PD Days Under the Moon: Teaching Lunar Phases to In-Service Teachers by Doing Astronomy Like Astronomers Do and its Impact on Their Students’ Learning
Keywords:astronomy education, conceptual change, in-service teachers’ training, modelling, phases of the Moon, self-efficacy
Several school curricula urge K-12 teachers to engage their students in scientific inquiry activities that not only promote students’ learning in science, but also foster students’ understanding of science methodology. Unfortunately, recent large-scale studies have shown that inquiry-based science teaching in school is the exception, rather than the norm. This is especially true for astronomy, which teachers often consider too abstract and remote for inquiry-based teaching. To promote inquiry-based teaching in astronomy, we present an epistemological and historical analysis of the way astronomers build new knowledge and propose to teach astronomy through a scientific inquiry process consisting of “Doing astronomy like astronomers do”. This inquiry-based approach, which also includes observation, modelling, and communication with peers, emulates the different steps astronomers and scientists go through to do empirical science (question, hypothesis, observation, analysis/synthesis, modelling, prediction/application, and communication), transposed into a teaching and learning lesson plan about the phases of the Moon. The crucial steps of observation, analysis/synthesis, and modelling, where astronomers create models as proxies of astronomical objects that cannot be manipulated, is highlighted. This inquiry-based astronomy training, which also promotes conceptual change about lunar phases, was tested with 18 in-service elementary and high school teachers engaged in a professional development (PD) training program. Three participant teachers also taught lunar phases to their own elementary and high school students (N = 104) using the same approach. We present the results of a quasi-experimental study of the impacts of this PD training about lunar phases on the learning gains and self-efficacy of the participating in-service teachers, as well as on their students’ learning.