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2012
Chris Impey, Sanlyn Buxner, Jessie Antonellis
Astronomy Education Review 11(1), 010111

A survey of over 11000 undergraduate students' knowledge and attitudes related to science and technology over a 22-year period included statements that probed faith-based beliefs and various aspects of pseudoscience belief and superstition. The results reveal that nonscientific ways of thinking are resistant to formal instruction, changing surprisingly little over the course of a college career that typically includes three science courses. The level of basic science knowledge among undergraduates is only weakly coupled to attitudes towards pseudoscience, and it coexists with attitudes and beliefs that are faith-based. These results provide a challenge for educators who seek to improve the generally low level of science literacy among college graduates and members of the general public.


Colin S. Wallace and Ed Prather
American Journal of Physics, 80(5), 382-90

Physics instructors can enrich, enliven, and enhance their courses with conceptually rich cosmology content. In this paper, we specifically discuss how instructors can integrate lessons on Hubble’s law (as it relates to the expansion of the universe and dark energy) and spiral galaxies’ rotation curves (as they relate to the presence of dark matter) into an introductory, college-level course on mechanics. These cosmology topics intersect with the content of introductory physics in a number of areas, such as students’ abilities to read and interpret graphs and their conceptual understandings of both kinematics and dynamics. Throughout this paper, we draw upon the results from, and research-validated curricula informed by, physics and astronomy education research. In particular, we feature the results from a national study we recently completed with introductory college-level general education astronomy students on the teaching and learning of cosmology.


Colin S. Wallace, Ed Prather, and Doug Duncan
Astronomy Education Review 11(1), 010103

This is the third of five papers detailing our national study of general education astronomy students’ conceptual and reasoning difficulties with cosmology. In this paper, we use item response theory to analyze students’ responses to three out of the four conceptual cosmology surveys we developed. The specific item response theory model we use is known as the partial credit model. Since readers may be unfamiliar with the partial credit model, we provide a pedagogical introduction to this model. We use the partial credit model to assess the reliabilities of the four survey forms and to determine the probabilities of students achieving different scores on survey items.


Colin S. Wallace, Ed Prather, and Doug Duncan
Astronomy Education Review, 11(1), 010104

This is our fourth paper in our five paper series describing our national study of general education astronomy
students’ conceptual and reasoning difficulties with cosmology. While previous papers in this series focused on the processes by which we collected and quantitatively analyzed our data, this paper presents the most common pre-instruction conceptual and reasoning difficulties identified from our qualitative analysis of students’ written responses. We discuss students’ na?¨ve ideas about the expansion and evolution of the universe, the Big Bang, interpreting Hubble plots, and the evidence for dark matter in spiral galaxies.


Colin S. Wallace, Edward E. Prather, & Douglas K. Duncan
International Journal of Science Education, 34(9), 1297-1314.

This is the final paper in a five-paper series describing our national study of the teaching and learning of cosmology in general education astronomy college-level courses. A significant portion of this work was dedicated to the development of five new Lecture-Tutorials that focus on addressing the conceptual and reasoning difficulties that our research shows students have with frequently taught cosmology topics, such as the expansion of the universe, the Big Bang, and dark matter. We conducted a systematic investigation of the implementation of these new Lecture-Tutorials and resulting learning gains in order to test the efficacy of these new Lecture-Tutorials. Our investigation included classroom observations, results from pre–post testing using four conceptual cosmology surveys, and comparisons between classes in terms of the class time spent on cosmology topics and other instructional strategies used to teach cosmology. We used this combination of qualitative and quantitative research results to evaluate the conceptual understandings of students who used the new cosmology Lecture-Tutorials compared to those students who did not. The analysis of our data shows that, in many cases, classrooms that used the cosmology Lecture-Tutorials saw a greater increase in their students’ conceptual cosmology knowledge compared to classrooms that did not use the cosmology Lecture-Tutorials. However our results also indicate how instructors implement the Lecture-Tutorials into their classrooms strongly influences their students’ learning gains.


