Big Ideas: A review of astronomy education research 1974–2008
This paper reviews astronomy education research carried out among school students, teachers, and museum visitors over a 35‐year period from 1974 until 2008. One hundred and three peer‐reviewed journal articles were examined, the majority of whose research dealt with conceptions of astronomical phenomena with 40% investigating intervention activities. We used a conceptual framework of “big ideas” in astronomy, five of which accounted for over 80% of the studies: conceptions of the Earth, gravity, the day–night cycle, the seasons, and the Earth–Sun–Moon system. Most of the remaining studies were of stars, the solar system, and the concepts of size and distance. The findings of the review have implications for the future teaching of, and research in, the discipline. Conceptions of the Earth and the day–night cycle are relatively well‐understood, especially by older students, while the Moon phases, the seasons, and gravity are concepts that most people find difficult both to understand and explain. Thoroughly planned interventions are likely to be the most effective way of implementing conceptual change, and such studies have been well‐researched in the past 15 years. Much of this recent research has worked with constructivist theories resulting in methodological and theoretical insights of value to researchers and practitioners in the field. It is recommended that future research should work across the disciplinary boundaries of astronomy education at school and teacher education levels, and aim to disseminate findings more effectively within the education systems.