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Evaluation Report

UNSA

Inspiring the next generation of young scientists and space explorers


CONTENTS

01 Background 04 The Astro Science Challenge Step by Step 10 Quotes 12 Statistics 13 Headline Findings 15 Full Evaluation 15 1. Methods 16 2. Attitudes to Science Learning 18 3. Responses to Learning Science Through Participation in The Astro Science Challlenge 26 4. Participation in Science Learning Prompted by The Astro Science Challenge 29 5. Future Focused 32 6. Concluding Reflections & Implications 34 Future Developments Appendix Primary Science Literature Review INFORMATION

unspaceagency.com


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Background

“The Unlimited Space Agency’s mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists and space explorers by creating interactive projects that combine storytelling, live performance, game design and digital technologies to significantly deepen children’s engagement with (and enjoyment of!) the learning experience.” JON SPOONER

UNSA Director of Human Spaceflight Operations


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Background Founded in 1997, Leeds based Unlimited is widely considered to be one of the UK’s most exciting and innovative arts organisations. The company specialises in telling stories for live performance for a wide range of audiences but, from the outset, has always pursued a specialist strand of creating interactive, informal learning experiences for children aged 7-11. Since 2007, the company has also developed a strand of work collaborating with scientists to communicate leading edge research to a (mostly adult) public audience. In 2010 these two specialisms led to a commission from Polka Theatre (one of the UK’s leading theatres dedicated to work for children) to “create a show to inspire children aged 7-11 in science” Mission To Mars “Unlimited have been pioneers in combining theatre and science for adult audiences, fearlessly going where few other companies have gone before in exploring the metaphysical and everyday impact of scientific advances on our lives… Mission To Mars is great fun and if there’s a sudden interest in science in the coming years among the children of south-west London and beyond, it may well be traced back to Unlimited’s show for seven to 11-year-olds.” - The Guardian Inspired by their research with scientists and in particular an invitation to train as astronauts for three days at the European Astronaut Centre in Germany, Unlimited’s core artists created a series of interactive projects that extended the story world of the play to “get children DOING science”. The response to the project was overwhelmingly positive with adults and children alike universally reporting hugely positive impact on their engagement with (and enjoyment of) science learning. A series of awards were made for Unlimited’s work engaging children with science through storytelling including the 2011 National Charity Award in the Arts, Culture & Heritage category, the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Achievement in Space Education and Outreach, the WISE Champion Award for inspiring girls and young women in STEM subjects and NASA’s “Best Mission Concept” award in their global competition “The Space Apps Challenge”.


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Background And in the process the company had accidentally set up its own space agency (!) as a way of telling inspirational stories about science through space exploration – the Unlimited Space Agency or UNSA. During their time researching at the European Astronaut Centre, Unlimited’s artists met with and interviewed Tim Peake who (at the time) was a new recruit to the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps. Over the following years, Unlimited’s Artistic Director Jon Spooner maintained and developed a relationship with Tim, who is equally passionate about inspiring children in STEM subjects and has supported and taken part in all of UNSA’s ongoing projects. In 2012 he accepted an invitation to become UNSA’s patron. “The Unlimited Space Agency is great. Their approach to inspiring children about science is rigorous, fun and it works! I’m proud to serve with them on their mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and space explorers.”  - Tim Peake, astronaut Shortly after Tim became UNSA’s patron it was announced that he had been confirmed to fly on a mission to the International Space Station where he would live and work as a scientist for six months – the first British person to do that. It was immediately clear that UNSA would want to create a special project to celebrate Tim’s mission and further the agency’s mission to “inspire the next generation of poetscientists and space explorers”. And thus The Astro Science Challenge was conceived… Made in collaboration with some of the UK’s most well known science organisations and with participation from Tim Peake during his mission to the International Space Station, The Astro Science Challenge combines film, game design, live performance and real-time interaction to make science learning FUN. Delivered primarily online through Makewaves (a well established, safe and secure social networking platform for schools) and in creative collaboration with interactive theatre-makers Coney, children signed up as UNSA Cadets and, by completing a series of six science based challenges, could “level up” and become Agents of UNSA. Each time they completed a challenge the children were rewarded with a digital badge endorsed by one of our partners, each of whom had co-designed the mission with us.


