Big Explosions and Strong Gravity
Big Explosions and Strong Gravity is a curriculum for a day-long event for middle-school aged children in out-of-school-time. During the event, students spend a day doing a series of hands-on activities on spectroscopy, cosmic abundances, supernovae, and black holes.
- Increase and Sustain Youth and Public Engagement in STEM
1. How effective is BESG in raising awareness of STEM topics and careers?
2. How do participants’ perceive the quality of the BESG event?
3. What impact does the BESG event have on student interest in science?
4. In what ways can the BESG event be improved to meet the needs of the
The BESG evaluation through Magnolia included two phases. For the first phase, Magnolia evaluated the local BESG event during the summer of 2008 using anonymous surveys of both students and adults (troop leaders and chaperones who attended the BESG event with the students). Both surveys contained a combination of rating-type items and open‐ended questions to measure perceptions of the quality of the event, the impact of the event on girls’ interest in science, the appropriateness of the activities, key learning points from the activities, and both positive and negative aspects of the event. Magnolia provided the BESG team with an evaluation report summarizing the results of this initial evaluation so that the BESG team could use it to inform the changes to be made as the program was refocused for expansion to other Girl Scout councils.
The second phase of Magnolia’s evaluation took place in 2009, and dealt with the restructuring and expansion of the program. Magnolia administered surveys to the attendees of both in-person and distance trainings (through GSFC’s Distance Learning Network), and conducted telephone interviews with partners at a pilot location, all with the goal of assessing the perception of the program, the quality of the resources, the quality of the training, and what improvements could be made to all of those to better meet the needs of the audience. In addition, evaluation instruments similar to those from the first phase were retained to evaluate whether the program was still positively impacting the girls who were the actual target audience.
During the first phase of evaluation, 100% of students believe they gained a better understanding of what NASA scientists do in their work, more than 90% believe they understood the science concepts being presented and how science is used in real life. The responses to the open-ended questions about what they had learned included specific examples of increased knowledge such as “supernovas first compress then explode” and “the iron in our blood comes from stars that have exploded,” and that “all things are made from stars.” Of the adults, 94% felt that the activities helped students to understand the science concepts central to each activity, and 75% felt that the activities helped students understand the applications for science to real life. One adult commented that, “for those who are interested in science it added to their depth of understanding.” Some specifically commented on the increased understanding related to astronomy, black holes, and stars. Additionally, all of the adults agreed that they had also learned new things because of participating with their students.
Of participating girls, 93% stated that they enjoyed learning about the science presented in the activities. The majority (82%) also indicated that they had fun solving science problems while doing the activities. These findings indicate a high level of engagement in the Big Explosions and Strong Gravity (BESG) activities, which in turn is intended to foster greater understanding of the topics presented in the activities. Of the girls, 87% felt that the activities made learning the content interesting, while more than 75% indicated that the activities increased their interest in learning about space science. Students commented, “I thought it was very interesting, and I learned a lot” and “it was interesting and fun!” Of the adults, 87.5% felt the activities were effective in generating student interest in space science.
During the second phase, 100% of students believed that they had understood the science concepts being presented, and 90% felt that they had learned something new. In addition, 96% said that the event had increased their understanding of the work of scientists, while 90% said that the activities helped them understand how scientist study the universe. Of the adults, 100% felt that the activities helped students to understand how scientists study the universe, and 92% felt that they helped students to understand the science concepts central to each activity.
Of participating girls, 96% stated that they enjoyed learning about the science presented in the activities. The majority (96%) also indicated that they had fun solving science problems while doing the activities. These findings indicate a high level of engagement in the BESG activities, which in turn is intended to foster greater understanding of the topics and interest in the content presented. Of the girls, 94% felt that the activities made learning the content interesting. Girls commented, “I loved it; I’ll come back!” and others commented that it was “lots of fun.” Of the adults, 92% felt the activities were effective in generating student interest in space science.