Barnett and Morran (2002)

This study was designed to evaluate a project-based space science curriculum for elementary school students in the USA. This curriculum was designed to support students in identifying their own understanding and monitor changes in their conceptions. The research was carried out by a university researcher and school teacher.

Learners’ ideas

  • A student believed that the phases of the Moon were caused by the shadow of the Earth.
  • The same student later believed that the new Moon and lunar eclipses are both caused by the Earth’s shadow because it prevents light from reaching the Moon.
  • Some students thought that the Moon’s phases were caused by the Earth’s rotation
  • Others explained that the Moon needed to be located to the side of the Earth in order for the Moon to reflect the Sun’s light back toward the Earth.
  • Some students said that lunar eclipses and phases of the Moon were due to the Earth’s rotation.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • Students will develop a better understanding of natural phenomena when instruction is designed to afford students opportunities to not only become aware of their own understanding but also to reflect and discuss their understanding in an environment where discussion about ideas is valued.
  • When designing instruction, curriculum developers and teachers should focus on supporting students in thinking about their ideas in relation to their existing understanding and the ideas that they are trying to learn.

Study Structure


This study conducted an analysis of a space science curriculum designed to engage students in activities that support them in developing an understanding of the relationship between the Moon’s phases and eclipses.

Two questions were investigated:

  1. Can students aged 9-10 develop sophisticated understandings of complex astronomical phenomena, namely the phases of the Moon and lunar and solar eclipses?
  2. Can students’ alternative frameworks be improved when exposed to instruction that does not directly address their existing alternative frameworks?

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected through pre- and post-interviews. The interview questions were semi-structured, consisting of seven questions that covered a wide range of astronomy concepts with an emphasis on the concepts that relate to the Earth-Sun-Moon system. The interview questions were derived from the existing alternative conception literature and from previous work by the researchers. Video recordings were evaluated, and coding of the transcribed pre-post interviews was used to score the student responses by a rubric.

Details of the sample

This study was conducted in a medium-sized rural elementary school during the fall term of 1999 over a 10-week period. 17 advanced 10-11-year-old students took part in a special science course and met 3 days a week for 10 weeks.

Fourteen students completed both pre- and post-interviews.

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today