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The Astro Science Challenge Step by Step The First Step – Sign Up The teacher or parent (now known as Team Leader) signs up to Makewaves... and downloads the “How To” document and all the Activity Plans in the “Team Leader Resources” section of the site.


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TASC – Step by Step

Introduction – Mission 0 The Team Leader prints/prepares materials in preparation for the first lesson with the children in which… …the lesson is interrupted by the Headteacher who has received a letter addressed to the class marked “URGENT”. The Team Leader is persuaded by their class to open the envelope that contains a personal letter to them from the Unlimited Space Agency’s Director of Human Spaceflight inviting them to take part in The Astro Science Challenge. Prompted by the letter, the Team Leader plays the children a video on The Astro Science Challenge website from Tim Peake encouraging them to sign up…

The Team Leader is then persuaded by the children to take part in the Challenge, so they start “Mission 0: Sign Up as an UNSA Cadet”. The children watch Episode 0 of the Space Shed films and sign up as an UNSA Cadet. They create an avatar, write a short report on how to safely sign up to platforms on the internet and are awarded their first badge.


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TASC – Step by Step

Continuing Missions 1- 6 Each subsequent Mission is formatted thus: Each Monday morning for the next 6 weeks a new Episode of the Space Shed film series is released on Makewaves. Each Episode introduces the theme for this week’s Mission and the digital badge the children can earn from a new science partner, each of whom co-designed the Missions with us.

 eek 1: W Spaceship Earth (Royal Observatory, Greenwich)

 eek 2: W Space Weather (The Met Office)

 eek 3: W Fit For Space (European Space Agency)

 eek 4: W Astro Coding (Young Rewired State)

 eek 5: W Living in Space (British Science Association)

 eek 6: W Build & Launch a Rocket (Science Museum)


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TASC – Step by Step

Each Mission is clearly linked to the National Curriculum, focusing on science topics (Earth & Space, Forces, Animals, Science and Computing, Light) but also covering Maths and English as well as suggestions for how to extend the learning across all other curriculum areas. Each week the Team Leader uses the Activity Plans to lead the Cadets through three sessions on the new topic. At the end of the week the Cadets upload their work to Makewaves where it is assessed (by the Team Leader) and the Cadets are awarded the associated badge. Each episode also gives new information about Tim Peake’s preparation for his upcoming launch to the International Space Station and develops the story of the Unlimited Space Agency characters that the Cadets can interact with via Makewaves. In particular, the story about the character Mini Jon is designed to reflect the Cadet’s own experience. Mini Jon asks the other Cadets for tips and help to complete the badges and shares his work and thoughts via his profile on Makewaves. In Week 3 Mini Jon starts expressing doubts over his abilities and in Week 5 he gives up and leaves a note on his profile saying he’s sorry but he’s quitting the Challenge! The Cadets are encouraged to write messages of support to Mini Jon to try and persuade him to come back and keep going. All the characters always respond to any comments or interaction from the Cadets.


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TASC – Step by Step

Graduation To coincide with the day of Tim’s launch to the International Space Station, there was a nationwide “Graduation Event” where all participating children who had completed all six Missions graduated as Agents of UNSA. Teachers were given instructions and downloadable resources including certificates signed by Tim to run their own graduation events in school while UNSA hosted a special live event in the IMAX cinema at the Science Museum in London.


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TASC – Step by Step

More than 10,500 children took part in this first phase of the project with 12,175 digital badges awarded. The project was shortlisted for a 2016 National Charity Award and has been supported by the UK Space Agency to continue running until the end of 2016.


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Quotes

From children

Spelling & grammar errors have been left intentionally

“I liked learning about Tim Peake and his mission on the ISS, it was like we were actually helping him prepare!” “I enjoyed the astro science challange because its not just normal lessions its a bit of everything.” “I learnt science can be fascinating and really fun.” “I learnt never to give up and be tenacious.” “I read about the international space station because I want to know as much as I posibilly can. I didn’t even know the ISS was even there.” “I could become an astronaut when I am older and study more about space.”


