On January 25th, Slooh founder, Michael Paolucci gave a speech at The Future of Education Technology Conference that discussed the significance of astronomy education as a “gateway science”, and the role a platform like Slooh will play in this.
A gateway to a passion for STEM
Why is astronomy hardly taught in schools, especially in early education? It is a question worth examining because, when it comes to early education, exposure to astronomy promotes overall student interest in science across the board.
Astronomy’s role and significance in society at large is one that cannot be overlooked adding to the argument that understanding the universe should in fact be a priority in education.
“Astronomy has been deeply rooted throughout history in societies across the globe, due to its practical applications to timekeeping, navigation, climate, and seasons. In modern times, these extend to mitigating climate change, predicting solar activity for impacts on communications and examinations of biological extinctions.” (Percy,1996).
"In addition, issues such as responsible citizenship, stewardship for sustainable development or globalization become increasingly prevalent, and it becomes apparent that children should be introduced to Earth matters from an early age” (Ogelman, 2012).
If children are not exposed to astronomy at an early age, they are less likely to develop an interest in it. Exposure and access is crucial, because if they have that opportunity to develop an interest, it drives curiosity and passion for STEM in general, as so much of STEM is conceptually interlinked.
A gateway to STEM careers
Moving forward, beyond just early education, astronomy is a gateway science to all STEM fields. High school students who study and show interest in astronomy often do not end up in the field, not because of a lack of passion, but due to a lack of job opportunities. These students, however, enter other spheres of STEM, and astronomy education leads them there.
“Even though astronomy loses student interest at every educational stage, majority of those students leave astronomy in favor of another STEM.” (Bergstorm, 2016).
That being said, the lack of job opportunities is destined to change. With the energy and resources being poured into the space economy, room for new career paths are to follow. Therefore, students who have a passion for astronomy at any level of their education, will soon have a more concrete professional direction within astronomy. This is particularly important in regard to women in STEM, as the growing field of astronomy may open up new routes for female STEM careers.
A gateway to women in STEM
Statistics have shown that high school students who are passionate about astronomy showed some particular fascination in the topic, or enjoyed looking up into the night sky, long before being introduced to astronomy in high school. In terms of gender, males are overall more likely to end up in the field of astronomy. However, females who become interested in astronomy before high school are more likely than males who became interested before high school to end up in the field.
“Males who observe stars have 1.6 times greater odds of EHS astronomy interest than males who do not, and females who observe stars have 3.7 times higher odds of EHS astronomy interest than females who do not” (Bergstorm).
For this reason, it is vital for females to have access to astronomy curriculum in order to pursue their interest. Additionally, research has shown that females who have the opportunity to learn astronomy outside of the classroom, through resources like Slooh, actually go further in their studying of it. Inside the classroom, there are more barriers for women, as it is often a male dominated space.
“A difference in perception between male and female students inside the classroom is one reason why researchers have begun to shift their focus to OST activities, where students have an opportunity to cultivate their STEM identity independent of classroom Factors.“ (Bergstorm).
Digital education helps to break up the role of genders. Being virtual means less room for gender dominance, and it gives females more power and freedom to pursue their passion.
Slooh not only provides access for students of all ages and levels of experience to pursue a passion for astronomy, but it also enables a space for females to have a new kind of autonomy in the realm of STEM education.
See some of the women on Slooh who have already paved the way for more to follow:
Islamabad Girls’ School's “Exhilarating Journey” using Slooh
Michelle Park’s Journey to Stanford with Slooh
Percy, J.R. “Astronomy Education: An International Perspective.” New Trends in Astronomy Teaching, 1996, pp. 2–6., https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511628993.004.
Gülay Ogelman, Hülya. “Teaching Preschool Children about Nature: A Project to Provide Soil Education for Children in Turkey.” Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 40, no. 3, 2012, pp. 177–185., https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-012-0510-4.
Bergstrom, Zoey, et al. “Evolution and Persistence of Students' Astronomy Career Interests: A Gender Study.” Journal of Astronomy & Earth Sciences Education (JAESE), vol. 3, no. 1, 2016, p. 77., https://doi.org/10.19030/jaese.v3i1.9690.