Some primary‐school teachers’ understanding of the Earth's place in the universe
This article describes research into primary‐school teachers’ understanding of a strand of the National Curriculum for science, namely ‘The Earth's Place in the Universe’. An opportunity sample of 20 teachers varying widely in age, science background and teaching experience was interviewed in depth for about an hour. The interviews covered observations of the sky; explanations for day and night, the seasons, the phases of the moon; the position and movement of the planets; the scale of the solar system; and the relationship between stars, planets and the solar system. The interviews were analysed in two ways. First, each section was examined for all interviews. The frequencies of both the scientific view and various misconceptions were noted. Secondly, each interview was examined as a whole and the mental model of the universe held by that interviewee was extracted. These mental models were grouped and compared with the scientific model. Results are presented as tables summarizing the views encountered and their frequencies, together with quotations illustrating these views and text summaries. In the case of the interviewees’ mental models of the universe, a 3‐stage hierarchical, analytical framework (the Sun/Earth system, the solar system, the universe) defined by a number of sub‐concepts within each stage is used to summarize the results. Interviewees are located within or between these stages. The principal findings were that:
1. Contrary to what might have been expected, the teachers did not have good observational knowledge of what happens in the sky. Indeed, at times interviewees were apparently working backwards from a mental model to work out what they should see, rather than being able to draw upon direct observational experience.
2. Many of the mental models of the universe held by the interviewees were not in accord with the scientific model. In fact 13 distinguishable mental models of the Earth in relation to the solar system and beyond seemed to be present amongst just 20 interviewees. Only four interviewees held the scientific model.
3. The discrepancies between mental models and the scientific view often led to inability to explain, or erroneous explanations for, phenomena such as day and night, the seasons and the phases of the Moon.
In a final commentary section teachers’ reflections on their interview experience are reported in sub‐sections dealing with self‐awareness, lack of confidence and misplaced trust in existing resources. The article concludes by identifying prerequisites for primary teachers if they are to teach this strand of the National Curriculum satisfactorily and with confidence.
Mant, J., & Summers, M. (1993). Some primary‐school teachers’ understanding of the Earth’s place in the universe. Research Papers in Education, 8(1), 101–129. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267152930080107
Type of Publication
Mant, Jenny | Summers, Mike
Westminster College | Westminster College and Oxford University Department of Educational Studies
Research Papers in Education
Routledge - Taylor & Francis
Nation(s) of Study