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The Sky Belongs to Everyone

The Youth Astronomy Network (YouthAstroNet for short) is a national, online community of youth, educators, and scientists that aims to help youth gain confidence and identity as someone who can do science through personal participation in authentic inquiry, supported by unique access to the resources of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. Young people in every neighborhood, urban or rural, have questions about the universe. But many youth, particularly those in underserved communities, have few opportunities to engage their curiosity through rich, multidisciplinary, technology-enabled science learning experiences. YouthAstroNet helps middle school-aged students leverage their talents and creativity through astronomy programming as they build skills, and learn how these skills transfer to many exciting STEM disciplines. Our research has shown that science identity—the feeling of “being a science person”—is an important ingredient in motivating young people to persist in STEM learning. The Essential Elements of the YouthAstroNet experience—pursuing questions of personal interest with real telescopes; making sense of astronomical images through data analysis tools and hands-on activities; and youth-created capstone projects to communicate learning to peers, family and community—have been shown to produce gains in participants’ science identity and STEM career interest. The project is now researching conditions that support sustainable scale up of the program..

Pillar 1: Innovative Use of Technologies in Learning and Teaching

The project is scaling up a program & online learning platform for youth ages 11-14 that features customized access to robotic telescopes, support for learner-driven engagement with scientific and computational analysis tools and practices via image processing, and virtual interactions with digital STEM mentors

Pillar 2: Partnerships for Career and Workforce Preparation.

YouthAstroNet’s digital mentors participate in live interactions and provide exposure to role models. Our strategy capitalizes on the benefits of both real time and asynchronous engagement opportunities, limiting the time burden on STEM professionals. Students in YouthAstroNet are exposed to a plurality of role models through the STEM “Role Model Profiles,” in which diverse STEM professionals write about their experiences and pathway into science, as well as share anecdotes of moments of struggle in their work.

Pillar 3: Strategies for Equity in STEM Education

Three program principles leverage the cultural capital and everyday knowledge of students: 1)The sky belongs to everyone. The curiosity and creativity inspired by cosmic questions are universal experiences. 2)Listen to student ideas. Activities provide many opportunities to draw on students’ own ideas, questions, and cultural identities. 3)There are many ways to be a science person. YouthAstroNet expands student ideas about science careers and how they can participate in science and still be fully the person they are!
Two middle-school aged youth working at a computer screen with one of them pointing to an image of an astronomical object on the screen.
Physics and astronomy
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
Target Participant(s)
Youth / students
Girls (or women)
American Indian/Alaska Native participants
Black/African American participants
Hispanic/Latino participants
Students eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunch
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Scaling, Expanding, and Iterating Innovations (SEI)



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