University of Cape Town/IAU Office of Astronomy for Education
All Sessions by Tshiamiso Makwela
Day 1 - Wed 10th May
Priming the Source-Path-Goal image schema for teaching distances in Astronomy: an account of a journey to the edge of the observable UNIVERSE along UNIVERSity Avenue
11:30 - 11:45
Co-authors: Dale Taylor, Sarah Blyth and Saalih Allie
Studies in South Africa (2014 & 2018) and Norway (2018) indicated that students perform poorly on questions regarding distances and sizes in astronomy. despite marked educational and language differences between the two groups. This raised the intriguing possibility of a deeper cognitive issue rather than, say, poor teaching. We investigated this further by probing the way students engage cognitively with different distance regimes by eliciting detailed written responses for 7m, 100km, and distance to the moon (384 403km) using specially constructed questions. The student’s written responses were carefully analyzed for key explanatory ideas which were grouped into categories. In keeping with the Grounded Theory/Theorizing Methodology that underpinned the study, the categories were used to construct a unified explanatory model. This localized explanatory model was identified as being consistent with the cognitive perspective of Embodied Cognition. In particular, when engaging with a task, activates a specific “image schema” that is used for understanding the task at hand (i.e., all abstract and conceptual thinking). These “image schemas”/ “thinking templates” arise from associating repeated infant bodily experiences i.e. sensory-motor activity with specific neural activation. In this work, a “phase transition” could be seen between in student responses, from a calibrated counting explanation for 7m, and journeying for 100km, the “journey” category is closely related to the “source-path-goal” image schema. Our teaching intervention was based on trying to prime this “source-path-goal” schema intentionally while teaching astronomical distances, which led to learning gains that show much promise.
In my talk, I would like to share the steps taken in this study."