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UK Space Agency joins campaign to get youngsters into STEM

28 January 2015

Following the example of the high-profile Bloodhound SSC project, the UK Space Agency is now keen to promote STEM subjects to young students.

Bloodhound SSC's Education Programme continues to do sterling work inspiring young schoolchildren and encouraging them to consider careers in science and engineering. Now, science education researchers at the University of York are to work with space scientist and The Sky at Night presenter, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE to investigate if human spaceflight, too, can motivate school students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The £348,000 three-year project, funded by the UK Space Agency and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will focus on British astronaut Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS), to be launched at the end of November 2015.

Tim Peake is the first British member of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, and he will become the first Briton to visit the ISS. As well as delivering invaluable scientific research and cutting edge technology, it is hoped that the programme will boost participation and interest in STEM subjects among school children.

The research will involve gathering views from pupils and teachers from a sample of 30 primary and 30 secondary schools. In addition, perspectives will be gained from space scientists on areas of the industry that may influence students.

Participants will be asked their advice on space science resources for use with school students, leading to the production of an overview of space science resources. The study, now underway, will also involve the design of a new instrument to assess school students’ attitudes to STEM subjects and to space science.

According to principal investigator, Professor Judith Bennett, from the Department of Education at the University of York, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that space and space travel increase the interest of young people in STEM subjects. "We have a golden opportunity to gauge this hypothesis as we prepare to send a British astronaut into space at the end of next year," she adds.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock believes it is important that we help students to see the correlation between what they are studying in the classroom and what people do outside as scientists. She hopes the University of York’s study will help to find out more about what inspires young people to participate in and gain a life-long passion in STEM subjects.

As far as the UK Space Agency is concerned, chief executive Dr David Parker says the research will allow the Agency to better understand the ways in which its programmes affect society. "The excitement of space gives an excellent context for STEM education, and we’re keen to make sure that the benefits of space – for education, for society, for growth – are properly assessed and understood," he says.

Les Hunt

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