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National Science Foundation Awards 2.5M Grant to Research Early Childhood Pathways to Astronomy

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) will spearhead a new $2.5M NSF funded research project entitled “My Sky Tonight” designed to foster a love of astronomy in preschoolers. Over four and one-half years, the project aims to reveal the hurdles to early childhood science learning, and develop ways to promote pre-school age science learning through astronomy. The ASP will serve as Principal Investigator, and partner with three early learning researchers, each working with a science center or museum:

  • Dr. Jennifer Jipson, Associate Professor of Child Development at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum
  • Dr. Julia Plummer, Penn State University – Discovery Space
  • Dr. Maureen Callanan, UC Santa Cruz – Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

Science centers and museums are witnessing greater numbers of strollers coming through their doors. The overall goal of the project is to help these venues offer effective informal learning opportunities for families with young children that will reinforce and extend their interest in astronomy-related topics, and promote their developing identities as “kids who like science.” Although young children spontaneously show great interest in the sun, moon, planets and stars, many parents and informal science educators lack the astronomy content, interpretive strategies and confidence needed to effectively support preschool-age children’s developing astronomy-related understandings. This project will result in engaging new ways to support and encourage young children’s understanding of science.

In its role as Project Lead, the ASP will oversee research and evaluation activities that will inform the design and development process of the project deliverables: 1) An Early Astronomy Toolkit for informal science educators and practitioners, focusing on what children observe on an everyday basis, 2) Professional Development Workshops to train practitioners to effectively use toolkit activities and materials, and 3) A Community of Practice Website to support capacity-building in this area. Taken together, the deliverables will form a coherent approach to how early childhood astronomy can be characterized and delivered by informal science educators.