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STEM Education Research

Science isn’t merely for scientists. Understanding science is part of being a well-rounded and informed citizen. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education research is dedicated to studying the nature of learning, the impact of different science teaching strategies, and the most effective ways to recruit and retain the next generation of scientists.

Advancing Science Teaching and Learning

Public understanding of science is essential for our democratic society. At the same time, white female students and students of color are underrepresented across STEM fields, which is a problem both from equity and workforce demand perspectives. For these reasons, researchers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian study how to improve science teaching and learning.

The Science Education Department (SED) at the Center for Astrophysics is dedicated to researching how people learn, and identifying measurable ways to evaluate learning for students in STEM classes. SED researchers have developed assessment tools designed to evaluate students’ conceptual knowledge for all levels from elementary school through university. These tests are freely available for teachers and other education specialists. Experts in the program also study the educational outcomes of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are widely used by universities despite the current lack of evidence on their effectiveness.

A current challenge of STEM education is the substantial underrepresentation of white female scientists and scientists of color across STEM fields, which limits the potential for innovation and excellence in scientific research. To address this problem, SED researchers study variables that predict persistence of students within the STEM pipeline, factors that impact achievement by students in STEM courses, and the development of science identity.

In addition to pursuing fundamental STEM education research, Harvard and Smithsonian educators translate these findings into practice by developing innovative science programs, curricula, interactive media, and technology-based tools for STEM learning. These research-based resources are used by educational audiences in the United States and around the world. The significance of SED’s work has been recognized in the form of grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health.

Cambridge Explores the Universe 2018, held at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, MA.

Credit: CFA


A student working with a professional astronomer at the Cambridge Explores the Universe 2018, held at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, MA.

Credit: CFA