Plummer Article in International Journal Probes How Children Explain the Sun, Moon and Stars

By Purnell T. Cropper | October 31, 2011

Dr. Julia Plummer, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Science Education, recently co-authored several articles, incuding one on elementary students’ explanations for the daily patterns of apparent motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars in an international joural. This article, along with much of her research and publication work, involved Arcadia graduate students as well as classroom teachers.

In the International Journal of Science Education (Volume 33, Issue 14, 2011), Plummer and co-authors Kyle D. Wasko, an  Arcadia student, and Cynthia Slagle write about “Children Learning to Explain Daily Celestial Motion: Understanding Astronomy across Moving Frames of Reference.” Slagle is a K-12 classroom teacher. DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2010.537707

Abstract: This study investigated elementary students’ explanations for the daily patterns of apparent motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars. Third‐grade students were chosen for this study because this age level is at the lower end of when many U.S. standards documents suggest students should learn to use the Earth’s rotation to explain daily celestial motion. Interviews with third‐grade students (n = 24), prior to formal astronomy education, revealed that about half are working from naive mental models. The other half of the students used more scientific explanations for the Sun’s apparent motion but used scientific descriptions or explanations of the Moon’s and stars’ daily apparent motion far less frequently. We also describe an instructional approach designed to support students as they move between the Earth‐based and heliocentric frames of reference using computer simulations and modeling with hands‐on and kinaesthetic strategies. This instruction was tested with another group of third‐grade students as part of their gifted programme (n = 16). Pre/post‐interview analysis supports the instructional approach as the students showed a more sophisticated ability to move between the Earth‐based and heliocentric frames of reference. The students’ high initial knowledge level, entering instruction at the more advanced end of the general third‐grade student population, limits our ability to generalize the instructional findings; however, these findings provide an important step in improving our understanding of how to support students in this complex area of astronomical reasoning.

Plummer also co-authored the following articles.

“Building a Learning Progression for Celestial Motion: Elementary Levels From an Earth-Based Perspective,” with Joseph Krajcik, in the Jan. 9, 2010, issue of  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(7): 768-787.

Abstract: Prior research has demonstrated that neither children nor adults hold a scientific understanding of the big ideas of astronomy, as described in standards documents for science education [National Research Council [1996]. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; American Association for the Advancement of Science 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press]. This manuscript focuses on ideas in astronomy that are at the foundation of elementary students’ understanding of the discipline: the apparent motion of the sun, moon, and stars as seen from an earth-based perspective. Lack of understanding of these concepts may hinder students’ progress towards more advanced understanding in the domain. We have analyzed the logic of the domain and synthesized prior research assessing children’s knowledge to develop a set of learning trajectories that describe how students’ initial ideas about apparent celestial motion as they enter school can be built upon, through successively more sophisticated levels of understanding, to reach a level that aligns with the scientific view. Analysis of an instructional intervention with elementary students in the planetarium was used to test our initial construction of the learning trajectories. This manuscript presents a first look at the use of a learning progression framework in analyzing the structure of astronomy education. We discuss how this work may eventually lead towards the development and empirical testing of a full learning progression on the big idea: how children learn to describe and explain apparent patterns of celestial motion. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47:768–787, 2010

“Survey of the Goals and Beliefs of Planetarium Professionals Regarding Program Design,” with Kim J. Small, a classroom teacher, in the Sept. 1, 2010, Astronomy Education Review, 9(1),:10.3847/AER2010016

Abstract: Despite decades of research on the importance of engagement and interaction in learning experiences, programs produced for planetarium audiences are primarily passive in nature. Planetarium professionals were interviewed with regard to their goals and beliefs for planetarium experiences, specifically focusing on goals for children, and their interest with regard to a program format that integrates segments of live interaction with automated content (N = 36). Planetarium professionals’ goals most frequently reflect increasing content knowledge and motivating audiences to continue learning. To meet these goals, they often cite live interaction as a key strategy for elementary-aged audiences. Further, planetarium professionals often combine live interaction with prerendered automation. These results suggest that the planetarium community’s goals and beliefs are at odds with the current model of passive planetarium production and that the frontline professionals would support opportunities that support their ability to actively engage their audiences.

“Covering the Standards: Astronomy Teachers’ Preparation and Beliefs.Astronomy Education Review,” with Valerie M. Zahm, an Arcadia student, in the Aug. 4, 2010, issue of Astronomy Education Review, 9(1),doi:10.3847/AER2009077.

Abstract: An online survey of science teachers and interviews with curriculum directors were used to investigate the coverage of astronomy in middle and high schools in the greater Philadelphia region. Our analysis looked beyond astronomy elective courses to uncover all sources of astronomy education in secondary schools. We focused on coverage of state standards, time spent on astronomy, availability of resources, teacher efficacy, and teacher pedagogical beliefs. Astronomy is not taught in depth, and many students receive no astronomy instruction across both middle and high school. Many teachers hold reform-based perspectives but also maintain traditional beliefs about astronomy teaching and learning. Implications for future reform efforts are discussed.

“Inquiry and Astronomy: Preservice Teachers’ Investigations in Celestial Motion,” with Arcadia students Valerie M. Zahm and Rebecca Rice in 2010 in the Journal of Science Teacher Education. 21 (4), 471-493.

“Reasoning about the Seasons: Middle School Students’ Use of Evidence in Explanations” with classroom teacher Lori Agan published in 2010 in the proceedings of the 9th International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Volume 2. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.