Within our public education system, the scientists and explorers of the future have numerous obstacles to overcome. An increasing emphasis on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) subjects is a push in the right direction, but today’s easily distracted students need to see more real-world connections in order to feel engaged.
According to Harriet Sanford, National Education Association (NEA) Foundation president, making real-life connections in the classroom is critical to student success. “Far too often, students fail to see connections between what they are learning, their communities, and a future job that can sustain them,” Sanford wrote in 2012. STEAM-based education, therefore, must bridge the gap between traditional sit-down lectures, which often fail to engage students, and hands-on learning opportunities.
Making real-world connections is especially imperative where space- and astronomy-related lessons are concerned. Visualization is a key aspect of an astronomy-based education, and educators must be able to effectively deliver abstract and complex concepts to students in a tangible way. Students may positively respond to visual learning environments, such as planetariums and museums, or by personally testing out modern equipment, research methods, and software.
Between the 9th and 15th centuries, astronomical information was spread via word of mouth and from the study and translation of astronomy writings and texts. UNESCO reports that the Silk Road was a major source of information sharing, especially on the subjects of philosophy, mathematics, geography, cartography, and astronomy. The works of Greek and Indian scholars were translated into Arabic by Muslim scholars thanks to the trade possibilities of the Silk Road, and Baghdad became a sort of scientific hub beginning in the 8th century.
The shared knowledge garnered and exchanged along the Silk Road led to the development of new, innovative scientific instruments and a better understanding of the universe and celestial bodies. But the idea of space exploration was firmly rooted on the Earth during that time period. It wasn’t until the close of the Industrial Revolution that the concept of space travel became theoretically possible, thanks to the work of early electrical pioneers.
Without electricity, rockets wouldn’t be able to reach space or change velocity. Nuclear power is responsible for the world’s most ambitious space missions, and the majority of satellites are powered by solar energy. Today’s young scientists can experiment with electrical concepts at home and in the classroom. Learning about magnetic attraction, for example, can help students develop an understanding of the magnetic pull of planets in regards to satellite orbit.
Connecting young scientists and astronauts to the excitement of space travel is easier than ever in the modern digital era. Even NASA itself uses virtual and augmented reality during the training process, and interested explorers can walk in the shoes of spacewalk trainees. VR headsets allow users to virtually experience the underwater facility used by trainees to simulate weightlessness.
But science education goes a step further in the realm of augmented reality, which essentially enhances the natural environment rather than replacing it. As AR impacts a number of industries and has a multitude of uses, it’s easy for educators to find real-world connections to the technology. For instance, AR allows consumers to virtually test the look of a product prior to purchase. Within the field of space exploration, AR apps can even project virtual, 3-dimensional models of robotic space explorers onto any flat surface. In this way, AR can make space exploration feel closer to home.
Along with helping introduce students to exciting chemical, biological, and technological processes, a science-based education has numerous benefits. Utilizing the scientific method, students can learn critical thinking skills and how to solve real-world problems through logical and empirical means, reports Concordia University. However, the continued growth of jobs in engineering and tech fields requires a greater level of connectivity between science and other subjects, especially the other STEAM acronyms.
From space exploration to computer science, STEAM employment is on the rise, and the trend is expected to continue. National Science Foundation (NSF) data indicates that between 2010 and 2020, employment in science and engineering fields is anticipated to grow at a rate of 18.7%. The highest job growth will likely be seen among computer and mathematical scientists.
To keep up with employment trends, various scientific concepts should be firmly instilled by the time students reach high school. And students who are drawn to the sciences should be encouraged to pursue a science-based degree at the college or university level. Scientific concepts and technology are evolving at a faster rate than ever before, and educational facilities must do their best to match that pace.
Despite the modern technological advancements of recent years, science education often fails to connect classroom studies with the real world. But finding real-world connections to various scientific fields is relatively easy, especially in our technologically advanced world. Even astronomy and space exploration can be brought to Earth, in the form of augmented reality, museums, and innovative software.