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The enduring effects of early-learned ideas and local folklore on children's astronomy knowledge

Blown, Eric J. and Bryce, Thomas G. K. (2018) The enduring effects of early-learned ideas and local folklore on children's astronomy knowledge. Research in Science Education. ISSN 1573-1898

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The research described here examined the sources of knowledge of astronomy of children (age 3-18) in China and New Zealand, together with the development of their awareness of competing sources, ranging from everyday language, childhood literature and folklore to the scientific accounts prevalent in schools. The authors cite examples of the bootstrapping encountered during these years, where children’s expanding knowledge and how they process questions intended to probe their understandings – their meta-cognitive strategies – are mutually beneficial. The semi-structured interviews utilising three modalities (verbal language, drawing and play-dough modelling) carried out with pupils (n=358), and questionnaires administered to their parents (n=80), teachers (n=65), and local librarians (n=5), focused on young people’s understanding of daytime and night-time and the roles played by the Sun and Moon in creating familiar events. The findings underscore the arguments put forward by the authors in a recent article in this journal concerning the co-existence of everyday and scientific concepts. The influence of early-learned ideas deriving from pre-school experiences, recalled by children and largely corroborated by family members, was found to be extensive. Evidence of the migration of folklore in one of the two settings investigated (on the North East China Plain) and therefore its continuing influence on children’s comprehension is provided. With respect to teaching, the authors argue the benefits to be had in making more explicit with young students the differences between early-learned (everyday-cultural) ideas – particularly local community knowledge and folklore – and the scientific content found in the school curriculum.