6 Degrees of Connection:

Understanding the Interconnectedness of Earth Systems

The “6 Degrees of Connection” educational program, supported by a grant from NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums and Planetariums (CP4SMP), focuses on earth science concepts and the cross-cutting theme of interconnectedness, using personal relevance as a hook, to capture students’ interest and motivate them to pursue STEM experiences and careers.

This project supports NASA’s education mission to advance high quality STEM education, using NASA’s unique capabilities (NASA datasets, experts, and analysis tools) to develop a Science on a Sphere® (SOS) program and creative activity for middle school students.

A personal relevance approach makes use of the ‘6 degrees of separation’ theory, which postulates that every person can be linked to every other person on the planet by six or fewer steps of connection, and then applies that idea to understanding the interconnectedness of the different earth systems.

Over the course of two years, students, interns, and teachers were engaged using the personal relevance hook of ‘6 degrees’ through: 1) an SOS program with an associated arts-based creative activity; 2) an undergraduate internship program that included research related to interconnections of earth science; and 3) educator workshops that provided content training for teachers. An iterative program design process based on student and teacher evaluations resulted in the 6 Degrees of Connection program which discusses earth systems connections involving the sun, space weather, and ozone; transportation, atmosphere and acid rain; climate change; and marine debris. The program is purposefully interactive and multi-disciplinary – students are encouraged to consider the cascading effects related to the production and transportation of their clothing during an interactive activity using the SOS, an arts-based activity after the SOS program helps participants visualize and physically diagram their connections to global issues, and students learn about STEM careers from clips of STEM professionals discussing the ways their work is tied to various human and earth systems.

The creation of the 6 Degrees of Connection program revealed that while middle-school students typically struggle to understand the interconnectedness of events and earth/human systems, presenting these topics using the SOS, emphasizing personal relevance, engaging students through interactive activities, and integrating art helped to inspire student interest and increase understanding. A summative evaluation report detailing the findings of the project and assessment of the program’s impact is available here.

Both 6 Degrees of Connection and a supplemental SOS clip, “Connecting to STEM,” which consists of spotlights on 10 additional STEM professionals, are available below and can be shown to classes or other groups at NNC.
Please read this Introduction before downloading the materials. All program content and supplemental materials can be downloaded here.

NNC led the project with partners Maryland Science Center of Baltimore, MD, Lehigh University of Bethlehem, PA, and the evaluation firm, People Places & Design Research.

For more information on this project please contact the Principal Investigator, Dr. Kathryn Semmens (ksemmens@nurturenature.org).

The material contained in this project is based upon work supported by NASA under award Number NNX16AM18G. 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.

Easton Center awarded NASA grant — Morning Call (09/2016)
Nurture Nature Center is recipient of NASA grant — Lehigh Valley Live (09/2016)