Skip to main content

The Gateway Science: a Review of Astronomy in the OECD School Curricula, Including China and South Africa

Abstract

Astronomy is considered by many to be a gateway science owing to its ability to inspire curiosity in everyone irrespective of age, culture, or general inclination towards science. Currently, where there is a global push to get more students engaged in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, astronomy provides an invaluable conduit to achieve this shift. This paper highlights the results of a study which has reviewed the presence and extent to which astronomy has been incorporated into the school curriculum of the Organisation for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) member countries. In addition, two others strong in astronomy research, China and South Africa, are included together with the International Baccalaureate Diploma science curriculum. A total of 52 curricula from 37 countries were reviewed. The results reveal that astronomy and its related topics are prevalent in at least one grade in all curricula. Of the 52 curricula, 44 of them had astronomy-related topics in grade 6, 40 introduced astronomy-related topics in grade 1, whilst 14 had astronomy-related topics explicitly mentioned in all grades. At all year levels, celestial motion is the dominant content area; however, topics such as stars, physics, cosmology, and planetary science become much more frequent as a proportion towards the higher year levels. The most common keywords employed in the curricula related to basic astronomy concepts were the Earth, Sun, Moon, and stars, all with a high frequency of use. There is hardly any focus on Indigenous Astronomy or the role of prominent women astronomers. Relational textual analysis using Leximancer revealed that all the major concepts could be encompassed within two broad themes: Earth and Physics. Astronomy and Physics are often seen as different domains, with astronomy content being more facts based, than based on concepts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10

References

  1. ACARA. (2017). Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority – Science Strands. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/science/

  2. Aikenhead, G. S. (1996). Science education: border crossing into the subculture of science. Studies in Science Education, 27(1), 1–52. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057269608560077.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Aikenhead, G. S. (1997). Toward a first nations cross-cultural science and technology curriculum. Science Education, 81(2), 217–238. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/%28SICI%291098-237X%28199704%2981%3A2%3C217%3A%3AAID-SCE6%3E3.0.CO%3B2-I.

  4. Bala, J. (2016). Contribution of SPSS in social sciences research. International Journal of Advanced Research in Computer Science, 7(6), 250–254.

  5. Bartlett, S., Fitzgerald, M. T., McKinnon, D. H., Danaia, L., & Lazendic-Galloway, J. (2018). Astronomy and Science Student Attitudes (ASSA): a short review and validation of a new instrument. Journal of Astronomy & Earth Sciences Education (JAESE), 5(1), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.19030/jaese.v5i1.10190.

  6. Bhathal, R. (2006). Astronomy in aboriginal culture. Astronomy & Geophysics, 47(5), 5.27–5.30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-4004.2006.47527.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bhathal, R. (2008). Astronomy for aboriginal students. Astronomy & Geophysics, 49(3), 3.27–3.29. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-4004.2008.49327.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chang, J., Ambrosi, G., An, Q., Asfandiyarov, R., Azzarello, P., Bernardini, P., et al. (2017). The DArk matter particle explorer mission. Astroparticle Physics, 95(Supplement C), 6–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.astropartphys.2017.08.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cutts, K. R. (2018). Astronomy student research in the international baccalaureate. In RTSRE Conference Proceedings (Vol. 1).

  10. Coward, D. M., Heary, A., Venville, G., Todd, M., Laas-Bourez, M., Zadnik, M., et al. (2011). The Zadko telescope: a resource for science education enrichment. Advances in Space Research, 47(11), 1922–1930. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asr.2011.01.005.

  11. Danaia, L., McKinnon, D. H., & Fitzgerald, M. T. (2017). Ideal pictures and actual perspectives of junior secondary school science: comparisons drawn from Australian students in an astronomy education programme. Research in Science & Technological Education, 35(4), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/02635143.2017.1344959.

  12. Dang, L., & Russo, P. (2015). How astronomers view education and public outreach: an exploratory study. IAU Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal, 18, 16–22.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eleftheria, T., Teodora, I. & Evita, T. (2015). D2.1: report on entry-points for space topics in the curriculum. European Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (EUSPACE-AWE).

