Frede (2006)

This study examines trainee elementary school teachers' understanding and representation of the models they would be expected to teach and understand. It identifies several common misconceptions and indicates the proportion of teachers who hold them. The research was carried out by a university researcher in France.

Learners’ ideas

  • 84% of teachers could not explain that the tilt of the Earth's axis was responsible for the seasons.
  • Less than half of the teachers could draw the visual horizon like the tangent of the circle at the considered points (relevant to a question on stars viewed from various places on Earth)
  • 46% of teachers were unable to select the correct drawing showing the misconception of ‘absolute verticals’ (that there is one universal ‘up’ and one ‘down’).
  • 64% of teachers could not explain the differences between a star and a planet
  • The majority of teachers could not identify an observation of a 'moving star' as a meteor. [Note that this was not clearly defined in the questionnaire and may indicate a further misconception by the researchers or a difficulty in translation from the French term, perhaps ‘shooting star’.]
  • At least 15 teachers did not know the significance of the polar star.
  • 1/3 of teachers believed the Earth's rotation around the Sun was responsible for the day/night cycle

Study Structure


The stated aim was to investigate trainee elementary teachers’ conceptual understanding of the day/night cycle, seasonal changes, solar system composition and the size of the Universe.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected via a 30-minute, open, written questionnaire to collect teachers' conceptions.

The analysis was based on methods used in prior studies of misconceptions in this area and some simple statistical results were reported along with more general discussions.

Details of the sample

The research sample consisted of 50 trainee elementary school teachers. None had received specific training in astronomical topics.

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