Gina Brissenden, Edward E. Prather, Chris Impey
In Organizations, People and Strategies in Astronomy—Volume 1 (OPSA), Andre Heck, Editor, Venngeist, Duttlenheim, ISBN 978-2-9542677-0-8, 149-162.

The Center for Astronomy Education’s (CAE’s) NSF-funded
Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS) Program is a grass-
roots multi-institutional effort to increase the capacity for astronomy educa-
tion research and improve science literacy in the United States. Our primary
target population is the 500,000 college students who each year enroll in an
introductory general education (a breadth requirement for non-science ma-
jors) Earth, Astronomy, and Space Science (EASS) course (Fraknoi 2001,
AGI 2006). An equally important population for our efforts is the individ-
uals who are, or will be, teaching these students.
In this chapter, we will briefly discuss the goals of CAE and CATS, the
varied personnel that make up the CATS collective, the diverse projects
we’ve undertaken, and the many challenges we have had to work through
to make CATS a success.


Jessie Antonellis, Sanlyn Buxner, Chris Impey, Hannah Sugarman
Journal of College Science Teaching, 41(3). p.82

This paper presents the qualitative analysis of data from a 20-year project analyzing the knowledge and attitudes toward science of undergraduate students enrolled in introductory astronomy courses. The data were collected from nearly 10,000 students between 1989 and 2009 via a written survey that included four open-ended questions, inquiring into students’ knowledge of scientific inquiry, DNA, computer software, and radiation. Trends in students’ responses were arranged into concept maps that depict patterns in student thinking. Students’ responses were also compared with criteria established by a sample of scientists. Students were familiar with empiricism in science and understood that science tries to explain the world but were not as attuned to the need to support arguments with evidence as scientists would expect. Students had a narrower conception of DNA, yet often related a blend of accurate and inaccurate ideas. The accuracy of students’ descriptions of software increased over time, though they were more likely to approach software from a consumer rather than computer science perspective. Students attended overly much to the dangers of radiation, and the accuracy of responses decreased over time. This research demonstrates that students’ ideas about science are less focused than scientists would like.


Sanlyn Buxner, Chris Impey, Kitina Tijerino, and Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS)
Mercury, 24(4), 24-25


2011
Chris Impey, Sanlyn Buxner, Jessie Antonellis, Elizabeth Johnson, and Courtney King
Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(4). p.31

First results from a 20-year survey of science knowledge and attitudes toward science among undergraduates are presented. Nearly 10,000 students taking astronomy as part of a general education requirement answered a set of questions that overlap a science literacy instrument administered to the general public by the National Science Foundation. The research questions addressed are: What is the level of science literacy among undergraduates, and what variables or attributes predict science literacy? Their attitudes toward science and pseudo-science were probed by a set of 22 statements coded on a Likert scale. On the knowledge items, freshmen perform only marginally higher than the general public, with the exception of large positive differences in their knowledge of evolution and the Big Bang. Gains on any particular item through the time that students graduate are only 10%-15%, despite the fact that they have taken two or three science courses. Belief in pseudoscience runs high, and the fact that the level of pseudoscience belief does not correlate well with the level of science knowledge is particularly noteworthy. In addition, no variable in the analysis is predictive of science literacy. Over the interval 1988-2008, there's no detectable improvement in undergraduate scientific literacy.