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Quotes

From teachers/team leaders “The whole class were incredibly engaged in the whole process and have learnt so much.” “All children were excited by the next challenge. They wanted to be involved throughout.” “My son has always been interested in space and science, but this project made him feel like a real scientist. The real data from NASA made the tasks meaningful. It has made him feel that science is something accessible for him as a career when he is older.” “Fitted in fantastically well to our creative curriculum.” “Amazing homework came into school, no nagging, no prompting”


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Statistics From October - December 2015 10,855 children engaged through schools and at home

12,175 digital badges awarded

Over 30,000 uploads

by UNSA Cadets, including images, videos, documents and free text

Over 300 children attended the Graduation Ceremony at the Science Museum and watched Tim Peake’s launch live in the IMAX cinema

Unlimited gained

4 new funding partners and 8 non-arts collaborating partners

Unlimited had 100% funding application success


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Headline Findings The evaluation found that Unlimited’s Astro Science Challenge was a highly engaging project which enabled children to meaningfully learn about space and science through the rich and varied pedagogic strategies it adopted. 1. Children expressed considerable enthusiasm for The Astro Science Challenge, describing it as their favourite way to learn science. 2. Children expressed strong preferences for variety in the way they are taught science with a particular enthusiasm for practical, experimental, collaborative, creative and approaches. 3. High quality online digital resources and video materials were greatly valued by the participants and they especially liked features such as the character ‘Mini-Jon’. This helped them to navigate the fictional narrative, which in turn drove their participation in the Missions, leading to scientific enquiry and the attainment of badges. 4. The topic of space was extremely engaging to the participants and this interest linked to, or stemmed from, the opportunities for children to engage personally, authentically and directly with Tim Peake and his mission to the International Space Station. 5. P  articipation in the project enhanced children’s attitudes to science so that they were more likely to express a potential interest in science careers or further study of science after completing The Astro Science Challenge. 6. As a result of participating in The Astro Science Challenge more than half the children were prompted to undertake further activity including reading, research, experiments and educational visits.


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Full Evaluation


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Full Evaluation

Full Evaluation Section 1: Methods

The following is a full evaluation commissioned from Becky Parry – a Research Fellow at Nottingham University’s Faculty of Social Sciences where she is currently working full time on the TALE project, ‘Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement’ with professors Christine Hall and Pat Thomson. Previously she worked as a lecturer in Childhood Studies and Education at the University of Leeds. In order to evaluate The Astro Science Challenge two short online questionnaires were devised and made available on the Makewaves site https://www.makewav.es/unspaceagency. The first questionnaire was completed by children participating at the beginning of the project and the second was undertaken by different children after the project was completed. It was never an intention to test the children in order to get an indication of the impact of the project on their learning of specific content. Rather, the aim was to gain an insight into their engagement, understanding and interest in science at school and at home and to understand the extent to which their participation in the project had created opportunities for enhanced engagement. The questionnaire also attempted to explore the extent to which the children’s attitudes towards the study of science and careers in science were impacted on, through their participation in the project. We used online surveys to create and administer the questionnaires and once the questionnaires were closed, we were able to use the existing filters integral to this software to undertake analysis of gender difference, for example. The qualitative responses were analysed using a thematic coding approach to identify key themes emerging from the responses. These are presented later in this report, including some numerical data indicating the numbers of participants (in the questionnaire) answered in particular ways. The ethical consent of the children for participation in the evaluation was gained within the fabric of the questionnaire. 91 children responded to the first questionnaire and 84 gave consent for their data to be used in our report. Of these 48 were girls and 36 were boys. 66 children responded to the second questionnaire and gave consent for their data to be used in our report. Of these 31 were girls and 35 were boys. The questionnaire was predominantly answered by children aged nine and ten, which is the main age group for the wider project. In the second questionnaire the number of responses who stated they were home educated was 8. In the first questionnaire this number was 7.


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Full Evaluation

In presenting the evaluation we are mindful that this is a relatively small sample in terms of overall engagement. However the questionnaire was devised as a qualitative tool and the range of children participating in the questionnaire ensures the composition of the sample can be relied upon to provide findings that are broadly indicative of the wider cohort of participants in the project, with a small proviso that those who completed the second questionnaire are likely to be those who were most engaged with the project. However, since there is also at least one whole class set of responses we believe that the data will represent a reasonable balance of the children’s responses upon which we can draw some helpful conclusions, informing future work.

Section 2: Attitudes to Science Learning We asked the children to rate, using ticks (1 lowest and 5 highest), their preferred way of learning about science. We did not find any significant gender differences in these stated preferences. • The children rated experiments and viewing TV and film as their strongest preference with 62% of the children rating both with 4 or 5 ticks. •Children clearly value spaces other than the classroom for their learning rating online spaces and outdoors at 69% and 68 % respectively. • 65% of the children expressed a preference for solving real problems and 60% suggested that they liked working in-role as scientists. • Working in pairs also scored highly with 59% of the children expressing their preference for working in this way and 56% saying they like whole group work.


