36th DPS Meeting, 8-12 November 2004
Session 13 Education
Poster I, Tuesday, November 9, 2004, 4:00-7:00pm, Exhibition Hall 1A

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[13.06] Placing the Solar System in its Universal Context

J.A. Grier, S.J. Steel, M.E. Dussault, E.L. Reinfeld, R.R. Gould (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Data from surveys and evaluations of recent space science education programs show that both teachers and students use the terms ‘solar system’, ‘galaxy’ and ‘universe’ interchangeably. For some this merely represents a barrier in vocabulary, but for most, it is indicative of an underlying lack of structure within their internal models of the solar system and universe. Some of the misconceptions of size of the solar system, placement, distance, scale and hierarchy of objects in the galaxy and universe are introduced by not including the solar system in a consistent, coherent picture within the rest of the galaxy and universe. If these ideas and misconceptions are not addressed through a targeted educational experience, they can form barriers to developing new and more accurate internal models, and impede the assimilation of any new evidence or ideas within those models. We are developing focused educational products and experiences that allow students to encounter the topics of ‘solar system’, ‘galaxy’ and ‘universe’ as an integrated whole, showing the common and unique features, natural interrelationships, and hierarchies that allow students and teachers to develop more powerful internal models of their place in space and time. We have used this approach to enhance the learning experience at Girl Scouts ‘Train the Trainer’ Workshops, in the 'Modeling the Universe' Professional Development Workshops, and in several venues for urban public school teachers. We have also created activities such as the “Cosmic Timeline”, and products such as the “How Big is the Universe?” booklet to support learning about size and scale from the Earth to the Sun, and then all the way out to the edge of space.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 36 #4
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.