AAS 197, January 2001
Session 98. Innovations in Teaching Astronomy II
Joint Oral, Wednesday, January 10, 2001, 1:30-3:00pm, Royal Palm 3/4

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[98.02] ``Frames of Reference" as an Element in the Learning of Astronomy Concepts

J.R. Percy, N.R. Chandra, M. Kalchman, H. Mutlak, E. Woodruff, S. Yoon (U. Toronto)

Pre-service elementary and middle school teachers possess large gaps in conceptual knowledge between what they understand about astronomy, and what they are required to teach according to the national standards for science education (Percy et al. 1999, BAAS, 31, 1520). The topics involved are not esoteric or trivial, and the knowledge gaps are very resistant to change. Thus, there is a need to understand the thinking processes involved in learning astronomy in order to identify, develop, and test professional development strategies that focus on issues around conceptual change.

Our data suggest that teachers often try to change their frame of reference or perspective as they attempt to make sense of a concept. Detailed analyses on preservice teachers' performance on the astronomy self-assessment instrument, their audio- or videotaped discourse during relevant hands-on workshops, and their responses to an oral post-test interview allow us to identify (i) problems that require a ``frame of reference" approach, (ii) thinking processes which preservice teachers use during collaborative learning sessions, and (iii) strategies which distinguish successful from less successful learners.

The results support our conjecture that the idea of frames of reference in thinking processes may support the learning of astronomy concepts. Indeed, our findings help to extend our view of knowledge gaps, and to identify thinking processes which may facilitate conceptual change. We believe that these insights apply to the learning of astronomy at the college and pre-college level, as well as in teacher education.


Supported in part by SSHRC Canada, and the Ministry of Education, Ontario.

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