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Full Evaluation

We asked the children to rate, using ticks (1 lowest and 5 highest), their preferred way of learning about science. We did not find any significant gender differences in these stated preferences. The lowest rated ways of learning were using a white board, which 35% of children rated as lower than 1 or 2 ticks, working from worksheet at 31% and reading from a book at 30%. However, as can be inferred, this does not signal an active dislike of these approaches, indeed for over 40% of the children in each case these approaches were rated at 4 or 5 ticks. This provides a useful indication that the children who participated in the project prefer and enjoy active, collaborative learning which engages them in ‘hands on work’ to solve real problems. They also like variety and most have broadly positive attitudes to a wide range of different approaches to learning.In both questionnaires we asked the children if they had a favourite scientist and, if so, to name him/her. We thought this might be an interesting indicator of existing ideas and concepts about science, as well as revealing any role models the children may have. In the first questionnaire 68 children offered us names of favourite scientists. The top three were Einstein (15), Theophrastus (4), Tim Peake (4) Edison (3) Isaac Newton (2) and Joseph Banks (2). Many other names were stated including Brain Cox, Louis Pasteur and Neil Armstong. Two female names are mentioned Jeannie Fulbrite and Carol Kendrick. In the second questionnaire 48 children offered us names of favourite scientists (smaller numbers completed the second questionnaire). Here Einstein remained popular (9) but Newton increased in popularity (13) as did Brian Cox (2). New names emerged including Marie Curie, Chris Hadfield, Galileo Galilei, Yuri Gugarin, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and unsurprisingly, Tim Peake (6). Some children also mentioned female teachers or parents or even themselves as scientists and some used this as an opportunity to express their enjoyment of the character of Mini Jon.


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Full Evaluation

Section 3: Responses to Learning Science Through Participation in The Astro Science Challenge In the second questionnaire we asked the children to tell us what they had most enjoyed about The Astro Science Challenge. 62 of 63 children were keen to share with us some detail about what they most enjoyed. Most of the children expressed enthusiasm for the subject, as indicated here: “Space... I like space...” This may not seem particularly surprising, but given that we know that UK children’s attitudes to Science, and Physics in particular, often decline towards the end of the primary phase (Kerr and Murphy, 2012) it is helpful to clarify that it is unlikely to be the topics within the science curriculum that they are losing interest in. Indeed it was clear from the open text answers that the subject of space was a key factor in terms of engaging the children, with many of them saying they liked finding out new facts they did not know before. Topics which seemed to especially excite them were weather and food: “Learning about space weather and also learning about what astronauts eat on the ISS” 15 children stated that they liked everything. We interpret this as a positive response to the breadth of activities, especially alongside responses in Q7 where children were asked what they least enjoyed and 26 did not wish to choose a low preference and commented that they enjoyed ‘everything’. The most popular activity was coding, with 12 children highlighting this as a favourite: “That it was online and we could get the laptops out and the astro coding” 10 children also highlighted that they strongly liked making and launching rockets: “I really liked the chance to make and launch a rocket and getting to code!” In terms of the way the learning was presented, a number of clear responses emerged. The children expressed great enthusiasm for both the idea of ‘doing challenges’ and earning badges with 10 children saying this was their favourite aspect of the activities. “That we get to do missions and to earn them. And i like all the badges alot.”


