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What is Skynet Junior Scholars?

With support from the National Science Foundation, The University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the University of North Carolina, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and 4-H are collaborating to provide professional development to 180 4-H leaders and other informal science educators, and engage 1,400 middle school youth in using research-grade robotic telescopes and data analysis tools to explore the Universe. Youth participating in 4-H-based and other out-of-school programs in Wisconsin, West Virginia and North Carolina will learn about the universe and prepare for STEM careers by conducting authentic astronomy research, completing astronomy-related hands-on modeling activities, interacting with astronomers and other professionals who are part of the Skynet Robotic Telescope Network, and interacting with other youth who are part of the Skynet Junior Scholars virtual community.

The project is innovative because it is providing a diverse community of youth (including sight- and hearing-challenged youth and those from underrepresented groups) with opportunities to use high-quality, remotely located, Internet-controlled telescopes to explore the heavens by surveying galaxies, tracking asteroids, monitoring variable stars, and learn about the nature and methods of science. The Skynet Junior Scholars project will provide:

  1. online access to optical and radio telescopes, data analysis tools, and professional astronomers,
  2. an age-appropriate web-based interface for controlling remote telescopes,
  3. inquiry-based standards-aligned instructional modules,
  4. face-to-face and online professional development for 4-H leaders and informal science educators,
  5. programming for youth in out-of-school clubs and clubs,
  6. evaluation findings on the impacts of program activities on participants, and
  7. research findings on how web-based interactions between youth and scientists can promote student interest in and preparedness for STEM careers.

The evaluation plan will measure the effectiveness of program activities in (1) increasing youths' knowledge, skills, interest, self-efficacy, and identity in science, including youth who are sight- and hearing-impaired, (2) increasing educators' competency in implementing inquiry-based instruction and their ability to interact with scientists, and (3) increasing the number of Skynet scientists who are involved in education and public outreach.