The Role of Perspective Taking in How Children Connect Reference Frames When Explaining Astronomical Phenomena
This study investigates the role of perspective-taking skills in how children explain spatially complex astronomical phenomena. Explaining many astronomical phenomena, especially those studied in elementary and middle school, requires shifting between an Earth-based description of the phenomena and a space-based reference frame. We studied 7- to 9-year-old children (N = 15) to (a) develop a method for capturing how children make connections between reference frames and to (b) explore connections between perspective-taking skill and the nature of children’s explanations. Children’s explanations for the apparent motion of the Sun and stars and for seasonal changes in constellations were coded for accuracy of explanation, connection between frames of reference, and use of gesture. Children with higher spatial perspective-taking skills made more explicit connections between reference frames and used certain gesture-types more frequently, although this pattern was evident for only some phenomena. Findings suggest that children – particularly those with lower perspective-taking skills – may need additional support in learning to explicitly connect reference frames in astronomy. Understanding spatial thinking among children who successfully made explicit connections between reference frames in their explanations could be a starting point for future instruction in this domain.