Children's explanations for phenomena related to manned space exploration--gravity, orbit, and weightlessness: An interview study
The purpose of this study was to elicit the explanations held by sixth grade students concerning gravity, orbit, and weightlessness within the context of manned space exploration. This study was descriptive and qualitative and utilized an anthropological perspective.
Each student was interviewed individually using a multistage interview approach. During these sessions videotape segments and auxiliary models focusing on the Space Shuttle were utilized to elicit the students' explanations. Each student's explanations were recorded, transcribed and summarized into statements or explanatory categories.
Forty explanatory categories, concerning gravity, orbit, and weightlessness, were developed from these students individual explanations. These categories were then evaluated for accuracy by the interviewed students. Nine general explanatory frameworks, three each for the phenomena of interest were formulated from the explanatory categories.
Gravity. (1) Gravity holds people and objects on the earth. (2) Air and the atmosphere influence gravity. (3) Gravity is a geocentric phenomenon.
Orbit. (1) Orbiting objects move in space. (2) Force is required to maintain an object in orbit. (3) People and objects "float" when in orbit.
Weightlessness. (1) Weightlessness occurs in the absence of gravity. (2) Objects "float up" as a result of weightlessness. (3) When weightless, people undergo physical and behavioral changes.
This study explored the merits of two methodological approaches, the multistage interview approach and the use of videotape as an auxiliary interview material. The multistage interview approach allowed a wider range of topics to be addressed in greater depth and provided an opportunity for the subjects to clarify, or elaborate on, their previous remarks.
The videotape provided an internal organization and coherence to the interviews. While tape did enhance student interest, for some students it appeared to be a significant learning experience rather than the diagnostic tool it was intended to be.
As a result of this study, it was found that most of the students' explanations were at variance with the scientific explanations for these phenomena. The subjects attributed their explanations to their experiences and informal sources of information and appeared to have been only superficially influenced by formal science learning.
Nelson, D. J. (1991). Children’s Explanations for Phenomena Related to Manned Space - Orbit, and Weightlessness: an Interview Study. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Iowa, USA
Type of Publication
Nelson, Donald J.
University of Iowa
Number of Pages
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America