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Many children explicitly mentioned Tim Peake and Mini Jon and clearly identified with these people/characters to the extent that they felt they were helping them: “I liked learning about Tim Peake and his mission on the ISS, it was like we were actually helping him prepare!” The link between the project and the mission and the children’s learning clearly enabled some children to suspend their disbelief and imagine a special relationship with Tim Peake as well as Mini Jon and Alice Kuiper, which made the experience both authentic and personally resonant. It may be particularly important in future work to ensure the role of women in the mission is extended to ensure that female role models offer girls equally rich opportunities for identification. The children independently referred to their learning preferences and they mentioned their enjoyment of practical or ‘hands-on tasks’ as something they most enjoyed about The Astro Science Challenge as well as being able to do research or ‘find evidence’. Variety is clearly also key: “I enjoyed the astro science challange because its not just normal lessions (sic) its a bit of everything.” In terms of medium, again the comments verified the earlier responses about learning preferences, focusing on the online platform or use of video in “The Space Shed” as key to enjoyment. Others also referred to the way they could work with friends and be sociable and collaborate. The importance of discussion and collaboration is highlighted by Abrahams and Reiss (2012) who suggest that children need to be able to talk about what they are doing, especially in practical work in order to ensure they link their ideas to their observations and fully engage with science concepts. Several children mentioned how much they liked ‘How we have our own page’ which could be accessed at home as well as at school. This is interesting in the light of what we know about the role of significant adults in children’s lives, who share their interest and knowledge of science. In providing both a personalised and home and school forum, the project became a site for acquiring what Mujtaba and Reiss (2014) describe as science capital. Indeed later in the questionnaire we find further evidence of the children working at home as well as at school and with parents and other family members who share and encourage their interest.


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When we asked the children what they least liked a very small number mentioned difficulty in relation to writing and coding. Interestingly, lack of challenge has been connected to children’s declining interest in science (Jarvis and Pell, 2004). However, we do, as educators, have to be mindful that for some children, with specific learning difficulties, repetition (in terms of content and skill development) are important factors in progression. Ensuring an appropriate level of difficulty therefore in an online resource is a challenge which can perhaps be met through further opportunities for choice and differentiation. As we see elsewhere in the questionnaire, the children were particularly affected by the ethos inscribed into the project about tenacity and determination in the face of difficulty. One child who found some of the work difficult wrote: “Some of the challenges were a bit hard but I could do it eventually.” Significantly, the substantive response involved the children inverting the question, that is to say, 26 children commented that they disliked ‘Nothing! I loved all of it’ (or something similar). Other children found inventive ways to answer the questions stating the thing they liked least was ‘When mini Jon left’ or ‘the end ☹.’


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What Did You Learn? The stated purpose of the most recent primary curriculum for science in England is to develop in children: “A sense of excitement and curiosity about natural phenomena” DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION, 2013

Given that attitudes to science are crucial to students continuing to study science, attainment in science and progression into science careers, it is significant that The Astro Science Challenge was able to elicit responses such this: “I learnt science can be fascinating

and really fun.”


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Full Evaluation In the second questionnaire we asked the children what they felt they had learned during The Astro Science Challenge. They could tick as many options as they wished

49

I learnt science can be fun

41

I learnt to use new technology

57

I learnt new facts about space

I learnt how to do science experiments

40 46

I learnt about jobs you can do if you study science I learnt that girls can do science just as much as boys

49 47

I learnt to work hard by myself

I learnt to work well with others

I learnt to ask good questions

32 42

I learnt that science can be part of other subjects like English, Maths and Art

51


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Full Evaluation Interestingly, the highest ranked of these responses was the learning of new facts about science. Second ranked was the idea that science is cross-curricular and third ranked was the idea that science can be fun. The children also ranked learning to work by themselves highly (fourth) by comparison to working well with others which was the lowest ranked. In relation to gender, there were no discernable differences in the responses except for the question about girls being able to do science just as much as boys, which was ranked as one of the lowest (16) ideas by the boys but was ranked higher by the girls (22). We then gave children the opportunity to add their own ideas about what they had learnt and these results are worth some further scrutiny. 7 of the 32 children who added their own idea stated new areas of knowledge they had been developing such as: “I learnt about the ISS and Nebulas, also about the Galaxy and Universe. I also learnt a lot about Tim Peake and his life.” “Learnt ISS same size football pitch” “I learnt how computer work, how to living in space , how much you have to eat, who is Tim Peake what is the ISS end the space weather.” Both the degree of specificity and detail included in each of these answers suggests deep and memorable learning. 4 of the children shared the new skills they had learnt, focusing specifically on coding and rocket building: “I’ve learnt how to build and launch a rocket.” We also noticed 7 of the children referring to an attitude towards learning both generically and perhaps in response to their observations of Mini Jon and Tim Peake trying and failing and trying again: “I learnt never to give up and be tenacious.” “I learnt that you can get there if you try hard enough, like Mini Jon did.” This was noticeable especially in relation to coding, something the project partners had anticipated would be perceived to be difficult: “I learnt that coding is not hard and is very fun.” In the second questionnaire we asked the children if, after their participation in the project, they had any questions related to science. 24 boys answered and 24 girls. This indicates a high degree of curiosity prompted by their involvement in the project. Their questions can be categorized into a range of categories.


