Helping underrepresented youth reach the final frontier

By: Gerry Rucchin
October 29, 2019

The Faculty of Education is blasting off with a $400,000 grant from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The grant for the CSA’s Junior Astronauts program is part of Canada’s effort to get to the moon through the NASA led Northern Gateway program.

In particular, the Junior Astronauts program is focusing on grade 6 to grade 9 students, specifically girls and Indigenous youth because they are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, said investigator and Education professor, Isha DeCoito.

“I’m hoping the Junior Astronauts program is one more opportunity for kids to be able to access role models and aspire to careers in STEM fields,” she said.

The curriculum will be available in every province and territory in Canada and teachers can choose from three streams of activities. There’s a science and technology stream, a physical fitness and nutrition for astronauts stream, as well as a teamwork and communication stream that educates students about working together in space.

Teachers can access the course materials by logging in to the CSA website. If materials are used, students can apply to win a spot at CSA’s space camp next summer to meet some of the experts and train like an astronaut.

“It’ll be exciting for them because they’ll be working with some of the astronauts,” said DeCoito.

The Canadian Space Agency will be collecting data about the program. The agency will collect data related to the number of times teachers use the activities, as well as how students engaged with the Junior Astronaut activities. DeCoito will analyze the data and provide recommendations when the 12-month grant period is over.

Western’s contribution is a joint effort between the Faculty of Education and the Institute for Planetary and Space Exploration. Interdisciplinary collaboration isn’t new for DeCoito. She has worked with the Faculty of Engineering to develop the Advanced Certificate in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning in Higher Education in STEM Disciplines. She has also collaborated with the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration on a number of initiatives, including Space Matters – a multiplatform initiative that will provide architecture for cross-sector learning for educators and youth. She is currently the lead on an Interdisciplinary Master of Professional Studies in Space Science.

Read more about the Junior Astronauts program.