Trumper (2001)

This study investigated junior high school students’ (13-15) misconceptions of some basic astronomy concepts. Students completed a questionnaire, and the responses were analysed to find the proportions of students holding specific, incorrect, ideas. The research was carried out by university-based researchers in the USA.

This paper clearly provides an example of a straightforward method to identify and analyse misconceptions, finding clear, statistical, evidence of areas where the students hold significant beliefs which will need to be challenged.

Learners’ ideas

  • Almost half of the students did not link Earth's rotation to the day-night cycle.
  • Students typically underestimated the distances in the Universe and overestimated the Earth’s diameter.
  • Students state that the reason for the different seasons is the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the plane of its orbit as it revolves around the Sun.
  • Some students still held a naive flat-Earth notion or that the Earth is a hollow sphere. 
  • A few think that the Sun is moving down to the ground and hiding behind the mountains or that it ‘hid’ at night.
  • Students could still use Earth-centred models.
  • The Moon’s phases were explained using ideas that involve an object either obscuring part of the Moon or casting a shadow on its surface.
  • Seasons were explained using the idea that the Sun is farther away during the winter.


  • Teachers should have knowledge of students’ existing understanding of the targeted conceptual areas and use this as a starting point for the design of appropriate teaching materials.
  • Students should become self-aware of their own views and uncertainties.
  • Provide experiences that will help students to change their views and conceptions, and accept the scientific view.

Two specific activities were also recommended:

  • A model that includes a bright lamp (Sun), a tennis ball (Earth) and a ping-pong ball (Moon) in order to simulate the day-night cycle, the lunar phases and the relative motions between the Sun, Earth and Moon.
  • Measurement of the Sun's diameter by means of a pierced aluminium sheet and a common white sheet at a fixed known distance (using triangle similarity).

Study Structure


To identify junior high school students’ astronomy conceptions as they started the first semester of study.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected via a written questionnaire which was then analysed qualitatively.

Details of the sample

The research sample contained 448 students (154 students aged 13 in grade seven, 152 students aged 14 in grade eight, and 142 students aged 15 in grade nine). This included 244 girls and 204 boys.

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