Knowledge of astronomical scale: measurement and evaluation
14:45 - 15:00
Having an appreciation for astronomical scale is significant for understanding the foundations of astronomy. However, a key challenge in developing this understanding is the lack of direct ways to acquire this knowledge. Personal experience may even be detrimental, given that our direct experience is of the Earth as something very large, whereas stars are tiny pinpricks of light. As a first step to address this issue, it is necessary to assess people’s knowledge of astronomical scale to identify common misconceptions and evaluate the effectiveness of educational interventions. However, no instruments so far have enabled evaluation of people’s knowledge of astronomical scale for multiple objects. Previous instruments have generally only included a few questions about scale—mostly through multiple choice—limiting the number of objects simultaneously probed to three and often not probing all possible rankings. To measure people’s knowledge of astronomical scale, we developed an instrument that allows for easy collection, analysis and presentation of data ranking multiple astronomical objects (we included up to ten objects). I will present this instrument and the results from three different samples: middle school students (N = 922), pre-service science teachers (N = 41) and visitors to a public guided astronomy night viewing tour (N > 500). For all samples, data before and after astronomy instruction was collected, revealing dominant misconceptions in rankings in astronomical scale and preliminary results on the effects of various types of instruction.