The impact of human spaceflight on young people’s attitudes to STEM subjects

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The work forms part of a study conducted in the UK at the time of the Principia Mission, in which the British astronaut, Tim Peake, went to the International Space Station.
This paper describes the development and use of an on-line instrument to measure young people’s attitudes to STEM subjects and to human spaceflight.
555 primary students and 796 secondary students completed all three surveys. Students were aged 9 and 12 at the first data collection point.
Design and methods
The study as a whole was a three-year, mixed-methods study combining a large-scale survey of attitudes to STEM subjects and to human spaceflight with interviews with participating students and staff. This paper reports the survey data. Data were gathered at three points: prior to the Principia Mission, shortly after, and approximately one year later.
Students were positive about the value of STEM subjects, and about space science. Paired t-tests showed few significant differences in the pre- and post-surveys. There was a downward trend from primary to secondary age groups in relation to considering careers in STEM subjects and in space science. Primary students retained more interest in STEM subjects and showed increased interest in aspects of space science than secondary students. Boys were more positive about space than girls, and more likely to see themselves working in STEM areas or space science.
The study suggests that spaceflight as a context stimulates immediate situational interest in students, but not longer-term interest. Thus, there does not appear to be a case for substantially increasing coverage of space science in the school curriculum. However, the findings point to the desirability of including more information about careers, including careers in space science, in STEM lessons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-438
Number of pages22
JournalResearch in Science and Technological Education
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

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