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“Pluto Has Been a Planet My Whole Life!” Emotions, Attitudes, and Conceptual Change in Elementary Students’ Learning about Pluto’s Reclassification


Learning about certain scientific topics has potential to spark strong emotions among students. We investigated whether emotions predicted students’ attitudes after engaging in independent rereading and/or rereading plus discussion about Pluto’s reclassification. Fifth and sixth grade students read a refutation text on Pluto’s reclassification. Participants were randomly assigned to either the reread independently or the reread plus discussion group. Results showed that students in both groups experienced attitude change and that change was sustained over time. Students reported experiencing more negative than positive emotions at pretest. Emotions, which became more positive after intervention, were predictive of students’ attitudes and attitude change. Implications for the role of emotions when learning about controversial topics are discussed.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    We conducted a repeated measures ANOVA of time (pretest, posttest, delayed posttest) entered into the same equation. A similar pattern was revealed with an overall change over time (p < .01).


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Correspondence to Suzanne H. Broughton.

Appendix A

Appendix A


Appendix B

Conceptual knowledge items

  1. 1.

    How many planets are in our solar system?

  2. 2.

    List the planets in our solar system:

  3. 3.

    Should Pluto still be a planet?

  4. 4.

    Explain your answer to question #3:

  5. 5.

    Why do scientists no longer call Pluto a planet?

  6. 6.

    Why did scientists change the definition of planet?

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Broughton, S.H., Sinatra, G.M. & Nussbaum, E.M. “Pluto Has Been a Planet My Whole Life!” Emotions, Attitudes, and Conceptual Change in Elementary Students’ Learning about Pluto’s Reclassification. Res Sci Educ 43, 529–550 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-011-9274-x

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  • Emotions
  • Attitudes
  • Refutation text
  • Elementary science learning
  • Small group discussions