Spatial thinking and the astronomical endeavor: Theoretical issues and pedagogical implementations
A theoretical and practical inquiry into the teaching of spatial thinking in college astronomy classes is reported. After examining some of the historical background of the discipline of astronomy, the author investigates some of the pedagogical implications of the implicit visual grammar so effortlessly utilized by astronomers and yet so apparently difficult for many students to employ. These pedagogical implications were implemented in the design of a study of one astronomy section of an introductory college astronomy course.
Tutorial visual exercises using eyes-on models and diagrams seemed to be very useful for student apprehension of certain tagged items, but overall spatial learning seems to be more a product of general class environment than a matter of specific exercises per se. Some promising pedagogical strategies involving direct visual treatments to improve students' visual skills and iconic repertoire are discussed.
Certain astronomical "primitives" involving astronomical distance determinations and projective relationships are explored in depth. Visual models are very useful, but students must be continually reminded of the implicit importance of the great distances appropriate to astronomical discourse. Likewise, in discussing photographs and diagrams, many students must be explicitly shown and taught the projective properties of ellipses, spheres and circles. Analogies with other findings which treat student misconceptions in science are pursued, but the focus of this study pertains more to certain visual predispositions than to firmly held beliefs.
Hill Jr., C. L. (1989). Spatial thinking and the astronomical endeavor: Theoretical issues and pedagogical implementations. PhD. Dissertation. University of Iowa, USA