Colin S. Wallace
UMI Number: 3453804

This study reports the results of the rst systematic investigation into Astro 101 students'
conceptual and reasoning diculties with cosmology. We developed four surveys with which we
measured students' conceptual knowledge of the Big Bang, the expansion and evolution of the
universe, and the evidence for dark matter. Our classical test theory and item response theory
analyses of over 2300 students' pre- and post-instruction responses, combined with daily classroom
observations, videotapes of students working in class, and one-on-one semi-structured think-aloud
interviews with nineteen Astro 101 students, revealed several common learning diculties. In
order to help students overcome these diculties, we used our results to inform the development
of a new suite of cosmology lecture-tutorials. In our initial testing of the new lecture-tutorials
at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Arizona, we found many cases
in which students who used the lecture-tutorials achieved higher learning gains (as measured by
our surveys) at statistically signi cant levels than students who did not. Subsequent use of the
lecture-tutorials at a variety of colleges and universities across the United States produced a wide
range of learning gains, suggesting that instructors' pedagogical practices and implementations of
the lecture-tutorials signi cantly a ect whether or not students achieve high learning gains.


Colin S. Wallace, Ed Prather, and Doug Duncan
Astronomy Education Review 10, 010106-1

This is the first in a series of five articles describing a national study of general education astronomy students’ conceptual and reasoning difficulties with cosmology. In this paper, we describe the process by which we designed four new surveys to assess general education astronomy students’ conceptual cosmology knowledge. These surveys focused on the expansion and evolution of the universe, the Big Bang, and the evidence for dark matter in spiral galaxies. We also present qualitative evidence for the validity of these surveys.


Colin S. Wallace, Ed Prather, and Doug Duncan
Astronomy Education Review 10(1), 010107

This is the second of five papers detailing our national study of general education astronomy students’ conceptual and reasoning difficulties with cosmology. This article begins our quantitative investigation of the data. We describe how we scored students’ responses to four conceptual cosmology surveys, and we present evidence for the inter-rater reliability of those scores. We devote the bulk of this article to a classical test theory analysis of the data. We calculate difficulties and discriminations for each item, and we compute Cronbach’s a as a measure of the reliability of the surveys. We also discuss the implications this analysis has for the validity of the surveys.


Ed Prather, Alex Rudolph, and Gina Brissenden
Peer Review, Summer 2011

The college-level general education (GE) curriculum in the United States can have many goals: exposing students to the breadth of human thoughts and ideas; elevating their reading comprehension, writing abilities, evaluation of information and complex systems, critical reasoning skills; and providing an understanding of and appreciation for subjects outside of their chosen field of study. Unfortunately, the majority of this learning takes place in large enrollment courses. Therefore, as educators and researchers from many fields have documented, students often emerge from our courses without a deeper understanding of, or appreciation for, our disciplines. Further, they fail to acquire the skills and abilities we have worked so hard to help them develop. How, then, can we expect these students to go out into society and successfully engage with, and help solve, the complex and critical problems that face our nation?


Hannah Sugarman, Chris Impey, Sanlyn Buxner, & Jessie Antonellis
Astronomy Education Review, 10, 010101-1

A survey of the science knowledge and attitudes toward science of nearly 10000 undergraduates at a large public university over a 20-year period included several questions addressing student beliefs in astrology and other forms of pseudoscience. The results from our data reveal that a large majority of students (78 percent) considered astrology “very” or “sort of” scientific. Only 52 percent of science majors said that astrology is “not at all” scientific. We find that students’ science literacy, as defined by the National Science Foundation in its surveys of the general public, does not strongly correlate with an understanding that astrology is pseudoscientific, and therefore belief in astrology is likely not a valid indicator of scientific illiteracy.


Janelle M. Bailey, Bruce Johnson, Edward E. Prather, and Timothy F. Slater
International Journal of Science Education 2011, 1–30, iFirst Article

Concept inventories (CIs)—typically multiple-choice instruments that focus on a single or small subset of closely related topics—have been used in science education for more than a decade. This paper describes the development and validation of a new CI for astronomy, the Star Properties Concept Inventory (SPCI). Questions cover the areas of stellar properties (focussing primarily on mass, temperature, luminosity, and lifetime), nuclear fusion, and star formation. Distracters were developed from known alternative conceptions and reasoning difficulties commonly held by students. The SPCI was tested through an iterative process where different testing formats (open-ended, multiple-choice and explain, and multiple-choice) were compared to ensure that the distracters were in fact the most common among the testing population. Content validity was established through expert reviews by 26 astronomy instructors. The SPCI Version 3 was then tested in multiple introductory undergraduate astronomy courses for non-science majors. Post-test scores (out of 23 possible) were significantly greater (M one-fourth 11.8, SD one-fourth 3.87 than the pre-test scores (M one-fourth 7.09, SD one-fourth 2.73). The low post-test score—only 51.3 percent—could indicate a need for changing instructional strategies on the topics of stars and star formation.


