Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


MILLER, Kurtz K.M. and MOORE, Jason, Math and Science Department, Miami Valley Career Technology Center, 6800 Hoke Road, Clayton, OH 45315,

Scaling is an important skill that bridges mathematics and science, thus making it a “unifying theme” for both disciplines (Fidler and Dotger, 2009). Geoscience educators have focused attention on the importance of scaling the solar system (Teed, 2010; Basista, 2010). It is generally agreed upon that there are a number of misconceptions pertaining to the scaling of the solar system, including the distance and the relative spacing between the planets (McDonald, 2009; Teed, 2010). Previous research studies have not considered the reasons for misconceptions / biases in scaling the solar system.

In this study, which was conducted at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center (MVCTC), a total of 112 science students were administered a pre-test about the proper spacing between the planets in the solar system. While walking a 500-meter stretch of the school runway, students predicted where they thought the planets were located along the plane of the solar system. After making placement predictions, students accessed a web site which scaled the solar system down to the 500 meter runway. By using a guided inquiry lesson, students evaluated whether personal predictions aligned with the actual placement of the planets, thus helping to reveal potential misconceptions.

The median and average placement locations for all of the planets suggested the students possessed the misconception that the planets were symmetrically spaced. Reflective responses on a post-test indicated that there are several potential reasons why students may have articulated the symmetrical placement of the planets: 1. Symmetry bias, 2. Lack of knowledge/experience with the solar system, or 3. Difficulty working with mental images.

A clearer understanding of solar system scaling misconceptions / biases could help geosciences educators to better prepare students to learn about asymmetries in geological time, evolutionary lineages, atomic models and other earth and space science concepts. Future research studies should focus on investigating what contributing factor(s) influence students’ misconceptions / biases about the placement of the planets in the solar system.

  • Miller and Moore Poster 1-20-11.pptx (571.5 kB)
  • Actual Placement of the Planets.docx (120.3 kB)