Early Elementary Students' Development of Astronomy Concepts in the Planetarium

September 2, 2014, 1:51:16


Plummer, J., 2008, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46, 2, 192-209

Few studies (prior to the publishing of this one) exist regarding how students learn in a planetarium environment. In prior studies of student understanding of the motions of celestial objects, the results suggest that students have a limited understanding of these motions; other studies involving teachers also showed that their overall knowledge base is limited. Both teachers and students had general knowledge of the motions of the Sun, but knowledge of the apparent motions of the Moon (including lunar phases) and stars was lacking. This study involved investigating whether a single 45-minute kinesthetic element-based planetarium program had an effect on students' understanding of the apparent motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars across the sky.

Seven classes of first and second grade students participated in a 45-minute planetarium program. Students were chosen by their teacher or randomly selected for interviews. Classes participated separately, for a total of 7 planetarium programs conducted by the author of the study. Patterns of motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars were taught in methods that combined students' visual observation of motions, verbal instructions from the facilitator, and students' body movements to trace and mimic the movements of celestial objects through pointing, tracing movements, and predicting positions and movements.

Does not apply

The students who participated in the interviews were questioned individually in a small dome-shaped room in their schools; students used a flashlight on the dome to illustrate their understandings of the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. The study facilitator created drawings to represent the students' answers and the interviews were audio recorded. Interviews were conducted on average approximately a week before the planetarium visit and a week after the visit (the interval varied by school). Data were coded to represent students' concepts and concept accuracy level. The Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-ranks test was used to determine if there were significant pre-post differences in student scores. The Mann-Whitney U-test was also used.

The article does not specify this information.

The article does not specify the number of schools/classrooms approached compared to the number who agreed to participate.


Participants showed statistically significant improvement in: demonstrating the motion of the Sun in summer and winter, comparison of the height of the Sun between summer and winter, the apparent motion of the Moon, the accurate length of time for the appearance of the Moon to change, the location of the Moon during the day, the location of the stars during the day, and the apparent motion of the stars. The most improvement was noted for topics relating to the apparent motions of the Sun and Moon, and the least improvement was noted for the Sun's path through the seasons and the motions of the stars.

The author indicates that more study in this area is needed, but this study shows that young children are able to learn the concepts of celestial motion. It also showed the apparent utility of a stimulating kinesthetic planetarium program to help support classroom instruction in the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars.


The study was conducted in a planetarium. The time of year was not specified.



United States of America




Formal ed: Primary elementary


Formal Education




STEM content learning

Teaching and learning in informal settings

Earth, Moon, and Sun: Days

Earth, Moon, and Sun: Seasons

Solar System: The Moon

Solar System: The Sun

Elementary/Primary School

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