvement in authentic research, working with cutting edge science and scientists that students will make choices that will direct their future into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The Impact of Authentic Astronomy Classes on High School Student Attitudes Towards and Understanding of Science.

PhD Researcher: Auriol Heary

On becoming an astronomer
Tired of the theory?
Wondering where it all fits in?
Looking for excitement?

Make your work count in the real world with authentic science
Learn how to read the night sky.
Search for asteroids, supernovas and comets.
Share in the magic of new discoveries.
Swap the classroom for the observatory.

Become an astronomer and see the universe.

The premise of this research is that changes to the science curriculum need to include relevant and authentic science work that becomes part of the real world body of knowledge. In this programme, the authentic science component will be the locating, imaging and analysing of transient objects as part of an ongoing international catalogue.

Year 9 participants will be involved in an innovative, exciting astronomy education programme and have the opportunity to participate in authentic science. Findings are expected to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on transient objects.

Building bridges: connecting science and culture through cross-cultural digital storytelling.

PhD Researcher: Muza Gondwe

The Project.
This research will examine Australian and Malawian students' connections between cultural knowledge and western science. The Timeline in the Cosmology Gallery at the Gravity Discovery Centre tells the story of the creation of our Universe from the Big Bang through to the present. The Timeline will serve as the context for the students' exploration.

This research will adopt a unique approach through the use of student-produced digital stories that connect science and culture. Digital stories are short personal narrative films that combine the traditional art of storytelling and new media. Digital storytelling has been shown to foster empowerment through community engagement and student participation.

Digital storytelling will be used to engage Australian (Aboriginal and multicultural) and Malawian students who are normally disenfranchised by the science taught in school, as it can be disparate from their own cultural world views.

Students will receive training in digital storytelling film production, research the connection between science and culture and produce films that represent those connections. Finally, students through a cross-cultural exchange will watch films produced by their student counterparts in Malawi and Australia.

The multidisciplinary methodological approach synthesizes educational and anthropological frameworks within the context of participatory action research. Qualitative (interviews, think aloud, personal meaning maps, observations) and quantitative (survey) tools will be used to investigate the impact on students of the process of producing digital stories and their perceptions of science and culture in three case study schools.

The outcomes of this research will provide useful information to educators, community members and policy makers, who are looking at fostering cultural integration within the science education curriculum.

Cosmos, Culture and Landscape: Documenting, learning and sharing Indigenous sky knowledge in contemporary society.

PhD Researcher: John Goldsmith

This is a PhD project currently being undertaken by John Goldsmith, at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy research (ICRAR), Curtin University. The study will use quantitative surveys including the international survey "The Sky in Our Lives" to assess the attitudes, knowledge and "connection" people have with the night sky. Other quantitative surveys will assess astronomy awareness (including Indigenous astronomy) arising from the International Year of Astronomy (2009), and a survey of Indigenous astronomy symposium participants. The study will investigate a variety of approaches regarding the sharing of Indigenous astronomical knowledge, such as art exhibitions, participation in cultural education activities, films, and site visits. The study will focus on three main studies areas, Perth (Noongar country), Murchison region (vicinity of the proposed Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project) and the Kimberley region (Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater). Interviews with key elders are proposed, to enable more detailed investigations.

Leaning towers, solar system walks, student researchers and their telescopes: a study of outreach centre effectiveness

PhD Researcher: Marina Pitts

This research will investigate student understanding of astronomy, science in informal contexts and original scientific research for school students. The Gravity Discovery Centre gives school students access to exciting science learning facilities and provides a unique and innovative context for this research.

Three case studies involving activities at the Gravity Discovery Centre will be conducted. This will include:

investigating students' understanding of astronomical distances, involving the Solar System Walk

investigating students' understanding of gravity, involving the Leaning Tower of Gingin

investigating students as researchers, involving the use of robotic telescopes

Learning experiences outside the classroom are often the most memorable, helping young people to make sense of the world around them, and integrate new experiences and understandings into all aspects of their formal and informal learning.

There is a possibility for selected classes to participate in a student virtual exchange, where matched class groups interact by live videoconference. Live links between Western Australian and international students will provide opportunities for collaboration and effective student interaction and learning.

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