Afterschool Program Changes Student Interest in STEM

Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) brings together fundamental research and public curiosity about the nature of the cosmos, all within a heritage environment that is rich in scientific history. Four pillars underlie and support the public programme of AOP: education, inspiration, entertainment and outreach. At the Planetarium, the primary activity is the education and dissemination of scientific and astronomical knowledge to a large audience base of all ages, from nursery to seniors via a school’s programme and science offering to the wider public through onsite and outreach means using our dome and science workshops. We educate around our 14acres of grounds with a scale model of the Solar System alongside a range of flora and fauna. Of particular interest are the Human Orrery, two sundials, and historic telescopes.

In this project, for the first time we organised afterschool sessions for families in our local area, in areas of low science capital. Our audience was 7-11 year olds, from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds/different cultural/religious backgrounds locally in Armagh. We contacted and worked with community groups (Armagh Neighbourhood Renewal Team). The first pilot session ran during school term-time and ended in June 2023. This consisted of a one-hour activity one day per week which ranged from making Space Jam planet themed music for our dome, taking part in science experiments and touring our grounds. Sessions had had 15 children who signed up for the 12 weeks. Through this pilot scheme we met the objective of increasing our afternoon visitors and giving local children a chance to get involved in science.


Science experiments and getting hands-on with science
Touring the grounds and learning about telescopes
Creating a music soundtrack for a tour of the planets (this was screened before each dome show during the summer to our public visitors)
Learning about the careers in science and at AOP
Learning about rockets and launching water rockets
Watching how AOP read the weather and learning about how this has been done continuously since 1795


We surveyed the children on how they felt about STEM before and after the sessions. Before the session the children responded between Extremely interested, very interested and somewhat interested in STEM. This changed to just Extremely interested and very interested after the club finished. Some of the comments from the participants before the club were looking forward to:
– Learning about space
– Looking forward to everything
– To seeing the dome
– Learning about astronomy
– Learning new stuff to become a scientist for NASA
– Making new friends

After the session some comments:
– It was so good
– Thank you to all the staff
– Really enjoyed all the activities, meeting new people and learning new things
– Loved the goody pack at the end
– Felt good to complete the sessions and get our certificate
– Kids loved it
– This was an opportunity to meet with our cousins outside of school
– Did other clubs but this was a unique experience

Staff held a reflection session internally on how to keep the sessions going and to give our staff all a chance to get involved and give ideas to improve the afterschool programme. Without this funding to pilot the afterschools we would not have been able to have started this club. It has also given our staff confidence that they can run these sessions. Lots of children had a strong level of interest in space and astronomy and we were able to fulfil their expectations in space science. It was great to see their enthusiasm.

We screened the Space Jam on our dome to the public before our dome shows during summer 2023. We had 25,500 visitors over two months and we estimate at the very least 20,000 people would have viewed the Space Jam music video made by the cadets.