Teaching Moon Phases using Virtual & Physical Models in Middle School Science Classrooms

Abstract

The PIs are developing and testing a prototype visualization lab designed to help middle schoolers understand why the moon appears to have phases when observed from Earth. The work is being done through a partnership between (i) astronomers who have developed the WorldWide Telescope Universe Information System (WWT) and the World Wide Telescope Ambassadors program as a way of bringing the big data and visualization capabilities of astronomers to children and schools and (ii) learning scientists on the WISE team who have a long history of using what is known about how people learn to develop technology-rich middle school science curriculum. Astronomy data and tools for visualization developed by the WWT team is being integrated into WISE's technological infrastructure, which, for curriculum developers, scaffolds the development of curriculum that promotes learning, and for learners, makes available tools and resources for collaboratively making sense of what they are experiencing. Data is being collected that will show the potential of bringing these two projects together for promoting astronomy learning.

The WorldWide Telescope computer program, with 9 million downloads, and the WISE environment, funded by NSF since 1998, are both freely available and held up as examples showing the promise of cyberlearning approaches. This project holds the potential to demonstrate the power of formally combining two modern technologies, one developed in industry and the other with public funds, to enhance online learning and educational research. The approaches developed under this EAGER grant will offer an example for future private/public partnerships and a model for engaging students and promoting learning through access to the big data and tools of scientists, and it will result in free software for the public to use in learning about moon phases and catalyze a long-term partnership with potential for dramatically impacting the ways middle schoolers and high schoolers are exposed to and learn about astronomy and how astronomers do science. (IIS-1254535)