2010
Alexander L. Rudolph, Edward E. Prather, Gina Brissenden, David Consiglio, & Vicente Gonzaga
Astronomy Education Review, 9, 010107-1

This is the second in a series of reports on a national study of the teaching and learning of astronomy in general education, non-science major, introductory college astronomy courses (hereafter referred to as Astro 101). The analysis reported here was conducted using data from nearly 2000 students enrolled in 69 Astro 101 classes taught across the country. These students completed a 15-question demographic survey, in addition to completing the 26-question Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory (LSCI) pre- and post-instruction. The LSCI was used to determine student learning via a normalized gain calculated for each student. A multivariate regression analysis was conducted to determine how ascribed characteristics (personal demographic and family characteristics), achieved characteristics (academic achievement and student major), and the use of interactive learning strategies are related to student learning in these classes. The results show dramatic improvement in student learning with increased use of interactive learning strategies even after controlling for individual characteristics. In addition, we find that the positive effects of interactive learning strategies apply equally to men and women, across ethnicities, for students with all levels of prior mathematical preparation and physical science course experience, independent of GPA, and regardless of primary language. These results powerfully illustrate that all categories of students can benefit from the effective implementation of interactive learning strategies.


Colin S. Wallace and Janelle M. Bailey
Astronomy Education Review, 9(1), 010116

Although concept inventories are among the most frequently used tools in the physics and astronomy education communities, they are rarely evaluated using item response theory (IRT). When IRT models fit the data, they offer sample-independent estimates of item and person parameters. IRT may also provide a way to measure students’ learning gains that circumvents some known issues with Hake’s normalized gain. In this paper, we review the essentials of IRT while simultaneously applying it to the Star Properties Concept Inventory. We also use IRT to explore an important psychometrics debate that has received too little attention from physics and astronomy education researchers: What do we mean when we say we “measure” a mental process? This question leads us to use IRT to address the provocative question that constitutes the title of this paper: Do concept inventories actually measure anything?


2009
Edward E. Prather and Gina Brissenden
Astronomy Education Review, 8(1), 010103

Members of the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE) and the Conceptual Astronomy and Physics Education Research (CAPER) Team at the University of Arizona have conducted a systematic investigation into the use of wireless, electronic personal response systems (PRS), more commonly known as “clickers,” to gather research data in the large enrollment introductory astronomy course for nonscience majors (Astro 101). We describe a study and data, which support the assertion that clickers can be used as a data gathering tool for conducting “real-time” research on student learning in the classroom setting. We also present data suggesting that students believe the use of clickers (1) is beneficial to their understanding of course concepts; (2) contributes to improving their exam grades; and (3) increases their interest in course topics even when the clickers are being used solely as research data gathering tools rather than the more traditional application in which clickers are used as an instructional device to gather student votes as part of Think-Pair-Share (TPS) or Peer Instruction (PI). Additionally, we offer a description of our classroom observations, which suggests that the use of color-coded A, B, C, D, E voting cards for gathering student answers in class may hold greater pedagogical value and provide a greater potential to gather accurate research results than do the use of clickers or ScantronTM forms.


Edward E. Prather, Alexander L. Rudolph, and Gina Brissenden

For our study that lead to the publication A National Study Assessing the Teaching and Learning of Introductory Astronomy. Part I. The Effect of Interactive Instruction, we create the Interactivity Assessment Instrument to allow us to estimate the fraction of classroom time each of the instructors in our study spent on learner-centered, active-engagement instruction.

