Edward Prather

Edward Prather, CAE, University of Arizona,

Research on Students' Learning of Astronomy: Clues for Ways to Get Students to Learn Physics1

For the past decade members of the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE) have been developing and conducting research on the effectiveness of learner-centered instructional strategies and curriculum materials that put students in an active role in the traditional lecture classroom.  The results of this work have been incorporated into a series of “Teaching Excellence Workshops” that members of CAE have been conducting around the nation as part of the JPL’s NASA Exoplanet Exploration Public Engagement Program and the NSF CCLI Phase III Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS) Program.  We present the results of a national study on the teaching and learning in introductory astronomy courses in which these instructional strategies were used.  Nearly 5000 students enrolled in 70 classes taught by 36 different instructors at 30 institutions around the United States participated in this study.  The classes varied in size from very small (N<10) to large (N>700) and were from all types of institutions, including both 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities.  Results show dramatic improvement in student learning with the increased use of interactive learning strategies, independent of type of institution or class-size and after controlling for individual and ascribed population characteristics.  The results of this work will inform the development of instructional programs designed to increase the learning of physics by leveraging the powerful and conceptually engaging topics presented in the study of the universe.

1This 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.