Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 261–275 | Cite as

The Virtual Solar System Project: Developing Conceptual Understanding of Astronomical Concepts Through Building Three-Dimensional Computational Models

  • Thomas Keating
  • Michael Barnett
  • Sasha A. Barab
  • Kenneth E. Hay
Article

Abstract

The Virtual Solar System (VSS) course described in this paper is one of the first attempts to integrate three-dimensional (3D) computer modeling as a central component of an introductory undergraduate astronomy course. Specifically, this study assessed the changes in undergraduate university students' understanding of astronomy concepts as a result of participating in an experimental introductory astronomy course in which the students constructed 3D models of different astronomical phenomena. In this study, we examined students' conceptual understanding concerning three foundational astronomical phenomena: the causes of lunar and solar eclipses, the causes of the Moon's phases, and the reasons for the Earth's seasons. Student interviews conducted prior to the course identified a range of student alternative conceptions previously identified in the literature regarding the dynamics and mechanics of the Solar System. A previously undocumented alternative conception to explain lunar eclipses is identified in this paper. The interviews were repeated at the end of the course in order to quantitatively and qualitatively assess any changes in student conceptual understanding. Generally, the results of this study revealed that 3D computer modeling can be a powerful tool in supporting student conceptualization of abstract scientific phenomena. Specifically, 3D computer modeling afforded students the ability to visualize abstract 3D concepts such as the line of nodes and transform them into conceptual tools, which in turn, supported the development of scientifically sophisticated conceptual understandings of many basic astronomical topics. However, there were instances where students' conceptual understanding was incomplete and frequently hybridized with their existing conceptions. These findings have significant bearing on when and in what domains 3D computer modeling can be used to support student conceptual understanding of astronomy concepts.

