Visualisation and Spatial Thinking in Primary Students’ Understandings of Astronomy – Book Chapter

ESERA conference 2019

Tytler, R., White, P., & Mulligan, J. (accepted). Visualisation and spatial thinking in primary students’ understandings of Astronomy. In O. Levrini, G. Tasquier, T. Amin, L. Branchetti, & M. Levin (Eds.). Selected papers from the ESERA conference 2019. Springer.

Abstract: Astronomy is commonly taught in primary schools, with an initial focus on explaining day and night, the solar system and seasons. However, there is abundant evidence that students going into secondary and even tertiary studies in astronomy have limited understanding and indeed misconceptions of astronomical phenomena. A core difficulty for students is the need, in visualizing/explaining astronomical phenomena, to coordinate earth and space centred perspectives and representations. This presentation will describe lesson sequences conducted in 3 schools, over 12 classes, focused on Grades 1 and 4 (Ages 6 and 10) children’s visualization of day and night from earth and space perspectives. The sequence is part of a project that links science with mathematics through representation construction and modeling as core approaches to learning. Key features of the sequence were children’s construction and coordination of spatial representations that linked the changes/movements in shadows (patterns) throughout the day with the movement of the sun in the sky and with earth’s rotation in relation to the sun to explain day and night, and the pedagogy employed by teachers to build on children’s representations to establish common understandings. The mathematics focus was on spatial reasoning including representations of length, rotation and angle, pattern representation, and temporal reasoning. Data included children’s artefacts, pre- and post-tests, field notes and video capture of key lessons, and student and teacher interviews. The pre- and post-test data and children’s interviews showed considerable shifts in children’s understanding of day and night and earth-sun relations. Analysis of the video data, and field notes, showed the complexity of concepts and spatial reasoning for children, and the power of a guided inquiry pedagogy involving the construction and comparison/evaluation of representations. The study provides fresh insights into the challenges presented in constructing flexible understandings of astronomical phenomena based on the coordination of spatial and temporal representations from different perspectives.