NASA Family Science Night
Parents and families have the greatest influence on children’s attitudes towards education and career choices. If students’ attitudes towards science, particularly the physical sciences, are not influenced positively by parental/familial attitudes, efforts to improve the quality of content and teaching of these subjects in school may be futile. Research shows that parental involvement increases student achievement outcomes, and family-oriented programs have a direct impact on student performance. Based on this premise, collaborators at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center developed a curriculum for Family Science Nights (FSN) for middle school students and their families. The program provides a non-threatening venue for families to explore the importance of science and technology in our daily lives by engaging in learning activities that change their perception and understanding of science making it more practical and approachable for participants of all ages. Family Science Night strives to change the way that students and their families participate in science, within the program and beyond.
The Family Science Night program is a set of nine 2-hour sessions intended for middle- school-aged children and their families. The program is a joint project of the Heliophysics Science Division and the Astrophysics Science Division at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). The goals of the Family Science Night Program are related to desired behavioral changes among the participants – to support learning as a family, and increase appreciation and understanding of science. This primary focus on discovery and engagement turns the responsibility of teaching and learning to the family unit. In FSN events, family members are asked to work together as a group with everyone fulfilling both the teacher and learner roles. A goal of relating science to the participants’ everyday life was also incorporated to ensure relevance of activities for participants, building a link between the science of the world around us to the work being done at NASA.
In 2007, the FSN team proposed for NASA grant funding (ROSES) to continue the development and pilot testing of the FSN program, including thorough evaluation and research into how families learn science together. The team sought to create more than a curriculum - they wanted to build and test a model for family programming that, once perfected, could be exported and expanded to include a broader range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics content. The successful ROSES proposal afforded the opportunity to build the program's model and sessions in a more structured fashion, developing entirely new activities as well as adapting additional existing NASA EPO content.
In the development of the FSN curriculum and structure, and the pilot testing on-site at Goddard, the FSN team worked closely with an external evaluator to establish project objectives, measurable outcomes, and metrics of success. Overarching project goals include:
- Raise awareness in middle school students and their families of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in their daily lives.
- Enable all members of a family to engage in active learning both within and beyond the Family Science Night program
- Promote connection between parents, children and learning that extends beyond the Family Science Night program
After the conclusion of four years of development and pilot testing, the FSN program had evolved from an idea to a robust, evaluated model for inclusive family science programming. The team turned their attention to dissemination, presenting the program to a variety of informal education stakeholders at institutions such as museums and 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Between 2010 and today, the program has grown to over 40 locations around the United States. The program offers implementers a variety of resources, including a thorough manual with background information, lists of materials, handouts, and a complete "script" for running each session's activities. The manual, which has passed the NASA Education Product Review, is supplemented with online resources and a community website for the discussion and continued development of the program by its implementers.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Within NASA, Family Science Night reflects a partnership between Goddard’s Astrophysics Science Division and Heliophysics Science Division. Personnel from these two Divisions contributed equally to the vision, content, development, pilot testing, and dissemination of the curriculum. The program also benefitted greatly from a strong partnership with the Insight Lab at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Imaging Science – Dr. Jacob Noel-Storr’s efforts in family science programming served as an inspiration for the project and he and his team served as the grant-funded pilot effort’s external evaluator.
Partnerships with several organizations have been key in the dissemination of the FSN curriculum including the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington, IN, Grand Coulee Dam School District in Washington State, Carnegie Science Center, Syracuse Museum of Science and Technology, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers in Athens, GA, and Brazoria County, TX. These partners participated in pilot testing of the curriculum, and contributed to the project’s research about family science learning. In addition, they spread the program to hundreds of families across the country, greatly extended the reach of the curriculum.
Effectiveness and Impact
Evaluation findings and impact statements:
The first objective of the Family Science Night program is to raise awareness in middle school students and their families of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in their daily lives. During development and pilot testing, evaluation sought to assess whether family members were able to articulate how the science, technology, engineering and mathematics they took part in during the Family Science Night relates to everyday aspects of their lives. Evaluation results showed that 100% of families observed during the pilot were able to describe at least one element related to their everyday life during the workshops.
The second objective of the FSN program is to enable all members of a family to engage in active learning both within and beyond the Family Science Night program. The evaluation team set three measurables to assess with regard to this objective – measuring whether (1) during the workshop family members in attendance were all participating in the activities, (2) as a result of the workshop, family members were able to articulate something that they learned, and (3) following the workshop, whether the families engaged in the follow up activities provided to extend their learning. Through the evaluation, the team found that (1) 80% of the family members were observed to be engaged in the activities more than 50% of the time during the workshops, (2) 90% of the participants were able to state something new that they learned at the conclusion of the workshop, and (3) 75% of Families reported in follow up interviews and surveys that they have completed follow up activities as a family.
The third, and final, objective of the FSN program is to promote a connection between parents, children and learning that extends beyond the Family Science Night program. The evaluation assessed whether family members worked together as a group on a particular activity or challenge, and whether families took opportunities to learn together beyond the workshops. Evaluation results showed that 90% of the families worked together as family groups for at least some part of each workshop, and 70% of the families reported that they engaged in a science activity following the workshop they attended, as a result of attending the workshop.
The final evaluation report prepared by the RIT Insight Lab is available for download at the bottom of this page (FSN_StageIII_Evaluation.pdf).
The Family Science Night evaluation assessed several impacts on families engaged in the pilot tests, specifically on their awareness, engagement, and behaviors.
The FSN program seeks to raise awareness in middle school students and their families of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in their daily lives. Evaluation results showed that 100% of families observed during the pilot were able to describe at least one element related to their everyday life during the workshops. Interestingly, many participants initially struggled to identify these elements until prompted further by facilitators – they did not immediately see many of their everyday activities as being associated with STEM, even though they inherently are. In addition, 90% of the participants were able to state something new that they learned at the conclusion of the workshop, showing a gain in awareness and knowledge associated with the events.
The Family Science Night team sought to improve engagement in science learning as a family, both during the events and beyond. Through observations, it was determined that 80% of the family members were engaged in the activities more than 50% of the time during events, and 90% of the families worked together as family groups for at least some part of each event.
Behavioral impacts were especially key to the FSN philosophy, both on how families learn and engage in activities at events, and how families continue to engage in science activities outside of events. 75% of Families reported in interviews and surveys that they completed follow up activities as a family – both ones provided at FSN events and engagement in other STEM-themed activities. Engagement in FSN-provided activities was clearly an impact of the event, but it is difficult to establish whether families would’ve engaged in outside activities regardless of their participation in FSN events.