Students’ Development Of Astronomy Concepts Across Time
The National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) recommend that students understand the apparent patterns of motion of the sun, moon and stars visible by the end of early elementary school. However, little information exists on students’ knowledge of apparent celestial motion or instruction in this area. The goals of this dissertation were to describe children’s knowledge of apparent celestial motion across elementary and middle school, explore early elementary students’ ability to learn these topics through planetarium instruction, and begin the development of a learning progression for these concepts. First, third, and eighth grade students (N=60) were interviewed using a planetarium-like setting that allowed the students to demonstrate their ideas both verbally and with their own motions on an artificial sky. Analysis of these interviews suggests that students are not making the types of observations of the sky necessary to learn apparent celestial motion and any instruction they may have received has not helped them reach an accurate understanding of most topics. Most students at each grade level could not accurately describe the patterns of motion. Though the older students were more accurate in most of their descriptions than the younger students, in several areas the eighth grade students showed no improvement over the third grade students. The use of kinesthetic learning techniques in a planetarium program was also explored as a method to improve understanding of celestial motion. Pre- and post-interviews were conducted with participants from seven classes of first and second grade students (N=63). Students showed significant improvement in all areas of apparent celestial motion covered by the planetarium program and surpassed the middle school students’ understanding o f these concepts in most areas. This suggests that students in early elementary school are
capable of learning the accurate description of apparent celestial motion. The results demonstrate the value of both kinesthetic learning techniques and the rich visual environmentoftheplanetariumforimprovedunderstandingofcelestialmotion. Based on the results of these studies, I developed a learning progression describing how children may progress through successively more complex ways of understanding apparent celestial motion across elementary grades.
Type of Publication
Plummer, Julia D.
University of Michigan
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America