DO PRESERVICE ELEMENTARY/MIDDLE TEACHERS UNDERSTAND EARTH'S SHAPE AND GRAVITY? RELATIONSHIPS TO SPATIAL ABILITY AND MISCONCEPTIONS
In this study, the WIE, two additional questions, ESC, and PVOR were administered to 93 students in five EST classes. Results showed that 98% of students understood Earth is round but looks flat because we see only a small part, but only 57% knew that if Earth was glass that looking downward would allow sight of China. Similarly, 54% could not show that persons at five locations dropping rocks would experience the rock falling toward Earth's center, but stopping at the surface; 33% drew rocks falling through or around Earth. 69% showed a rock dropping through the planet if a tunnel was dug from pole to pole. No one wrote that the center of the planet was the center of mass. Most students drew a horizontal water level (78%), but 44% showed a hanging rope inclined leftward. Correlations showed a positive relationship between WIE, ESC, and PVOR scores. Although ESC scores improved during the semester (30% - 44%), PVOR scores did not change.
Therefore, although a majority of adult preservice teachers showed an understanding of Earth’s shape, a troubling number failed to show a basic understanding of gravity and an application of knowledge of Earth's shape. Although earlier researchers have attributed such misunderstandings primarily to children, adults entering teaching exhibit similar ideas, and may also exhibit other misconceptions and have trouble with spatial ability. Hopefully, continuation and improvement of a spatially-related Earth Science curriculum will gradually improve understanding of these basic concepts.