Following a successful 2022 pilot, Makers Empire partnered again with The Andy Thomas Space Foundation (ATSF) in 2023 for the second year of its Aurora initiative, delivering inclusive space education to eight more SA schools. The Andy Thomas Space Foundation’s Aurora program is supported by the Australian Space Agency, Maras Foundation and SmartSat CRC.
The Aurora Inclusion Initiative offers engaging and accessible education opportunities designed to promote space as a topic of inspiration for students living with a disability, with the potential to stimulate students and young people’s interest in pursuing STEM subjects in their study plans.
With one in six Australians are living with a disability, autism affecting one in 70 Australians, and autistic adults 12 x more likely to be unemployed, there is a need for educational opportunities designed to empower and share the talents of students living with a disability, promoting their sense of confidence and opening doors previously considered closed.
The eight schools participating in the 2023 program were Marryatville High School, Pulteney Grammar School, Errington Special Education Centre, Adelaide East Education Centre, Gawler & District College B -12, Mount Barker High School, Golden Grove High School and Eastern Fleurieu R-12 School.
Students and young people participating in the plot project were aged from 13 to 25 years. Special schools, alternative education facilities, and schools with disability units were invited to participate in the pilot project and school groups with significant representation of students and young people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder were given priority during the selection process.
The Aurora Program
Between August and September 2023, students from the eight schools visited the Australian Space Discovery Centre. The visits were held as private sessions without other school groups or members of the public. Adaptations were made to accommodate the needs of each group including access to wheelchair-accessible parking, rearrangement of exhibits to allow easier access, and lower volume levels for exhibits featuring sounds.
The sessions were individualised for each group and included a Fact and Fiction session led by the centre’s Space Communicators, time to explore the galleries with input from the Space Communicators, viewing of the Jarli film, about an Australian girl who is headed for the stars.
Makers Empire’s Director of Learning introduced the Aurora Mission to the students and then students were encouraged to take photographs (or be supported to take photographs) of objects that inspired them at the centre.
During September and October 2023, Makers Empire’s Director of Learning and Hardware Specialist visited each school to lead a 3D design and printing workshop. Each workshop was tailored to meet the needs of students and teachers, and included:
- An introduction to Makers Empire’s 3D modelling software
- Learning to design space-themed models
- Students creating 3D designs in response to the Aurora Mission and using the photographs taken at the Australian Space Discovery Centre and inspiration.
- An introduction to 3D printing
- 3D printer training including installation, operation, and troubleshooting.
During October 2023, students continued to design, and 3D print their models with the help of their teachers and support staff. Makers Empire offered support with using the 3D modelling software and 3D printers where needed and teachers were invited to an online check-in session to share ideas, ask questions and support each other.
Space-Inspired Solutions & Designs
As part of their learning, students each completed a template, with support, to describe their 3D models, and to explain how their model related to the Aurora Mission and their own learning. Here are a selection of designs:
Students’ designs were 3D printed at each school by teachers and delivered to the Australian Space Discovery Centre for a public exhibition in the Endeavour Room at the Australian Space Discovery Centre in November.
Feedback from Teachers
Participating teachers expressed that they often miss out on the same kinds of professional learning opportunities that their colleagues in mainstream education settings often have access to. This feedback shows that the Aurora Mission program can play a crucial role in improving access and equitable opportunities for students living with disabilities to participate in engaging learning experiences, become involved and interested in the space industry and use new and emerging technologies in their learning. Other teacher feedback included the following: