Sharp (1996)

This study examines a broad range of ideas about astronomy held by 10- and 11-year-old students in the UK during the mid-1990s following the introduction of the topic in the National Curriculum. The research was carried out by a university-based researcher in the UK.

Learners’ ideas

  • Approximately half of the children described the Earth as round (2D), rather than spherical (3D). Various constructs were used to describe how people lived in the sphere.
  • The majority of children described the Sun as round, rather than spherical.
  • Many children were unaware of the Moon's motion in the sky.
  • Most children were unaware of the apparent motion of stars.
  • Interplanetary distances, relative or absolute were poorly known.
  • Children also used a variety of incorrect constructs to explain day and night, seasons, phases of the Moon, the relative movement of the Moon/Sun/Earth and the age of the universe.


Consider and investigate a combination of what is known about 'scientific' conceptual models, children's ideas, 'enabling concepts', the strengths and limitations of available resources, activities and teaching methods, the use of teacher and child language, impacts from other areas of the primary curriculum, and how these might be best integrated without being driven by 'scientific' content and process alone or losing sight of what a primary education entails.

Study Structure


The paper aims to explore the ideas of 10- to 11-year-olds concerning the planet Earth, Earth concept, the Sun, Moon and stars, day and night, the seasons, phases of the Moon and the solar system. It also aims to reveal the importance of everyday sensory experiences in children's construction of explanations for astronomical phenomena, including direct observations of the sky, cultural and social transmission, and formal instruction. 

Evidence collection

Preliminary findings of the research were obtained using a structured, semi-formal, Piagetian-type procedure involving interviews about concepts (Piaget 1929, White and Gunstone 1992); interviews about instances and events (Osborne and Gilbert 1980); and drawings (Symington et al. 1981, Hayes et al. 1994).

Interviews lasted 45 minutes to one hour and were conducted in a friendly atmosphere on a one-to-one basis in a quiet area of the classroom or as near to it as possible.

Details of the sample

Pilot interviews were conducted with a small group of Year 6 children not involved in the main study.
Forty-two 10- and 11-year-olds (twenty-one boys, twenty-one girls) from three schools in the east Devon district of southwest England were involved in the main study.

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