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Full Evaluation Some questions provide evidence of the children’s curiousity about the practical processes involved in space exploration, including how rockets are launched and space stations built. Similarly questions relate to the bodily functions but go beyond the usual toilet question: “What happens if you sneeze in the ISS?” Other questions reflect a broader perspective or more philosophical questions about other life forms in space, and the size and nature of space: “Does the universe keep getting bigger?” Some are perhaps expressing caution or even disbelief: “The earth looks like a ball that you can just stand on top of! But how does a rocket go through the earth sky when the planet looks like a solid sphere?” Others are reflecting on issues, relating to time and longevity: “When will the sun explode?” Some children showed an interest in potential science and space related careers: “Are there any other jobs other than Astronomers or Astronauts?” In the second questionnaire the children’s questions that were directed to Tim Peake were more focused on his personal and emotional responses to space exploration typified by the question below: “How was it in the space station?” “What is it like being up in space?” Many of the children demonstrate both a degree of empathy linked to their knowledge of the mission: “Is it different than you expected, floating around in orbit?” Many anticipated excitement or enjoyment as a dominant emotion: “Is it fun being an astronaut?” Other children are perhaps expressing some of their own anxieties when contemplating the idea of space travel: “What’s it like in space? Do you ever miss your friends and family?” Interestingly, some refer to their wider engagement with the project and or news coverage of the mission: “Did you enjoy Heston’s food?” Some are more contemplative asking Peake if he would go into space again or if as a child he had really believed that he would get to ‘blast off into space’


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Section 4: Participation in Science Learning Prompted by The Astro Science Challenge In the second questionnaire we asked the children about any experiments they did at home as a result of their participation in the project. In the figures below we have filtered out the home-educated children who will obviously have completed the tasks at home. That 63% of our sample undertook practical experiments at home is a clear indication of deep engagement with the project. Have you tried any of the Astro Science Challenge activities or experiments at home? Yes (63%) No (37%)

Although some of these home based activities were set by teachers: “My teacher sent part of the badge missions home for us to complete. I did a model on the moon phases and maths about the ISS. I also wrote a mini document on Tim and his mission Principia.” Even in this example it is clear that the pupil has gone on to undertake a piece of work to express their own interest in the mission. Further activity may well have been supported by parents, demonstrating a likely family reach to the activity: “I took an astronomers trip.” “We even did our own version of space exercises.” Earning badges was also important to the children and prompted further engagement with tasks that they had already directly participated in as part of the project: “I made the moon phases out of mince pies for part of my living in space badge.”


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However, many examples provide evidence of a deep and extensive engagement with the project that replicated the Space Shed approach by using video to record experimental attempts: “I did Gravity Experiments, I made movies about my work. I made and tested/flew my own rocket.” In questionnaire two we asked the children if they had been prompted to do any reading on the basis of their participation in The Astro Science Challenge. 66% of the participants were prompted to undertake further reading, which is a strong indication of the children’s curiosity about science being prompted by the project, as well as a desire to increase their knowledge. This reading was clearly motivated by a desire to find out more about a topic that had been introduced during the project: “I read stargasing books because stars and nebulas are fascinating.” The majority of children indicated reading non-fiction books. In their responses the children shared the topics they looked up to find more about in this reading which included: ‘How earth cycle works,’ ‘the moon,’ ‘planets,’ ‘Stars,’ ‘Galaxy,’ ‘light years,’ ‘The solar system,’ ‘The launch of the Apollo 13,’ ‘Auroras,’ ‘Milky Way,’ ‘Communication,’ ‘Rockets’ and ‘ISS’. We interpret these detailed answers as a strong indication that the responses are reliable and dependable. Many children named specific texts and reasons for their reading, so were clearly not simply responding in a way they thought the researchers would value. Interestingly, the reading emphasises that the inclusion of information or coverage of the subject does not have to be contained within the resource to prompt learning about it. In this case a small amount of information was enough to prompt enquiry: “I was reading about the Milky Way because we didn’t really learn about it and I was curious.” The children’s responses also reflect the variety of resources they have access to, with Wikipedia, the NASA website, Google, Bitesize (BBC) all being mentioned. Many refer to more than one source of information, suggesting they looked at: “Lots of books about space and articles online.” Some also mentioned news: “I read the news. It had Tim Peake on it. He is a scientist AND an Astronaut.” A small number of children also mentioned fiction, although of these, only one focused on science fiction: “I like to read sci-fi stories after writing my own because i find them very intresting! They... Just take me into another world!!! XD”