We encourage you to download it, and take it yourself. We’ll add directions soon on how you can calculate your own score.


Edward E. Prather, Alexander L. Rudolph, Gina Brissenden
Physics Today, 62(9), October 2009

Over the past ten years, astronomy education researchers have made significant gains in their understanding of how students learn astronomy. Much of this work has intentionally followed the successful path blazed over the previous two decades by physics education researchers. Physics education research (PER) has shown that interactive learning strategies significantly improve student conceptual understanding of physics. Astronomy education research (AER) has begun to confirm that carefully adapted versions of these innovative learning strategies can achieve large gains in the Astro 101 classroom as well. To determine the effectiveness that new and innovative teaching strategies are having on the understanding of Astro 101 students around the country—and by extension better understand how well we are improving our nations science literacy and preparing our future teachers—we conducted a national study involving almost 4000 students at 31 colleges and universities.


Edward E. Prather, Alexander L. Rudolph, Gina Brissenden, and Wayne M. Schlingman
American Journal of Physics, 77(4), p. 320-330.

We present the results of a national study on the teaching and learning of astronomy as taught in general education, non-science-major, introductory astronomy courses. Nearly 4000 students enrolled in 69 sections of courses taught by 36 different instructors at 31 institutions completed (pre- and post-instruction) the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory (LSCI) from Fall 2006 to Fall 2007. The classes varied in size and were from all types of institutions, including 2- and 4-year colleges and universities. Normalized gain scores for each class were calculated. Pre-instruction LSCI scores were clustered around ~25 percent, independent of class size and institution type, and normalized gain scores varied from about -0.07 to 0.50. To estimate the fraction of classroom time spent on learner-centered, active-engagement instruction we developed and administered an Interactivity Assessment Instrument (IAI). Our results suggest that the differences in gains were due to instruction in the classroom, not the type of class or institution. We also found that higher interactivity classes had the highest gains, confirming that interactive learning strategies are capable of increasing student conceptual understanding. However, the wide range of gain scores seen for both lower and higher interactivity classes suggests that the use of interactive learning strategies is not sufficient by itself to achieve high student gain.


2008
Edward E. Prather and Gina Brissenden
Astronomy Education Review, 7(2), p. 1.

Professional development for astronomy instructors largely focuses on enhancing their understanding of the limitations of professor-centered lectures while also increasing awareness and better implementation of learning strategies that promote a learner-centered classroom environment. Given how difficult it is to get instructors to implement well-developed and innovative teaching ideas, even when these instructors are supplied with significant and compelling education research data, one must wonder what is missing from the most commonly used professional development experiences. This article proposes a learner-centered approach to professional development for college instructors, which we call situated apprenticeship. This novel approach purposely goes beyond simple awareness building and conventional modeling, challenging instructors to actively engage themselves in practicing teaching strategies in an environment of peer review in which participants offer suggestions and critiques of each other's implementation. Through this learner-centered teaching and evaluation experience, instructors' preexisting conceptual and pedagogical understandings of a particular instructional strategy are brought forth and examined in an effort to promote a real change of practice that positively impacts both their core pedagogical content knowledge and their skills in successfully implementing these teaching strategies. We believe that the adoption of our situated apprenticeship approach for professional development will increase the frequency and success of college instructors' implementation of research-validated instructional strategies for interactive learning.


2007
Erin M. Bardar, Edward E. Prather, Kenneth Brecher, and Timothy F. Slater
Astronomy Education Review, 5(2), 103.

This article describes the development and validation of the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory (LSCI), a 26-item diagnostic test designed (1) to measure students' conceptual understanding of topics related to light and spectroscopy, and (2) to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional interventions in promoting meaningful learning gains in an introductory college astronomy course. We also present the final field—tested version of the LSCI for general use by the astronomy education community.


