Preservice elementary teachers learning of astronomy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Science Teaching


Sharon Dotger


Elementary teachers, Teacher preparation, Scale, Astronomy, Elementary science, Spatial aptitude, Conceptual change

Subject Categories

Education | Science and Mathematics Education


The dissertation presents a new approach for the study of preservice elementary teacher astronomy education. The approach suggests that learning astronomical concepts are facilitated by greater sophistication in scale perception and spatial-aptitude. This dissertation is underscored by the national call for elementary science education reform efforts and suggests certain strategies shown more effective for the development of accurate astronomical comprehension.

The present research study describes how preservice elementary teachers conceptualize and communicate ideas about Space. Instead of assuming a universal mental conception of cosmic orientations and relationships, the dissertation claims that the perception of Space related dimensions vary among preservice elementary teachers. Furthermore, the dissertation suggests individual perceptions of the scale sizes and orientations of celestial systems have direct influences on mental models used to organize and communicate astronomical information. The development of inaccurate mental models of the scaled dimensions of Space may perpetuate the teacher-student cycle of misconception and naïve-theory generation among children in elementary education settings.

The ability to conceptualize the vast cosmos is facilitated by the minds ability to think about vast scales and orientations of celestial objects. The Earth-based perspective of astronomy education compels the learner to think about astronomical principles within imaginary frames of reference and across unfamiliar scaled dimensions. Therefore, mental astronomical model building is underscored by the perception of scale and cosmic spatiality. This study suggests these cognitive skill sets are interconnected and facilitate the learning of accurate astronomy principles; as well as play an important role when designing an astronomy education program for preservice elementary teachers. This research study is comprised of three separate standalone articles designed and formatted for journal submission. Chapter 1 outlines the intent, rationale, and design of the overall dissertation process and format. Chapter 2 describes an in-depth review of the specific astronomy curricula used for comparison by subsequent chapters and is not intended as a standalone article, but rather as an informative outline of events and activities to help the reader understand the differences of instruction between the two sections of sample populations. Chapter 3 uses qualitative interviews to explore the cosmic dimensions associated with learning of astronomy and finds diverse perceptions of astronomical scales may influence preservice teachers' mental organization of astronomical information. Chapter 4 further analyzes cosmic dimensions using quantitative analyses and specifically examines preservice teachers perceptions of scale and spatiality within the context of astronomy education. Findings from Chapter 4 show that perceptions of scale and spatiality are an interconnected set of learning skills which may greatly enhance the learning of astronomy. Chapter 5 describes how concepts of scale and spatiality may be operationalized within a secondary school science classroom in order to better understand the scaled distances of stars though an inquiry-based three-dimensional modeling activity. Chapter 6 briefly concludes the dissertation work. Due to the nature of this dissertation design, the conclusions chapter is quite succinct as previous chapters are designed with conclusions sections embedded within the body of the text as outlined by specific journal submission guidelines.

These dissertation ideas are presented in a formal setting so that the various research undertakings can be studied and analyzed. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of research data are present to support the claims made in this study. The results of this research combine with features of previous research in order to advance our understanding of how preservice elementary teachers think about and learn astronomy.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.