The Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA Program: Science-based inquiries outside the classroom

Contributed by Emma Marcucci and Holly Ryer, Space Telescope Science Institute

As we say goodbye to summer and hello to fall, we also welcome the start of a new school year. Young leaners are hitting the books, gearing up for projects, and learning new skills. Student-centered approaches to learning encourage youth to solve complex problems, work in teams, communicate findings, and apply knowledge to novel tasks and situations.

There is strong evidence to show that inquiry-based approaches benefit both individual and collective learning and support the development of twenty-first century skills. Even better, these approaches don’t have to stop when the dismissal bell rings.

Research shows that out-of-school-time programs play an important role in supporting classroom learning experiences and shaping youth identity in relation to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). This is the impetus behind Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA – an initiative within NASA’s Universe of Learning program. Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA is designed to empower public libraries and community-based organizations to engage girls and their families in current NASA science and STEM. Though focused on engaging girls, events and activities are open to all family members, regardless of gender or age. Girls and computers

Through Girls STEAM Ahead, youth engage, explore, and identify with STEM content via the wonders of the universe. The program provides inquiry-based learning opportunities at informal-education venues like libraries and science centers, featuring access to NASA scientists and engineers, plus exhibits and activities that feature NASA science and technology.

One of our favorite Girls STEAM Ahead activities is Observing with NASA, an activity where participants can experience controlling a robotic telescope and taking their very own, real space images. Youth are also able to preview images in an archive and formulate questions, select their own images for the robotic telescopes to observe, and explore various ways to process and colorize their images. They can also continue the fun by requesting images to process and print at home. The open-ended nature of the activity supports inquiry-learning while also serving as a springboard for future STEM exploration.

Observing with NASA can be used as a stand-alone activity, or coupled with other Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA resources to create a series of scaffolded learning experiences. Any of the activities can be used as part of a specific Girls STEAM Ahead event or incorporated into existing programming. Program leaders can use the activities and resources independently, or work with the Girls STEAM Ahead team to plan and execute an event. The program website ( has additional information about the full suite of Girls STEAM Ahead resources, including archived webinars that review the program and demonstrate activities. 

Interested in hosting an event or learning more about the program?  Please contact Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA at

 Learn more through the following links:

Dr. Emma Marcucci joined the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2017 as Education and Outreach Scientist. She works on the NASA’s Universe of Learning program, as well as outreach activities to share the science of the Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes with the public.

Holly Ryer is a Senior Education Specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. She works on the Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA project and supports program evaluation activities. She also supports public outreach activities for the Hubble Space Telescope mission.

This material is based upon work supported by NASA under cooperative agreement award number NNX16AC65A.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.