Plummer, Zahm and Rice (2010)

This paper looked at the outcomes of a 9-week astronomy inquiry project undertaken by a group of trainee elementary school teachers. The teacher studied a range of astronomical topics, constructing posters, models and presenting lectures to each other. During this course, a range of misconceptions was revealed. The research was carried out by university-based researchers in the USA.

Learners’ ideas

  • Many students described the Sun as moving around the Earth.
  • Some students believed that the Sun passes through the zenith in winter.
  • Some did not believe that the Moon appeared to move.
  • Some did not believe that the stars appear to move at night.
  • Many pre-service teachers do not hold scientific concepts of the patterns of the Sun, Moon, or stars’ daily motion or the seasonal change in the Sun’s path, and cannot give scientific explanations for these patterns, especially for the Moon and the stars.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • The participants’ limited success in applying scientific models to explain their data suggests that teacher educators may need to provide more guidance to help pre-service teachers perform these practices.
  • The findings suggest that if goals include both conceptual knowledge and understanding of the nature of science, preparing teachers requires opportunities for open-ended inquiry where participants struggle through the frustrations of doing science, explicit instruction on how this models the nature of science, and additional guidance in constructing scientific models to improve their understanding of conceptual goals.

Further suggestions

  • Open inquiry can improve pre-service teachers’ awareness of astronomical phenomena and increase the accuracy of their descriptions and, to a limited extent, their explanations.

Study Structure


The study investigated the impact of an open inquiry experience on students’ understanding of celestial motion as well as the methods developed by students to answer their own research questions. The two research questions were:

  1. What celestial motion topics and investigative approaches did the elementary science methods students choose in an open-inquiry environment?
  2. In what ways did the students’ knowledge change as a result of their own inquiry investigations and in-class activities?

Evidence collection

Pre/post interviews and assessments were used to measure change in participants’ understanding

A qualitative approach was used to describe the nature of each participant’s investigation through an analysis of their science journal and poster presentations.

Details of the sample

The study sample contains 18 participants, 16 women and 2 men. These were enrolled on an elementary teacher training course at a small university.

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