From Geocentrism to Allocentrism: Teaching the Phases of the Moon in a Digital Full-Dome Planetarium
An increasing number of planetariums worldwide are turning digital, using ultra- fast computers, powerful graphic cards, and high-resolution video projectors to create highly realistic astronomical imagery in real time. This modern technology makes it so that the audience can observe astronomical phenomena from a geocentric as well as an allocentric perspective (the view from space). While the dome creates a sense of immersion, the digital planetarium introduces a new way to teach astronomy, especially for topics that are inherently three-dimensional and where seeing the phenomenon from different points of view is essential. Like a virtual-reality environment, an immersive digital planetarium helps learners create a more scientifically accurate visualization of astronomical phenomena. In this study, a digital planetarium was used to teach the phases of the Moon to children aged 12 to 14. To fully grasp the lunar phases, one must imagine the spherical Moon (as perceived from space), revolving around the Earth while being illuminated by the Sun, and then reconcile this view with the geocentric perspective. Digital planetariums allow learners to have both an allocentric and a geocentric perspective on the lunar phases. Using a Design experiment approach, we tested an educational scenario in which the lunar phases were taught in an allocentric digital planetarium. Based on qualitative data collected before, during, and after the planetarium intervention, we were able to demonstrate that five out of six participants had a better understanding of the lunar phases after the planetarium session.