The US National Science Education Standards and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy recommend that students understand the apparent patterns of motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars by the end of early elementary school, yet no research has specifically examined these concepts from an Earth-based perspective with this age group. This study examines children's understanding of the patterns of apparent celestial motion among first-grade, third-grade, and eighth-grade students, and investigates the extent to which these concepts develop from elementary to middle school in students without targeted instruction. Twenty students at each grade level (total n = 60) were interviewed using a novel interview setting: a small dome representing the sky, which allowed students to demonstrate their ideas. Analysis reveals that elementary and middle school students hold a variety of non-scientific ideas about all aspects of apparent celestial motion. While the eighth-grade students' understanding of the apparent motion of the Sun shows a greater level of accuracy compared with the third-grade students, across the majority of topics of apparent celestial motion, the overall level of accuracy shows little change from third grade to eighth grade. Just as prior research has demonstrated the need for instruction to improve children's understanding of the nature of celestial objects and their actual motions, these results support the need for research on instructional strategies that improve students' understanding of celestial motion as seen from their own perspective.
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