1. Mary Dussault
  2. Innovative Technology-Enabled Astronomy for Middle Schools II (ITEAMS II)
  3. Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Harvard University
  1. Harry Houghton
  2. Innovative Technology-Enabled Astronomy for Middle Schools II (ITEAMS II)
  3. Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
  1. Erika Wright
  2. Education Specialist
  3. Innovative Technology-Enabled Astronomy for Middle Schools II (ITEAMS II)
  4. Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Public Discussion

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  • Icon for: Mary Dussault

    Mary Dussault

    Lead Presenter
    Instructional Systems Specialist
    May 14, 2017 | 09:24 p.m.

    Thank you for visiting our project on the STEMforAll Video Showcase! We are in the 3rd year of our project and have implemented YouthAstroNet with over 1000 students and 50 educators nationwide, mostly in OST settings but also in middle school classrooms. We are currently analyzing project data bearing upon our intended impacts for youth and educator participants: STEM engagement and affinity; content knowledge; STEM-relevant skills; and youth interest in STEM careers.

    We look forward to your feedback and questions.

    Educators: what support would you need to implement YouthAstroNet, and what do you see as potential barriers to your (or other educators’) participation?

    Researchers: what does interest in a STEM career look like for a middle-schooler? Are there some aspects of our approach that seem more (or less) suited to promoting such interest?

  • Icon for: Michael Haney

    Michael Haney

    May 15, 2017 | 09:34 a.m.

    The video and the notes combine to offer a very complete picture of the project and its successes highlighting student work.  I would like to know a bit more about what schools and/or students are targeted by the project and what implications that has for scaling or broadening the impact of the project.  Do you envision this always involving teachers and are they a critical part of the learning experience or are their other ways to reach young learners?

    The project depends on a shared resource accessible remotely.  Does this have implications for scale?

  • Icon for: Mary Dussault

    Mary Dussault

    Lead Presenter
    Instructional Systems Specialist
    May 15, 2017 | 03:26 p.m.

    Hi Michael,

    Great questions, with so many implications I'm not sure I can address them all! But here goes:


    To date, we have recruited educators through targeted networks (both local and national) that have the capacity to provide programming for youth from underrepresented groups. Our program model has been to first provide online professional development for these educators (typically a minimum of 10 hours of live and asynchronous interaction through our YouthAstroNet Educators community). We then provide ongoing online support for these educators to adapt and implement the program (and recruit youth participants) in a way that fits their own local context.


    For example, as a research unit of the Smithsonian Institution, we have been able to partner with Smithsonian Affiliations, a nationwide network of museums and cultural organizations that commit to bringing Smithsonian research and education to their communities. We identified educators from 12 of these organizations, from Hawaii to Georgia, who participated in the online PD and then went on to craft a variety of YouthAstroNet implementations (collectively branded as Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos by Smithsonian). These implementations of the program ranged from one-week summer camps at their own informal learning organizations to partnerships with local schools and teachers where the museum educator co-facilitated a multi-week program with classroom teachers and the students' capstone astrophotography projects were exhibited at the museum.


    A local partner was the Timothy Smith Network of more than 2 dozen Community Technology Centers in Roxbury, MA,with whom we have been collaborating for years. We also tried a new strategy by recruiting via the statewide representatives of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers -- discovering that Michigan and North Carolina appeared to have the most robust communication networks for encouraging educators to seek new STEM education offerings!


    I think one of the difficulties of scaling is that, especially in the local and regional out-of-school space, institutions and program staff are often isolated and not part of good support networks for STEM education. With regard to the possibility of directly reaching young learners, we do have the future potential to take findings from this project and apply them to an online portal that might more directly support youth and parents in pursuing their own astronomy and image processing projects, but we need to do more research on how best to support this. Newcomers to astronomy and robotic telescopes have a lot of conceptual balls to juggle as they learn.

    The one nut that we have managed to crack with our MicroObservatory robotic telescope system is scale -- we have taken a different approach from other remote telescope systems that have limited capacity because they operate primarily through direct personal control by users on a one-person-to-one-image basis.  We have opted instead to limit the number of potential targets (and telescope settings) available to users each night, so that if on a given night a million students submit a request for an image of the Orion Nebula taken with a Red filter at a 60 second exposure, we only take one of those images (and send it to the million users that requested it). Our research suggests that the feeling of ownership is preserved for users, because their requested target image is sent directly to them (or put in their unique account), and because success is frequent but not assured --the weather, the camera-settings, or the telescope itself might provide the user with sub-par images. It turns out the possibility of failure is part of what makes personal success in requesting an image more meaningful.

    Apologies for the long reply, but thanks for making us think about all these things!

  • Icon for: Michael Haney

    Michael Haney

    May 16, 2017 | 07:25 a.m.

    Thank you for the detailed description...it is encouraging that you have dealt with these issues so thoughtfully and have built a model that could scale.  I can imagine just how empowered students must feel by their personal interactions with this project and their own data requests.  The project impacts on an individual level will certainly go far beyond what could possibly show in any short term evaluation.  Great work!

  • Icon for: Thomas Kalil

    Thomas Kalil

    Entrepreneur in Residence
    May 15, 2017 | 09:15 p.m.

    Thanks for a great video - very clear description of the intervention.  You mentioned that one of the goals of the project is to foster the formation of the "science identities" of the students.  Do we have good instruments for measuring changes in science identities over time?

