Inquiry and Astronomy: Preservice Teachers’ Investigations of Celestial Motion

From Section:
Instruction in Teacher Training
Jun. 21, 2010

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Volume 21, Number 4, 471-493. (June, 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors investigated the impact of an open inquiry experience on elementary science methods students‘ understanding of celestial motion. The authors have also examined the tools, resources, and ideas that preservice teachers used to develop their own inquiry investigations to understand their resourcefulness in pursuit of a scientific question.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided this study:
1. What celestial motion topics and investigative approaches were chosen by the elementary science methods students in an open-inquiry environment?
2. In what ways did the elementary science methods students‘ knowledge change as a result of their own inquiry investigations and in-class activities?


18 students in an elementary science methods course at a small comprehensive university participated in this study; 16 participants were female and two were male.

Most of the participants were working towards elementary and/or special education certification; three were current teachers (pre-kindergarten, sixth grade, and middle school math). Two participants were undergraduate elementary education majors and the remaining were graduate students. Most of them were working towards elementary-level certification. Four participants had one or more previous astronomy courses.

Data Collection
Pre/post interviews and assessments were used to measure change in participants‘ understanding. A qualitative approach was used to describe the nature of each participant‘s investigation through an analysis of their science journal and poster presentations.


Through an inquiry investigation of celestial motion, set in a science methods class, 89% of the participants increased their level of understanding of some aspects of celestial motion. However, the findings also suggest that preservice elementary teachers are not likely to develop a full understanding of celestial motion from this instructional design.

The participants‘ limited success in applying scientific models to explain their data suggests that teacher educators may need to provide more guidance to help preservice teachers perform these practices. While providing an opportunity for open-inquiry at the beginning of an investigation of celestial motion lead many participants to improve their ability to describe aspects of celestial motion, more guidance may be necessary at the conclusion of the investigation.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Elementary school teachers | Inquiry | Preservice teachers | Science inquiry | Science instruction | Teaching methods