Jones, Lynch and Reesink (1987)

This study attempted to assess pupils' understanding (aged 9 to 12) of the relationship between the Sun, Earth and Moon and how these objects move relative to each other. It was based on earlier ideas about five conceptual models that pupils are commonly thought to hold (see Nussbaum and Novak 1976 and Nussbaum 1979). The research was carried out by university-based researchers in the USA.

Learners’ ideas

  • Some students believed that the Earth spins in place while the Moon and Sun remain stationary in space.
  • The Earth is at the centre of the solar system.
  • Some students used a Sun-centred model with the Earth and Moon orbiting about it in the same or concentric orbits.
  • A general lack of knowledge or perception of the spherical nature of the Earth, Sun and Moon.
  • The shape of the Sun and the Moon are cylindrical discs, half discs, hemispheres or spheres.
  • The size of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth are similar.

Study Structure


The aim of the study was to provide insights into pupils understanding of the Earth/Sun/Moon system.

Evidence collection

The children were questioned using a clinical interview technique and stimulus materials, about the shape, size and motion of the Earth, Sun and Moon. Interviews were carried out by the class teachers.

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of 32 pupils from four classes. Pupils were aged 9 to 12 years.

Each class had eight pupils of low, medium and high ability selected.

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