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More exciting activities

For more exciting activities: Join the Teacher Community!

You can then participate in more communities of practice, online chats and many more inGenious events.

You will have access to the inGenious repository of practice that you can conduct in class.

Using Astronomy as an aid to teaching STEM

The idea for this CoP, simply called “Using Astronomy as an aid to teaching STEM”, came from many interactions with schools and their teachers and culminating in the inGenious astronomy chat that involved 35 schools from across Europe in December 2012. Astronomy is a great way to “package” ideas, and understanding the universe naturally requires teachers and students to ask questions that involve all the STEM subjects, and even some non-STEM subjects. This CoP will encourage teachers to look at new ways to present some old ideas, using the fast-changing face of astronomy to provide the context.

Astronomy is found to be naturally fascinating by many students. There is so much that we do not know or understand about our Universe that astronomy can act as the perfect laboratory in which questions can be asked and the scientific method can be applied. As a result, astronomy can be used to teach skills in team-building, collaboration, multi-discipline research, making presentations, etc., and so can be a powerful tool in a teacher’s armoury.


Thus, the aims of this CoP include, but may not be limited to:

• sharing resources, knowledge and ideas about how teachers might use astronomy in their classrooms and comparing experiences amongst those who have already tried;

• discussing the advantages/disadvantages of teaching subject material within the context of astronomy, and trying to understand if this makes for more efficient and/or effective teaching ;

• considering the important issue of students losing interest in STEM subjects as they grow older and examining whether astronomy can help to address a phenomenon that appears to occur Europe-wide;  

• debating how astronomy can be used to prepare students for a career in industry;

• using astronomy as a tool and sharing good practices to promote learning and motivation in students from underrepresented minorities, including socioeconomic, ethnic, special needs, etc.; 

• and any other topics that teachers might find interesting and relevant to their work!


The topics to be discussed in this CoP are: 

1. Key things we know about our Universe – and how we know them. And things we do not yet understand.

2. Technology in Astronomy and Space Exploration – from small telescopes to giant satellites

3. Extrasolar Planets and the search for life in the Universe – are we getting closer to answering the question about whether we are alone in the vast cosmos and how might we do so?

4. Exploring Mars – from robotic rovers looking for life there today, to potentially sending a European there in the next 30 year, Mars has a lot to offer the next generation in thinking about science, exploration, our origins and the future.


This Community will give you the possibility to:

• discuss possible ways of using astronomy in the classroom, no matter what subject you are teaching or what the age of the class group is;

• learn from each other’s experiences and exchange ideas about what worked well and what worked less well;

• share experiences of using web-based resources, and for those who have not used any to consider what resources the community most liked and why;

• ask each other for advice;

• have fun thinking and talking about using astronomy in the classroom! 


The Experts

Dr Niall Smith

Niall Smith (PhD 1990) was a lecturer in the Department of Applied Physics and Instrumentation at Cork Institute of Technology from 1988 until 2006 when he became Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology.

He co-founded the internationally award-winning science centre and astronomical observatory at Blackrock Castle, Cork, Ireland, with approximately 100,000 visitors per annum. He currently leads the Astronomy and Instrumentation Group there.  

Niall’s research interests lie in developing technologies that make hunting for exoplanets from the ground more effective. He is very interested in bringing live astronomical observing directly into the classroom, using telescopes in various locations across the globe.
Niall is also a keen supporter of Manchester United.

Kevin Nolan

Kevin Nolan is a lecturer in physics in the Institute of Technology Tallaght, Dublin. Kevin is nearing completion of his PhD involving development of a software image analysis system for the ESA Integral space probe, now operating successfully in space.

Kevin is currently volunteer coordinator for The Planetary Society in Ireland. In this role he has presented over 100 public talks, appeared on Radio and TV on more than 30 occasions and has contributed as writer and consultant to numerous science programmes for RTE, Ireland's national broadcasting agency.

In 2008 Kevin released his first popular science book titled “Mars, a Cosmic Stepping Stone” (Springer/Copernicus, NY, 2008) looking at the rationale behind, and relevance of, Mars exploration past, present and future. Other writings include numerous scientific publications, co-development of articles for the Irish Times newspaper, one article for the Irish Times and approximately 30 articles for Astronomy & Space magazine.