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Full Evaluation Others acknowledge that they already have a strong reading habit and link this to their Astro Science Challenge work: “I just like reading, Especially Horrible Science.” A number of others express a desire to use non-fiction texts and websites to help them to make things which connect directly to the work of the project: “I read how to make a rocket because I want to make a big rocket and launch a rocket to the ISS.” The response above is quite future focused, and there were other similar ideas especially focused on communicating in space in the future: “I’ve read on communications (radio / radar / internet) in space. I read this because when I’m old I’ll have to know how to communicate and how to fix problem.” The response below reflects reading for the purpose of extending the rocket making activity: “I read about trying to make a rocket not the milk jug one the year 10 work but I failed.” There is evidence in this data of the children being consciously aware that they are building on their knowledge and understanding an important stage in developing as an independent and motivated learner: “I have used my rocket building app to build and launch another rocket which worked better than before- I used what I had learnt in the Astro challenge.” It is interesting to note the range of topics and that few children had exactly the same answer here, this degree of specificity indicates personalised interest. As the quote below indicates, for some children their participation in the project has prompted a passionate longer-term engagement: “I am reading a DK Space Book at the moment and I am looking out for the ISS every night & learning about the Star formations ,why?... as I need to learn more now, this has just got me started and I am keen to get going with something else.” 45 of the children also opted to share with us exactly what they had read in response to The Astro Science Challenge activities and why. Interestingly, some children explicitly described their reading as a way of pursuing more in depth knowledge and there’s a strong indication that the project has motivated them by arousing curiosity: “I read stuff online because I wanted to go deeper” “I read about the international space station because I want to know as much as I posibilly can. I didn’t even know the ISS was even there.”


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Section 5: Future Focused In both questionnaires we asked the children if they would like to continue to study science when they got older.

Percentage of children said they would like to study science when they were older:

BOYS BEFORE

BOYS AFTER

GIRLS BEFORE

GIRLS AFTER

Yes - 71% Maybe - 29% No - 0%

Yes - 77% Maybe - 21% No - 2%

Yes - 77% Maybe - 21% No - 2%

Yes - 77% Maybe - 23% No - 0%

What is important here is the modest reduction in the number of girls saying they would not like to study science in the future, especially on the basis that many children appear to make early decisions about whether study of science is of interest to them or not. It is encouraging that there is evidence that a positive experience of science learning can potentially enhance attitudes and engage children’s interest in further study.


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Our data also suggests some interesting shifts in children’s perceptions of themselves as a future scientist:

Percentage of children said they would like to be scientists when they are older. BEFORE

Yes - 20% Maybe -56% No -23%

AFTER

Yes - 28% Maybe -65% No -6%

This can be further broken down by gender as follows: GIRLS BEFORE

GIRLS AFTER

BOYS BEFORE

BOYS AFTER

Yes - 21% Maybe - 51% No - 28%

Yes - 17% Maybe - 65% No - 17%

Yes - 27% Maybe - 70% No - 3%

Yes - 30% Maybe - 61% No - 9%


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With all due precautions in relation to sample size, it is still interesting to note the changes indicated here. Overall a higher percentage of children answered that they would like to be or would maybe like to be scientists after the project and a smaller number answered no. For boys the biggest shift appeared in the number who said they would like to be scientists from 17% to 30%.

17%

30%

For girls the biggest shift appeared in the number who said they might like to be scientists from 51% to 70%.

51%

70%

Arguably, most significantly, the way the girls have shifted from ‘no’ to ‘maybe’ provides an exciting indication that, as a result of their participation in the project, girls may well be more able to see themselves in a future using science in their careers. This is borne out by data from another open-ended question asking the children about their own space related questions. One example of this question, demonstrating an awareness of gender imbalance, was: “Will more women get into space?” In the follow up to this question we asked the children how they might investigate the topic they identified. Five children used this as an opportunity to imagine themselves as potential future astronauts or astronomers. Interestingly, all five were girls. “I could become an astronaut when I am older and study more about space.”