2006
David W. Hudgins, Edward E. Prather, Diane J. Grayson, and Derck P. Smits
Astronomy Education Review, 5(1), p. 1.

This research concerns the development and assessment of a program of introductory astronomy conceptual exercises called ranking tasks. These exercises were designed based on results from science education research, learning theory, and classroom pilot studies. The investigation involved a single-group repeated measures experiment across eight key introductory astronomy topics with 253 students at the University of Arizona. Student understanding of these astronomy topics was assessed before and after traditional instruction in an introductory astronomy course. Collaborative ranking tasks were introduced after traditional instruction on each topic, and student understanding was evaluated again. Results showed that average scores on multiple-choice tests across the eight astronomy topics increased from 32 percent before instruction, to 61 percent after traditional instruction, to 77 percent after the ranking-task exercises. A Likert scale attitude survey found that 83 percent of the students participating in the 16-week study thought that the ranking-task exercises helped their understanding of core astronomy concepts. Based on these results, we assert that supplementing traditional lecture-based instruction with collaborative ranking-task exercises can significantly improve student understanding of core astronomy topics.


John Michael Keller
UMI Number: 3237466

Student beliefs and reasoning difficulties associated with the greenhouse effect
were elicited through student interviews and written survey responses from >900 US
undergraduate non-science majors. This guided the development of the Greenhouse
Effect Concept Inventory (GECI), an educational research tool designed to assess preand
post-instruction conceptual understanding of the greenhouse effect. Three versions
of this multiple-choice instrument were administered to >2,500 undergraduates as part of
the development and validation process. In contrast to previous research efforts
regarding causes, consequences, and solutions to the enhanced greenhouse effect, the
GECI focuses primarily on the physics of energy flow through Earth's atmosphere. The
GECI is offered to the science education community as a research tool for assessing
instructional strategies on this topic.


2005
Erin M. (Weeks) Bardar, Edward E. Prather, Kenneth Brecher, and Timothy F. Slater
Astronomy Education Review, 4(2), p. 20.

In this era of dramatically increased astronomy education research efforts, there is a growing need for standardized evaluation protocols and a strategy to assess both student comprehension of fundamental concepts and the success of innovative instructional interventions. Of the many topics that could be taught in an introductory astronomy course, the nature of light and the electromagnetic spectrum is by far the most universally covered topic. Yet, to the surprise and disappointment of instructors, many students struggle to understand underlying fundamental concepts related to light, such as blackbody radiation, Wien's law, the Stefan-Boltzmann law, and the nature and causes of emission and absorption line spectra. Motivated by predecessor instruments such as the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), the Astronomy Diagnostic Test (ADT), and the Lunar Phases Concept Inventory (LPCI), we call for, and are working on, the development and validation of a Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory. This assessment instrument should measure students' conceptual understanding of light and spectroscopy and gauge the effectiveness of classroom instruction in promoting student learning in the introductory astronomy survey course.


2004
Edward E. Prather, Timothy F. Slater, Jeffrey P. Adams, Janelle M. Bailey, Lauren V. Jones, and Jack A. Dostal
Astronomy Education Review, 3(2), p. 122.

The Lecture-Tutorial curriculum development project produced a set of 29 learner-centered classroom instructional materials for a large-enrollment introductory astronomy survey course for non-science majors. The Lecture-Tutorials are instructional materials intended for use by collaborative student learning groups, and are designed to be integrated into existing courses with conventional lectures. These instructional materials offer classroom-ready learner-centered activities that do not require any outside equipment or drastic course revision for implementation. Each 15-minute Lecture-Tutorial poses a sequence of conceptually challenging, Socratic dialogue-driven questions, along with graphs and data tables, all designed to encourage students to reason critically about difficult concepts in astronomy. The materials are based on research into student beliefs and reasoning difficulties, and use proven instructional strategies. The Lecture-Tutorials have been field-tested for effectiveness at various institutions, which represent a wide range of student populations and instructional settings. In addition to materials development, a second effort of this project focused on the assessment of changes in students' conceptual understanding and attitudes toward learning astronomy as a result of both lecture and the subsequent use of Lecture-Tutorials. Quantitative and qualitative assessments were completed using a precourse, postlecture, and post-Lecture-Tutorial instrument, along with focus group interviews, respectively. Collectively, the evaluation data illustrate that conventional lectures alone helped students make statistically significant—yet unsatisfactory—gains in understanding (with students scoring at only the 50 percent level postlecture). Further, the data illustrate that the use of Lecture-Tutorials helped students achieve statistically significant gains beyond those attained after lecture (with students scoring at the 70 percent level post-Lecture-Tutorial). Quantitative evaluation of student attitudes showed no significant gains over the semester, but students reported that they considered the Lecture-Tutorials to be one of the most valuable components of the course.