  14. Falk, J. H., Staus, N., Dierking, L. D., Penuel, W., Wyld, J., & Bailey, D. (2016). Understanding youth STEM interest pathways within a single community: the synergies project. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 6(4), 369–384. https://doi.org/10.1080/21548455.2015.1093670.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fensham, P. J. (2016). The future curriculum for school science: what can be learnt from the past? Research in Science Education, 46(2), 165–185. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-015-9511-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fischer, D. (2018). China’s hubble gets a shout-out at the GA. Retrieved from http://astronomy2018.cosmoquest.org/newspaper/chinas-hubble-gets-a-shout-out-at-the-ga/

  17. Fitzgerald, M. T., Hollow, R., Rebull, L. M., Danaia, L., & McKinnon, D. H. (2014). A review of high school level astronomy student research projects over the last two decades. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, 31. https://doi.org/10.1017/pasa.2014.30

  18. Fitzgerald, M. T., Danaia, L., & McKinnon, D. H. (2017). Barriers inhibiting inquiry-based science teaching and potential solutions: perceptions of positively inclined early adopters. Research in Science Education, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-017-9623-5

  19. Fitzgerald, M. T., McKinnon, D. H., Danaia, L., & Deehan, J. (2016). A large-scale inquiry-based astronomy intervention project: impact on students’ content knowledge performance and views of their high school science classroom. Research in Science Education, 46(6), 901–916. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-015-9486-6

  20. Fitzgerald, M. T., McKinnon, D. H., & Danaia, L. J. (2015). Inquiry-based educational design for large-scale high school astronomy projects using real telescopes. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 24(6), 747–760. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-015-9560-x

  21. Gomez, E. L., & Fitzgerald, M. T. (2017). Robotic telescopes in education. Astronomical Review, 13(1), 28–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/21672857.2017.1303264

  22. Hamacher, D. W. (2011). Meteoritics and cosmology among the aboriginal cultures of Central Australia. Journal of Cosmology, 13, 3743–3753.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Hamacher, D. W. (2013). Aurorae in Australian aboriginal traditions. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 16, 207–219.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hamacher, D. W., & Frew, D. J. (2010). An aboriginal Australian record of the great eruption of eta Carinae. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 13, 220–234.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Haynes, R. D. (1992). Aboriginal astronomy. Australain Journal of Astronomy, 4(3), 127–140.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Hertzsprung, E. (1908). Über die Sterne der Unterabteilungen c und ac nach der Spektralklassifikation von Antonia C. Maury [about the stars of the subdivisions c and ac according to the spectral classification of Antonia C. Maury]. Astronomische Nachrichten, 179(24), 373–380. https://doi.org/10.1002/asna.19081792402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hey, T., Tansley, S., & Tolle, K. (2009). The fourth paradigm: data-intensive scientific discovery. Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/fourth-paradigm-data-intensive-scientific-discovery/

  28. IBO. (2016). International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Subject Brief - Physics HL. Retrieved from https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/recognition/physicshl2016englishw.pdf

  29. Lavonen, J., Byman, R., Juuti, K., Meisalo, V., & Uitto, A. (2005). Pupil interest in physics: a survey in Finland. Nordic Studies in Science Education, 1(2), 72–85. https://doi.org/10.5617/nordina.486.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Maltese, A. V., & Tai, R. H. (2010). Eyeballs in the fridge: sources of early interest in science. International Journal of Science Education, 32(5), 669–685. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500690902792385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Martins, A. F. P. (2016). Knowledge about science in science education research from the perspective of Ludwik Fleck’s epistemology. Research in Science Education, 46(4), 511–524. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-015-9469-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. McNally, D. (1982). Astronomy at school. Physics Education, 17(4), 157–160. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9120/17/4/306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. National Research Council. (2001). The role of astronomy education. In Astronomy and astrophysics in the new millennium (pp. 159–176). Washington DC: The National Academies Press Retrieved from http://istardb.org/1169/.

    Google Scholar 

  34. National Research Council. (2010). New worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.17226/12951.

  35. NGSS. (2018). Next generation science standards - three dimensions of learning. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/three-dimensions

  36. Nielsen, A. V. (1964). Contributions to the history of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Centaurus, 9(4), 219–253. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0498.1964.tb00285.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Norris, R. P. (2016). Dawes review 5: Australian aboriginal astronomy and navigation. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, 33(e039), 1–39. https://doi.org/10.1017/pasa.2016.25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Norris, R. P., & Hamacher, D. W. (2011). Astronomical symbolism in Australian aboriginal rock art. Rock Art Research, 28(1), 99–106.

