Young people are generally interested in science across demographics, but for many — particularly girls and students of color — that interest doesn’t lead to subsequent engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The Youth Astronomy Network (YouthAstroNet) is a program of the Science Education Department of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian designed to help middle school-aged students identify as people capable of doing real science. Young people participating in YouthAstroNet use the CfA’s MicroObservatory telescopes to obtain real astronomical data, and connect with scientists and educators through a dedicated online community.
YouthAstroNet Participate demonstrating project during a capstone event.
A Community for Young Scientists
Science doesn’t take place in isolation: scientists pursue their research questions in teams and by interacting with other practitioners.
Within the YouthAstroNet online community, participants complete telescope observing challenges to increase their skills, post and discuss their images with each other, and ask questions directly of astronomy experts and scientists at the CfA, who act as digital mentors for the program. YouthAstroNet members learn to use professional astronomical image processing software that the CfA Science Education team has adapted to be accessible to novice learners. Through this software they can bring out details of astronomical objects, investigate color phenomena, or use the analysis tools to pursue projects of their own interest. Science Education Department researchers have found that, controlling for incoming interest and knowledge, young people who report more frequent interaction with the core features of YouthAstroNet demonstrate gains in STEM interest and identity.
Educators from afterschool programs, museums, libraries, as well as traditional classrooms can sign up to enroll themselves and their students in the YouthAstroNet community. No prior astronomy knowledge is required, because training is provided via webinars, video tutorials, a self-paced checklist of training activities, and ongoing support from the CfA YouthAstroNet team.