computer modeling conceptual change astronomy three-dimensional models virtual reality 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Atwood, R. K., and Atwood, V. A. (1996). Preservice elementary teachers' conceptions of the causes of seasons. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 33:553-563.Google Scholar
  2. Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., Barnett, M., and Keating, T. (2000a). Virtual solar system project: Building understanding through model building. Journal of Research and Science Teaching 37:719-756.Google Scholar
  3. Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., Squire, K., Barnett, M., Schmidt, R., Karrigan, K., and Johnson, C. (2000b). Virtual solar system project: Developing scientific understanding through model building. Journal of Science Education and Technology 9:7-26.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, M., Barab, S. A., and Hay, K. E. (2001a). The virtual solar system project: Student modeling of the solar system. The Journal of College Science Teaching 30:300-305.Google Scholar
  5. Barnett, M., J. G., and Hansen, J. (2001b). Exploring elementary students' learning of astronomy through model building. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Education Research Association, April, Seattle,WA.Google Scholar
  6. Barnett, M., and Morran, J. (in press). Addressing children's' understanding of the Moon's phases and eclipses. International Journal of Science Education.Google Scholar
  7. Bednar, A. K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, T. M., and Perry, D. J. (1992). Theory into practice: How do we link? In Duffy, T., and Jonassen, D. (Eds.), Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 17-34.Google Scholar
  8. Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Guzdial, M., and Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist 26:369-398.Google Scholar
  9. Comins, N. F. (1993). Sources of misconceptions in astronomy. In Novak, J. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics [distributed electronically], Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  10. Copolo, C. F., and Hounsell, P. B. (1995). Using three-dimensional models to teach molecular structures in high school chemistry. Journal of Science Education and Technology 4: 295-305.Google Scholar
  11. Demastes, S. S., Good, R. G., and Peebles, P. (1995). Students' conceptual ecologies and the process of conceptual change in evolution. Science Education 79:637-666.Google Scholar
  12. diSessa, A., and Minstrell, J. (1998). Cultivating conceptual change with benchmark lessons. In Greeno, J., and Goldman, S. (Eds.), Thinking Practices in Mathematics and Science Learning, Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp. 155-187.Google Scholar
  13. Edelson, D., Gordin, D., and Pea, R. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 8:391-450.Google Scholar
  14. Gotwals, R. R. (1995). Scientific visualization in chemistry, better living through chemistry, better chemistry through pictures: Scientific visualization for secondary chemistry students. In Thomas, D. A. (Ed.), Scientific Visualization in Mathematics and Science Teaching, AACE, Charlottesville, pp. 153-179.Google Scholar
  15. Hay, K., Crozier, J., and Barnett, M. (2000a,).Virtual gorilla modeling project: Middle school students constructing virtual models for learning. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  16. Hay, K. E., Marlino, M., and Holschuh, D. R. (2000b). The virtual exploratorium: Foundational research and theory on the integration of 5-D modeling and visualization in undergraduate geocscience education. In Fishman, B., and O'Connor-Divelbiss, S. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp. 214-220.Google Scholar
  17. Khoo, G., and Koh, T. (1998). Using visualization and simulation tools in tertiary science education. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching 17: 5-20.Google Scholar
  18. Kozma, R. (1999). Students collaborating with computer models and physical experiments. In Hoadley, C., and Roschelle, J. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Computer Support for Collaborative Learning (CSCL) 1999 Conference [On-line], Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ. Retrieved from <http://kn.cilt.org/cscl99/> Google Scholar
  19. Lehrer, R., Horvath, J., and Schauble,L. (1994). Developing modelbased reasoning. Interactive Learning Environments 4: 219-231.Google Scholar
  20. Muthukrishna, N., Carnine, D., Grossen, B., and Miller, S. (1993). Children's alternative frameworks: Should they be directly addressed in science education? Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30: 233-248.Google Scholar
  21. Parker, J., and Heywood, D. (1998). The Earth and beyond: Developing primary teachers' understanding of basic astronomical events. International Journal of Science Education 20: 503-520.Google Scholar
  22. Penner, D. E., Lehrer, R., and Schauble, L. (1998). From physical models to biomechanics: A design-based modeling approach. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 7: 429-449.Google Scholar
  23. Pfundt, H., and Duit, R. (1998). Students' Alternative Frameworks and Science Education, 5th Bibliography, Institute for Science Education, Kiel University, West Germany.Google Scholar
  24. Posner, G., Strike, K., Hewson, P., and Gertzog, W. (1982). Accommodation of a scientific conception: Towards a theory of conceptual change. Science Education 66: 221-227.Google Scholar
  25. Pyramid Film and Video (1988). A Private Universe [Film], An Insightful Lesson on How We Learn, Pyramid Film &; Video, Santa Monica, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Sabelli, N. (1994). On using technology for understandings science. Interactive Learning Environments 4: 195-198.Google Scholar
  27. Sadler, P. (1996). Astronomys conceptual hierarchy. In Percy, J. (Ed.), Astronomy Education: Current Developments, Future Coordination. Astronomical Society of the Pacific. San Francisco, CA, pp. 26-34.Google Scholar
  28. Schoon, K. J. (1993). The origin of Earth and space science misconceptions: A survey of pre-service elementary teachers. In Novak, J. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics [distributed electronically], Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  29. Simpson, W. D., and Marek, E. A. (1988). Understandings and misconceptions of biology concepts held by students attending small high schools and students attending large high schools. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 25: 361-374.Google Scholar
  30. Sneider, C., and Ohadi, M. (1998). Unraveling students' misconceptions about the Earth's shape and gravity. Science Education 82: 265-284.Google Scholar
  31. Stratford, S. J. (1997).Areview of computer-based research in precollege science classrooms. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching 16: 3-23.Google Scholar
  32. Stratford, S. J., Krajcik, J., and Soloway, E. (1998). Secondary students' dynamic modeling processes: Analyzing, reasoning about, synthesizing, and testing models of stream ecosystems. Journal of Science Education and Technology 7: 215-234.Google Scholar
  33. Strike, K. A., and Posner, G. J. (1992). A revisionist theory of conceptual change. In Duschl, R. A., and Hamilton, R. J. (Eds.), Philosophy of Science, Cognitive Psychology, and Educational Theory and Practice, State University of New York Press, New York, pp. 147-176.Google Scholar
  34. Treagust, D., and Smith, C. L. (1989). Secondary students' understanding of gravity and the motion of planets. School Science and Mathematics 89: 380-391.Google Scholar
  35. Vosniadou, S. (1991). Designing curricula for conceptual restructuring: Lessons from the study of knowledge acquisition in astronomy. Journal of Curriculum Studies 23: 219-237.Google Scholar
  36. Walkerdine, V. (1997). Redefining the subject in situated cognition theory. In Kirshner, D., and Whitson, J. A. (Eds.), Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives, Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp. 57-70.Google Scholar
  37. Wandersee, J. H., Mintzes, J. J., and Novak, J. D. (1994). Research on alternative conceptions in science. In Gabel, D. L. (Ed.), Handbook on Science Teaching and Learning, Macmillan, New York, pp. 177-210.Google Scholar
  38. White, B. Y., and Frederikson, J. R. (1998). Inquiry, modeling, and metacognition: Making science accessible to all students. Cognition and Instruction 16: 3-118.Google Scholar
  39. Windschitl, M., Winn, W., and Headley, N. (2001). Using immersive visualizations to promote the understanding of complex natural systems: Learning inside virtual Puget Sound. Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research on Science Teaching.Google Scholar
  40. Winn,W., and Windschitl, M. (in press). Learning in artificial environments. Artificial Environments. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Keating
    • 1
  • Michael Barnett
    • 2
  • Sasha A. Barab
    • 3
  • Kenneth E. Hay
    • 4
  1. 1.The Tech Museum of EducationUSA
  2. 2.Department of Curriculum and InstructionBoston CollegeChestnut Hill
  3. 3.Department of Instructional Systems Technology and Cognitive Science, School of EducationIndiana UniversityBloomington
  4. 4.Learning and Performance Support LaboratoryUniversity of Georgia

Personalised recommendations