  39. NSW Science Standards. (2018). Science Stage 6. Retrieved from https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/stage-6-learningareas/stage-6-science

  40. O’Toole, J., & Beckett, D. (2014). Educational research: creative thinking and doing (2 edition). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Osborne, J., & Collins, S. (2001). Pupils’ views of the role and value of the science curriculum: a focus-group study. International Journal of Science Education, 23(5), 441–467. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500690010006518.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Pasachoff, J. M., & Percy, J. R. (2005). Teaching and learning astronomy : effective strategies for educators worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/46619246.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  43. Percy, J. R. (2003). Small telescopes in astronomy education. In T. D. Oswalt (Ed.), The Future of Small Telescopes in the New Millennium (pp. 113–123). Netherlands: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-0253-0_11.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  44. Percy, J. R. (2005). Why astronomy is useful and should be included in the school curriculum. In Teaching and learning astronomy: effective strategies for educators worldwide. Cambridge University Press.

  45. Prescod-Weinstein, C. (2017). Curiosity and the end of discrimination. Nature Astronomy, 1(6), 0145–0143. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-017-0145.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Rosenberg, H. (1910). Über den Zusammenhang von Helligkeit und Spektraltypus in den Plejaden [about the relationship between brightness and spectral type in the Pleiades]. Astronomische Nachrichten, 186(5), 71–78. https://doi.org/10.1002/asna.19101860503.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Ruddell, N., Danaia, L., & McKinnon, D. (2016). Indigenous Sky Stories: Reframing How we Introduce Primary School Students to Astronomy — a Type II Case Study of Implementation. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 45(2), 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1017/jie.2016.21

  48. Russell, H. N. (1914). Relations between the spectra and other characteristics of the stars. Popular Astronomy, 22, 275–294.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Salimpour, S., Bartlett, S., Fitzgerald, M. T., Cutts, K. R., James, C. R., Miller, S. T., … Cabezon, S. (2018). Robotic telescopes and student research in the school curriculum around the OECD countries. RTSRE Proceedings, 1(1), 33–40.

  50. Schreiner, C., & Sjøberg, S. (2004). Sowing the seeds of ROSE. Background, rationale, questionnaire development and data collection for ROSE (the relevance of science education) - a comparative study of students’ views of science and science education (pdf). Acta Didactica, 4.

  51. Sikorski, T.-R., & Hammer, D. (2017). Looking for coherence in science curriculum. Science Education, 101(6), 929–943. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Sjøberg, S., & Schreiner, C. (2010). The ROSE project. An overview and key findings: University of Oslo Retrieved from https://www.roseproject.no/network/countries/norway/eng/nor-Sjoberg-Schreiner-overview-2010.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  53. SKA. (2017). Square Kilometre Array. Retrieved from https://www.skatelescope.org/

  54. Slater, T. F. (2018). To telescope or not to telescope? In RTSRE Conference Proceedings (Vol. 1).

  55. Smith, A. E., & Humphreys, M. S. (2006). Evaluation of unsupervised semantic mapping of natural language with Leximancer concept mapping. Behavior Research Methods, 38(2), 262–279. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03192778.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Trumper, R. (2006). Teaching future teachers basic astronomy concepts—seasonal changes—at a time of reform in science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(9), 879–906. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.20138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imagining Science Education: Engaging students in science for Australia’s future. Australian Education Review. Retrieved from. https://research.acer.edu.au/aer/3

  58. Tytler, R., & Symington, D. (2006). Science in school and society. Teaching Science, the Journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, 52(3), 10–15.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Williams, C., Stanisstreet, M., Spall, K., Boyes, E., & Dickson, D. (2003). Why aren’t secondary students interested in physics? Physics Education, 38(4), 324. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9120/38/4/306.

Download references

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the feedback from reviewers, which has provided key insights into the mechanics of this paper. Dr. Michael Fitzgerald is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Award (project number DE180100682) funded by the Australian Government.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saeed Salimpour.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Salimpour, S., Bartlett, S., Fitzgerald, M.T. et al. The Gateway Science: a Review of Astronomy in the OECD School Curricula, Including China and South Africa. Res Sci Educ 51, 975–996 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-020-09922-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Astronomy curricula
  • Astronomy education
  • OECD education
  • Science curricula
  • Science education