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Children's concepts of the shape and size of the earth, sun and moon

Bryce, Thomas and Blown, Eric (2013) Children's concepts of the shape and size of the earth, sun and moon. International Journal of Science Education, 35 (3). pp. 388-446. ISSN 0950-0693

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Abstract

Children's understandings of the shape and relative sizes of the Earth, Sun and Moon have been extensively researched and in a variety of ways. Much is known about the confusions which arise as young people try to grasp ideas about the world and our neighbouring celestial bodies. Despite this, there remain uncertainties about the conceptual models which young people use and how they theorise in the process of acquiring more scientific conceptions. In this article, the relevant published research is reviewed critically and in-depth in order to frame a series of investigations using semi-structured interviews carried out with 248 participants aged 3–18 years from China and New Zealand. Analysis of qualitative and quantitative data concerning the reasoning of these subjects (involving cognitive categorisations and their rank ordering) confirmed that (a) concepts of Earth shape and size are embedded in a 'super-concept' or 'Earth notion' embracing ideas of physical shape, 'ground' and 'sky', habitation of and identity with Earth; (b) conceptual development is similar in cultures where teachers hold a scientific world view and (c) children’s concepts of shape and size of the Earth, Sun and Moon can be usefully explored within an ethnological approach using multi-media interviews combined with observational astronomy. For these young people, concepts of the shape and size of the Moon and Sun were closely correlated with their Earth notion concepts and there were few differences between the cultures despite their contrasts. Analysis of the statistical data used Kolmogorov–Smirnov Two-Sample Tests with hypotheses confirmed at K–S alpha level 0.05; rs: p<0.01.