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Obstacles to the development of conceptual understanding in observational astronomy: the case of spatial reasoning difficulties encountered by pre-service teachers

Abstract : Simple everyday phenomena like the day - night cycle and the sequence of four seasons are taught at the higher level of elementary education and the lower level of secondary education in Cyprus. Even though there is no specific subject dedicated to Astronomy or spatial reasoning, the day – night cycle, the sequence of the four seasons and the sequence of the lunar phases are part of the national curriculum of Geography. For this reason, the construction of conceptual understanding in basic Astronomy is part of the objectives of content courses for pre-service elementary teachers. This, in combination with the fact that these simple astronomical phenomena are part of everyday experience, makes the topic a rich area for study of the learning process. This article is part of an on-going research program through which we investigate the conceptual and reasoning difficulties that pre-service teachers encounter when guided to construct a model for the relative motion of the sun and the earth capable of offering detailed explanation of the phenomenon of day and night. The research took place in the spring semester of 2000. The data was collected in the context of a course on Natural Sciences in the Elementary School attended by 82 students enrolled in the Primary Education Program at the University of Cyprus. The course used the Greek version of Physics by Inquiry with special emphasis on the module Astronomy by Sight. Data was collected through a series of pretests administered throughout the semester at the beginning of every section in the curriculum. In one of the pre-tests given roughly half way through the semester the students were asked to respond to the following question: "The sun rises roughly in the east and sets roughly in the west. Therefore, someone located inside a spaceship hovering over the north pole will observe the earth spinning counter clockwise. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? State clearly whether you think this statement is correct or not and explain your reasoning. You will find it helpful to include a diagram in your answer." Phenomenographic analysis indicated two prevalent difficulties which distract the learning effort and affect the process of developing conceptual understanding: (a) many students interpret the geographical directions as absolute locations / points in space. (44/74 or 59.5%). (b) many students orient the four directions erroneously with respect to each other. (29/74 or 39.2%). Additionally, we identified a series of difficulties related to spatial reasoning ability. We present examples of these difficulties, the evidence for their existence and how they affect conceptual understanding. We discuss the educational implications of these results and other consequences that derive from this research. Finally, we present the structure of a modified teaching sequence designed to enable students to overcome these difficulties and to guide the development of conceptual understanding of the day – night cycle and the sequence of the phases of the moon. ( )
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Submitted on : Friday, November 23, 2007 - 8:57:56 AM
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  • HAL Id : hal-00190806, version 1



Christiana Nicolaou, Constantinos Constantinou. Obstacles to the development of conceptual understanding in observational astronomy: the case of spatial reasoning difficulties encountered by pre-service teachers. first international GIREP seminar, 2-6 September 2001, 2001, Italy. 10 p. ⟨hal-00190806⟩



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