2002
Edward E. Prather, Timothy F. Slater, and Erika G. Offerdahl
Astronomy Education Review, 1(2), p. 28.

To explore the frequency and range of student ideas regarding the Big Bang, nearly 1,000 students from middle school, secondary school, and college were surveyed and asked if they had heard of the Big Bang and, if so, to describe it. In analyzing their responses, we uncovered an unexpected result that more than half of the students who stated that they had heard of the Big Bang also provided responses that suggest they believe that the Big Bang was a phenomenon that organized pre-existing matter. To further examine this result, a second group of college students was asked specifically to describe what existed or occurred before, during, and after the Big Bang. Nearly 70 percent gave responses clearly stating that matter existed prior to the Big Bang. These results are interpreted as strongly suggesting that most students are answering these questions by employing an internally consistent element of knowledge or reasoning (often referred to as a phenomenological primitive, or p-prim), consistent with the idea that “you can't make something from nothing.” These results inform the debate about the extent to which college students have pre-existing notions that are poised to interfere with instructional efforts about contemporary physics and astronomy topics.


Erika G. Offerdahl, Edward E. Prather, and Timothy F. Slater
Astronomy Education Review, 1(2), p. 5.

The purpose of this study is to identify and document student beliefs and reasoning difficulties concerning topics related to astrobiology. This was accomplished by surveying over two thousand middle school, high school, and college (science and non-science majors) students. Students were surveyed utilizing student-supplied response questions focused on the definition of life and its limitations. Careful, inductive analysis of student responses revealed that the majority of students correctly identify that liquid water is necessary for life and that life forms can exist without sunlight. However, many students incorrectly state that life cannot survive without oxygen. Furthermore, when students are asked to reason about life in extreme environments, they most often cite complex organisms (such as plants, animals, and humans) rather than the more ubiquitous microorganisms. Results of this study were used to inform the development of astrobiology curriculum materials.


Gina Brissenden, Timothy F. Slater, and Robert D. Mathieu
Astronomy Education Review, 1(1), p. 1.

What is assessment? Why do it? Why do it in a particular way? This document addresses these important questions and provides a practical “how-to” guide for doing assessment. Assessment drives student learning; it is thus imperative that instructors conduct assessment in a manner that is well aligned with the instructor's goals for the course. This requires (a) that course goals be formalized, and (b) that the instructor have knowledge of various classroom assessment techniques and the kinds of course goals to which each of these assessment techniques is best suited. We briefly present several Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that can be used to help instructors evaluate the extent to which course goals are being achieved, to help guide students toward desired learning outcomes, and to improve student self-evaluation of understanding. In addition, we outline a practical, generalized model for course development with which we demonstrate how to do assessment. For an on-line, user-friendly guide and resource to classroom assessment in college science courses, the reader is invited to visit the Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG) developed by the National Institute for Science Education (http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/nise/cl1/flag).


CAE is housed in the Astronomy Dept. at the Univ. of Arizona's Steward Observatory. CAE is funded through the generous contributions of the NASA JPL Exoplanet Exploration Public Engagement Program. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0715517, a CCLI Phase III Grant for the Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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