Telescopes In Schools
In 2012, the enrolment rate for physics in Year 11 and 12 doubled for the only participating all-girls school, with the program cited as the main contributing factor
Telescopes in Schools (TiS) is an outreach program offered by the University of Melbourne in partnership with Quantum Victoria, Museum Victoria, the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics and CSIRO, targeting LSES schools in Melbourne metropolitan and Victorian regional areas. To date, research-grade telescopes have been installed at ten schools that now hold regular astronomy and observing sessions attended by students, teachers and university academic staff. Parents have also been involved, learning and collaborating alongside their children. Students observe the night sky, learn about astrophysics and perform astrophotography. After demonstrating their competency in preparing and driving the telescope, students earn their ‘telescope license’. Schools can tailor the program to their particular needs and student cohort while taking advantage of full and ongoing support from the university.
Activities include night-time and day-time observing, talks from astrophysicists, practical exercises and capturing images through the telescopes. These have allowed students and families from diverse cultural backgrounds to meet in a collaborative environment, and special events such as the transit of Venus and partial solar eclipses have seen whole-school participation. Community groups and other local schools have also participated in TiS events.
- To bring together students, parents and teachers from LSES schools with academic staff in a collaborative environment, to improve awareness of higher education as a post-school option
- To increase student aspiration for tertiary-level science study through the use of research-grade technical equipment to explore aspects of astronomy and astrophysics
- To provide ongoing support to teachers through regular professional development opportunities and close collaborative relationships with academic staff
- To establish and maintain positive long-term relationships between LSES schools participating in the program and the university.
HEPPP funding was used to support program development and administration in addition to seed funding which enabled purchase of the telescopes and accessories. The ongoing running costs of the program are funded by the Laby Foundation.
The success of the program is evidenced by the following:
- Program uptake and participation: since commencement in April 2012 over 120 observing sessions have been conducted, with approximately 3,000 students, 445 teachers, 400 parents and 200 astronomers attending.
- Increase in student enrolment in senior school science subjects: in 2012 the enrolment rate for physics in Year 11 and 12 doubled for the only participating all-girls school, with the program cited as the main contributing factor. Similar increases have been observed in other participating schools.
- Publicity and media coverage: the TiS Transit of Venus event was covered on national television news broadcasts. Local newspapers report regularly on other TiS events, broadening the reach of the program to the wider community.
- The TiS website and blog had around 100 followers, 10,000 views, and 60 posts by August 2013. The Twitter feed provides regular updates on the program’s activities and has international followers.
Quantitative and qualitative data are being collected for a longitudinal study exploring the shifts in student motivation and parental influence in choosing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects at secondary school and consequently their pathways into higher education institutions after program participation.
This case study is one of a series of 39 presented in our case study publication, Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach – Access – Support.