Learning to Explain Astronomy Across Moving Frames of Reference: Exploring the role of classroom and planetarium-based instructional contexts
Learning astronomy involves significant spatial reasoning, such as learning to describe Earth-based phenomena and understanding space-based explanations for those phenomena as well as using the relevant size and scale information to interpret these frames of reference. This study examines daily celestial motion (DCM) as one case of how children learn to move between frames of reference in astronomy wherein one explains Earth-based descriptions of the Sun’s, Moon’s, and stars’ apparent motion using the Earth’s daily rotation. We analysed interviews with 8–9-year-old students (N 1⁄4 99) who participated in one of four instructional conditions emphasizing: the space- based perspective; the Earth-based perspective in the planetarium; constructing explanations for the Earth-based observations; and a combination of the planetarium plus constructing explanations in the classroom. We used an embodied cognition framework to analyse outcomes while also considering challenges learners face due to the high cognitive demands of spatial reasoning. Results support the hypothesis that instruction should engage students in learning both the Earth-based observations and space-based explanations, as focusing on a single frame of reference resulted in less sophisticated explanations; however, few students were able to construct a fully scientific explanation after instruction.