Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 2:20 PM
PROGRESS IN IMPROVING ASTRONOMY EDUCATION & OUTREACH THROUGH EDUCATION RESEARCH
As a key component of geoscience education, topics in astronomy and planetary science are well positioned to naturally capture the interest of students. In parallel with the discipline-based education research of the solid-Earth geosciences, astronomy education research has made tremendous progress in understanding the underlying cognitive mechanisms students use when engaging in learning astronomy over the past 50 years. Much of the astronomy education research published in the early years focused on understanding student difficulties with learning reasons for seasons, causes of moon phases, and the directional nature and influence of gravity. In more recent decades, astronomy education researchers have focused on documenting and categorizing student misconceptions in modern topics, including the nature of Big Bang cosmology, physical processes defining stars and galaxies, and implications of astrobiology. Today, astronomy education researchers are evolving beyond identifying and listing misconceptions and focusing on developing a focus on the impact of cognition and the learning sciences, including spatial reasoning, and effects of student beliefs, including religious and spiritual commitments. These aspects complicate the development of improved teaching strategies and learning environments. Moreover, in terms of outreach, astronomy can find itself in a precarious position in that astronomy is typically a part of the Earth sciences in K-12 schools, but more frequently found as part of the physics curriculum at the college-level. This results in people working in astronomy outreach coming from different academic orientations, which can result in duplication of effort. This seemingly awkward positioning of astronomy between geology and physics does have the advantage of providing multiple streams of fiscal resources, with different federal agencies all providing considerable support to astronomy education and outreach efforts.