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Concluding Reflections & Implications Our evaluation provides strong evidence that the children felt considerable enthusiasm for The Astro Science Challenge, describing it as their favourite way to learn science. On further scrutiny we were able to attribute this to the range of pedagogical approaches adopted within the resources and activities. Not only did the children express strong preferences for this variety in the way they are taught science, they also articulated their particular enthusiasm for practical, experimental, collaborative and creative approaches that were such a strong feature of The Astro Science Challenge programme. The children also valued the high quality online digital resources and video materials which enabled them to fully suspend their disbelief and take on a role as a Cadet with a set of real problems to solve. The dramatic fiction, personified by the character Mini Jon particularly captivated the children and helped them navigate the narrative, which in turn drove their participation in the Missions, leading to their fully committed engagement in scientific enquiry. The attainment of badges provided a structure and potential completion as well as a competitive appeal which clearly motivated some children to participate more fully. The project followed National Curriculum specifications for science and other curriculum areas but equally did not allow these specifications to limit learning. The children were encouraged to explore their own knowledge, understanding and interests stemming from the topic of space. The real-time engagement with a space mission and astronaut Tim Peake greatly enhanced the children’s experience, providing rich opportunities for authentic, situated learning which connected to ideas and events occurring in the wider world. The opportunities for children to engage directly with Tim Peake and his mission to the International Space Station were made more meaningful by the carefully planned links between tasks set and the actual preparation of the mission, clearly informed by the Unlimited team’s 3 day astronaut training.


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Participation in the project enhanced children’s attitudes to science so that they were more likely to express a potential interest in science careers or further study of science after completing The Astro Science Challenge. In particular, both girls and boys moved from certain ‘no’ in response to a potential career in sciences to a ‘maybe’. The way the project depicted the many and varied roles of scientists contributed to the children’s increased understanding of the possibilities of sciences as a focus of further study and career choice and heightened their ability to imagine themselves in these roles. Highly compelling evidence showed that as a result of participating in The Astro Science Challenge many of the children were prompted to undertake further activity including reading, research, experiments and educational visits. This can be attributed to the way in which each Mission was devised so that it provided a concrete starting point for experiment, using easily found materials and encouraging resilience in the face of failure. These key findings of the evaluation of The Astro Science Challenge have implications for future practice: For children: Children benefit from rich and varied approaches to teaching and learning which provide possibilities for creative, collaborative, openended and practical engagement. This is just as much the case for science learning as any other curriculum subject. The combination of a digital learning resource with a fictional space mission and links to authentic real world events provides ample opportunities for active learning and therefore an excellent model for the future development of online learning resources. For future research: This evaluation highlights the possibility of future collaboration between creative organisations and higher education, in terms of exploring the affordances of digital tools in the development of high quality learning resources for teaching children science in a way which promotes enthusiasm and enjoyment of the subject and curiosity and capacity to undertake further independent learning.


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Future Developments The Unlimited Space Agency have now secured funding from the UK Space Agency to create a new futureproof, legacy version of The Astro Science Challenge that will be relaunched in January 2017 as an invaluable learning resource for teachers, pupils and home-learners for many years to come. The new version version will bring the narrative up to date, reflecting that Tim’s mission has been completed and that following his success, UNSA are now running The Astro Science Challenge to help develop the next generation of space explorers to explicitly follow in Tim’s footsteps. The story will still centre on characters from the Unlimited Space Agency, celebrating and reflecting on Tim’s mission, while looking forward to the future of British space travel with the young people who may actually be the ones to take up where Tim has left off. The biggest new aspect of the legacy version will be the development of a bespoke app through which the project will be delivered. In addition, alongside the app – which schools can use in classroom on tablet devices that a majority of schools now have – we will also create a simple website for teachers who wish to run the project in a more analogue manner. The website will simply host the videos and lesson plans for teachers to share and run with their classes. This website will ensure that schools without tablet devices or teachers who are less comfortable using online platforms in the classroom are not denied access to ongoing participation. We are delighted to be able to develop this legacy version of The Astro Science Challenge and excited by its potential to help UNSA fulfill its mission to inspire children in science and help train the next generation of scientists and space explorers.

Appendix Primary Science Literature Review by Dr Indira Banner, Lecturer in Science Education at University of Leeds


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UNSA Evaluation - The Astro Science Challenge