  • Icon for: Mary Dussault

    Mary Dussault

    Lead Presenter
    Instructional Systems Specialist
    May 17, 2017 | 11:38 a.m.

    Hi Thomas,


    Great question — in recent years, the theoretical framework of “science identity” is getting more and more attention by researchers, especially as it relates to persistence and performance in STEM fields. Conceptualized generally as the degree to which someone sees themselves as “a science person,” specific aspects of the construct are being refined as the literature expands. Philip Sadler, my collaborating PI on this project, and his research collaborators (Zahra Hazari, Gerhard Sonnert, and others), have been doing quite a bit of exploration of science identity among college freshmen, via large-scale retrospective cohort studies. (They are also looking in detail at more specific disciplinary STEM identities -- physics, engineering, mathematics, etc)


    For our ITEAMS/YouthAstroNet project, we are building on this work, both in terms of some of the survey measures we are using, and in terms of looking at theorized sub-factors of science identity. These contributing factors include: Interest (are students curious to learn about science?); Recognition (do students perceive that others recognize them as a science person?); and Competence/Performance (do students believe they can do science tasks and understand content?)


    Here are a few examples of rating-scale survey items we are using to measure changes in our participants’ science identity, some of which are from the prior research mentioned above, and some from the literature:

    How much do you see yourself as a science person?

    (general science identity)


    How much do the following people see you as a science person? (parents/family/friends/teachers)



    Science is something I get excited about.

    I am curious to learn more about science…



    I understand the science I have studied in school.

    I feel confident in my ability to learn math.



    Of course, the really BIG part of your question Thomas, is about measuring “changes in science identit(y) over time” — The college freshmen in Phil’s research studies have had time and many experiences to develop their science identities (or not). Might the science identity of our participating middle school-age youth may be more malleable (and volatile)? Can we see changes on the timescale of our short intervention? And if we do, would these be lasting, or just ephemeral changes?


    We, like you, are really interested to find out!  Even as I write this, we are cleaning up a first dataset of about 300 youth to look for these factors.

  • Icon for: Anna Suarez

    Anna Suarez

    May 17, 2017 | 05:49 p.m.

    Terrific project! As you highlighted, increasing educators' content knowledge is one of your greatest challenges.  

    How are you capturing and incorporating evidence of student learning into your PD?  

    I think that establishing the trajectory of student learning within your field and capturing evidence of  that learning has to be an enormous challenge.  Is your project capturing evidence of student learning and incorporating this component/information into the PD? If so, has this helped teachers learn the content?

    Thank you for the video! 

  • Icon for: Kathryn Guimond

    Kathryn Guimond

    Informal Educator
    May 18, 2017 | 05:47 p.m.

    Great to see your project efforts Mary - congratulations on engaging young people and educators with the "space" around us!

  • Kristin Hellman

    Undergraduate Student
    May 19, 2017 | 10:07 a.m.

    This video truly shows how the goal is to prepare students for STEM jobs in the real world. Astronomy is often a science topic that gets watered down to students due to a lack of resources in the classroom. Due to a lack of resources, students often are unable to see or understand all of the concepts that deal with space. I think that having a program in schools that is designated for students to learn about space would interest a lot more people on everything that being a scientist or astronomer entails. This program is something that would be a unique way to implement integrative STEM into the elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. 

  • Icon for: Selma Sabanovic

    Selma Sabanovic

    May 19, 2017 | 04:13 p.m.

    This is a very inspiring project and video. I have 2 questions.

    1) The students presented in the video obviously learned a lot and gained considerable confidence and STEM interest while doing the activities. Could you give more details about what formal evaluations say about the effects of participation in the program on the students?  

    2) I got quite intrigued and wanted to access your online materials to see if I could use them with my child myself. I found I was not able to gain access to the parent portal without a prior invitation (I think). I understand that this might not be something you can deal with with your current resources, but have you considered  opening this up more broadly to parents and perhaps home-schoolers? It seems like it would be a wonderful resource.

    Thank you!

  • Icon for: Mary Dussault

    Mary Dussault

    Lead Presenter
    Instructional Systems Specialist
    May 22, 2017 | 08:53 a.m.

    Hi Selma,

    We are just now cleaning up the pre/post survey datasets for our first 300 youth participants, so I can't quite provide an answer to your first question, although we'll have some results soon. We are also collecting and analyzing the students' image-processing work, as well as looking at the embedded analytics of how they use the telescope and software tools on the YouthAstroNet portal, and this work will take more time. We think we are seeing trends that suggest that the program may have more beneficial impact on females (e.g., in terms of content-knowledge gains, gains in seeing one's self as a "science person"), but these impacts may be confounded by other factors (OST implementations vs. classroom implementations), so we'll have to tease these out.

    As for your second question, we very much hope in the future to open up the YouthAstroNet experience directly to youth and parents, but as I mentioned in my reply to Michael above, we will need to incorporate more specific scaffolding strategies for learners who are not guided by an educator who has experienced our professional development program.

    By the way, thanks for looking at our video and posting, which prompted me to go look at your wonderful Human-centered Robotics program. One of our YouthAstroNet activities is to have students use kits of electronics parts (littleBits) to build subsystems that emulate the functions of our robotic telescopes: aiming the telescope at a target; building a light-sensing component that can measure the brightness of a light source; creating an electronic camera shutter to control exposure time, etc. We will look more closely at your program for some more tips & tricks on incorporating design thinking. 

  • Further posting is closed as the showcase has ended.