Project Profile

Nano-satellites and East Bay Rocket Scientists (NEARS)


Careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are predicted to grow at a pace higher than that of non-STEM careers; however, fewer students are meeting the required benchmarks to enter the STEM workforce. The current demand for computer scientists far outweighs the current number of students pursuing computer science (CS) degrees, and those students include very few women and girls, racial and ethnic minorities, and individuals from low-income families. The investigators of this study hypothesize that enabling youth from groups who are underrepresented in STEM with the opportunity to program satellites to collect data for investigations of their own design, in a supportive and collaborative environment, is a powerful motivator of learning and interest in science and computer programming careers. The Nanosatellites and East Bay Rocket Scientists (NEARS) project will develop and study a model that includes 1) engaging youth in designing and conducting locally-relevant scientific investigations that use programmable sensors on earth and on nanosatellites in low-earth orbit; 2) supporting youth leadership skills and contributions to their communities' awareness about locally-relevant issues; and 3) providing youth and their families with opportunities to learn about STEM careers and engage with STEM professionals. Research activities will be carried out in three urban settings-- an alternative career academy school, an after-school program, and summer camps at Lawrence Hall of Science-- that serve high school-aged youth and young adults from underserved communities of the East San Francisco Bay area. A collaborative team of learning scientists at the Lawrence Hall of Science, STEM professionals from ArduSat, and facilitators from the local communities served will work together to design, develop, test, and refine the activities and instructional materials for effective use in different educational contexts. If promising, the activities, instructional materials, and facilitator guides developed through this project would be used in several ongoing programs at the Hall and could be adopted by others seeking to provide similar experiences for youth in their communities.

This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by exploring unique opportunities for youth in underserved communities to conduct scientific investigations that feature programming nanosatellites. The Nanosatellites and East Bay Rocket Scientists (NEARS) will develop, implement, and study a model to engage urban youth in grades 9-12 in science and computer programming. The project will develop a progression of inquiry-based student investigations that align with the Next Generation Science Standards and supportive pedagogies that, together, will facilitate youth in participating in STEM and improving their perceptions of and competencies in STEM. The team will iteratively develop, pilot, and refine the activities and materials in each of the three contexts. Ninety students will participate in the research activities over three years. Data sources for research include student work products, video-recorded observations, pre-post surveys, pre-post computational thinking assessments, and case study interviews. Outcome measures include participants' science investigation and discourse practices; STEM fascination, value, and competency beliefs; computer science competencies; career awareness; descriptions of self, particularly with regarding to STEM; and engagement in the project activities. The research seeks to understand how participation in NEARS affects student outcomes; how students, their experiences, and their outcomes vary across the different learning settings and enactments; and what is needed to support project sustainability in each setting. Major outcomes will include 1) educational resources and research that support the effective use of Arduino-controlled nanosatellites in education; 2) understandings of whether and how elements of this contextualized Arduino programming lead to interest in CS; 3) information that will support others in the development of sustainable programming for urban youth; and 4) rich case study descriptions of individuals' pathways to STEM. Research and development products will be shared widely with research, education, and industry communities and include local and national dissemination through social media, partner networks, conference presentations, and research publications.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2016 - 2021
University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Environmental Science - remote sensing technology
Additional Target Participants
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino