Measuring the Impact of Specialist Science Enrichment Programs at the Gravity Discovery Centre
Academics interested in promoting and enhancing science education (from the University of Western Australia, Curtin University and the Univ of Glasgow) have joined forces with a charity, The Polly Farmer Foundation and The Gravity Discovery Centre Foundation to undertake an in-depth study of the effectiveness of schools science enrichment programs. The Polly farmer Foundation specialises in providing education enrichment to indigenous disadvantaged students in remote schools. The GDC and the AIGO Research facility makes it possible to offer three types of science enrichment , one especially designed for indigenous students and those without positive attitude to science. The second provides challenging modules some of which focus specifically on modern concepts of space, time and gravity, including Einstein’s theories and the search for gravitational waves. The third enrichment program allows students to take part in real research and offers the possibility of real discoveries, using UWA’s large new robotic telescope – The Zadko Telescope.
The motivation of the project is the current science teacher shortage in secondary schools. Many specialist facilities and programs have been set up to provide science enrichment programs. All aim to help reverse the decline of students taking science and at reversing the declining attitudes towards science in schools.
Our proposition is that:
a) specialised enrichment programs stimulate teachers as well as students and can lead to a positive change in student attitudes towards science
b) creating positive attitudes towards science in schools is a critical factor in students’ career aspirations
c) students can be engaged and motivated through exposure to real science and scientific endeavour
d) for some students, particularly from disadvantaged and indigenous backgrounds, a narrative approach to science can motive and engage them in science.
The new research program aims to test these propositions.
Science enrichment is often only offered to science motivated talented students. While we want to measure the effectiveness of enrichment for this group, we also want to find out whether programs can turn around the attitudes of students who have a negative view of science, and whether they can excite students who have had minimal exposure to science.
To change the attitudes of students with negative attitudes to science, as well as for remote and deprived schools, we will make use of a brand new specialist facility at the GDC: The Cosmology Gallery that combines traditional creation stories told through art work, text and movies, with the scientific story of the origin of the universe. We want to measure the benefits of learning by narrative using this specialist facility.
The aim of the new project is to measure the effectiveness of science enrichment programs in changing student attitudes to, and interest in science and in student career goals and expectations. We will follow attitudes and opinions of students from different groups who have been exposed to specialised enrichment programs at the GDC, and to those who have had additional enrichment through participating in real astronomical research.
A particular focus of this project will be on students from remote schools from the Pilbara and Kimberley regions. The proposal will enable mining companies who already support indigenous students in the regions of their operations through the Polly Farmer Foundation to obtain quantitative measures of the benefits of their support. Specifically we will work with:
a) disadvantaged and un-engaged students from remote schools and low socio-economic city schools
b) academically talented students including those with negative attitudes towards science.
c) Mainstream students