Using Models to Enhance Spatial Cognition:

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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)




Literature Review

Shawn Laatsch

The u
nderstanding of basic astronomical concepts such as the apparent motions
of celestial objects

in the sky,

hases of the Moon,
size and scale of the solar system,
and reasons for s

has been found to be challenging and difficult, resulting in

having misconceptions regarding these phenomena.

These issues
are present across a variety of age groups from elementary students up through

All of these conc
epts entail using spatial relationships and being able
to reason through these phenomena from multiple points of view.

research base into student learning has been

regarding these concepts
using a variety of methods including th
e use of planetariums, the use of computer
models, and scientific visualizations (both film and computer generated).
methods such as conceptual change, inquiry
based instruction, and kinesthetic
instruction have been employed to attemp
t to remedy students

shortfalls in basic
astronomical concepts.
Researchers have also been delving into how students use
spatial cognition and visualizations to solve problems and understand their world. In
this review, six articles are considered in
looking at ways to enhance understanding of
basic astronomical concepts, and the ways in which a variety of models can be used to
improve students

spatial reasoning skills.

Using Models to Enhance Spatial Cognition:

Understanding of numerous concepts
in the sciences, and in particular astronomy, requires the ability for one to understand
spatial relationships and require one to be able to change one’s perspective in 3D
space. Barnett et al (2005) had undergraduate students construct computer models to

simulate Earth
Moon relationships to explore lunar phases, models of the celestial
sphere to examine observable celestial motion, and models of the solar system to
explore scale of the system along with it motions.
The study


that students
their understanding of astronomical phenomena requiring a change of one’s
viewing perspective, and argue “if we are to better support students learning of
astronomy, it is necessary that instructional activities reflect this inherent spatial and
dynamic na
ture of astronomy.” For one to be able to



models which can be
manipulated in 3D space and time have significant potential. Models and visualizations
have flat, two dimensional (2D) representations or stereoscopic, three dimensional (3D)
Price and Lee examine the use of 2D and 3D models on student performance in
spatial cognition tasks, and discuss the important cognitive link between representations
and student learning
dependent on

student perceptions of the representations. In
my settings, 2D static representations of moving 3D objects can often cause
problems in understanding or promote misconceptions. Computer models

such as
those used in Virtual R
eality environments or ones presented in digital planetariums
may provide good
solutions to these issues. Models can also take the form of playback
visualizations such as the famous science film

Powers of Ten

by Charles Eames.
Mathematical scales of the very large can be challenging for students to understand and
Jones et al show t
hat visualizations such as the film mentioned appears to be a
successful tool in improving students understanding of scale. Models allowing for
change in perspectives, whether manipulative or pre
recorded imagery, have been
shown to be significantly benef
icial in improving spatial cognition leading to greater
understanding of basic astronomical concepts.

Conceptual Change in Understanding
Basic Astronomical




fundamental issue of the need for “conceptual change” in order
for students to understand basic astronomical phenomena. Conceptual change with
regard to science
knowledge is considered to be a

where multiple experiences
afford students opportunity
to test and investigate their existing understanding through
meaningful events or experiences.
Plummer’s work with elementary stud
ents in the

et al

use of planetarium software, and Kucukozer et al
work with
computer modeling all del
ve into
concepts of basic celestial motion

and Mo
phasing looking to provide conceptual change.

These concepts
are ones that
elementary students typically struggle with and that conventional classroom instructional
techniques have very limited suc
cess in addressing.
Hobson et al (2010) state that
prior to instruction students held alternative understandings of Moon phasing with
dramatic improvement in understanding taking place following instruction using the
Starry Night

planetarium software

where students were able to model and observe the
patterns in these phenomena

Kucukozer et al (2009) found that
POE (Predict
instruction coupled with 3D computer models was significantly
effective in bringing about conceptual change in

students understanding of the same
concept. Plummer’s
results in the planetarium support these findings
as well as

show significant improvement in

student understanding of the causes of day and night

While her methods use kinesthetic
based instr
uction, it is aimed at changing students’
perceptions of these observational events.

l seem to point to the need for
students to
have experiences that chan
ge their initial conception or alternative explanations of
these phenomena.

These articles
vide context for my area of interest in research of how digital
planetariums can enhance undergraduate astronomy learning. Digital planetariums use
dynamic visual models presenting spatial relationships in immersive ways. These
potential in assistin
g students in

understanding causes of astronomical phenomena.
he six articles in this review

make a strong case for using
dynamic 3D computer



visualizations as part of instruction


at all age levels from
elementary students through undergraduate

These models have the ability to strongly
influence conceptual change in
learning of astronomy.


Barnett M., Yamagata
Lynch, L., Keating, T., Barab, S., and Hay, K.E.,

Virtual Reality Computer Models to Support Student Understanding of Astronomical
Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching (2005), volume
24(4), p. 333

Hobson, S.M., Trundle, C.T., and Sackes, M. (2010).
a Planetarium Software
Program to Promote Conceptual Change with Young Children.

Journal of Science
Education Technology, volume 19, p. 165

Jones, M.G., Taylor, A., Minogue, J., Broadwell, B., Wiebe, E., and Carter, G. (2006).
Understanding Scale: Po
wers of Ten.

Journal of Science Education and Technology,
Vol.16, No. 2, April 2007.

Kucukozer, H., Korkusuz, M. E., Kucukozer, H.A., and Yurumezoglu, H.A. (2009).
Effect of 3D Computer Modeling and Observation
Base Instruction on Conceptual
Change Re
garding Basic Concepts of Astronomy in Elementary School Students.

Astronomy Education Review,8, 0101104
1, 10.3847/AER20090006.

Plummer, J.D. (2008).
Early Elementary Students’ Development of Astronomy Concepts
in the Planetarium
. Journal of Research in
Science Teaching, 46, 192

Price, A., and Lee, H.S., (2010).
The Effect of Two
dimensional and Stereoscopic
Presentation on Middle Schools Students’ Performance of Spatial Cognition Tasks.
Journal of Science Education Technology, volume 19, p. 90